Image from www.habseyesontheprize.com
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 4, 2009
Carleton (Mac) McDiarmid’s life revolved around his passion for hockey.
He spent decades as a goal judge at home games of the Montreal Canadiens. Away from the rink, he painted portraits of the game’s greatest stars.
A trailblazing collector of hockey paraphernalia, Mr. McDiarmid accumulated rare pieces of ephemera in an era long before the hobby attracted the interest of auction houses as a business.
So dedicated was he to gathering forgotten pieces of cardboard that fellow hobbyists managed to cobble together checklists thanks in part to his desire to collect complete sets. He uncovered items previously unknown to the hobby.
He was known to scour the back roads of rural Quebec in search of his prizes. Small advertisements laced in local newspapers flushed from attics and basements scraps of cardboard and other items otherwise likely to end up someday in the dump. Mr. McDiarmid’s accumulative desire was fueled not by a desire by riches but by a curiosity in the rich lore of the sport he loved.
Among his great finds was the sweater Russ Blinco wore during a 1937 charity match to raise money for the widow of Howie Morenz, a Canadiens star who had died earlier that year.
Over time, word of his collection spread. He recovered a Morenz hockey stick once displayed in the dressing room of the Montreal Forum, but missing since misplaced during renovations in the 1940s. A man who said he had retrieved it from the garbage many years earlier presented the fabled stick to Mr. McDiarmid.
Born in Montreal, his first home was in Lower Westmount just a few blocks from the Forum. His father, an engineer with Northern Electric, held season tickets to Montreal Maroons games.
As a toddler, Carleton, as his family called him, played on a front balcony at his home, where he would be greeted by Maroons forward Jimmy Ward on his way to the rink on game days.
“I believe I was born to be a hockey fan,” Mr. McDiarmid said.
The family moved to Notre-Dame-de-Grace, a neighbourhood home to many of the city’s English-speaking sports stars. The boy played ice hockey in winter and road hockey in all seasons.
When not contesting sports, he liked to draw and scribble. One Sunday morning, he told his brother he was going down the block to get the autograph of goaltender Bill Durnan, who had likely only got home from protecting the Canadiens goal a few hours earlier. The boy returned with the signature on one of his drawings, the beginning of a project that would last a lifetime.
Mr. McDiarmid attended art classes after graduating from West Hill High School. A commercial artist, Mr. McDiarmid’s cartoons and illustrations appeared in magazines and for such clients as Kraft and Maxwell House. In 1969, his design for a postage stamp commemorating the inaugural summer Canada Games was accepted by Canada Post.
His enthusiasm for hockey led to an excursion behind the Iron Curtain to to Moscow for the unforgettable Summit Series of 1972, during which Paul Henderson scored in the final minute of the final game to give Canada a come-from-behind victory over the Soviet Union. He recalled the package deal cost $607.
After the game, the exuberant Canadian fans sang and shouted as they boarded a bus. “Just as we were approaching out hotel, the bus driver’s attention was diverted and he crashed into a large dump truck,” Mr. McDiarmid once told an interviewer. “Fortunately there were only minor cuts and bruises among our fans. We all figured the driver would be sent off to Siberia the next day to practice up on his driving skills.”
Mr. McDiarmid returned to the Soviet capital to observe world championships in 1979, 1986, and 1990.
Away from the studio, he turned his talents to his favourite subject. He sought the autographs of the subjects of his illustrations, a practice that once led to an embarrassing showdown with a Russian during the height of the Cold War.
When he asked Anatoly Tarasov for his signature on a portrait, the Soviet national coach misunderstood the gesture and believed the drawing was being presented as a gift. This resulted in an unseemly tug-of-war, resolved only when Mr. McDiarmid promised to return with a portrait for the coach to keep.
A few months after returning from Moscow in 1972, he was invited to become an off-ice official at Canadiens’ games as a goal judge, a mostly thankless task in which a red light is to be lit when the puck crosses the goal line into the net.
Most goals are obvious to all in the arena, but it is those less clear in which the goal judge can appear the chump by too eagerly lighting the lamp.
His secret, which he shared with would-be goal judges, was to avoid following the puck, instead casting his attention at the net. In such a fashion, he would not be tricked by a spectacular save, or a certain goal in which the puck deflects off a post, or crossbar.
Later, he worked away from the ice as a video replay official, a job that he disliked.
His hockey illustrations appeared as inserts in boxes of Jell-O, giving his work a mass audience.
In 1983, Mr. McDiarmid was commissioned to paint watercolour portraits of all the inductees in the Hockey Hall of Fame. These were reproduced as a set of 232 postcards, which were also presented to the honourees.
At McGill University, athletics communications officer Earl (The Pearl) Zukerman got permission to reproduce the images of alumni in a hockey program and media guide.
Mr. Zukerman and Mr. McDiarmid once agreed to travel together by car from Montreal to Fredericton to attend a meeting of hockey historians. The journey was not without its difficulties.
“We were supposed to spit the driving,” Mr. Zukerman writes, “but we got into a heated discussion about hockey and Mac, who was a bit stubborn, decided that he wouldn’t give up the wheel and ended up driving the entire way (about 850 km), making only a couple of pit stops in a drive that took about 10 hours.
“He was still mad at me on the way back and drove the whole way again!”
As a boy, Mr. McDiarmid caddied for prime minister Louis St. Laurent at a golf course in rural Quebec. The game remained a passion and Mr. McDiarmid was proud to have scored two holes-in-one.
At the time of his death, Mr. McDiarmid was compiling a library of sports and editorial cartoons featuring hockey players.
His works are held and on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and at the New England Sports Museum at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer, Mr. McDiarmid decided to sell some of his vast collection. (A 1987 inventory by the Montreal Gazette counted 1,000 photographs, 8,000 photographs, 80 vintage sweaters, and a huge assortment of cards, pucks and ephemera.) Last fall, Classic Auctions of Delson, Que., put on the auction block his watercolour portraits signed by the subject.
The cornerstone of his collection — a complete set of 45 postcards of hockey layers distributed by the Sweet Caporal cigarette company in 1911 — fetched a top bid of $140,607 US
Donald Carleton (Mac) McDiarmid was born on Oct. 29, 1936, at Montreal. He died on April 25 at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. He was 72. He leaves a brother, William McDiarmid, of Toronto.