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SC Rewind: Remembering Tory Gregg

Published: June 18, 2016 8:47 am ET

Last Comment: June 18, 2016 5:19 pm ET | 2 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls a rather legendary figure from the past named Tory Gregg. His long tenure as an announcer at many small-town tracks in Southwestern Ontario made him a legendary figure in days gone by.

​Tory Gregg left presents a trophy to driver Walter Weese of Dresden in recognition of his top U.D.R.S. standing at the 1971 spring meeting at Windsor Raceway. The presentation was on behalf of Molson's Brewery

Many years ago when a day of racing was held at a small town, the success or failure of the afternoon depended on a lot of volunteer or part-time helpers who worked mainly behind the scenes. People were required to serve as judges, timers, gate keepers, scorecard sellers and the list went on forever. Most of them did the job because they loved the sport.

One very important job that was most often filled by a trained person who moved from track to track, was that of race announcer. They actually got paid although I'm sure it was not part of a "get rich quick" scheme. One of the best known and well-remembered race callers from bygone days was a gentleman named "TORY" GREGG. His many long years of service to the sport are recalled here today and I am certain that many people remember him.

Mr. Gregg, whose given names were "Mervyn Lloyd" (hence at times M.L.), was always known by everyone as "Tory". He was born in Brant Township, located in Bruce County, in 1906. Early in life he followed his passion for ice hockey, playing first for local teams in the town of Paisley and then his travels took him much farther afield as he enjoyed an eight-year career in semi-pro hockey circles. His stops included Windsor, Pittsburgh, and London beginning around 1929. It had to have been quite a journey in those days.

Once his hockey career was behind him, he returned to his Bruce County roots and accepted a job as a sportscaster at the Wingham, Ont. station CKNX. He remained at this job for many years, combining it with another "love", that of calling harness races. His busy schedule took him to virtually every small "bull ring" in Southwestern Ontario to call the races. Many of his engagements were as part of the team assembled by long-time starting gate operator Tom McDonnell of Hamilton. Tom did the starting and Tory called the races and entertained the crowds.

Paisley, Ont. 1921-1922 hockey team which included Tory Gregg. Check out the uniforms and the goalie pads. Also it appears as though they went with a fairly short bench in those days.

Front row - (L-R) Oscar Hopper, M.L. "Tory" Gregg, Ross McKenzie, Frank Pickard
Back Row - C. Murcar, John Scott, Hugh MacArthur, Robert Gregg [Photo courtesy of Paisley village archives]

Gregg's folksy and homespun style of calling races became his trademark as fans invariably loved his calls wherever he went. In those days the PA systems were not always top notch but he made the best of what he was dealt. The announcer's job somehow went beyond just calling post parades, the race itself and the outcome. His job often included asking people to move a car, find a wayward child or make a community announcement such as birth or a death connected with the sport.

When Thorncliffe Park in Toronto opened in 1950, the management asked Gregg to do the race calls. After a short stint in the Metropolitan area he had to give up the job due to the travel involved. He soon moved back to doing the small spots where everyone knew him. I think he may have done some fill-in duties when London's Western Fair Raceway opened under the lights in 1961. Even in the off season, Mr. Gregg was often called upon to act as MC at banquets held by local Turf Clubs.

As small-town harness racing waned with the changing times, Gregg's services were less and less in demand. Aware of his following and stature within the sport's world, Molson's Breweries hired him to do promotional work with the title of District Sales Manager. He travelled about making appearances and presenting trophies and other awards. Many of his assignments involved the sport of harness racing, where he was able to meet up with old friends.

Through his many years of doing the sport's broadcasts at CKNX in Wingham there was scarcely a person in certain areas of rural Ontario who did know who Tory Gregg was. In those days, many people did not have televisions yet and radio was their main source of receiving information and entertainment. Folks listened in their parlours, their cars and even while they milked the cows, a radio often played. CKNX was very popular at one time across rural Ontario because of its Saturday Night Barn Dance show.

Throughout a good portion of Mr. Gregg's broadcasting career he signed off his shows with the following slogan "It matters not whether you won or lost but how you played the game." He also had a 'patented' saying that he reportedly used at least once at every race meeting. "Every day is a show day and every day is a humdinger." Perhaps you would have to have been around back then to fully appreciate his vocabulary. Tory was also very skilled at putting in extra verbiage when calling a race. This was often a necessity since at most of the fairs as everything including the midway was in the infield and the announcer was lucky to see the horses briefly five times in a mile.

I am grateful to my friend the late Bill McDonnell, who passed away last October, for sharing a number of reminiscences about Mr. Gregg over the last several years. Bill worked with Tory dating back to the early 1950's and through his advice and encouragement became an accomplished announcer in his own right. When Bill was just 15, he was pressed into service when Tory was unable to make it to Owen Sound so Bill made his debut at the microphone.

Tory Gregg passed away in London Ont. at the age of 70 in 1976. Many still remember him fondly and his presence for all those years in small town harness racing circles place him in "legendary" territory. I am sure that other great and memorable announcers served in other areas of the country.

The mention of Tory Gregg is a reminder of The Good Old Days.

A Fond Farewell To Gordie

The world of sports recently lost one of its most iconic figures with the passing of hockey great Gordie Howe. While he was not involved with our sport, many links between the world of hockey and harness racing have long existed. As I mentioned a while back in a Rewind column, I had the pleasure of meeting "Mr. Hockey" many years ago. I followed a lot of his long career, much of it on the radio.

Two great hockey heroes from the past; now both gone. Howe and Jean Beliveau, who often visited the big Montreal Tracks and participated in trackside presentations.

June 18, 2016 - 5:19 pmI raced at many of the one

I raced at many of the one day meets and Fairs where Tory did the calls in the 60's. His style was unique, colourful and humourous, and the crowds loved it. Good to see him pictured with my good friend Walter Weese. We've lost track of each other recently but the good times rolled when we raced together at Windsor, Detroit and Ohio in the early 70's. Walter was always a high percentage driver and won many awards back then.

June 18, 2016 - 12:04 pmMy time in broadcasting

My time in broadcasting didn't begin until the late 1970's, so I didn't have the opportunity to ever work with Tory. Growing up in Wingham, I can tell you he was a legend. Fall fairs were the stuff of my childhood. We went to two or three every year. The race announcer soon morphed into a general mc for the day and had to keep many balls in the air at the same time. I had the privilege of calling races at both the Forest and Exeter Fairs many years ago and you soon learned that guess work would be involved as there were parts of the track that you couldn't see. You were also in competition with the raucous noise of the midway and other assorted sounds of the fair.
Working as a sportscaster in Saskatoon in the early 1980's, I had the privilege on a warm summer day to sit down for a one on one interview with Gordie Howe. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. This was a radio interview, so when I asked Gordie about his legendary elbows, I almost burst out laughing as he claimed he didn't think he ever used his elbows much - all the while he had this broad grin on his face and gave me a wink or two. He was so gracious, gave me all the time I wanted, and then talked with me for a while after. We heard so many stories like this at the time of his passing and certainly they were all true. He was a great hockey player and perhaps an even greater person.

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