Loss of storied former co-owner ‘a sad day for the Ottawa 67’s’
Former Ottawa 67’s owner Earl Montagano was both “a character” and a “tough negotiator,” according to Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group president Jeff Hunt.
Montagano, who died of brain cancer Monday at age 91, served as the quiet partner alongside fellow 67’s owner Howard Darwin for 23 years, and is a member of the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.
“I dealt with Earl two or three times a week for six months,” Hunt said Monday. “He was quite the character over that time. He was funny in his own way, but he was an old-school businessman.”
After the sale of the 67’s was finally complete — at the time, the $2.5-million price tag was the highest ever paid for a Canadian major junior franchise — Montagano invited Hunt to the Hunt and Golf Club for a dinner to cement the deal.
“He then took me down the locker-room,” Hunt said. “He opened up a big box of Wrigley’s gum and asked if I chewed. He said, ‘If you own the Ottawa 67’s, you can have all the gum you want.’ ”
Montagano, who owned a successful Ottawa travel company, also experienced success with a heating and ventilation business and did well in the stock market. But he was perhaps most passionate about hockey. Hunt said Montagano remained one of the club’s best fans, rarely missing a game.
“The 67’s were a big part of his
The 67’s were a big part of his life. When we won the Memorial Cup (in 1999), he was as happy as anyone else.
life,” Hunt says. “When we won the Memorial Cup (in 1999), he was as happy as anyone else. Thanks to him and (Darwin), the 67’s were in good hands for a long time.
“It’s a sad day for the Ottawa 67’s.”
Legendary 67’s coach and general manager Brian Kilrea said he always enjoyed sharing time with Montagano, often over a cold one after games at the Civic Centre. Kilrea also spent time visiting Montagano at his Florida condo.
Darwin and Montagano “were the bosses, but they never acted like it,” Kilrea says. “It was more if your uncle or your dad walked into the office. It was such a good atmosphere. After the game, whether it was Howard or Earl, if we had lost a game or lost a (playoff ) series, there was never any brooding. It was just a great mood of partnership.”
The business relationship between Montagano and Darwin was also rock solid.
It started when Darwin was desperately seeking cash for the construction of a building on Wellington Street, next to his jewelry store.
Darwin’s wife, Connie, suggested he contact Gord Montagano — Earl’s brother — who had a connection with Darwin through their boxing interests. Gord, in turn, connected Darwin to Earl.
It was the beginning of a great friendship and partnership. Darwin died in 2009.
“Both my dad and Earl have been quoted about this before, that they were closer than most brothers,” said Jeff Darwin, one of Howard’s sons, who remembers as a child spending days swimming at the Montagano house in west-end Ottawa.
“They never had a business disagreement. Earl was the quiet one. He let dad be the guy who was in the papers and usually did the talking, but my dad would come to Earl many times.”
Montagano was admitted to hospital in late December. As per his final wishes, he was brought home for the end of his life.
“It was a bit unexpected that he went so quickly, and we had hoped we might get a few more months,” said Montagano’s daughter, Judith. “He and Brian (Kilrea) and Howard (Darwin) were all very close. It wasn’t about written contracts. They were all such good friends.”
Montagano’s wife, Norma, died in 2004. He leaves behind three daughters, Judith, Janet and Joanne, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren — and endless memories.
There will be a public celebration of Montagano’s life on Friday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Tubman Funeral Home at 3440 Richmond Rd.
Ottawa businessman and former part-owner of the 67’s franchise, Earl Montagano is being remembered as “quite a character” who was one of his team’s biggest fans. Montagano died Monday at age 91.