Gary "Diller" Dalliday often jokes that he doesn't know if he grew up on the right or wrong side of the tracks.
That's because just outside the Bethune Street house in the blue-collar neighborhood of Peterborough, Ontario where he was raised in by his grandmother, train tracks ran up the middle of the street.
"Every morning I woke up at 7 because literally the whole house shook when the CN freight train passed our place on its way to Lakefield," Dalliday, now 71, recalled. "It was better than an alarm clock."
If you make a list of all the people who should be discussed during the Hockey Day in Canada celebrations in Peterborough, Dalliday certainly belongs with the likes of Scotty Bowman, Bob Gainey, Steve Larmer, Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger and Eric Staal.
For 34-1/2 years, Dalliday was Mr. Hockey as a sports broadcaster on CHEX television and radio in Peterborough. He and his youngest son Pete were a must-listen-to radio act describing Petes games for 16 years. Pete did the play-by-play, his dad was the analyst.
Pete has moved on to call games on local television now. Gary remains a fixture at the Memorial Centre even though he has retired. He runs the media room, and there isn't a scout who doesn't drop by to say “Hi” to the living legend.
After all, how many sports broadcasters had a four-part series on their life run upon their retirement, like CHEX-TV did leading up to Dalliday's final broadcast a few years ago?
The elder Dalliday is a rarity. He was inducted into the Peterborough and District Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 as a builder and an athlete. Before he did so much for the city's sports scene as a broadcaster, he played hockey at a high level. He was a softball wizard at third base. He was an accomplished golfer and even spent time as a stock-car driver.
Dalliday was good enough as a hockey player that the Montreal Canadiens signed him to a C-form at age 17. He played a few games for the Petes, then known as the TPTs, but made his mark with the junior B club and later in senior hockey with the Belleville Mohawks.
The Petes were a farm club of the Canadiens back then. Dalliday remembers the perks of being associated with the storied NHL franchise.
"We all got a brand-new pair of Bauer skates," Dalliday said. "I remember somebody came and measured me up. The other thing was that we got used equipment from the Canadiens. I can't remember if it was my shin pads or shoulder pads, but there was the name 'Richard' written on the piece of equipment I got. I didn't know if it was Henri's or Maurice's, but isn't that something to be wearing something they wore?"
As Dalliday’s competitive athletic days wound down, he had settled into a good job at the local General Electric plant when he got his break in the broadcast booth in 1975. It was a few years before he realized that if he was going anywhere in life, he’d better start dealing with his alcoholism.
"I haven't had a drink in 40 years," Dalliday said. "It's the one thing I'm the most proud of."
Don O'Neil was a friend and CHEX station manager; Dalliday's eldest son Tim played lacrosse with O'Neil's son. O'Neil called Dalliday to see if he would be attending the junior lacrosse game that night. Dalliday said he would be there, so the two made a date to meet in the lobby before the game.
"I didn't know what he wanted," Dalliday said. "He asked me if I could help out. I figured it would be something like keeping stats. When I went up to the booth, play-by-play man Steve Rooney gave me a headset and I asked, 'What is this for?'"
Dalliday was a natural. A year later, after working for free evenings to midnight after his GE shift had ended, Dalliday was hired to be CHEX-TV's weekend sports anchor.
He eventually convinced his wife Donna and three children (Tim, Krista and Pete) that broadcasting was his full-time future. He was a quick study who would receive tips from Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play Tom Cheek every year at spring training. “Sports Beat,” Dalliday's weekly Saturday program on CHEX, became a Peterborough staple.
Of all the interviews Dalliday conducted, two stand out above the rest. The first one was with Jean Beliveau. The Canadiens legend visited Peterborough on his book tour and lived up to his gentleman reputation in his on-air chat with Dalliday.
The second was one of the many interviews Dalliday conducted with local coach Roger Neilson, who had just been fired by the New York Rangers.
"I went up to his home in Ennismore to interview him," Dalliday said. "Not only had he just been fired, but his faithful dog Mike had died too. He brought Mike back from New York, across the border, to bury him at Roger's home.
"Well, my dog had died that week too. When I asked him about his disappointing week and Mike dying, he said, 'I understand your dog died too.' We were teary-eyed at the end of that interview.
"I was blessed to have so many great assignments and met so many great people."
In Dalliday's opinion, the Peterborough sporting scene thrives because people like Neilson and Larmer and plenty of others always returned to the area to give back to the community.
Dalliday didn't include himself, but he should have. He has coached minor hockey, including one of the first girls teams in the area. He promoted local teams and events through his broadcasts. He always was there when called upon to help raise money for local charities and sports teams.
Now he often finds himself watching one of his four grandchildren, ages 6-16, in their athletic endeavors.
"I don't think I know a family in this city that is not involved in sports," Dalliday said. "We're a small town, maybe up to 75,000 now. But sport always has played a big role here. We have great programs and it's the people who run these programs that make them great."
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