A family remembers a father
On October 16, 2017, Stratford, Ontario’s Blair Babcock (no relation to current Toronto Maple Leaf bench boss Mike Babcock) was in the midst of a series of natural ups and downs as he dealt with the tenth anniversary of his father Larry’s passing from glioblastoma.
Only 24 hours later, news of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie’s death from the same form of brain cancer brought Canada to a virtual standstill.
“I was just in the middle of celebrating and grieving and doing all those emotional acrobatics that you do when you’re remembering somebody when I heard the news of Gord,” recalls Babcock.
The Hip fan and the hockey collector
As a fan of the Tragically Hip, Babcock possessed much of the criteria associated with the group’s loyal following – including being a working musician and a hockey player.
But it’s his days as a collector of sports memorabilia, including hockey cards, that gives Babcock an edge over most other Hip fans. Babcock owned a commemorative Bill Barilko card, the Toronto Maple Leaf famously name-dropped in the Hip’s “Fifty-Mission Cap.”
Bill Barilko disappeared that summer,
He was on a fishing trip.
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn’t win another until 1962,
The year he was discovered.
I stole this from a hockey card,
I keeped tucked up under
My fifty mission cap.
So the question is, did Gord Downie really steal the lyric for the song from the card?
History and a hockey card
“In 1991 Pro Set released their year of cards, and in most of those sets they have commemorative cards that talk about the legends of hockey and one of them was Bill Barilko and his whole story. If you read the back of the card the last paragraph from the card is almost word-for-word from the song.”
When he attended Queen’s University in Kingston during the early ’90s, Babcock had a roommate whose sister was friends with members of the hometown Hip. That connection saw Babcock being able to get the band to sign the Barilko card.
“It’s followed me around in a box for 20 years, not because I don’t have a great appreciation for the card or respect for the card… I had it in its own little casing and in a box so it didn’t have the sun, it didn’t get worn out, it didn’t have any elements seeing it. And it’s still in pristine condition.”
After Downie’s glioblastoma diagnosis last year, the card was brought out of storage by Babcock, who, “…went and relived some of the nostalgic moments that I’ve had with hockey and the Hip. I took a picture of it and posted it (on Facebook) and then put back in its place.”
Giving one for the team
It wasn’t long after the music world lost Gord Downie that Babcock re-posted the Barilko card picture on Facebook and decided to put it up for auction. Not to make money for himself or his family, but for charity.
“It’s just sitting in a basement. I’m never going to let it see the light of day because that goes against what I know you should do if you’re a card collector. So I think it’s probably going to find a better home and I think I can honour Gord and my dad and raise some money and donate it to worthy causes. Not that I know Gord Downie personally, but anytime you see him talk it wasn’t just about the entertainment – his social values were exceptional. He was a great humanitarian. My dad was a great humanitarian. It was an easy way to honour them in that sense.”
After a week on eBay and a minimal starting bid set at 99 cents, Babcock’s Bill Barilko card sold last Thursday for $6,240 (CAD).
“I’ve chosen to split it up,” says Babcock of where the money will go. “I’ve chosen to give most of it to the community foundations, again talking about my dad, he was very community-oriented human being.”
Cash for the communities
As a result, the Chatham Kent Community Foundation‘s Larry Babcock Memorial Fund will receive some of the proceeds, along with the Stratford Perth Community Foundation and the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research will also benefit financially. But there’s another passion of Downie’s that Babcock is making sure gets some assistance.
“He was a great advocate for First Nations, so I’m going to give part of this money as well to the EatFit program here in town that goes up to the First Nations communities and makes a difference up there. I think that’s something he would appreciate.”
One other thing Downie would be certain to appreciate? A fan who gives a damn, and not just about the music.