August 15, 2004
Calgary gets one last look at Hart House
By BILL LAYE - Calgary Sun
For one of Stampede Wrestling's leading lights, saying goodbye to the Hart House in its infamous Dungeon was like coming full circle. "This house has a lot of history -- there's ghosts here and it's great to have been a part of it," said 'Cowboy' Dan Kroffat, who blazed a trail of wrestling glory during the 1970s, after giving a demonstration of his craft in the home's legendary gym yesterday.
"Here I am ending it almost 35 years to the day," said Kroffat, now 59, who started his training Aug. 15, 1969.
The Patterson Heights-area house, where local wrestling legend Stu Hart and his wife Helen raised their 12 children, was put up for sale after Stu's death in October.
Its new owners take possession at the end of the month and, with many a mixed feeling, the family, and about 300 friends and fans, showed up for one last party prior to the transfer of deed.
"We thought to make it a positive thing, we'd invite the people up from Calgary -- because, after all, they're the ones who made us what we are," said Hart son Keith, 53, who wrestled alongside the likes of Kroffat over his 25-year wrestling career.
"We've had people from nobility to street people all sharing a cup of tea or a workout with my dad ... so we thought that would be an appropriate way to say goodbye," Keith said.
While many a mighty man was brought down to size in the Dungeon's depths, mom Helen's voice was as good as any referee's if a basement match got too rambunctious, he recalled.
The Dungeon raised such wrestling luminaries as Bret (The Hitman) Hart, Jim (The Anvil) Niedhart, Chris Benoit and the house has played host to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and virtually all of the elite of the grappling world.
Not surprisingly, yesterday it was standing room only downstairs.
Barry Johnson, a 34-year-old firefighter from Hobbema, about 90 km south of Edmonton, came down for the party with his co-worker Morris Nepoos, a wrestler who trained in the Dungeon during the late '90s.
"I've heard a lot of stories from Morris about training here and being stretched out by Stu Hart, but to be here is kind of surreal," said Johnson.
To this day Kroffat said he's really not sure how he survived his very real and very painful wrestling boot camp.
"I think I survived through pure luck, because everybody got stretched but I didn't," Kroffat said, adding he went for dinner with Stu shortly before his death and had to ask.