EDMONTON — He saved precious hockey memorabilia from the flames, but one of Canada’s biggest sports collectors says the Fort McMurray fire may have cost him his hobby.
“I don’t know that collecting means as much to me anymore,” said Shawn Chaulk, who was once referred to as the Wayne Gretzky of Wayne Gretzky collectors.
Chaulk’s collection is prodigious.
It includes dozens of game-worn jerseys and sticks, some worth up to $20,000. He has more than 100 Gretzky sticks from one used in the 1978 world junior tournament to one used in Gretzky’s last game with the New York Rangers in 1999.
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The list includes gloves and helmets worn during Stanley Cup victories and regular-season games, skates replete with scuffs and repairs and replica Stanley Cups once owned by former Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, who is still reviled by some Oilers fans for trading Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.
The situation put a whole new meaning on the question: What would you take if your home were on fire?
As his wife and children threw clothes and toys into suitcases last Tuesday during Fort McMurray’s evacuation, Chaulk was downstairs with an associate trying to figure that one out.
“I dumped my safe and took things like Gretzky rookie cards. I opened two hockey bags and put them on the floor and said, ‘Start filling ’em.’
“I was ripping jerseys out of display cases and off hangars at a speed I didn’t know I could operate at — just throwing them at Mark and he was filling the hockey bags. We zipped up the two bags and that became it. What we had, we had.”
The choices were tough.
“The No. 1 collectible I took out of there was Gretzky’s ’84 Canada Cup jersey worn in the cup-winning game. And his stick.”
Chaulk decided to focus on jerseys, including three Mark Messier Team Canada jerseys.
“They’re liquid and we could need the money to rebuild.”
Sport memorabilia wasn’t all that made the cut. His son’s first skates and his daughter’s first Oilers slippers went in the bag.
For some reason, he didn’t bring the photo album with pictures of all the hockey players he’s met and shows where he’s displayed his collection.
“It was my personal memoir of my life collecting,” said Chaulk, sounding baffled. “And I didn’t take it.”
Eventually, the family left with about 50 jerseys and four Gretzky sticks Chaulk has willed to his children. They drained fuel from their lawnmower to get as much gas in the car as possible and fled north.
Chaulk said their home appears to have escaped the flames. His family is fine, as far as he can tell.
“I don’t know. I left this morning to go to a meeting and my four-year-old cried and didn’t want me to go. We don’t know if he cried because he’s traumatized or because he’s a four-year-old and wanted to go with his dad.”
The family will rebuild and move on, but Chaulk’s not so sure about the hobby he once loved.
“I’m not sure if I’m in the same frame of mind. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just emotional. I don’t know if I need to even focus on that anymore.
“Every hour that I put into collecting I take away from my family.”