Anytime Wayne Dickson’s name was mentioned over the years, my thoughts returned to my days at New Glasgow High School in the mid-1950s, when Wayne was one of the school’s most versatile athletes.
The redhead from the south end was a year younger and a grade behind me, but I became well aware of his athletic talents as soon as he walked through the “boys door” on Albert Street.
He was a valuable member of the NGHS rugby team, including the 1955-56 squad that didn’t lose a game all season in its march to a Nova Scotia Headmasters championship. He was a leading offensive threat on the school’s hockey team. Yet his greatest achievements were probably on the track, where his speed was displayed in the 100 metres and 200 metres in competitions throughout Eastern Canada.
Last Wednesday, on his 73rd birthday, Wayne died at South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater. When a friend phoned to give me the news, my thoughts, once more, went back to his achievements in high school sports.
“Athleticism” has become an over-used word these days, but it wasn’t in the dictionary in the 1950s. Yet it would have been a perfect description of Wayne Dickson. He had athleticism, no question. He was a true example of an all-round athlete and, when you think about it, how could it have been any different?
Consider two people who had huge influences on his life.
Wayne’s father, Foster Dickson, was one of New Glasgow’s legendary hockey players from an earlier era, one of Pictou County’s finest hockey coaches, and one of the first inductees into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. Understandably, his athletic prowess spilled over to his family. As well, Wayne was coached – in all three of his chosen sports – by John (Brother) MacDonald, the iconic athletic director who made such a huge impact on the lives of many student-athletes through his years at the high school.
Sports weren’t Wayne’s only interest in high school. He was also a sergeant in the cadet corps and treasurer of the student union. His yearbook profile said he planned to study geology and attend Mount Allison University.
Sports, however, altered his road to adulthood. Acadia University wanted him to go there, offering him “help” in a time when athletic scholarships were not an open matter. The chance to play hockey for Acadia won him over. He was given an assignment to operate the arena canteen, earning him half of the canteen proceeds.
There was another factor: two former New Glasgow High hockey players, Irvel Mackie and Dunc Jewell, played for Acadia and, when he arrived, Wayne was taken under their wing.
Wayne was also a member of Acadia’s varsity track team during his four years on campus. In his very first year, the team won the AUAA championship and Dickson captured the 100-metre and 200-metre titles, as well as anchoring the relay team.
Oh yes, he was more than a star athlete at Acadia. He was a good student and graduated in education. He taught school in the Valley for a couple of years, then returned to Pictou County where he taught for three decades.
Years ago, I interviewed him for a column in another newspaper. He came across as a man who was happy he had chosen a career in teaching, a man who appreciated the help and guidance he had received from his father and his high school coach.
John Brother, he told me, was “definitely a role model and an icon when it came to developing character, providing opportunities, whatever. He was ahead of his time. Other communities didn’t have what we had. Early on, I had visions of doing what he did, becoming a phys-ed teacher and a coach. It came from that role model and the fact I came from an athletic family. My father provided me with a lot of motivation.”
MacDonald’s influence on Dickson began well before high school. While Wayne was in the elementary grades at Temperance Street School, Brother conducted phys-ed classes and that’s where Wayne found his future mentor and his interest in athletics.
“In Brother’s phys-ed class, I started to realize I could run a little bit and it was through his endeavours that I was brought along in that.”
Wayne was quick, too, to acknowledge the fact his years in the classroom were made easier because of the camaraderie and help of others, teachers like Dave Scott and Al Taylor.
“I can go on and on with names,” he said, “men and women from other schools who provided coaching throughout the years. Pictou County was an excellent place for that.”
A consistent smile engulfed his face as we recalled teammates he had at NGHS.
In rugby, he played with the likes of Stewart Kennedy, Ross Carruthers, Francis Desmond, John Felderhof, John Soosar, Francis Paris, Ronnie Borden, George Harper and Robert McClure. In hockey, Kennedy, Kent MacKay, Craig McCarron, Ronnie (Shrimp) MacKenzie, Ron Roper, Fraser MacLean, Billy Stevens, Leo Paris and Harry Stirling were among teammates.
On the track, he competed alongside such athletes as Albert Hardy, Carruthers, Kennedy, Borden, Angus Paris, Willena Borden, Katy Lou Curry and Florence Uebbing.
That afternoon, as Wayne chatted about old teammates, he went back even further in his memories, to when his hockey career started in the town’s old Rotary Minor Hockey Association. He talked proudly about his very first minor team, when one of his linemates was a kid from Thorburn by the name of Lowell MacDonald. Lowell, of course, went on to a 13-year career in the NHL.
“The first goal I ever scored,” Wayne explained, “was when I was playing with Lowell. So in retrospect, it’s something I treasure over the years.”
I’m sure Wayne Dickson, deep down, treasured many of the athletic experiences he had in those long-ago times.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org