NEW GLASGOW - Richard Bennett grew up watching boxing matches and hockey games in his father’s arena that stretched along the East River in downtown New Glasgow. It was the 1940s, a time in Pictou County when people would come out in the hundreds to watch boxers fight in the ring.
“I lived in the rink. I was brought up in the rink. I’m a true, honest to God rink rat,” Bennett said, adding that boxing matches were put on at the arena almost weekly back then. “Those days, before the war and all through the war, those were the heyday of boxing and wrestling. It was big. It was popular.”
The rink was where Bennett grew up. So, when he received a call from John Marshall Antiques saying the store had found a poster for a wrestling match in his father’s arena, Bennett had it checked for authenticity, bought it and donated it in the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame.
The poster promotes a wrestling match that was refereed by Jack Dempsey, a heavyweight champion of the world. The fights advertised on the poster were between Manuel Cortez and Len Hughes and a fight between Al Korman and Les Ryan. The events listed in the poster were set to happen on Oct. 12, 1946 in The New Glasgow Arena, also referred to as The Old Arena.
Hugh “Sparky” Paris, a former local boxer, boxing coach and current honourary chairman of the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame accepted the poster from Bennett on behalf of the museum Saturday.
Paris said he was in the arena the night of the fights on the poster. Seeing the poster brought back old memories for Paris, who had his first boxing match in the same ring in 1942.
“I was going to work one morning and somebody asked me, ‘could I fight this guy,’ and I said, ‘who is it?’ It was Dave Melanson. I said, ‘how many fights has he had?’ and they said he had about 40 fights. I said, ‘when’s that fight going to be?’ and he said in about five days time and I said ok. He had 40 fights and this was going to be my first one, but I said ‘I’ll be there.’ So I went home and started working out.”
When the day of the fight came and Paris went into the ring at The New Glasgow Arena, he was found out quickly it wasn’t going to be an easy fight.
“He had me down four times to the count of eight. So I went back to the corner and asked the guy there who was taking care of me, I asked, ‘what can I do to stop him from putting me down?’ He said, ‘you got to out box him’ and I said, ‘he’s too good of a boxer. I can’t box.’ But, I said I’m going to go toe-to-toe with him and I’m not going down anymore and he said, ‘he’s gonna kill you.’”
But he didn’t kill Paris. In fact, he said he went in and hit Melanson 50 times before he could even get his hands up and knocked him down to the count of 10 in the fifth round, winning the bout.
After that first match, Paris built up a reputation in The New Glasgow Arena as being fearless.
“My second bout was against Bearcat Jack (Charles “Bearcat” Jackson). He was in the big house, got out and started boxing. He was 190 pounds, I was 135. I didn’t care how big they were,” Paris said.
Bennett remembers watching Paris box in his father’s arena as a boy. He remembers Paris as a boxer who would take on anyone.
“He wasn’t a runner, that’s for sure,” Bennett said.
One of Bennett’s favourite memories of his years spent growing up in the arena was watching a fight between the chief of police at the time, Spinny Wright and Bearcat.
“Four-thousand people showed up to that match. I think its safe to say that’s probably the largest of number of people under one roof in Pictou County ever,” he said.
Bennett said when it was a packed house like it was with that match people would stand up in the rafters of the arena, with just a plank of wood between them and the floor below.
Now, the arena that housed so many memories for both Paris, Bennett and many others will have a piece of its history on the walls of the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame.