Hall of Fame broadcaster recalls time in McGill BCom program

McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management alumni can be found across the globe. Some are even beamed into living rooms on a nightly basis.

That was the case for over 30 years for Dick Irvin (BCom’53).

“I always say I got a bachelor’s degree to learn how to say, ‘he shoots, he scores,’” chuckles Irvin, now 89 years old.

Irvin was born and raised in Regina, but moved to Montreal as a 19-year-old. His father (also named Dick Irvin) was the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens and relocated the family east after too many long hockey seasons apart.

The junior Irvin enrolled at McGill University following two years studying commerce in Saskatchewan. Like students today, working a summer job in his field helped propel his career.

“I started off doing commerce in Saskatchewan, simply because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life,” recalled Irvin. “I went to McGill and made arrangements at that time to transfer. I got a job with Shell my first summer in Montreal through McGill. I then worked for them for six years. I loved that job.”

In addition to his studies, Irvin was a member of the varsity hockey team. McConnell Arena wasn’t built until 1956, so the McGill team played and practiced at the Montreal Forum, often bumping into another team in the city that donned red sweaters.

“When I came to McGill, I tried out for the team,” said Irvin, who played forward. “I made it; I still don’t know why.

“Guys like Maurice Richard and Doug Harvey would skate off the ice, and the McGill team would skate on. Harvey practiced with us one time. He was benched the night before and didn’t like it, so he practiced with us.”

Although he was living campus life some six decades ago, some of Irvin’s experiences aren’t much different from present day students, including enjoying the renowned Winter Carnival.

“In my graduating year they had the Winter Carnival, and we had the Carnival Game between McGill and the University of Montreal,” Irvin said. “It was the first college hockey game televised in Canada, the CBC did it in French. I scored a goal and we won. There was a good crowd that night.”

Irvin even remembers his favourite course – a commercial law class – and his most memorable professor – William H. Pugsley.

After a handful of years working in finance in Montreal, Irvin was at a crossroads. He was set to accept a position as a history teacher in the city, when an interesting opportunity presented itself in the spring of 1961.

“CFCF television started on January 20, 1961. The sports director interviewed me about my father on a live television show and he said, ‘have you ever thought of doing something like this?’ He was looking for an assistant at the time.”

For the handsome sum of $75 per week, Irvin joined the television network he would call home until his retirement in 1991.

“CFCF put me on probation for the first three months to see how it was going to work out,” he recalled. “Three months came and went, and nobody said anything. When they gave me a retirement dinner, I told them ‘I’ve been here on probation for 30 years, you never told me I got the job!”

A remarkable career followed. Irvin eventually started broadcasting hockey games – both locally for CFCF (now CTV) and across the country while wearing the powder blue blazer of Hockey Night in Canada. He became a household name thanks to his longevity and incredible volume of hockey knowledge.

He got to rub shoulders with sports icons including Wayne Gretzky and Jackie Robinson, and celebrities like Bob Hope.

“I think the most famous person I interviewed outside of sports was Bob Hope,” Irvin said. “That was the only time in 40 years that I had sweaty palms. I’ve got a picture of me and him sitting there with me in my powder blue jacket.”

Irvin was presented with the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for his contributions to broadcasting from the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2013.

However, Irvin does have one regret from his time at McGill.

“They hold the McGill graduation on the lawn, but in those days if it was raining, they’d move it to The Forum. The year I graduated, I was hoping it was going to rain, so I could graduate in The Forum. It was going to be a great coup for the Irvin family; my dad had just won the Stanley Cup and a few weeks later I would graduate in the same building. But it didn’t happen, it was a lovely day,” he says with a laugh.

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