BY RANDY UENS
If you are between the ages of 35 and 105 and lived in Canada you know who Brian Mcfarlane is. For many of us, he was the host of the legendary Hockey Night in Canada telecast. You hear his voice and it takes you back to those “Glory Days” of the telecast with the Iconic blue blazers and amazing personalities. All of that is true, but Brian McFarlane is more than that well known broadcaster. At 89 years of age his accomplishments are not only impressive but they are still accumulating. Broadcaster, author, artist, sportsmen and entrepreneur all anchored with a love of family and sports.
Brian’s love for hockey, like many Canadians began when he was quite young. Raised in Whitby and Ottawa, Brian excelled in hockey and worked his way into a solid junior career in the Quebec junior leagues. In 1951 his Junior team was beaten out of the playoffs by Jean Beliveau and the Quebec Citadels. An end of the season exhibition series versus a Lake Placid NY team brought him to the attention of the hockey coach at St. Lawrence university in Canton N.Y. where he was offered a scholarship. “I didnt even graduate high school! They just took me in right away.” Says MacFarlane. “I met my wife Joan on my first day of school on campus at St. Lawrence. “
In his four years he scored 101 goals for the Skating Saints, which remains a St. Lawrence record. McFarlane was honoured as an All-American in 1952 and graduated in 1955.
After graduating, he and Joan married and settled down in Schenectady New York working in television at WRGB, before packing up the UHaul and moving to Toronto to chase the dream of being a Sports Journalist and potentially work for Hockey Night in Canada. Initial struggles he were to overcome and led to a lengthy career starting at CFRB Radio in Toronto, Ontario and then CFCF-TV in Montreal, Quebec (where he was sports director) and CFTO TV in Toronto.
Despite all of these stops along the way Brian is best known as a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada, beginning in 1964. His last year with HNIC was 1991, ending a 28-year association with HNIC. He made similar broadcasts on NHL games for the major American networks CBS and NBC.
Through the years of broadcasting MacFarlane developed lifelong friendships and relationships with multiple hockey personalities. “I always gravitated towards the guys that had to go through adversity in their careers. Character guys like Keith Acton are some of the best people in hockey”. Professional relationships with Jean Beliveau, Ted Lindsay, Johnny Bower and their spouses became lifelong friendships that were valued by both Brian and Joan.
Beliveau was often seen doing promotional events for McFarlane’s Scotiabank Hockey College that he ran for over 17 years promoting hockey via promotions and magazines at the Bank of Nova Scotia. This entrepreneurial flair highlighted how innovative and inquisitive MacFarlane has been through his career. The Scotiabank Hockey college was a huge influencer in the 70’s and 80’s to Canadian youth.
Although Canadians remember him from HNIC, Brian’s best memories were with his work in the U.S and working with the U.S. His first job with CBS came about because they were looking for a broadcaster that could skate. Subsequent work with NBC involved playing exhibition games versus media groups before the Games of the Week. “Working for the U.S. companies was an absolute treat. Great people like Ted Lindsey made it such a great time in my life”.
McFarlane is often incorrectly cited as the creator or father of the cartoon character Peter Puck. The cartoon puck, which appeared on both NBC’s Hockey Game of the Week and CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada during the 1970s, was actually the creation of NBC executive Donald Carswell, although McFarlane had significant input. “We wanted to have an animated character explain the fundamentals of hockey to non traditional hockey areas of the U.S. “Brian introduced the segments and was always tied to the character.
The character itself and the animation footage was created by NBC’s production partner, Hanna-Barbera. After the network stopped carrying NHL hockey, McFarlane negotiated the rights to Peter Puck from Hanna-Barbera and continued to promote the character. “The animation was done on 16 mm film. I utilized the film cells as illustration for my Peter Puck books”. This allowed for a low cost of production that led to a very successful series of children’s books.
The Peter Puck series is part of a phenomenal portfolio of literature written by McFarlane that totals 96 books to date selling over 1.3 million books to date. When asked about why he started writing, “ I wanted to show my dad that I could write a book. My dad was the original author of the Hardy Boys series and my sister has authored a number of novels. I wanted to show that I could do that too”.
Authoring a wide range of books from children’s books to hockey historical books, McFarlane is expecting his latest book “Hell of a Life in Hockey” to be released in early 2021.
From his teenage years, McFarlane was interested in painting. “I was late to football practice once and my coach asked me where I was. I said I was at art class. He told me there were no artists on his team, so i quit. “In semi-retirement he began painting regularly producing several hundred paintings, mostly landscapes with pond hockey appearing frequently in the paintings. McFarlane has become an accomplished painter, exhibiting professionally.
McFarlane recently was appointed to the “Order of Canada” highlighting his significant contributions to culture in Canada. He is very unassuming with regards to his accomplishments, but is very grateful for the honour bestowed upon him. In conversation you get a strong sense of the importance of family and how that strong base has been a source of strength for him through his career.
Anyone who has had the pleasure to meet Brian you immediately appreciate his keen mind, his sense of timing and wit, not to mention his rich voice. When asked about what’s next, McFarlane quips, “I try to take everything in stride. I’ll make my mark before I am through!”
This article is based on excerpts from an interview on the Total Sports Quinte Podcast. For the full interview visit totalsportsquinte.ca
Check out our full interview with Brian McFarlane on our Total Sports Quinte Podcast. Available at Apple Podcasts, Heart Radio, Spotify or your favourite Podcast App! Link is also available on our website at TotalSportsQuinte.ca
Pictured is one of Brian’s paintings that was given to one of our Total Sports Team members, Kelly Martin by her late friend Troy Hull (Nephew of Bobby and Dennis Hull)