Jim Robson’s deep roots in Maple Ridge

Hall of fame broadcaster joining minor hockey anniversary celebrations Saturday

Jim Robson at the age of 15 in 1950, when he was a pitcher with Haney Juniors baseball team.

Jim Robson at the age of 15 in 1950, when he was a pitcher with Haney Juniors baseball team.

The name Jim Robson is as closely connected to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks as Pavel Bure or Todd Bertuzzi, and soon it will be dedicated on the road to the rink in Maple Ridge.

Robson was raised in Maple Ridge, and so was his love of all kinds of sports.

“I played all the sports, but I didn’t excel at any,” he said

His family connections to the city are gone, but he remains connected by his vivid memories, like playing ball at Telosky Stadium, and selling eggs from the family farm off Dewdney Trunk Road.

His family moved from Saskatchewan in 1943 to Barnston Island, across the Fraser River from Pitt Meadows, where his uncle had a dairy farm. In April of 1944, they bought a small farm on what is now 236th, off Dewdney Trunk Road, when he was nine years old.

He felt bad for his mom, he remembers, as they moved to a place with only “outdoor plumbing.”

It was a small, 10-acre parcel, and they had cows, pigs, a horse and a lot of fruit trees.

“I was in charge of the chickens,” he said.

His parents put up a sign that said ‘Jimmy’s Own Poultry Yard,’ and the young Robson would sell eggs to the neighbours.

His father worked at the Berryland cannery, his mom at a box factory.

“We were scratching out a living, I guess.”

He got on a softball team, ran by Lloyd Whitebone, who also ran the funeral parlour, Robson recalls, and he would drive the kids to games in a car that had once served as a hearse.

Robson played for the Alexander Robinson district team.

“All we had was a hat with an ‘A’ on it. There were no uniforms,” he said. “But it was an entry into sports teams.”

In the seventh grade, he graduated from Alexander Robinson to Maple Ridge secondary – “the old one that burned down in ’53.”

And he started to play every sport he could, including pickup basketball at the Japanese Community Hall, for the school badminton team, and a volleyball team that won the B.C. boys championship, beating Kelowna in the final.

They would skate on a frozen pond a few days per year, but there was no hockey. The closest arena was Queen’s Park in New Westminster.

Everyone loved baseball, playing and watching. The men played in the Dewdney Baseball League, and Hammond and Haney were the local rivals, squaring off at Telosky Field.

“We’d got to all of those games as a kid,” he said.

Pete Telosky owned a farm where Thomas Haney secondary is now, and the former semi-pro ball player created his own ball field where nobody could hold cattle shows – as they did at the ball field in Albion.

“He was a legendary local character,” remembers Robson, and Telosky would get virtually everyone in town, a couple thousand fans, out to watch games at his ball field.

“There was no television, and that was the big difference.”

It fostered Robson’s love for sports. Junior ball was age 14-17, and Robson played for Haney. He was the 10th man, and sitting in the dugout one day as the Haney starting pitcher was getting knocked around. The coach asked: “Kid, are you a pitcher,” and to get on the field there was only one answer.

Robson pitched on opening day against Hammond in 1951 at Telosky stadium, with its high wooden fence painted with advertising, and 2,000 seats.

Robson had to help paint the backstop green that morning before the game.

On the mound for Hammond was starting pitcher Larry Walker, who was arguably the best ballplayer around, and would later father Larry Walker Jr., a five-time MLB all-star and NL MVP, who for Robson’s money is the best Canadian to ever play the game.

Hal Rhodes pitched five innings for Haney, and Robson came in to pitch relief.

The seniors played next, and the father-son team of Bill and Merv Minty combined to pitch for Haney, while Robson’s classmate Cliffy Rock pitched all 12 frames of an extra inning affair for Hammond, until Bob ‘Ribsy’ Bowyer ended the game with a homer in the 12th inning.

“The place was packed with a couple of thousand people, and it was a beautiful, sunny day.”

Sports journalism came early, too. He had a sports column in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Gazette. He was paid 10 cents for every column inch, and he would earn $7-8 per week.

In Grade 11, Robson went to interviews about career possibilities, and was inspired by Bill Hughes of CKNW.

“Ever since I was six years old I wanted to be a sports broadcaster,” Robson said.

On Hughes’ advice and with his recommendation, Robson wrote the managers of seven radio stations asking for summer work. He landed a job at CJAV in Port Alberni, doing sportscasts and then broadcasting basketball games.

In 1956, he moved to CKNW, where he covered the Vancouver Mounties baseball, the B.C. Lions, and the old Vancouver Canucks of the minor professional Western Hockey League.

“It was good hockey, because there were only six NHL teams,” he said.

In 1970, the NHL expanded up to 14 teams, including Vancouver, and Robson was to become ‘The Voice of the Canucks.’

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs were the only other Canadian teams in the league.

“It was an exciting time … it was a big thing,” said Robson. “We were western Canada’s team. Planeloads would arrive from Edmonton and Calgary for games.”

For the first seven years, Robson worked alone and did pre-game shows, called the action, talked during the intermission and provided post-game analysis.

His last radio broadcast was the 1994 Stanley Cup finals between the Canucks and the New York Rangers, and then he was the Canucks TV announcer for five more seasons, until he retired in 1999.

Along the way he covered Stanley Cup Ffnals, all-star games, and he always said his trademark “special hello to all the hospital patients and shut-ins, those of you who can’t make it out to the game.”

He is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and came a long way from ‘Jimmy’s Own Poultry Yard.’

His remaining connections to Maple Ridge are those vivid memories.

“My parents’ ashes are on the farm, and over top of them is a series of townhouses,” he said.

“It was a great time, and it was a good place to grow up.”

Robson never let more than a couple minutes pass without telling the fans the score, and he never wanted to be labelled a homer.

These days, he is.

“I go to pretty near every Canucks home game. I’m a fan now.”

As part of the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey 50th anniversary celebrations, the city will be renaming the section of 105th Avenue that leads to Planet Ice, Jim Robson Way. The dedication ceremony will take place at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Golden Ears Winter Club, in the upstairs lounge.

Robson is looking forward to Saturday’s festivities, and having a road named for him in his hometown.

“It’s a unique honour. You don’t expect things like that.”