SUMMERSIDE – Nearly 20 people, former athletes and supporters of sport in the Summerside area, gathered at the Eptek Centre, Friday, to recall the life and contributions of long time sports journalist John “The Realm” McNeill but the discussion quickly turned to the resurrection of the McNeill Room once housed at Cahill Stadium.
The McNeill Room showcased local athletes and supporters through memorabilia, news stories and pictures produce by McNeill.
Those artifacts, for the most part, have been locked away since the demolition of Cahill Stadium and the construction of Credit Union Place. With the closure of the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame in May of 2012 and the lack of success in finding a permanent home for the hall, there has been concerned expressed, locally, that nothing will happen with McNeill’s history of area sport until the issue of the provincial hall is solved.
“Having been on the committees to try bring this forward we’ve experienced many roadblocks, but we must keep our energies going to use what we’ve got,” George Dalton, past chairperson of the Summerside and Area Historical Society, told the history circle. “When we moved from the old civic stadium, it seeks like the umbilical cord got cut. We want to discuss this subject and reconstruct the umbilical cord.”
Dalton described McNeill as a legend and “he meant so much to this community.”
He said McNeill covered everybody, from the stars to the non-stars.
“He was our face in sports,” Dalton said.
Greg Deighan said the McNeill Room at the Cahill Stadium was a popular spot for people to view and learn about local sports figures and history.
“There were thousands of people who went to that room seeing pictures they never would have seen in their lifetime” of relatives and friends,” he said. “If we don’t have that room there for the history of Summerside and area, it’s missing. It’s a shame that it’s not presented here in our city.
Deighan said the city spent $40 million on a facility that thousands of people go through on a monthly basis and there is nothing there to display the history of local sports.
“We’re missing something and we’ll all pay a price down the road,” he said.
Deighan the longer the material is not displayed, the greater the chances it will be lost.
“That stuff may never be found again,” he said. “I think there is something wrong here if we can’t get a room to display the history of the common people here. If it doesn’t get done now in the new building, it won’t happen. We should all make a special effort to make sure this gets done. This stuff is more important than anyone of us.”
Dalton said in a facility such as Credit Union Place there are the needs of the city and the needs of the public.
“The problem is they haven’t sat down together and said you have to pay the bills and you have to have advertising but how can we include everybody, like figure skating, minor hockey and the Caps and all of those things?” he said.
Dalton said in Credit Union Place there is a big display by a local car dealership. He suggested that there be a sports display installed sponsored by the dealership. That way the advertising is there as well as the sports history.
Several of those at the history circle remembered how McNeill never missed writing about a birth, a wedding or a death in the community and that he paid tribute the all as well as those in sports.
They said his writings and reporting brought the community together and kept those who were away informed of what was happening locally to people, friends and relatives that they knew.
Former NHL start Errol Thompson was often interviewed by McNeill and he recalled
“What John always use to say when he asked me a question I would answer it but it wasn’t good enough for him, so he would have to call my mom to get the whole story,” he said.
Thompson agreed with others at the history circle that when it comes to listing which is more important to Summerside, the McNeill Room or the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the McNeill Room is number one.