Red Deer’s hockey community has lost one of its most beloved members.
Cecil "Cec" Swanson died Saturday at the age of 93.
Swanson passed while preparing to say a final goodbye to his son Gary, who also died Saturday after complications from a stroke. Gary was 68.
In 1971, Cec and his family moved from Peace River to Red Deer and he was our city's Court Clerk and Sheriff until retiring in 1980. He became the Manager of the Red Deer Rustlers Junior A Hockey Club in 1971, taking over from Alf Cadman, and a year added head coaching duties. The Rustlers under his leadership won two provincial championships and one Western Canadian Championship.
Swanson had a tremendous impact on the long list of hockey players whose careers he helped launch.
“He was a pretty special guy,” says Brian Sutter, who played for Swanson’s Rustlers for two seasons. “He wasn’t just a coach to me, he was a dad and a mentor and a role model.”
Sutter says his road to the NHL would’ve ended quickly if not for a second chance offered to him by Swanson.
“I was cut after about three days in Red Deer,” Sutter recalls. “At about four-o-clock in the afternoon I phone home and nobody answered the phone because everyone was harvesting. So I just sat in the rink that night until it closed because I didn’t know where to go. There was a phone booth behind the rink, so I called home again and again no one answered, so I stayed at the rink that night.
“The sun came up the next morning, it was about 6:30 when I walked around to the front of the arena and Cec was there. I said ‘Mr. Swanson, you cut me yesterday but I can’t go home!’ He looked at me, I’ll never forget it, then looked at the white clock on the wall of the lobby and says ‘The first time is at 8:30, you take your stuff and go into that dressing room, get your equipment on and be ready to go. That’s how I stayed in Red Deer.”
John Chapman coached the Rustlers during their national championship year in 1979-80. Prior to that he coached in Lethbridge and got up close and personal with Swanson long before they became close friends.
“I was a young coach and he was the old veteran, and we had some wars. Actually, he and I threw a few punches at each other one night,” Chapman recalled. “It’s funny how that works, and then you get connected. He and Alice ended up being real good friends with our family.”
Whether it was at the rink or on the links, Chapman says Swanson was in it to win it.
“He loved golfing, but he hated to lose. He wanted to beat you all the time.”
After his time with the Rustlers, Cec served as Director and then President of the Alberta Junior Hockey League from 1980-85, a role he was quite proud of.
Swanson is also known to generations of Red Deerians for being the finest skate sharpener in town. He opened his original skate shack in the Red Deer Arena in 1975 before moving to the Kinsmen Community Arenas. Even in his 90s Swanson was still sharpening skates.
“He was the pillar of the Red Deer Arena,” Red Deer Minor Hockey president Al Sim recalls. “Beneath the wooden stands he had this little ten-by-ten room where he’d sharpen skates. As kids you’d line up down the hallway before ending up in this little room with a little black and white TV. He was in there every day, Cec lived there.”
Cec married hundreds of couples during his 34 years as a Marraige Commissioner.
In a 2014 interview Swanson said the accomplishment he was most proud of was volunteering for the Armed Forces during World War II.
“I had a few scares during my army days,” he recalled. “I ended up in Berlin for 20 days for the victory parade. That still stands out in my mind as really something. And I was fortunate enough to get to the opening of the canteen… [Winston] Churchill and is daughter Sarah and Field Marshall Montgomery were there opening up this canteen. So I had a few beers with Churchill.”
Cec was inducted in to the Alberta Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He was married to Alice for 68 years before her passing in March 2017.
Gary Swanson was a hockey star in his own right as he played junior for Swift Current, Estevan and the Rustlers. He also played college hockey for Superior Wisconsin and later coached the Merritt Centennials of the BCHL in 1976-77.
Gary worked for 35 years as an equipment operator for Border Paving and sharpened skates at the family business.
His lasting legacy in Red Deer, though, will be from the 15 years in which he delighted families as "Santa Claus" at Parkland Mall.
"When you put on your suit, you WERE santa ... you believed it ... you walked it and you lived it. All in a good way," photographer Darcy Notland wrote in a Facebook post. "You weren't Gary dresssd up as santa ...you were the joly man himself. And joly, kind, patient you were ... it was text book. You garnered a following of people beyond Red Deer, beyond Central Alberta."
Gary loved playing the role of Santa Claus and spend each Christmas Eve at Red Deer Regional Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.
Gary Swanson playing the role of Santa Claus at Parkland Mall
At the requets of Cec there will be no service. Friends of Cec and Gary are invited to donate to the The Heart and Stroke Foundation or Ronald McDonald House.
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