danny gallivan at 100: he was a student of the english language and he perfected it

“A degree of quietude has settled on the Forum.”
Danny Gallivan reports from the CBC broadcast booth during the first period of Montreal’s famous exhibition encounter with the Central Red Army on December 31, 1975

Mordecai Richler called him “the last of the literate TV play-by-play commentators,” which is — well, very Mordecai Richler. Danny Gallivan was, it’s true, a broadcaster like no other, and today’s the centenary of his birth.

Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia on April 11, 1917, he turned out to have an arm on him, such that that the New York Giants invited him to their training camp in 1938 to see him pitch. An injury curbed his Major-League dreams, and he served as teacher, a soldier, and a steelworker before ending up as sports director at Halifax radio station CJCH. His career with Hockey Night in Canada began in 1952 and continued, mostly in Montreal, calling Canadiens’ games, until his retirement in 1984.

When he died at the age of 75 in 1993, Jack Todd remembered him in The Gazette as a man who was as much a part of Montreal “as the cross or the river or the Forum.” His voice, high-pitched and lilting, is as memorable to those of us who heard him as the exploits of the Lafleurs and Gainey and Cournoyers he narrated. And of course there’s none other in hockey to match the Gallivan lexicon, with its cannonading drives, scintillating saves, and Savardian spin-o-ramas.

Bob Cole may not have been able to rise to Mordecai Richler’s standard; I’m guessing he’s never actively tried. Cole was a protégé of Gallivan’s not to mention an enthusiastic admirer. Here he is, Gallivanting, in Now I’m Catching On: My Life On and Off the Air, a 2016 memoir:

I was always a hero-worshipper, and Danny Gallivan was one of my heroes. I will always remember him doing Wednesday and Saturday night games with Dick Irvin. It was fabulous. There will never be another Danny. There was that personal touch of his, his style, his sound. His feeling about what he was doing. You could tell he was into it.

They’re still playing that famous clip of his: “Lafleur coming out rather gingerly on the right side. …” Just listen to that. You can feel the game.

Danny told me that he would grab a dictionary and find a word and practice that word and then throw it into the game somewhere. He really did that. He would find a word in the dictionary and then think of where he could use it. “Sagacious” would turn into “sagaciously stopped the puck.” He worked at it. He was a student of the English language and he perfected it.

(Image, from 1957: Tex Coulter)

2 thoughts on “danny gallivan at 100: he was a student of the english language and he perfected it

  1. Patented Savardian spin-o-rama was one my favourites to throw out during the impromptu street hockey games on the Hunter street of my youth…

  2. I had the amazingly great fortune in the 1980s to participate in bi-annual sales meetings hosted in southern climates by my employer. Every second year, an English-speaking and a French-speaking celebrity were hired to attend and “entertain the troops’. In 1981, Danny was brought engaged to compensate for the comparatively shy, soft-spoken Henri Richard in Acapulco. I don’t remember any of Danny’s formal presentation, but I do remember opting out of playing golf one afternoon so I could linger in the outdoor lounge while Danny told story after story while consuming the occasional cerveza. As the day wore on, the audience grew and by the time we were commanded to leave for dinner, half of the sales force were gathered around our table as Danny’s stories rose in exuberance and detail. Best sales meeting ever.

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