Instant Replay: Richard Loney sings
Richard Loney has started more games for the Vancouver Canucks than longtime captains Stan Smyl, Markus Naslund and even Trevor Linden who played 1,140 games.
No, Loney’s name doesn’t hang on a banner from the rafters at Rogers Arena like those of the three team leaders but his voice does echo from the roof high above their banners.
You see, Loney – who taught mostly music and French for 28 years in North Vancouver schools until retiring from teaching in 1989 – has been singing national anthems at the start of Canucks’ home games since the team first entered the National Hockey League 40 seasons ago in 1970.
“I was doing a lot of singing and I was a hockey nut,” he says now, remembering back to the Canucks’ first game in 1970. “It was Juliette, our pet Juliette, the TV star, who sang the anthem the very first night. They had her up there with a beautiful flowing gown with a fan behind her, the wind blowing the gown. It was like a Hollywood production.
“I went to four or five games and they had different singers. I was going to buy season’s tickets but I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I can do what they’re doing.’ Greg Douglas was in p.r. and marketing [with the Canucks] so I got hold of him and he said to come down and do two or three games and we’ll see how it goes.”
It must have gone pretty well because from that point on he sang both the Canadian and American anthems at virtually every home game at the Pacific Coliseum for 25 years before taking on a reduced schedule two years after the team moved into General Motors Place. More recently, at the re-named Rogers Arena, he began sharing the season’s workload with Mark Donnelly and now sings the two anthems at 12 to 15 home games a season.
During the playoffs, Loney sings The Star Spangled Banner while Donnelly warbles O Canada.
Like many Canadian boys, Loney (who was born in Calgary and grew up there) dreamed of playing in the NHL. In fact, he did play Junior B with the Calgary Buffaloes and then two years on left wing with the UBC Thunderbirds.
He also played tennis on campus, sometimes partnering in doubles with star player Jim Killeen, the future president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and eventually the World Confederation of Teachers.
But Loney was also into music and so left performing on the ice to performing on stage with UBC’s Musical Society in operettas such as Maid of the Mountain. That led to Theatre Under the Stars productions of The Merry Widow, South Pacific, The Student Prince, Where’s Charlie, Kiss Me, Kate and The Pajama Game (with Robert Goulet no less) in the summers of 1956 and ’57, his last years at UBC.
After a year on staff at Kitsilano Secondary, he began his first year teaching in North Van in September 1958 with a Grade 7 class at Ridgeway Elementary. When Balmoral Junior Secondary opened in 1959, he taught there for two years.
However, most of his career was spent at Sutherland (a junior secondary until adding senior grades in 1979) where he taught from 1961-89, minus a year on exchange to England in 1963-64, one year working on his master’s degree and another thanks to a deferred salary leave.
At Sutherland, he first taught choral music.
“I did all the productions, the shows, musicals and choirs at Christmas,” he notes, reaching into his memory bank. “It wasn’t an easy job but I did it for years because I loved it.”
When the school began a mini-school experiment in 1970, just as he was about to begin his anthem singing with the Canucks, Loney – along with Mike Morgan and Wes Morrison, plus Peter Ewens later – taught almost everything to the Grade 8s. This was to provide students with a smoother transition from elementary to secondary school.
“We taught the whole program except woodworking and home economics. I did French, English and socials. We did group teaching. We did the P.E.; ran with the kids and did the sports. We did it for about 11 years. For awhile it was expanded to Grade 9s and some 10s but that really didn’t work.”
When the mini-school was phased out, he taught French. “I used to sing a lot of French songs with the Vancouver Opera, singing in the chorus on and off for 25 years. I loved the language and got enamoured with it.”
He also coached Sutherland’s tennis team with Morgan for a few years.
He wasn’t the most famous singer or tennis player from Sutherland though. Two lads by the names of Bryan Adams and Grant Connell, who were both students at the school in the 1970s, claimed those honours later in life.
However, Richard – who was known as Dick by his colleagues during his teaching days – has appeared in quite a variety of venues in the entertainment world. In addition to the stage, he’s been in television commercials and from 1965-67 performed in a CBC TV series called Chorus Gentlemen, 10 men singing popular songs from the first half of the 20th century. Since retiring from teaching and moving to Tsawwassen, he’s sung on cruise ships to Alaska and in the Caribbean. He even sang at Glen Hanlon’s wedding. Last month he was on Dal Richards’ radio show Dal’s Place.
But singing anthems is his claim to fame. He’s sung at Toronto Blue Jays’ games when they’ve played in Seattle; B.C. Lions’ games at Empire Stadium and B.C. Place, including the 1994 Grey Cup; Vancouver Whitecaps’ matches and Vancouver Giants’ games, including the 2007 Memorial Cup tournament.
He’s even sung the national anthems of the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Sweden when their hockey teams have played in Vancouver.
“Growing up,” he says, “I loved the Canadiens simply because of Beliveau, Richard, Lafleur, the legends. Now of course it’s the Canucks.”
So when he sings The Star Spangled Banner this week, in his mind he’ll probably actually be thinking, “O say can you see... a Canucks’ Stanley Cup victory?”
This is episode 422 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.