He was a man of intense spirit, always seeking to lift himself to greater heights of achievement.
The competitive fire that blazed within John Ferguson’s heart spiralled him high into the stratosphere of the Canadian sporting scene during the past 45 years — hockey, lacrosse, horse racing, he excelled at them all.
Not bad for a poor little kid from Vancouver’s tough East End.
Born September 5, 1938, in a house on Clark Drive, John Bowie Ferguson lost his father — a trainer at the nearby Hastings racetrack — before he was ten years of age.
While attending Seymour and Templeton schools, John spent much of his spare time with his buddies at the PNE grounds, picking up odd jobs at the racetrack and hanging around the nearby Forum.
Fergie didn’t skate until he was 14 when rink-rat and future lacrosse star gave him a pair of used skates. It mattered not that they were two sizes too large — John made his first bantam hockey team within a few weeks.
The Forum rink opened to figure skaters at 5:30 AM each day, with Fergie and friends cleaning the ice when the sessions ended an hour later. The rink-rats would then hustle off to school, returning with their scrapers at 3:30 PM. The $10 to $15 a week he earned helped out at home and the extra bonus was the free use of the ice during public skating.
John was intrigued by hockey, spending countless hours watching the WHL Canucks at practice, particularly one young player named Andy Bathgate. By the 1954-55 season, Fergie became the team’s stick-boy.
At 18, Fergie joined the Melville Millionaires of the Saskatchewan Junior League, taking two scoring titles in the following three years. During the summer months, John tended goal for the Vancouver Rockies’ junior lacrosse club.
Somehow, before the age of 21, he found time to marry.
When Fergie graduated from junior hockey, he joined the amateur Fort Wayne Komets of the International League and, later, the Cleveland Barons of the professional American Hockey League.
Meanwhile, not being able to crack the New Westminster and Vancouver senior lacrosse lineups, John mothballed his goalie equipment and became a rugged, no-nonsense-runner with the Nanaimo Timbermen. By 1963, he was named the Inter-City Lacrosse League MVP with 52 goals and 42 assists. Oh yes, in his 60 games over two seasons with Nanaimo, he managed to accumulate 235 minutes in penalties.
But his lacrosse career was set aside when Montreal Canadiens purchased his hockey contract from Cleveland for the 1963-64 NHL, season. Over the next eight years, Fergie became the darling of the Montreal fans, helping his club to five Stanley Cups.
The Montreal Gazette once bubbled: “Never has there been an English athlete so well and so quickly accepted by Les Canadiens.”
Fergie’s competitive drive motivated his post-NHL life, with John pursuing such interests as coaching, managing and scouting various NHL hockey teams; operating the professional Montreal Quebecois lacrosse club in 1975, and owning the Double Two (his hockey uniform number was 22) Ranch for thoroughbred and standardbred horses.
But his range of interest didn’t stop there. John also found time to run the Windsor harness race-track for three years, write the racing column “Fergie’s Favourites” for the Montreal Gazette, do some colour commentary with the CBC hockey presentations, and even dabble in the clothing and restaurant industries.
Truly, it was a life filled with a passion to lift himself, his family, his many friends, to greater success. Unhappily, that life ended on July 14, 2007, when he succumbed to a foe that he was unable to beat — cancer.
John Bowie Ferguson was truly the epitome of the word ‘CLASS.’