Winning the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award from the NHL’s Hockey Hall of Fame is the highest honour an NHL broadcaster can attain.
But for Ken ‘Jiggs’ McDonald, who earned that coveted award in 1990, being inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame is also a high honour.
While McDonald became one of the NHL’s premier play-by-play men who was along for the ride during the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup dynasty, he never forgot his roots. He would tell anyone who would listen that his formative days in Orillia provided the foundation for what would become a legendary career.
In 1958, McDonald made his debut behind the microphone of CFOR, a 10,000-watt radio station owned by Gordon E. Smith.
It didn’t take long for McDonald to turn his attention to sports and he began broadcasting Orillia Majors games from the Lions Oval and hockey games from the Community Centre. He recalls getting a bonus ($7.50 or $8) for calling those games. During the playoffs, he would even travel with the team and broadcast from the road.
“I remember going to Leamington for a peewee all-Ontario hockey game,” McDonald recalled. “I went to Belleville when the Majors went to the provincials in 1967. Gord Smith and Pete McGarvey really gave us the freedom and flexibility to do those things. I can’t give enough credit to them and to what I learned in Orillia.”
McDonald was also an energetic go-getter. For three years, he organized sports celebrity dinners at The Pav, where sports fans flocked to meet the sports stars of that era.
“I was able to bring people like Rudy Pilous, Ernie Richardson, Bob Pulford, Sal Maglie, Carmen Basillio and so many others to Orillia and raised money that went to youth sports back then,” said McDonald of one of his favourite Orillia memories.
All of it was possible, he says, because of the culture of the station and the talent of the staff. “(McGarvey) was as talented a broadcaster as you will ever find,” said McDonald. “He was a mentor; just being around him made you better.”
It certainly made McDonald better – something others soon noticed. In 1967, the man who would become known as ‘Jiggs’ beat out 117 other applicants to become the television voice of the expansion Los Angeles Kings.
He went on to lend his golden voice to the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders, calling games on Long Island for 15 years – including three of the team’s four Stanley Cup seasons. After that, he became the play-by-play voice of the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs before briefly retiring after the 2003-04 season.
He couldn’t stay away. In fact, McDonald still calls a few games each year. But on Saturday night, his name will be called as he is inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame.
“Having never had any athletic ability to speak of, I am humbled by this honour,” McDonald told OrilliaMatters. “It was people like Pete McGarvey and Gordon E. Smith who allowed me to be as creative as possible during my years at CFOR. Without their support and the air time provided, my play- by-play career would never have happened. I owe it all to those nine years working in Orillia radio.”
Three others will join McDonald Saturday night as the Cass of 2018 is recognized at Sport Orillia’s annual gala at Casino Rama.
Local women’s field lacrosse pioneers Jayme Davis (Beard) and Brittney Fess (Boynton) are, fittingly, being inducted together. They grew up playing the sport together and both played for their country at world championships and also shone at the post-secondary level.
John Mayo, who helped start the women’s field lacrosse program in Orillia and is now the sport’s provincial commissioner, said both are deserving of the call to the hall. “Jayme and Britney are two elite athletes that have been participants, coaches and builders for the sport of women’s field lacrosse,” said Mayo. “They are both truly outstanding candidates to enter the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame.”
Toben Sutherland, who coached Canada’s slope-style skiers at the Winter Olympics, is also entering Orillia’s sports shrine in the builder’s category.
Sutherland, a star on the World Cup circuit as a freestyle skier who was Orillia’s athlete of the year in 1992, turned to coaching in 2002 when he worked with the national development aerial team. In 2011, he co-founded the Canadian slope style ski team and was head coach of the team that won gold and bronze in Sochi.
Tickets are still available for Saturday night’s gala. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased through the website, sportorillia.com.
This year’s group of inductees is the fourth group of inductees into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame.
The five inaugural recipients – Elaine Thompson, Cam Devine, Jake Gaudaur, Walter Henry and Walter Knox – were inducted in 2015.
In 2016, Brian Orser, Rick Ley, Harry Gill and Jacob Gaudaur Sr. joined the elite group of Orillia athletes in Orillia’s sports shrine.
Last year, Rob Town, Jerry Udell, Terry Bullen and Lawrence Mervyn McKenzie entered the hallowed hall.