McKechnie remembers Bower’s humanity
By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 23, 2018
Toronto Maple Leafs legendary goalie Johnny Bower was honoured with a celebration of life ceremony earlier this month after he died of pneumonia at 93 on Dec. 26.
“He really was a teammate on the ice and off the ice. When you have a goalie like him – goaltending as we know is about the most important [aspect of a team]. You knew every night he was going to be giving his 100 per cent so you better be giving yours. That’s why they won all those cups,” Walt McKechnie said.
McKechnie is a former Toronto Maple Leafs player, Eagle Lake resident and Dysart et al councillor.
He knew Bower from when he was starting out in the National Hockey League, playing against him during Leafs training camps; in subsequent years when Bower helped the Leafs and McKechnie was with the team (and Bower was retired); as a fellow instructor with Haliburton’s Hockey Haven in the early 1970s; and at Maple Leafs events.
McKechnie attended the celebration of life organized by the Leafs, which was open to the public on Jan. 3 at the Air Canada Centre. He was there as a part of a contingent of Leafs alum. Bower played 11 seasons for the Maple Leafs, leading them to four Stanley Cup titles, including the last one the franchise won in 1967. He may have retired in 1970, but he was the face of the franchise, symbolizing the last connection to the glory years.
The celebration of life for Bower drew a who’s who in hockey including the Maple Leafs president and alternate governor Brendan Shanahan, former Leafs teammates Frank Mahovlich, Ron Ellis and Dave Keon, other well-known Leafs Paul Henderson and Doug Gilmour, and currently rostered players on the Leafs team. There were speeches given by former teammates and family at the public event. The one common trait they all remember Bower for was his sense of humour and his drive to compete.
McKechnie said he admired Bower for his ability to inspire, his will to win and his perpetual smile. Any time Bower entered a room, the joy he exuded seemed to be contagious.
“I don’t think I ever saw Johnny Bower upset. I wish I had that quality. Nothing bothered him. ... Like a lot of us, we worry about a lot of stuff we have no control over. Johnny Bower never worried about those things. That’s probably why he lived until he was 93,” he said.
Bower had even more reason to smile when he received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto on June 9, 2007.
McKechnie said Bower probably had not been to the Highlands since the 1970s when he came as an instructor for Hockey Haven.
He still remembers when Bower had to answer to his neighbours about a couple of cobs of corn with the most unlikely of surprises on them.
The incident came on the heels of a few pranks directed at Johnny at the arena, including nailing his moccasins to the floor of the dressing room and surreptitiously putting rabbit feces in his pipe.
Highlands resident Carmen Lee worked at the arena back then and gave Bower some corn on the cob grown on his property in Wilberforce to take home, McKechnie said.
Before Bower took the corn home, one of the instructors ran out to the pharmacy and picked up a box of what was then known as “safes” (condoms) and brought them back. The group of young instructors got together and put condoms on six cobs of corn, laughing as they imagined the shock at the Bower residence when it came to preparing dinner that night.
“Johnny of course, the generous, wonderful person that he was ... he ends up giving his neighbours – this little old couple, who are the nicest people – Johnny gives them six or eight cobs of corn,” he said. “Well, two of the cobs had the condoms on them. Well, they come over that night and they said to Johnny, ‘What are you doing? What’s this?’ ‘Oh those [jerks].’ The next day we’re all getting ready and we’re (Brian, myself, Jim Dorey, Pat Flannery, and Bobby Baun and on and on) sitting there and he comes in. Johnny said, ‘Well, you nailed my shoes to the floor. You put rabbit turds in my pipe....’ he says. ‘I went home and gave that corn to my neighbours, the little old couple beside me. They come over and said, ‘What the heck is this?’ That was the worst trick you guys ever played on me,’” he said.
McKechnie said many of the family came up to him following the celebration of life for Bower to ask him to retell the story. He was told by Bower’s grandson, Johnny III, who spoke at the event for his grandfather, that they never stopped talking about that fond memory in the family.
Johnny Bower III led the thousands in attendance at the ACC with a “Go Leafs Go” chant.
A great send off for a man that bled blue and white.