A Life's Story
September 04, 2021
Just one of the boys
Newspaper columnist Dutch Holland had his moments on the ice, but friends remember a sharp-witted, wisecracking, good-humoured superstar off it
By: Geoff Kirbyson
As a journalist, Dutch Holland knew the importance of listening.
So, when he was told by his best friend’s wife that he was welcome to join his buddy for a beer after hockey at their house — provided that a light was on — he knew better than to break that trust.
Imagine Murray Van Norman’s surprise after he’d gone to bed early one mid-winter Wednesday night — his wife, Betty, was out playing bridge — only to be startled from his slumber by Holland, who was not only in his house but in his bedroom, making a cellphone call to a mutual friend, Kent Morgan.
"It’s OK for me to come in here now because the electric blanket light is on," he said to Morgan, pointing to the little orange light on the dial.
Van Norman had no choice but to get up and pull a couple of beers out of his fridge.
Holland, whose given name was Ted, died in July after battling leukemia and dementia. He was 83. He is survived by his sister, Nancy Ann Parkhill, his son, Robert (Jennifer) Holland, grandsons, Tommy and Porter, as well as his niece Tara (Don) Brousseau-Snider, and nephews, Tim (Christel) Parkhill, Ted (Kesia) Parkhill, and Jeff (Carol-Anne) Parkhill, as well as numerous cousins, great-nieces and nephews and many friends.
After graduating from Kelvin High School, he received his bachelor of journalism degree at North Dakota State University before earning a master’s degree from the University of Iowa.
While at NDSU, he wrote a column called The Oldtimers in the Spectrum, the student-run newspaper; Van Norman says it was the best-read piece every week.
"Everybody looked to it to see what was up. He barbecued me in there a couple of times," he says. "He was truly a wordsmith. He was just terrific at one-liners."
Holland worked in public relations with CP Air and then spent about 25 years with the Royal Bank. After retiring from the bank, he finally realized his dream of becoming a sports journalist.
Dutch was a good hockey player as a kid, but he wasn’t going to make the pros or anything. But what he may have lacked in skill he more than made up for in enthusiasm and passion. It wasn’t uncommon for him to play three or four times a week with a variety of teams and groups of friends.
Bob Irving, the longtime voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on CJOB, got to know Holland from seeing him at football games and practices but they really hit it off on the ice — and in the dressing room — at their Monday-afternoon shinny game.
"We all loved him. He had a big smile on his face when we’d sit around in the locker room. He’d chime in with something funny and he’d laugh. He wasn’t one of the loud guys but he’d throw zingers in every once in a while," Irving says.
"I couldn’t wait for it every Monday afternoon. The big part of it was the camaraderie and the goofing around afterwards."
Word about one of Dutch’s regular skates got out to a few of the Winnipeg Jets. Over the years, players such as Lyle Moffat and Barry Long and Jim Nielson of the New York Rangers showed up to get a little exercise. But you can imagine Dutch’s surprise when Dale Hawerchuk and his dad, Ed, walked into the dressing room at River Heights Community Centre one afternoon with duffle bags over their shoulders.
That surprise turned to shock when Dutch discovered he had been slotted to play on a line with the two. Dutch collaborated on a newspaper column for many years with Morgan, a friend of more than a half-century.
They started a four-year-run with their Toast & Coffee column in the Winnipeg Sun in 1997 and then moved on to the Winnipeg Free Press weeklies a few years later with Out and About. They kept it going for nearly a decade until Dutch’s health started to deteriorate.
"Dutch was probably a better interviewer than me but I think I was a better writer and certainly a better editor. When we started Toast & Coffee, we were told we could do whatever we wanted. We stayed away from major games. We’d say, ‘Let’s go to Kelvin Community Club and watch a game.’ It was so loosey-goosey," Morgan says.
Once in a while, Dutch’s son, Rob, would skate with the old boys. He had heard about his dad’s stickhandling exploits — Winnipeg Sun columnist Pat Doyle had dubbed him a "dipsy doodle dandy" — and now he got to see it up close.
"He’d make about eight or nine stickhandles before he got right in front of one guy and he might make it past him and maybe the second guy but he’d usually end up in the corner. It was entertaining to watch, for sure," Rob says with a laugh.
Dutch was also a proud member of the Blossom Boys, a group of young men from River Heights who went to Kelvin High School and got their nickname because they used to play touch football at Blossom Park — since renamed Andrew Currie Park — on Wellington Crescent. The group has had regular reunions ever since with members flying in from all over North America.
Dutch had a soft spot for those less fortunate than him and dogs. He kept one pocket full of quarters to hand out to the down-on-their-luck and another full of dog treats.
During one visit to Toronto, his sister, Nancy Ann, was driving across a bridge and saw a man crouching down with a dog. It was Dutch.
"He was stopping to pat him, rub his chin and give him a few biscuits," Rob says.
Dutch did more than feed dogs. Many years ago while working at the Banff Springs Hotel, he regularly fed a mother bear right from his hand.
Dutch’s humour was on regular display away from the rink, too. Rob remembers coming home one night while his dad was babysitting his infant son, Tommy.
"They were on the couch watching boxing. In between rounds, my dad would pull out Tommy’s soother, just like the boxer’s cornermen would pull out their fighter’s mouthpieces, give him a sip of juice, and pop the soother back in before the next round started," he says.