Rob paints voice of Hockey Night in Canada, Ron Maclean, in a dress!
He’s the only man who could get away with painting Ron MacLean in a dress. He’s Oakville Native Rob MacDougall, and painting the voice of Hockey Night in Canada in a cherry –covered frock is just one of the many things that makes the, in his words, “46 going on 90” year old unique.
MacDougall went to E.A. Orr Public school growing up, a school that has been converted into an old age home. “I started there, and I’ll probably end up there too,” he joked. His high school years were spent at T.A Blakelock, where he played football and hockey for the tigers. A lasting friendship was formed at Blakelock, as MacDougall met and became friends with Dan Ferrone. It was at Blakelock he started to hone is art, but not in the most conventional manner.
“I doodled Big Daddy Roth’s “Rat fink” on my desks,” he said. “Beyond that, I didn’t emulate anyone. I didn’t like drawing other peoples things.”
MacDougall preferred to draw what he knew best….hockey and lacrosse.
“I had a knack for capturing likenesses,” he said.
However, MacDougall had other ideas as to what career path he was going to follow.
“I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said, “but then I saw that guilty people could walk the street for a price. Maybe I was just naïve about it.”
MacDougall said he wound up being like a pinball. Going where the action was.
The entrepreneurial bug hit MacDougall in his mid teens, and he started a roofing company at age 17.
He was able to work on 30 roofs that year, thanks in large part to his creative flyers.
“I started a campaign to get roofing deals with my drawings,” he said. “I left flyers on lots of doors.”
MacDougall’s good friend John Halley, son of Tom Halley, the founder of Sheridan College’s Animation program, enrolled at the Ontario College of art in 1980, and joined the younger Halley a year later. Things didn’t quite work according to plan for MacDougall once he got to OCA, however.
“On the depth chart of talent, I was a two out of ten,” he said. “It was very humbling.”
“I knew that if I was going to make a career out of this, I had to get my ass in gear,” he added.
MacDougall made a vow to himself at school: if he was going to do this he was going to do it right.
“I wasn’t going to budget myself,” he said.
“If I needed a ten dollar piece of paper for an assignment and I messed up, I’d go get another one to make sure it was done right.”
MacDougall opted to focus his attention on Communication and Design, specializing in illustration and advertising.
“I saw I was catching up to the pack,” he said. “Its a very competitive environment there and the passion to succeed was evident.”
“My instructors taught me about being consistent and disciplined,” he added.
During his last year at O.C.A, MacDougall got married was also awarded the TDF Award for Art Direction. The award came with a bonus... a job.
“After meeting with the boss, I went back to the school and told the professor that I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the job,” he said. “He told me to follow my passion.”
“I got into it full-time, phoning and walking my portfolio around,” he said. “Every interview was like a casting call.”
MacDougall found himself drawing for the Hockey News and Toronto Sun in the mid -80’s.
“Andy Donato called me and asked me if I’d fill in for him,” MacDougall said. “After that, I was asked if I’d be interested in doing a weekly cartoon in the sports section.”
His work at the Sun got MacDougall noticed by a certain flamboyant coach of the Boston Bruins, Don Cherry. More on that later.
Labatt came calling, and MacDougall ended up doing several big jobs for the brewer. Remember the campaign with the beer cans done as Jake and Elwood Blue? That was from Rob MacDougall’s mind, as was the Canada Cup artwork for the 1987 event.
“It was awesome to be able to sit with Wayne (Gretzky) and know that I was with someone that everyone adored,” he said. MacDougall did a caricature of Wayne and his father Walter, and the elder Gretzky asked the artist for the original...for a price. “I told him he could have the original in exchange for a tour of the house,” MacDougall said. “Walter happily obliged.”
MacDougall would spend a great deal of time in the home of another hockey icon...the previously alluded to Don Cherry.
“I used to take the kids over to the house with me and rose would take them in to see the fish tanks while Don and I worked in the kitchen,” MacDougall said.
MacDougall worked for Cherry prior to this, serving as house artist at Cherry’s Grapevine Restaurant, site of his weekly television show. “Don used to joke that he didn’t care what color it was, so long as it was black and white,” MacDougall said.
In 1992, MacDougall signed up his son Dylan for lacrosse. “I sat in the stands his first year,” MacDougall said. “I just wanted to be a parent.”
However, his competitive nature, coupled with his desire to see his son succeed, promoted a move.
“It was frustrating to watch kids not being taught anything on the floor,” he said. “I bided my time and bit my lip.”
MacDougall said he was “talked into becoming a coach” and vowed to himself that “if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this right.”
“I told every parent what I thought was going to happen,” he added.
A Rep team had been assembled within two weeks, and MacDougall entered the squad into the Provincials at the D level.
“This wasn’t the lacrosse version of the Mighty Ducks,” MacDougall joked. “We were beaten badly.” The team was gathered in the dressing room, and the coach asked his charges if they were tired of being scored on…the kids answered with a resounding yes. When asked if any of them wanted to quit, there was nary a peep.
MacDougall spent the winter scouring tyke hockey for lacrosse players, and when he was done, he had 36 kids…and two teams.
The idea of a celebrity lacrosse night cam e to MacDougall, and he called on some hockey pros, past and present, with lacrosse backgrounds, like Joe Nieuwendyk and Stan Jonathan, as well as some media types like Steve Simmons and John Derringer.
“The plan was to play the game, and during the intermission, have two teams come out and play each other,” MacDougall said.
The ‘B’ team never got off the ground, so MacDougall threw all his time and attention towards the other team, and he guided the kids to the Tyke Provincial B title.
“It was amazing,” MacDougall said. “Eleven of the 16 kids were first-year players, and I still have 11 of those kids on my team today.”
“This validates that there was something good here,” he added. “Good parents, good kids and good chemistry result in good fortune.”
Through all this, MacDougall was seldom far from his brushes, and was commissioned by Beckett, the leader in sport card price guides, to do several pieces for their guides. “I did 20 odd pieces for them, including three covers,” he said.
Among the notable pieces were Wayne Gretzky for a tribute issue the company published a Mario Lemieux piece and baseball legend Roberto Clemente that earned MacDougall an award from the city I Pittsburg. “The Gretzky piece was my first-ever limited edition,” he said with pride.
MacDougall became involved with the Conn Smythe Celebrity Dinner, and did a print for them to auction off.
“I made them a proposal,” he said. “I’d do the picture, but I’d get 200 prints done, and they could be sold off too. The only thing I asked for was 100 prints that I could donate to my causes: hockey and lacrosse.”
MacDougall used the money from the sale of his prints to buy gear for his team.
The artwork kept coming: Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Weir, Eric Lindros to name a few.
Then, in late 2002, during the CBC-Ron MacLean contract furor, MacDougall had an idea. “I was thinking that we nearly lost half of a national treasure,” he said. “I thought it would be great to do a print of Ron and Don.” And with that idea, Canadian Gothic was born.
MacDougall took the famous Grant Wood painting of the man and woman in front of a farm house and updated it, replacing the woman’s pitchfork with a hockey stick and yes the woman with MacLean in a dress. “That was a fun piece to do,” he said.
Proceeds from the sale of the print went to help Rose Cherry’s Home for Kids in Milton.
After Rose passed away, Cherry wanted to do something to honor her memory. Rose loved children, so the idea of building a children’s hospice/respite centre was a natural. While visiting the site in Milton, MacDougall picked a few maple leaves that had fallen to the ground, and took them back to the studio. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with them, but he knew they’d come in handy.
When the Canadian Gothic print was finished, MacDougall grabbed a leaf and placed it on the corner of the print…then grabbed three more and placed them as well. The look was perfect, and it was at that moment he knew the piece was completed.
MacDougall then had another idea involving the leaves…he was going to paint on them.
He headed out and gathered as many leaves as he could, all the while dealing with puzzled onlookers who were no doubt wondering why a grown man was up a tree in mid-November.
The idea was, he said, “right under my nose the whole time.”
He originally planned on just painting the leaves an applying a logo on the leaf, but then he got the idea of adding skates, gloves and a stick, to give the leaf some life. “I can do this for baseball, basketball and golf too,” he said.
One notable name who thinks highly of this idea is Paul Henderson, he of the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history. “I’m doing Team Canada jerseys now, and Paul will be signing on the jersey,” he said.
Now divorced, MacDougall has spent close to 20 years with a brush in his hand and ideas racing through his mind, and has parlayed this into worldwide acclaim.
The tumult that stemmed from the divorce forced MacDougall to, as he put it, “re-invent” himself, and it brought two important people into his life.
“The good that came out of that was that I got to meet Jane and Garret,” he said. “Jane really helped me through it.”
“If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he added.
Through it all, MacDougall kept doing one of the things he loves most, and that’s coaching lacrosse.
“I have never considered myself a role model,” he said. “I am more like neighborhood watch…I step in when I’m needed to.”
MacDougall said that he was told as a youngster that “artists are more valuable dead than alive,” but one would be hard pressed to downplay the value he’s had on the Oakville sports scene.
A Stroke of Genius Summer 2004 Scott Stewart OAKVILE LIVING MAGAZINE