By Tracey TongSpecial to the Star
Sun., Sept. 19, 2021timer4 min. read
As a member of North Toronto Collegiate’s senior football team, John Walcot attended every practice and game, but because he was a first-year player, Coach Bud Page had rarely put him in the lineup.
In fall 1944, the Norsemen were down a few points in the city high-school championship game in front of more than 20,000 spectators at Varsity Stadium. With only a couple of minutes left, the pressure was on. The opposing team was about to punt on third down. Coach Page glanced over his shoulder and spotted Walcot’s mother in the crowd. He called the lanky Walcot over and told him, “Get in there and block that kick.”
“I was terrified of making a mistake that would cost the team the chance of winning,” Walcot recalled in Andrew Ruhl’s 2008 documentary short, “November’s Heroes.” “I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do, so I stood there. There was nobody in front of me and I thought, ‘Well, this is as good a place as any.’ I ran in and put my hands up, I guess, and blocked the kick. I looked over and bouncing around there was the ball. I loped over and fell on it.”
He’d scored a touchdown, winning the Norsemen the championship. Walcot was a hero. It was the proudest moment in his sporting life, says Walcot’s son Peter, and one he would celebrate for 75 years.
In the fall of 1944, 32 young men were chosen to form the Senior Football Team at North Toronto Collegiate. They went on to win the City wide Championship and the Gooderham Cup. This is the story of the men, the game and their reunion 64 years later.
John Agar Walcot was born in Montreal, the second son of Arnold Walcot, who worked in banking, and the former Dorothy Payne. His family moved to Toronto when he was young. At six-foot-six, Walcot went on to play football and basketball at Queen’s University, where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in business administration.
Two years later he married Nancy Onions, whom he had met at camp, where he was a counsellor and she was a nurse. One fateful summer day, after many hours of golf resulted in a brutal sunburn for the fair-skinned young man, Walcot required medical attention. “Nancy’s first impression was, ‘What kind of idiot would spend that much time in the sun, in shorts, with those long skinny white legs?’” says Peter. “Well, apparently, he was the kind of guy you marry, because they did just that” — and they remained together for 69 years.
The couple had four children: Ann in 1953, Peter in 1955, Robert in 1962 and Bradley in 1965. It was four-year-old Bradley (a future Ontario Hockey League player) who gave his father the nickname that would stick for the rest of his life. Walcot was going golfing, dressed in what Robert calls his “finest late-’60s attire”: a bright shirt, plaid pants and white patent leather belt. “Bradley looked at him,” Robert remembers, “and said, ‘Wow, are you ever a cool dude!’ We have called him Dude since that day.”
As a father, Walcot was strict but supportive, attending thousands of his children’s and grandchildren’s games, recitals and other events. Although he was very traditional in most ways, he was progressive in others. He treated his daughter as equal to his sons, even teaching the 15-year-old how to do income taxes on an airplane while on family vacation. “He always believed,” says his daughter, Ann Hucal, “that his children learn independence and prepare for life by going away to university, or in Brad’s case, to play hockey.”
Walcot spent almost his entire working life with New Holland Farm Equipment. As a branch manager overseeing the company’s regional dealer activities, he relocated the family to Minneapolis, Regina, Calgary, Mississauga and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before retiring in Guelph with Nancy, where they were doting grandparents to Amy, Thomas, Jessica, Jaden and great-grandparents to Claire.
One highlight of Walcot’s later years was meeting with his old teammates, as a chance encounter between two players 35 years after the winning game led to an annual reunion for the next four decades. “Although we went separate ways from high school,” Walcot told Ruhl, “it’s incredible to me that we could get a group of 81- and 82-year-olds back together again once a year.”
The filmmaker recalls his first meeting with Walcot. “We spent the afternoon chatting,” Ruhl says. “Starting out with the 1944 football game … but then talking at length about his life: growing up in Toronto in the ’30s and ’40s, his work, etc. Really a very nice guy.” Ruhl attended the team’s last reunion in 2019, when there were just three friends, all in their early 90s, out of the original 32.
“A lot of people loved John Walcot and for good reason,” says Peter. “He was always a passionate supporter of the teams, organizations, churches and communities he was part of. And while he made friends quickly, he was a loyal friend to countless others for all of his years with us.” Just a year before his death at 93, he helped raise more than $30,000 that was distributed to the staff and essential workers at The Village of Arbour Trails retirement community in Guelph, as a thank you from the residents. “Anybody who really knew Dude knows that beneath that sometimes crusty, sarcastic exterior,” Peter says, “was truly a heart of gold.”