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   August 01, 2014



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Wrestling has rich history in Pembroke area
By GARY HOWARD - Pembroke Daily Observer


Last month I had the opportunity to attend a live wrestling event at Petawawa, the guest of a young Ottawa promoter.

While the talented wrestlers on the card weren't widely known to the fans, it was nonetheless a rousing evening of mat mayhem that everyone in attendance thoroughly enjoyed.

Not to be outdone, another wrestling promoter, Devon Nicholson, has seized the opportunity to keep live shows front and centre in our area when he brings his Wrestling Supershow promotion to the Pembroke Memorial Centre on Friday, June 20 at 7:30 p. m., with a star-studded cast of veteran wrestlers.

The card will feature some of the top names in the game including Abdullah the Butcher, Sycho Sid Vicious, Pierre Carl Ouellette and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart of the famous Hart Foundation. All of these matmen have been to the top of the heap in the wrestling game at one time or another.

In the past, promoters relied heavily on wrestling bears, alligators and midgets to add variety to the shows but in the prim and proper Ontario of the 1950s, lady wrestlers were not allowed to enter the ring.

In a new century, the exploitation of little persons is frowned upon and animal activist groups vigorously protest the use of bears and alligators for sport. But the new freedom does allow lady wrestlers to perform and thus Josianne the Pussycat, Danyah, Misty Haven and Cherry Bomb will be featured in a tag team match.

Nicholson himself will be one of the leading stars of the show under the name of Hannibal.

Not many of this current crop of wrestlers will even be aware that they are performing in an arena where pro wrestling flourished for over 30 years under the banner of Northland Wrestling Enterprises.

But the history has not been lost on a savvy grappler like Nicholson,

For many small towns, it was the only show in town during the hot summer months and you'd be hard-pressed to find a kid who never attended the matches, at least once. Even with today's brand of wrestling, young fans should have the opportunity to see live shows and judge the entertainment value for themselves.

Older fans may even want to have another chance to relive some memories of live wrestling as it once was at the PMC. When we think of our arena today, we look upon it as an ice palace, the home of our Lumber Kings, ice skating and figure skating and other winter use. Primarily it is a hockey haven.

In another time it was much more. It was a home for trade shows and roller skating, dances with Mac Beattie and the Melodiers and country and western shows with stars such as Webb Pierce and Hank Snow.

But aside from hockey, it was professional wrestling that was the second most dependable staple on the arena's entertainment calendar. And Larry Kasaboski and his wrestlers were steady tenants and as familiar as the many young men who passed through town and wore the red crested crowns of the Lumber Kings.

If only these old walls could talk.

Allen Wells was a schoolteacher dispensing knowledge and wisdom to students at Centre Ward School in 1953.Young, single and that's why he's lining up a card worthy of Pembroke and area fans. It seems promoters are once again turning their attention to the Valley where wrestling has deep roots and was once very much a part of our culture. new in town, Wells quickly surveyed the entertainment scene and found that while it was interesting, it was also very limited.

He was a movie buff but since the theatres ran the same movies for two or three days, the young teacher often found himself with time on his hands. During one lull he wandered into the PMC to a wrestling show and was hooked on the game forever after.

Over a half-century later, he chuckles when recalling his first encounter with the grunt-and-groaners.

A wrestler, attired in an Arab costume, bandied a sword about wildly in the direction of his opponent, causing Wells to fear for the man's safety. Luckily he was spared the sight of his first decapitation.

But the young schoolteacher quickly caught on to the nuances of the game and became a fierce follower of wrestling in all the towns where he taught at schools. To this day, he regularly watches the Vince McMahon variety of wrestling on the tube, all because of an early encounter with the game at the PMC.

So when promoter Nicholson brings this latest version of pro wrestling to town on Friday, it may just spark a renewed interest in the game and produce more life-long fans like Allen Wells. But it won't be a weekly affair because there simply is no longer a market for a steady diet of wrestling in an already overcrowded entertainment world.

All the great wrestling territories have been swallowed up by the McMahon Empire. Small independent shows operate now only on an occasional basis in arenas such as ours.

But it's still a part of our culture in the Ottawa Valley and though often maligned and ridiculed, it seems never to go away completely or for very long.