Happy 102nd Birthday, Stu Hart: Remembering an Icon

Today would have marked the 102nd birthday of legendary wrestler, promoter and trainer Stu Hart, the patriarch of wrestling’s fabled Hart family, who passed away October 6, 2003 following a severe bout with pneumonia.

Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 3, 1915, Stu Hart’s family would move to Alberta soon after, where he would eventually settle down in Calgary and make it Canada’s wrestling capital. At the age of 14, he began training in weightlifting and amateur wrestling, and in 1937, won a gold medal in wrestling from the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada in the welterweight class. At the time, he also taught wrestling at the University of Alberta. His own amateur wrestling career was crowned with the Dominion Amateur Wrestling Championship in 1940. Hart also spent two seasons in the Canadian Football League (CFL) as a centre for the Edmonton Eskimos, in the 1938 and 1939 season (although those Eskimos were not the same franchise who would start in 1949 and who still exists today).

Stu in the Royal Canadian Navy

When World War II broke out, Stu joined the Royal Canadian Navy, along with childhood neighbour and fellow wrestler Al Oeming. After the war ended, Stu and Al went to New York City, where Stu was trained in the art of professional wrestling by 2017 WWE Hall of Famer Joseph “Toots” Mondt, who would start Capitol Wrestling a few years later with promoter Jess McMahon (following Jess’ death in 1954, his son Vince McMahon, Snr would take over his stake in the company, which would go on to become the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), later the WWE). Oeming and Hart both worked several matches for Mondt’s promotions before heading back to Canada, where the two started Stampede Wrestling in 1948 (originally called Klondike Wrestling). During his time in New York, Stu Hart would meet and fall in love with his “Tigerbell”, Helen Smith, and the two were married during a blizzard in the Big Apple in 1947. The two would be inseparable their entire lives, until Helen’s death following a stroke in 2001.

Stampede Wrestling became a Western Canadian institution, with a 30-year run on television and an introduction to many of the top stars of the world, as well as Canada, for Canadian wrestling fans. But it was Stu’s dedication as a trainer that influenced the wrestling landscape the most. Here’s a quick list of just some of the legendary wrestlers that Stu Hart trained in his infamous “Dungeon”, the basement training room of the famed Hart House mansion in Calgary.

  • Abdullah The Butcher
  • Archie Gouldie
  • Bad News Allen/Brown
  • Billy Jack Haynes
  • Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart
  • British Bulldog (Davey Boy Smith)
  • Dynamite Kid
  • Fritz Von Erich
  • Gorilla Monsoon
  • Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
  • Hiro Hase
  • Honky Tonk Man
  • Iron Sheik
  • Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts
  • Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart
  • Jushin Thunder Liger
  • Junkyard Dog
  • Mad Dog Vachon
  • Masahiro Chono
  • Nikolai Volkoff
  • Ole Anderson
  • Owen Hart
  • Rowdy Roddy Piper
  • Superstar Billy Graham
A young Stu Hart

According to Bret Hart in a 2015 interview with WWE.com, the last wrestler Stu trained as a full time trainer was his tag partner, Jim Neidhart.

“My dad was no spring chicken anymore, and I didn’t see anyone past Neidhart that he put the time into. He completely trained Jim on his own. Jim was my dad’s product. Jim was third in the world at shot put. He was training to get signed by the [Oakland] Raiders and was referred to my dad from somebody at the gym. He called directory assistance, found my dad and asked him to teach him to wrestle. He listed all of his accomplishments and my dad asked him to come up to Calgary.”

Following his retirement from training, the Dungeon training was handled by Hart’s sons, primarily Bruce and Keith Hart, as well as Japanese wrestler Tokyo Joe (aka Mr Hito, real name Katsuji Adachi), who would be Stu’s head trainer until the mid-2000’s. During this time, the Dungeon produced another wave of influential stars (with Stu still joining in for sessions) including Owen Hart, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, Edge, Christian, Natalya, Tyson Kidd, Jack Evans and Brian Pillman.

In 1984, Stu Hart sold the library and rights to Stampede Wrestling to Jess McMahon’s grandson, Vince McMahon Jr., and saw most of his bright young stars head to the bright lights, big city of the WWF, back to the area he’d first met his wife. Throughout the early 90’s, Stu would make several appearances for the WWE in angles that usually centered around his sons, Bret or Owen.

Stu Hart’s mark on the world of professional wrestling is undeniable – while his own professional wrestling barely left the hallowed ring of Stampede (although he was a 2-time NWA Northwest Tag Team Champion), his tutelage and mentorship shaped some of the industry’s greatest pioneers and legends. His contribution was recognized by a multitude of promotions and organizations, including the WWE Hall of Fame (2010), WCW Lifetime Achievement Award, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2014), Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (1996), and the recipient of the Iron Mike Mazurki Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Cauliflower Alley Club. He even received the Order of Canada in 2001, the second highest honour a Canadian can achieve, for “the highest degree of merit, an outstanding level of talent and service, or an exceptional contribution to Canada and humanity.”

Today, Stu Hart would have turned 102 years old. So wherever you are, raise a glass of Canadian beer or rye whiskey and salute not only one of the greatest Canadians to enter the world of professional wrestling, but one of the most important men the industry has ever seen.

Happy Birthday, Stu.

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