• Lawrence Herzog

The tough guy with a soft heart

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

Originally published February 9, 2006

His given name was Cecil, but everybody called him “Tiger.” Last week, when Tiger Goldstick passed away, Edmonton lost a tough guy with a soft heart.

Tiger, a local sportsman, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient, spent a generous portion of his 90 years handing out sports equipment to children and keeping them safe by teaching about traffic safety.

In Tiger’s words, a man never stands so tall as when he kneels to help a child. Tiger knelt and bent over backwards to help youngsters over and over again. Maybe that’s why, in his twilight years, he was all twisted and bent out of shape.

Tiger Goldstick, August 17, 1973. CFRN promotional photo.

In 1999, I had the honour of presenting him with a recognition award from the Edmonton Historical Board. As he slowly made his way to the stage, all bent over from battles with repeated back surgeries, pneumonia, bowel and prostate problems, reverent applause filled the room.

He was 84 then and time had taken much of his physical vigour, but his humility and legendary wit were still intact. "Thank your for this, but I didn't do much," Tiger said. "I just wanted to keep the kids off the streets by giving them something to do – play sports."

He always remembered that was how it was for him, growing up in Edson, where there wasn’t much else to do. “I wrestled,” he remembered. “It kept me off the streets.”

He was born there on August 5th, 1915, the second son of four children born to mother Bessie and father Hyman, who was Edmonton's first rabbi. The Goldstick family moved to Edmonton when he was a teen, and he quickly jumped into the local sports scene.

Although he was just five feet, four inches tall, Goldstick was pugnacious and became a formidable amateur wrestler. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, winning the navy’s lightweight wrestling championship three consecutive years.

Tiger ready for a boxing match, circa 1950s. Photo from the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta.

That’s where Tiger maintained his nickname was coined. “In this corner, we have a ‘Tiger’ from Western Canada,” the ring announcer declared, and the name just stuck.

After the war, Tiger returned to Edmonton and, in 1946, was named the city’s Sportsman of the Year. In the late 1940s, when he was trainer with the Houston Huskies in the United States Hockey League, Tiger passed up a chance to go to Montreal with Toe Blake.

“I couldn’t speak French and it just wasn’t for me,” he recalled. Blake went onto glory with the Montreal Canadiens, while Tiger returned to his beloved Edmonton, becoming trainer for the Edmonton Flyers and the Edmonton Eskimos, as well as a coach, referee and promoter of all variety of sports. He was eventually inducted into the Edmonton Boxing and Wrestling Hall of Fame.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, his Tiger’s Safety Den was a fixture on CFRN-TV’s Popcorn Playhouse as he popularized the concept of the school safety patrol. “Back in those days, there wasn’t a pedestrian light at every second corner,” he recalled. “I just wanted to make sure kids weren’t being mowed down by cars.”

Through the years, he made it his mission to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble by turning them onto sports. He begged, borrowed and sometimes stole equipment to give it to children in need.

Cecil "Tiger" Goldstick, circa 1970. Photo from the Edmonton Jewish Cemetery collection.

Out of the spirit of caring came Tiger’s Christmas for Kids, an initiative that, through Sports Central, has brought sports equipment to thousands of children. To make it happen, Tiger dressed up as Santa Claus for 15 consecutive years, borrowing trucks to shuttle used sports gear around the city, working through long December nights.

It was at CFRN that Tiger met future wife Hazel. They were, as Tiger recalled, “a good match.” They wanted children but it was not to be. Hazel was just 44 when she died of cancer in 1979.

Tiger went to more than 30 Grey Cups and, as the years passed, he cultivated a legendary reputation for always getting into scraps. “I never started a fight,” he shrugged. “I just finished them.”

One of my most endearing memories of Tiger came during the 1984 Grey Cup week in our city, when I was working for CFRN as a radio and television news announcer. We were covering the week’s festivities and, one noon hour when time came for us to do a live radio broadcast from the lobby of the Westin, he was nowhere to be seen.

Just as I went on air, Tiger burst through the lobby, carrying a guy nearly twice his size, right out the door and onto the street. “He insulted a lady,” Tiger told me later, half apologizing for leaving me holding the bag.

He is remembered for his one-liners, delivered with his gap-toothed impish grin and a raised eyebrow. “Be nice to everybody on the way up. You never know who you’re going to meet on the way down.” Another of his favourites: “That game was so bad, if it was played in my backyard, I would pull the blinds down.”

Yet no matter how well known he became, he remained humble. When I visited him in 1996 at his residence at Canterbury Court, he was a reluctant subject.

Tiger at 84, December 1999.

“I don’t really want you to write this,” he said. “Enough has been written about me, and I don’t need the publicity. There’s a lot of people out there doing better work.”

Twenty years ago, the city renamed a park in honour of Goldstick and his father Hyman. Goldstick Park resides on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River near 39th Street and 103rd Avenue.

In recognition of his tireless contribution to the community, Tiger was given lifetime passes from the Eskimos, Oilers and Trappers. But as his health deteriorated, he didn’t go much anymore. When he did, the reaction from the crowd was as if royalty had arrived.

I asked him a few years ago about any regrets. After thinking for a moment, he responded: “I regret not going into business during the oil boom. I was too busy with sports, being a trainer and getting into broadcasting. I know a lot of people who got very rich. I have just barely scraped by.”

Yet measured by character and contribution, Tiger was one of Edmonton’s richest people. “If you can help, you should help,” he used to say, a simple truth. The philosophy guided a gloriously long and full life for Edmonton’s cherished tough guy with a soft heart.

© 2019 Lawrence Herzog. Article may be reproduced with permission of the author.

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©2019 Lawrence Herzog.