The Original Canuckmobile
Ben Ellison and I met in high school and the two of us shared a lot in common. Both of us were very fond of hockey and art. We became good friends and I remember the day when he got the car. It was a hot summer afternoon in 1991 and I was working at the family printing business. I was cleaning up a press when the phone rang and Ben told me that he had got a car. I asked Ben what it was and he said that it was a 1977 AMC Matador. I got off the phone and told Scott, another pressman, that Ben was given a Matador. He laughed and told me that the Matador was made by the same company that made the Gremlin.
When I first saw the Matador, I could understand why Scott had laughed. The Matador was very big and 2-tone pale brown. Ben and I joked about how ugly the car was and decided that painting it as a tribute to the Vancouver Canucks would only increase the Matador’s value. So, we spent countless nights drawing and painting. Often, we would play roller hockey first and then, return to my parents’ Richmond home to paint the car. We painted late into the night and listened to Andy Frost’s Overnight show on 101 CFMI. My dad even bought a set of halogen flood lights so we could see.
The first piece we did was the trunk. The Canucks logo went in the middle and after we finished it, we drove to Mike’s Submarines hoping that others would love it too. When we asked the cashier what she thought, she told us it was a nice sticker.
We continued to work on the car over the next couple of years. We put the team core on the hood: Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean, and Pavel Bure.
We painted the sides next. At first, Ben was very hesitant about painting the sides. We had just started at UBC and Ben was away on a weekend frosh retreat. I took the car home and started on Cliff Ronning and Geoff Courtnall. For some reason, we never finished their faces.
Next, we put Greg Adams on the trunk and at the request of my sister Julie, Gary Valk went on the other side. Gary Valk was lost in the expansion draft before the 1993-94 season and so, we renamed his portrait after Martin Gelinas who took over Gary Valk’s number 23.
Later that year, our high school friend was telling his neighbour, Mike Beamish, about the car. Mike Beamish was a Vancouver Sun columnist and wrote an article which was published on Saturday, October 10th, 1992.
Ben and I continued to add some finer details to the car. We painted CANUCKMOBILE on the front hood in mirror image so that the drivers ahead would be able to read it in the rear view mirror.
We continued to work on the car while at UBC. There, we met a fellow Canucks fan, Will Verner.
In April, 1994, we had finished our second year university exams and the Canucks were playing the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs. The Canucks were down 3 games to 1 but had come back to tie the series with 2 consecutive overtime victories on goals by Geoff Courtnall and Trevor Linden. Will, Ben, and I were sitting around after Game 6 when someone suggested that we go to Calgary to watch Game 7. We phoned Ticketmaster and reserved 6 tickets. We decided to drive the Canuckmobile and take my brother, Robert, who was still in Grade 12 at the time. Surprisingly, my parents let us go and let Robert skip a couple days of school. We hastily packed our bags and left for Alberta.
We arrived at the Saddledome about 2 to 3 hours prior to the game. We had little to eat but dried spaghetti. While we sat outside the arena, we saw a bus come by. As it turns out, that bus was taking the Canucks to the game. On the Sportstalk radio show later that week, Canucks assistant coach Glen Hanlon talked about how before Game 7, the team saw a bunch of kids with a car painted in Canucks colours. Glen Hanlon went on to say how the team felt, at that point, that the city of Vancouver was behind them.
Many people were intrigued by the Canuckmobile and this Flames fan had to have a picture.
We saw the warm up and an incredible Game 7. The Canucks were down 1 goal and Greg Adams tied it up late in the third period. Then, Kirk McLean made an unbelievable save in overtime which set up Jeff Brown’s pass to Pavel Bure early in the second overtime. Pavel Bure deked and scored on Mike Vernon. We were ecstatic and as we jumped up, our dried spaghetti went everywhere. The Saddledome went quiet. We made our way to the concourse where we met several other Canucks fans. We celebrated, danced, and screamed. Then, we decided to drive the Canuckmobile to the back of the arena.
When we got to the back of the Saddledome, there was a flood of Canucks fans there already. We parked the Canuckmobile close by and joined in. Glen Hanlon came out and made his way over to Robert and handed him a piece of paper. It was a copy of the official score sheet. I guess he had remembered us.
Cliff Ronning was the first player to come out. Robert jumped up on the car and started to chant, “SIGN THE CAR!!! SIGN THE CAR!!!” The crowd repeated the chant and soon Ronning asked: “What car?” Like Moses, the sea of people parted to show the Canuckmobile. Ronning signed the car and as other players came out, they were urged to “sign the car”. After each autograph, the crowd let out a roaring cheer.
Dana Murzyn, Jyrki Lumme, Greg Adams, Dave Babych, Bret Hedican, Geoff Courtnall, Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, and Pat Quinn signed the car. Pat Quinn was the last one to board the bus and the bus traveled only a few metres before stopping. The door opened and Pat Quinn came out with a cigar in hand. He came up to the Canuckmobile, asked for a pen, and signed.
As Dave Babych signed the hood, he asked us if we were coming to Dallas for the next series. “Of course!” we answered and that was the beginning of the trip. On the road home, we talked about driving to watch the Canucks play in Dallas because school was finished for the summer.
By the time we got home, we had decided to go on a trip and the planning began.
Don Taylor from Sportspage did a feature about the trip and The Province put us on the front page.
We looked for sponsors to help finance the trip. We were 3 university students looking to travel across the country to watch the NHL playoffs and we knew this would be a hard sell. But, we landed some sponsors through luck, hard work, and the perseverance of my dad.
Custom Signs of Kerrisdale did decals for the car’s major sponsors. Ralph’s Radio put a cellular phone in the car along with a CD player. In the meantime, the Canucks swept the Stars and so, our plans changed to drive to Toronto.
I knew that Robert really wanted to come along. After all, he was part of the original trip. But he had 2 months of school left and could not miss it.
On the night we left, Will, Ben, and I went to my Aunt Cynthia’s house for dinner. My family packed food for us and bid us farewell.
Truthfully, I was a little scared. My mom and dad would tell me later that they did not want me to go. Ben and Will drove the first night and I slept in the back seat.
I remember waking up to the sunrise. Will was driving and we were just outside Calgary. We saw the most gorgeous sunrise that day.
We only had 1 set of keys for the car. So, we went to a mall to copy another set. Ben and Will decided to go to Future Shop while I cut the keys. When I returned to the car, it was running and the salesman from Future Shop was sitting in the front seat. Apparently, the salesman tried his house key and it worked. In Calgary, we found Dana Murzyn’s parents’ house and left a message at the door but never heard back.
We drove to Medicine Hat where Murray Craven and Trevor Linden were from. We found Trevor Linden’s grandmother’s address in the phone book and visited her at her house. We showed her the car and Mrs. Linden invited us in for tea while we watched the Rangers/Devils game with her. We left her with our number and greetings for Trevor Linden’s parents. Next, we found Murray Craven’s family. We explained to Mrs. Craven who we were and she invited us in. We chatted with Murray Craven’s parents and his brother and then, took these pictures with them. They gave us some Murray Craven pictures when we left and Ben wore a Hartford Whalers jersey (Murray Craven’s former team) to let the Cravens know that he had always been a fan of their son.
We continued to Saskatchewan. One night, we pulled into a gas station and a fellow was at the pump in a convertible Corvette. He saw our car and told us that he had won a Stanley Cup with the Flyers in the 1970s. He would not tell us who he was but said that he coached a hockey school with Trevor Linden and Murray Craven every summer. When we left the gas station, we had trouble getting the car to shift gears. So, we went back to the station and had the transmission fluid checked and topped off. Later that night, we pulled over to the side of the highway and slept. When we woke up in the morning, the car would not start. The transmission was gone and we were towed to a shop in Regina. We spent the day in a nearby mall and were asked to leave for loitering. The transmission was fixed for $600.
The Canucks and Leafs series was well underway as we made our way through the prairies. The Canucks were up 3 games to 1 and Game 5 was being played at home. We were driving though Manitoba and pulled into a gas station with an adjoining bar. We filled up and then, went inside and saw that the score was 3-0 for the Leafs. Ben, Will, and I looked at each other in disappointment but were reassured that at least the series would go to Toronto for Game 6. So, we got back into the car and continued towards Toronto. One of us started to fiddle around with the radio and we stumbled on a station which was simulcasting the game from CKNW 98. We listened to the game for the rest of the drive through Manitoba.
The Canucks came back to tie the game and then, we heard the overtime winner by Greg Adams. We could not wait to get on the air. Since we left Vancouver, we had been doing nightly interviews with Dan Russell on Sportstalk. Our scheduled time was approaching but we were in the mountains where the cell phone service was on and off. Finally, about 2 hours later, we made it out of the mountains. We had about 5 minutes before the end of the show and I pulled into a gas station to use the payphone. The show had been extended that night and so, I was able to speak with Dan Russell. But, Dan Russell wanted to hear from Will as well. I asked the gas station attendant if he would wake up Will but he was not allowed to leave the register and instead, paged Will overhead. Will woke up and came in.
Since the Canucks beat the Leafs, our plans changed to drive to New York or New Jersey. I was driving through Thunder Bay when I hit a construction zone at just a little more than the posted speed. We landed with a loud bang and lost the muffler.
We had some time now and instead of staying in Toronto, went to Queen’s University where some friends were studying for the summer. We stayed at Joyce’s place and one night, went to Doug Gilmour’s Sports Bar where Will lost his wallet.
The next day, we called the Ontario Provincial Police and found that someone had turned in Will’s wallet. We drove to the station and while Will was inside, the cell phone rang. I answered it and the voice on the other sounded a lot like a friend back in Vancouver. But I was not sure and so, cautiously listened to the caller introduce himself as Lane Linden. Soon, I realized that this was no joke. On the other end was Trevor Linden’s dad. He told me that he had received the message we left with his mom and wished us all the best. Mr. Linden invited us to drop by if we were coming through Medicine Hat on the way back to Vancouver. All he and his wife needed was a little time to get dinner ready.
Just before leaving Joyce’s, the cell rang again. This time, it was Ian Tostenson who was President of Granville Island Brewing. Mr. Tostenson had been following our drive through the news back home. He heard about the wrecked transmission in Saskatchewan and the lost muffler in Thunder Bay. Mr. Tostenson told us that Granville Island Brewing was willing to help us out. They would give us some money and pay for our hotel in New York.
We took a trip to Oakville, Ontario and visited Appleby College. When I was in Grade 10 (1990), I participated in an exchange program with Appleby and it was neat to see the school again.
By this time, the Rangers had defeated the Devils and were the other Stanley Cup finalists. So, we began our journey south to New York City. We arrived at Rutgers University where we stayed for a few days. As we went over the New Jersey turnpike into New York City, a car pulled up beside us. The driver rolled down his window, flipped his middle finger, and proceeded to tell us how much the Canucks sucked.
We stayed at the Howard Johnson in New York.
Many parcels were delivered to our hotel. The UBC Thunderbird Shop sent us a box of licorice after we had requested it on Sportstalk a few nights earlier. Ben is holding a fax we received from Granville Island Brewing advertising that Canuckmobile Natural Draft was now on tap. This fax showed the caricatures that were going to be used to promote the beer and the story behind our trip.
In Vancouver, these tent cards went up at several pubs and restaurants. My sister, Julie, was out one night at Milestones when she saw the card. She was shocked at how this trip was unfolding. Julie kept the tent card as a souvenir. On her way out of the restaurant, she saw Murray Craven and his parents. She stopped and asked him for his autograph. Julie did not have a pen and so, Murray Craven used her lipstick to sign the card. Julie then told the Cravens that I was her brother and had visited them earlier in Medicine Hat.
In New York, we finally had a chance to meet the Sportstalk crew face to face. Dan Russell, on the phone, was the host. Scott Woodgate, smiling, was the producer.
We sampled some of New York’s sidewalk specialty foods outside Madison Square Gardens before Game 1.
The Canucks went on to win the game in overtime; again, Greg Adams had the winner.
Earlier that day, The Province had taken a few pictures of us with the car in front of MSG. To our surprise, we made the front page the day after the Canucks Game 1 victory.
The next night we hung out with the Vancouver media people. Terry David Mulligan came to the studio.
Then, we took the subway to see a Yankees game.
The next morning, we decided to visit the NHL trophy display at a downtown hotel. After viewing the exhibit, we went back to the car. A gentleman approached us and wrote an article which ran in the New York Newsday paper.
We met Harry Neale and Ron MacLean from Hockey Night in Canada.
One of our most memorable meetings was with Don Cherry. We called the hotel reception and asked if we could be transferred to Donald S. Cherry’s room. Don Cherry answered the phone and we asked him if he was the same Don Cherry from Hockey Night in Canada. He said he was and we told him about our trip. Don Cherry told us to wait and he came down to see us. He told us to return the following day to film a little vignette which was aired on Coach’s Corner during Game 2.
The Province had taken pictures of us with Don Cherry and were going to run one on the front page if the Canucks had won Game 2. But, we lost and so the article ran inside.
Now, we had to decide whether to go home or stay in New York. We were enjoying New York but we also wanted to see the games in Vancouver. As well, if the Canucks went on to win the Cup, we wanted to be in Vancouver for that. So, we decided to fly back. Granville Island Brewing arranged tickets for us and shipped the car back by train.
Unfortunately, the Canucks did not win the Stanley Cup that year. After all of the excitement subsided, I had a chance to reflect on many letters and memorabilia that people had sent us.
That summer, someone tried to sell an 1979 AMC Matador for $2,900 and compared it to the Canuckmobile.
Later that summer, we were on a nightly sports television show – 280 JOCK. A viewer from Revelstoke saw the program and asked us to come for a town festival. We did and it was great.
Raymond Chan used the Canuckmobile in the July 1st Canada Day parade in Steveston and the Canuckmobile was featured at the grand opening of a cold beer and wine store.
In 2000, CBC did a feature on the Canuckmobile.
Hockey was pretty bleak in Vancouver until the Canucks began to peak in 2001-2002. In September 2001, Sportspage did a ‘Where are they now?’ interview. By April 2002, the city was hockey crazy again and The Province wanted to see if the Canuckmobile would run once more. It ran an article on April 17, 2002. There was some excitement created by that article. A local radio station put us on its daily “Office Question of the Day” which was: What did the Canuckmobile lose in Thunder Bay?
In the fall of 2002, The Province did a special article on Will and how the trip to New York was a stepping stone for him to coach hockey.
In 2003, the Canucks had a great regular season. The city and media were in a frenzy about the Canucks’ playoff chances. I received a call one day from Hockey Night in Canada to film a story about the possible success of Canada’s playoff bound hockey teams. The segment ran on the last night of the regular season Hockey Night In Canada coverage. Then, CTV did a segment as well.
Shortly after, the Vancouver Sun ran an article about the car and its possible return from retirement.
In 2007, the Canuckmobile was put to rest. It had sat in my parents’ driveway and had not turned over for several years. My brother was getting married that summer and my dad wanted the car moved. So, the Kidney Foundation came to dispose of the car. I remember standing on the driveway and seeing the car towed away. It is a decision that I regret particularly since my son is an avid hockey fan.
Since then, the car comes up every once in a while in conversation and with playoff excitement about the Canucks – most recently in 2011.
The trip was unexpected but it gave me great memories of Vancouver and its fans. I hope that reading this story brought a smile to your face as well.