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Remembering a true Maritime professional wrestling legend
Duprée’s Grand Prix Wrestling TV show a viewing staple for generations of fans
Maritime wrestling has lost one of its greatest champions and promoters, a true legend who became a household name through his weekly TV show.
Whether or not you consider yourself a wrestling fan, chances are that if you grew up in the Maritimes during the last half century, you’ve heard the name Emile Duprée.
Duprée, whose real name was Emile Goguen, died on Sept. 17 at the age of 86. The Shediac, N.B., native was part of professional wrestling’s original golden era, having made his in-ring debut in 1956.
As a promoter, he is perhaps best remembered for controlling televised pro wrestling in the Maritimes from the late 1970s to the early 1990s under the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling and World Grand Prix Wrestling banners.
As he transitioned from being a major in-ring star to a promoter, Duprée would take bookings in some of the largest markets in the United States over the winter months. He’d save his money and return home to the Maritimes to promote shows when there wasn’t any ice in the arenas, from the late spring to early fall.
As a young fan, I used to plan my life around watching Grand Prix Wrestling on TV once a week. I used to dream what it would be like to be part of it.
It was a sad day for me in January 1991 when the TV show ended. According to Emile, this happened at the hands of World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE) owner Vince McMahon. Instead of buying out Emile, McMahon took away his TV timeslot by offering the ATV network tapes of WWF shows for free.
I met Emile’s son Jeff Duprée in Berwick in 2004 while I was working as a ring announcer for MainStream Wrestling Entertainment. Jeff was the heavyweight champion at the time, as Emile’s famed Grand Prix Wrestling was on a lengthy hiatus.
Emile decided to go on tour again in 2006, bringing live Grand Prix Wrestling 50th anniversary spectaculars to arenas across the Maritimes (the events actually celebrated Emile’s 50th anniversary in the business). He hired me to ring announce his Annapolis Valley shows.
I can’t put into words how much those opportunities meant to me. Being hired by the most well-known Maritime wrestling promoter in history made me feel like I had finally arrived.
Emile had wrestled against some of the greatest legends of all time. His Grand Prix promotion had featured the likes of Leo Burke, the original Cuban Assassin, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, (Macho Man) Randy Savage, (Leaping) Lanny Poffo, (King) Harley Race, Dynamite Kid and so many more of my childhood favourites.
He would hire me again in 2008. Emile and both his sons, Jeff and René, were part of that tour. Jeff is a former
Grand Prix Wrestling heavyweight champion, while René is a former WWE superstar.
He was co-holder of the world tag-team championship on multiple occasions and is also a major star in Japan.
I remember during one interview, Emile shared the story of the first time he wrestled at the old Berwick Arena. This likely would have been in the late 1950s and illustrates how popular professional wrestling had become with the arrival of the medium of television.
He told me he had never been to the town before and wasn’t certain where the exact location was. It was before Highway 101 was built, so he drove the back roads of Kings County until he found his way to the arena.
Arriving a bit later than he expected, he was surprised to find that there was as large a crowd gathered outside the building as there was inside for the matches. Emile had to fight his way through the sea of hundreds of people to get into the building, and then through the crowd inside just to get to the dressing room.
As for me, my Grand Prix Wrestling debut in 2006 is a night I’ll always remember. It was a Saturday evening on Apple Blossom Festival weekend. Almost 300 people, the largest crowd since the TV days, packed into the old Berwick Arena for the show.
I forget who was coming out to wrestle first, but 2001: A Space Odyssey blasted over the sound system. As I stepped into the ring to welcome the fans and heard the roar of the crowd, there was a certain energy or electricity in the air that I’ll never forget.
I looked over to Emile as I introduced the opening contest. The nod of approval I received in return was priceless, something I’ll always consider among my favourite wrestling moments.
I hope Emile realized just how much he meant to so many people, and what a positive impact he made on so many lives. To some extent, everyone involved in the Maritime wrestling business today has Emile to thank, as they’re all standing on the shoulders of his accomplishments.