Alex McFadyen, proud father, grandfather, and collector. (Photo credit: Eric Westhaver)
From the street, Alex McFadyen’s home seems normal. It’s a nice, modest home in small-town Shaunavon, Saskatchewan.
It’s different inside.
Inside, you find a shrine to Canada’s game. Sweaters hang on the basement stairway’s blue walls, and at the bottom is the kingdom of hockey heaven. The Holy Grail is a massive scrapbook.
“My son made this up for me,” he says. No off-the-shelf photo album could possibly hold all of McFadyen’s collection. The book is 100 kilograms, half a metre thick, and chock-full of photos, programs and autographs of hockey stars past and present.
It’s the world’s largest sports scrapbook, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004. McFadyen has the Guinness plaque hanging in a dark corner; a framed, signed Darryl Sittler sweater looms next to it.
McFadyen is over 80. He’s been collecting for seven decades. Growing up on a farm near Wapella, Sask., hockey was like a religion. Saturday’s night ritual never changed. Alex’s youth was spent with his father, listening to Foster Hewitt’s hockey broadcasts.
Alex got pictures from a neighbour who collected newspapers. He’d come around for the sports pages. “Once a week, I’d come around right after school, and pick those papers up, and cut ’em out,” Alex says.
In his early teens, Alex and his family moved from their farm into a small house in Wapella. The house was too small for his collection. He recalls, “I’d go back to visit my parents, and my mother said, ‘How about you take these pictures, there in the road, there’s a burn barrel there…’”
He doesn’t have to finish the sentence.
After burning a few, Alex stopped and kept the rest. Alex moved to Shaunavon for oil work in his twenties, and he brought his collection with him. “My wife suggested, why don’t you put ’em in a scrapbook?” he says. After that simple suggestion, McFadyen’s boyhood collection turned into something more.
The McFadyens have toured the scrapbook all over Canada and the U.S. The book was shown when CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada came to town in 2004. The McFadyens travelled to Toronto, 100-plus kg of book in tow, to speak to CTV’s Dan Matheson on Canada AM. Alex chuckles when he remembers the hard time he had moving the massive book into the CTV limousine. “We managed to fit it into the trunk,” he says. The family have met Cherry, Hewitt, Gretzky, Orr, and even – strangely – M*A*S*H’s Corporal Klinger.
Alex isn’t the only McFadyen around collecting things. His son, Randy, and grandson, Dakota, each have their own anthologies. Dakota has a scrapbook, almost as thick as Grandpa’s, full of hockey cards and autographed posters. The collection is impressive, especially since Dakota is only 16.
“I haven’t put as much time into the book lately,” Dakota says. “It used to be every day, putting stuff into it.” Between leading his high-school football team and keeping up with schoolwork, the fact Dakota has found any time to build the family’s second hockey motherlode speaks to his dedication.
Randy, Dakota’s dad and a cabinet-maker by trade, has constructed his own hockey-based “man-shed.” Alex himself talks about it in hushed, reverential tones.
“He’s got everything in there,” he says. He’s not wrong.
The shed is every man’s red-meat-cold-beer-big-game dream. Randy’s been building it for a decade, and he’s been collecting for “probably 15, 20 years.” The ceiling is covered with his prized possessions: exquisite wooden replicas of NHL logos, each of them one-of-a-kind, made by a gifted friend.
A guitar signed by Philadelphia Flyer – and Randy’s old neighbour – Braydon Coburn hangs over a custom-made home bar. A homemade elevator in brings guests up to a second floor, where there’s a collection of stubby-style bottles Bob and Doug McKenzie would worship.
For Alex and clan McFadyen, the attention isn’t the reason why they collect. It’s about the things they hold dear: family, hockey, community, and enjoying company, in that order. Alex’s prized possessions aren’t the autographs from hockey royalty, or the rare, mint condition clippings in the book. It’s the personal things that matter most.
The items Alex maintains from his family, his children and the youngest McFadyens, are more important than photos with Gretzky. He’s just as proud of Randy and Dakota’s collections as he is of his own. There’s also a large amount of memorabilia from the local team, the Shaunavon Badgers, a team Alex volunteered with. The Guinness Book of World Records plaque is dusty, while Alex has framed photos of his descendants proudly wearing Badger black and gold.
Alex McFadyen and his family are all more special than the things they’ve collected. They are true Canadian originals; they’ve built something greater than the sum of its parts. Their collections are 100 per cent Canadian passion, in ink, wood, and heart.