Verdict on a Winnipeg urban legend

Longtime readers of The Uniter may know that I have a fascination with odd bits of Winnipeg past and its many urban legends. Over the years, I’ve written stories about the histories of various Winnipeg things, including vaudeville, movie theatres, funeral homes and prohibition.

One of my favourites was an article in which I examined a handful of stories about Winnipeg’s connections to showbiz greats, investigating Groucho Marx’s introduction to Charlie Chaplin and Bob Newhart’s career-making gig. But there was one claim I couldn’t get to that has bothered me ever since: the persistent urban legend that Bob Hope learned to golf in Winnipeg.

This claim seemingly originated in a 1988 article in Manitoba History magazine, which cited Hope’s 1985 memoir, Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf (the comedian’s love of the sport was so famous that he dedicated an entire memoir to it). The article claimed that Hope specifically mentions playing his first round of golf in Winnipeg in 1930 with tourmates The Diamond Brothers.

In 2014, Christian Cassidy at the blog West End Dumplings did a deep dive on this claim. Cassidy called it into question, going as far as to look up Winnipeg’s weather on Hope’s 1930 tour date in the city. It was a freezing February day. However, he wasn’t able to find a copy of the long-out-of-print book.

While Cassidy was comfortable declaring the claim debunked, I wasn’t quite so ready. Yes, it’s unlikely anyone was golfing in Winnipeg in February. But Winnipeg was also a layover railway stop, where vaudeville performers killed time between tour dates (this is how Groucho discovered Chaplin, taking a walk while his brothers played billiards). Until someone was willing to buy a copy of that book and check it themselves, I wouldn’t be satisfied. And I figured if Cassidy wasn’t willing to track down a copy, I might be the only Winnipegger who was.

After a couple of years watching eBay, where copies were selling for hundreds of dollars, I was finally able to find a book reseller in Missouri with a shabby paperback copy in a warehouse in Texas. They were selling the crumbling book for $3, but shipping would cost an additional $13. It was a price I was willing to pay to know the truth.

Yesterday, the book arrived. I opened to the first page of the first chapter, and while Winnipeg gets a cursory name-check, there’s no ambiguity in Hope’s words: “One day, in Seattle, (the Diamond Brothers) invited me to come along” for a round of golf.

So, there you have it. Myth debunked. Let the record show: Bob Hope definitively did not learn to golf in Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 76, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 17, 2022)

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