Essays, Don Cherry

Don Cherry

by Meghan Peter (c) 2006

During the winter months in Canada , while we are stuck to our televisions due to the minus forty below weather, most of us only have the one thing to keep us going, and that’s our Canadian hockey.  Every Saturday night during hockey season we have the opportunity to be graced by a man who will openly express his opinions during his five minutes of airtime.   He is the most loved and hated man on television (Henderson).   This man is Don Cherry. 

For most Canadians we have been watching Don Cherry age over the years.  At 72 his personality hasn’t changed a bit. His words are still crude, and his tongue is still quick.  This goes for viewer’s opinions of him as well.  Most likely if you hated him back then, you still hate him now. 

Cherry, like most famous people in the public eye, did not set out to be famous. 

Raised in Kingston Ontario , Cherry was raised by a strong-minded Scottish mother, who taught him to ‘never take any slight and never forget a friend”  (Henderson) and an athletic Canadian father. His father was 6’2, and played on Kingston ’s baseball team.  He became a local hero.  He was always a well-dressed man, which contributed to Cherry’s current choice in fashion today (Henderson). 

By the time Cherry reached his teens, he decided to drop out of school to play hockey.  There the journey began. 

Playing for minor hockey over the years, and moving about where ever he was drafted, Cherry only played one big league game, for the Boston Bruins (    By this time, Cherry had met his wife Rose and had his first child.  It was very strenuous on the family, to move to a new state or country depending on the playtime Cherry could get (Henderson).  He decided to pack it in.  Working for a construction company for two years, Cherry was diligent on providing for his family.  But soon became unemployed and fell into a car salesman position.

Incredibly unhappy, and gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, Cherry got wind of a new team starting up.  With that, he we quit his job as a car salesman and began to exercise to lose the weight.  With all the hard work and determination Cherry was back in the game.  Not being able to keep up in the game and being in his mid-thirties Cherry decided to assist with coaching.  The fans loved him.  But the management did not (Henderson).

In 1974, he became the head coach of the Boston Bruins and lead them to championship 4 seasons in a row.  He was named coach of the year for 1975-1976.  In 1979, Cherry took the position as assistant coach for Team Canada during the Stanley Cup Finals and failed miserably.  Team management was tired of Cherry and decided to cut him once again. 

During this time he received much attention from fans and viewers.  He was loud mouthed, arrogant, and opinionated.  The media gobbled him up.  People detested him, but it didn’t make them stop watching him. 

CBC came up with a pitch, what could they do to get Cherry back on the screen of Canadians televisions at home?  They decided to create a 5-minute program called “Coaches Corner”.  There Cherry sat with co-anchor Ron MacLean, (who were paired excellently, due to MacLean’s quiet demeanor and laid back attitude); Cherry now was given the time to voice how he truly felt.  And so he did.

 When you look at Don Cherry, thinking about what he symbolizes could be different for many people.  For me, I think he symbolizes the average Canadian man who made it and was molded by the media.

Sometimes he looks as if he is mean or even tough, possibly even intimidating. 

 By using this picture of Don Cherry I will explain the semiotics.

For the signifier I see a clean-cut older white man, in black clothing with white stripes on it, with a red piece of fabric around his neck and sticking out of his chest.  As well as a circle with letters on it and variety of colours.   I also see the signified, which is a man who looks tough, and challenging.  As if almost to dare you to confront him.  He looks serious, and holds his hand as if resembling a gun.  The man appearing to not be messed with. 

With respect to Maslow and his hierarchy of needs Cherry exemplifies the physiological aspect because he was an average child growing up in Kingston, who wanted to play hockey and made it big. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a somebody in the world of hockey. He made money, which gave him a nice home, food, and a stable living. 

Cherry also demonstrates safety and security by acting tough and looking as if he wouldn’t lose a fight in a protecting way.  He also demonstrates the belonging aspect.  When he gives his opinion he makes you believe that it is the right opinion by the way he is so confident with his words and how he says them, which leads the next level which is Ego/self esteem.  Cherry is not short of this at all. He is always complimenting himself on how good he looks, and showing off his well-groomed physical appearance.  Cherry also knows who he is, he doesn’t go back on his word, and he doesn’t apologize.  One of his famous quotes is “Never complain, never explain” (Henderson).  This just shows that Cherry has conquered the self-actualization aspect of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I think that Marshall McLuhan would say that the media has molded Don Cherry.  That he created such conflict to grab attention with fans or viewers.  He used his words to create waves, upset people, and even if they didn’t like what he was saying it was better for him to be known for something they disliked then not being heard at all.  He displays that any person can say what they want, when they want and it doesn’t matter if others are offended by it, because it’s free speech.  People watch him on T.V and think that if you dress appropriately you can say whatever you wish, if you look educated and put together it gives you the right to express yourself and not only the right but the authority to do so.  We know this is not true, or do we? 

A variety of extensions also exist for Don Cherry.  Such as the fine suits extend the body, the words of Cherry extend the ear, the hockey stick extends the hand, and the skate extends the foot.  These are all valid examples that McLuhan could say about this icon.

Stated earlier, Cherry’s personality wasn’t always appreciated.  His fan base consists of a lot of love hate relationships.  Many people could not like a man who insulted and badgered others.  It was a constant fight to keep Cherry on the air, because people disagreed with pretty much everything he had to say (Henderson).  

Those who are offended include any other cultures then Canadian.  Cherry insisted that Europeans were taking over the Canadian teams.   He also stated that they didn’t have any heart or courage (Henderson).  Obviously they are all personal opinions, but Cherry doesn’t say this to a few people, it was broadcasted to almost two million viewers.  I can’t even imagine how other cultures feel about Cherry.  They must think that he is a vulgar man that has nothing better to do with his time, but criticize others that aren’t Canadian. 

But then there is the Canadian viewer.  Then men, who sit and drink their beer, content with the fact that here is this older knowledgeable  man, spewing everything that comes to mind out of his mouth.  Which intensifies the competition between our teams and others.  He gets them all riled up, and makes them believe that if they don’t think the same way he does, they aren’t a man (Henderson).    You have to be tough to be a man, and how he played hockey in the old days is the right way.   Most of these men aren’t offended because they believe they can relate to it.  They are on his side, because they aren’t the ones being poked at and made fun of.  Their also led on to believe that the man is always right.  He displays machoism.  I would love to know how many wives detest Don Cherry because their husbands adore him. 

People love to hate him, and therefore they watch him, because you never know what he’s going to say next and most people love to dwell on the drama and confrontation.

Cherry has made quite the name for himself by being a spokesperson for numerous corporations.  Even his wife Rose has been seen in commercials.  One was soliciting “Anacin” a headache medication.  Stating that she knew all about headaches because of being married to Cherry all these years.2 

Cherry has been seen in commercials, such as Sport Select for the lottery corporation, after shave adds insisting you need a slap every now and again in the face to shut yourself up, Quizno’s sub sandwiches for a healthy and hearty meal and Cold FX medication to keep yourself going through the cold winter months in Canada. 

He promotes his lifestyle as you play hard, you work hard and you keep trying until you get what you want. You don’t take no for an answer, because if you want something you can have it.  As long as you can express it.  He’s living proof that it worked for him.  I guess to sum it all up; he has a lot of determination.

As for myself, it is quite odd for a female to choose to write an essay on Don Cherry.  Yes, I enjoy a game of hockey now and again, but I’m not a die-hard fan.  I don’t cancel all my plans to sit and watch a game on Saturday evenings, but if it just so happens I have the time, I do enjoy it.

 I think Don Cherry enticed me to watch the sport.  I loved seeing his extravagant apparel.  Bright colours, nauseating plaid, his dog Blue.  He looked like a grandfather, which made him less threatening, even though the  sharp words of a 14 year old flew from his mouth.  He was very entertaining, to say the least.

He butchered Ron MacLean some nights, and I actually pitied the man for a long time, wondering how it was possible that Cherry didn’t go home feeling guilty every night for being so arrogant to his co-anchor. 

I know a lot of females who detest the man, and leave the room when he comes on that television screen, but for myself I sit there and I watch, and I analyze his words.  Behind him and his large mouth, lie a husband, a father and a grandfather.  A mentor to most young boys, who can’t achieve academically and  rely on sports.  He provides them with strength and motivation to achieve in life and be successful.  So his heart is there, you just have to look for it. 

I will never forget the day he returned after his wife had passed away, and I remember looking at him in a different light.  His face had weathered a little, and his comments weren’t as sharp, Don Cherry finally revealed himself to the public as being human.  So we can classify him as being narrow minded and judgmental, but there he sits on our screens making good money for doing so.   He doesn’t sway my decision on whether to eat at Subway or Quizno’s restaurant, he doesn’t influence me to purchase lottery tickets or use herbal cold medications, he is simply there for my entertainment purposes only.  I guess Canadians hold onto him, because he loves Canada and we all can appreciate that. 

We are bombarded by American icons, and politics, and it’s a nice change of pace to see the Canadian point of view, even if it’s wearing multi-patterned plaid and deafening us due to loud volume control.

Don Cherry started off trying to succeed in the world of hockey.  He never was the all-star on skates, but he pushed himself to be recognized outside of the game.  To this day, Cherry has the same punch of arrogance, at the age of 72.  It’s obvious that this will never change, and that will be the one thing that keeps him at the top of the list.  The most loved and hated Canadian icon.



Cobley, P.,  & Jansz, L.  (2004). Introducing Semiotics.  UK:  Icon Books.

Soloman, J.  (1988).  The signs of our Time.  Los Angeles:  Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.

Nevitt, B.,  & McLuhan, M.  (1995).  Who was Marshall McLuhan?.  Toronto, Canada:  Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd.


Henderson, G. (Producer/Director).  (1996). God Bless Me: The Making of Don Cherry.  [Life & Times Biography].  Canada:  90th Parallel Film & Television Productions Ltd.  In association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.