I HAVE wanted to interview the great Gordon (Junior) Wilson for some time. It was an honour to attend his 87th birthday celebration.
In my family, he is a legend. He is talked about in many sports conversations. Many say he is the best all-around athlete Thunder Bay has produced. They talk about his natural abilities in many sports.
He is known as a fine gentleman. He has been married for 67 years. The sons of Junior Wilson all said their tenacity came from their mom. They were all afraid of her. She meant business. She said: “I guess so. I travelled with five kids every time we played in a new place.”
Junior Wilson played hockey, baseball and basketball. If truth be told, his favourite sport was baseball and he remembers the 1953 Port Arthur Giants ball team as being a very good team.
Hockey is where he was a professional.
The Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League had a long-standing record of four goals and four assists in one game held by Junior Wilson.
I asked him about that record and he smiled and said, “Yes I held that one for quite a while. I have to tell you, I did it on one leg and only played about five minutes in the third (period).”
I learned early in his pro career is suffered a bad tear of the ligaments in his knee. He was casted back in those days and was out for a year. He admitted it was never the same and bothered him to the point of having his knee drained.
The setback injury never stopped him. He had a respectable career — he was a pro from 1952-1960.
The 1954-55 season saw him play for the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins. In the AHL, he played four seasons with the Hershey Bears and he remembers his teammate Don Cherry and his wife Rose.
Junior said, “We had some good times in Hersey, and Don and Rose were very nice people.”
Wilson also played for the Victoria Cougars of the WHL and Quebec Aces of the AHL.
I found out that Junior Wilson does not like to talk about himself much. He did pass along his athletic genes to son’s Glen, Gordon and Gary. Gary was born in Hershey. Junior’s two daughters, however, did not take to sport.
We went for a walk down memory lane when Thunder Bay had four junior teams — two in Fort William and two in Port Arthur.
“I will tell you the game has changed a lot, but in those days we produced some fantastic players,” said Wilson. “There were good players like Danny Lewicki, Rudy Migay, Pete Goegan, Benny Woit. . . . Benny was a character. One time we were playing in Germany and he hid a skate behind the door in the dressing room. You can’t play with only one skate.”
That comment was followed by laughter.
We talked about today’s game and he really likes Tom Pyatt.
“The players in today’s game are very talented,” said Wilson. “I like that Tommy Pyatt — he does not get enough credit. He is a background player that gets the job done and he deserves more credit. The kids today are not like us. We came home from hockey season to work. We had jobs on the off-season. Today they stay in great shape and work on their skills all year long.”
I learned that Junior Wilson and I both hate the short gloves. “You know what I don’t understand, the short gloves,” said Wilson. “Players are steady getting slashed and holding their wrists. I think to myself ‘you deserve that — get a pair of real gloves.’”
I agreed with him. I also found out we both yell at the television while the game is on. We laughed together over that one.
We also talk about player’s salaries.
“In our day, if you made $10,000, you could have a house, a car and raise a family. Now they make big money.”
We agreed on that too.
In my sports reporting career, I had the joy to cover his son Glen as a netminder for the Thunder Bay Twins and I met his son Gordon Jr. through a longtime history of ice passed down through generations at the Fort William Gardens.
Gary admits to being the toughest in his family. When we talked about Fort William Gardens, Junior Wilson recalled being one of the first players to hit the ice in the arena in 1951 and it was a thrill, but he does think it could be time to replace the old palace.
He wonders why we can’t be more like Duluth. I had no comeback for that one. Again just an honour and a pleasure to talk sports with Gordon (Junior) Wilson. His dad is in the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, so we do know where he got his talent.
(Johan Vass is a Thunder Bay sportswriter. Johan looks forward to telling stories and meeting new people through this column. You can reach her at email@example.com.(