By Renée Hartleib |
Steve Armitage credits the typing class he took in Grade 10 with his 49-year career at CBC. “I liked the odds at the time. Thirty-six girls and two guys,” he says, laughing. In addition to being a great way to get a date, typing class led directly to his role as one of Canada’s most prominent sports broadcasters.
“They needed someone who was interested in sports and who could type,” says Armitage, who was born in Buckinghamshire, England and raised in Dartmouth. His initial love of English soccer quickly broadened to all sports. When he scored the CBC job—as a late-night sports writer—he couldn’t believe his luck. “I kept asking myself: they’re really going to pay me to go to football and hockey games?”
At the time, he was a Saint Mary's student, studying Political Science and Philosophy, and also the quarterback of the Huskies. He’d arrived only one year earlier, in history-making 1964, when he’d helped to end a 47-game winning streak by the Saint Francis Xavier X-Men. The team went on to win their first ever Atlantic Bowl championship. “SFX was our big rival, so that was a huge win for us,” he says, “I can still remember the police escort we got to a huge pep rally at the school, just jammed with fans. It was a fantastic moment.”
Although football was first and foremost in Armitage’s mind in those days, SMU had a surprise in store for him. “I didn’t care much for academics, but the professors were so good,” he says, “I became interested despite myself!”
After his graduation in 1968, he played two years of semi-pro football with the Halifax Buccaneers and served as Sports Information Director at Saint Mary’s. His part-time work at CBC in Halifax continued until 1973 when they offered him a full-time sports broadcaster position in Vancouver. Since then, he has covered 29 years of Hockey Night in Canada, 27 years of Grey Cups, and 15 Olympic Games.
Recently, Armitage’s voice was heard from the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia where he called hockey and speed skating. “The Winter Olympics make sports fans out of anyone,” he says. “It’s that combination of good stories and lots of great coverage, and it’s in the middle of winter. What else are you going to do in Canada?”
His first Olympics was 1972, where as a cub reporter, he was posted to Munich. The event was marred by the hostage-taking of several athletes, all of whom died during a rescue attempt. “I was there when the tragedy struck,” he says. “We didn’t have cell phones or internet then, so even though I was right there, I knew very little of what had actually happened until getting on the plane to leave.”
Armitage says that advances in technology have been a real game-changer. “What I used to say was gospel,” he says. “Now, the public has access to all the same information I do.” Which means he needs to do a lot more research before calling an event. “In many ways it’s good because it forces me to be honest and makes me a better broadcaster.”
After 38 years living in Vancouver, “the voice of speed skating” is back in Nova Scotia, now living outside of Bridgewater, enjoying the comforts of a beautiful home on a lake. He’s just 90 minutes from the airport when he has to travel.
And travel he will! Armitage is already preparing for international sporting events over the next year, and also a 50th reunion with Huskies teammates. “My days at SMU were truly the best of my life,” he says. “I had so much fun and made so many treasured friends.”
In turn, Saint Mary’s has not forgotten Armitage. In recognition for his enormous contributions, he has been inducted into the the University Sport Hall of Fame, in addition to receiving an Honourary Ph.D. in Civil Law.
“I was drawn into sports, starting at SMU, and I’ve loved every minute of my journey,” he says. “It has enabled me to see the world and to score some of the best seats to the major sporting events of the last 40 years. It’s been quite a trip.”