Shawn Chaulk claims he has the biggest collection of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia in the world. There’s not many who would argue the point. Even the Great One himself is impressed by what the native Newfoundlander as gathered over the last two decades.
“There is no other collection out there that would even come close,” the 44-year-old Chaulk says, rather proudly.
Chaulk is a native of Bonavista who spent a lot of his time in Whitbourne before moving to Fort McMurray in 1980. It’s there he became an Edmonton Oilers fan and it’s also where his Gretzky-obsession began.
Chaulk, who owns a construction/home building company called Stratford Contracting Ltd., said his sports-collecting hobby started innocently enough about 20 years ago,
“I was reading a Golf Digest article on Arnold Palmer Enterprise and it talked about all the fan mail and autograph requests he received in the mail,” he said.
“A bell went off, so I clipped the photos from the magazine and mailed them to him in care of the magazine. A few weeks later, to my surprise, the autographs came back in the mail.
“I was hooked and my passion for collecting autographs was born. I spent many years collecting autographs and Gretzky, who was my favorite hockey player, became the focus of my collection.
“About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase one of his game-used sticks, which I did, and then my focus shifted to finding more of his game-used sticks and equipment. In 2005, I acquired my first jersey in a memorabilia auction in Montreal. They were selling off a huge Edmonton Oilers collection owned by a former employee of the team.”
From there, he says his passion for game-used equipment really blossomed and he’s been working the collection ever since. It’s always a work in progress and there’s no such thing as “complete.” There are many more (items) he’s trying to track down.
Chaulk said it seemed logical that he’d follow the Oilers after moving to Alberta and it was easy to become a fan of Gretzky, considering what No. 99 was doing for the franchise.
With the exception of dozens of framed items, which he keeps in storage, Chaulk displays all the memorabilia in his home.
“It’s no good to have a collection of this magnitude, or any magnitude for that matter, if you can’t have it on display and enjoy it every day,” he said.
Chaulk, who only collects Gretzky’s Edmonton Oiler merchandise and his pre-NHL items, said his first piece of Gretzky memorabilia was a game-used stick from his Oiler days. He says there’s “way too much” post-Oiler material out there and much of it is fake.
As of today, he has over 70 Gretzky sticks and all of them are significant in one way or the other.
Chaulk told The Telegram he’s never tallied up just how much all of his Gretzky merchandise is worth and added that even if he knew he probably wouldn’t say.
“I don’t focus on the value too much, despite its high market value.
“It’s up there,” he says because he claims that one of his Gretzky jerseys is worth about $1 million alone.”
That’s the sweater Gretzky wore when he scored his 500th goal.
“He was wearing the same jersey later that 1987 season the night he hoisted the third Stanley Cup.”
He said a “middle man” in Philadelphia, who owns an auction site, worked for him for two years to get that special jersey in his collection.
“It took me two years to figure out how to pull it off and make it happen.”
Making sure the game-worn jerseys are authentic is something Chaulk takes very seriously.
He does it by what he calls ‘photo matching,’ which means matching the jersey he wants to buy with photos of Gretzky wearing it in games.
“By the end of a season, there are holes and tears, hockey tape marks, board burns and obvious signs of repairs. I spend days on a piece of memorabilia researching it through thousands of images we have in a library and in books to find pictures of him wearing that particular jersey in a certain season. I won’t buy anything until I’m 100 per cent certain he wore it.”
The most unique item Chaulk has is Gretzky’s old Mercedes 560SL hard top-soft top convertible.
“It’s in mint condition,” he notes while explaining how he obtained the car, which Mercedes Canada gave Gretzky in 1986.
“Obviously, they wanted the biggest name in sports to drive in their product.
“Wayne drove it that summer, but he didn’t know what to do with the convertible in the winter, so he returned it to Mercedes Canada and his business manager/partner took over the car after buying it from Mercedes.”
Chaulk said Gretzky’s business manager eventually heard about his collection.
“He contacted a memorabilia dealer in Edmonton to reach out to me about three years ago to see if I’d be interested in buying the vehicle.”
And, of course, he was.
“Wayne wrote me a letter confirming that it had been his.”
Chaulk and his wife Tanya, who is from Port au Choix, have two children, seven-year-old Spencer and four-year-old Maria.
Chaulk says he doesn’t believe his children know exactly what he has in their home.
“As they grow older, If they have the same passion, I will leave it to them or set up some private or public museum maybe. If they simply have no passion for it, I would likely sell it off at that time as I would not want to leave them with the burden of trying to dispose of it. I’m sure they would get taken to the cleaners on it and that is a fear of mine.”
His favourite piece of memorabilia is Gretzky’s game-worn material.
“It’s really hard to say exactly which piece is my favourite as each has a story and they are all important to me.”
For example, he said, “I had the privilege of playing hockey alongside Wayne in 2005 down in Phoenix at his fantasy hockey camp. There were 60 skaters and about 10 or 12 former NHL players and we played hockey in a tournament for a week. I played one game where Wayne and I were on the same line.
“I have the stick that Wayne used in that game, so that means a lot to me … not in (monetary) value, but in memories. I’ve been asked if the house was burning and I could grab one thing from my office, what would it be. It would likely be the photo album from that hockey camp,” he said.
Chaulk bought and traded for all the material he has over the years.
“There are a lot of great people in this hobby giving me leads on items all the time. I’ve had lots of help that way and lots of people, who may have wanted a piece of Gretzky memorabilia, graciously allowed me to acquire it because my collection is so big.”
Chaulk says he will probably have the collection evaluated some day, “but unless you are selling it, the value does not mean a whole bunch.
“They say everything has a price, but for now, there is no price tag on my collection,” he says. “My kids think the collection is ‘neat’ and they know how passionate I am about it.”
He’s always questioned about selling what he has and, generally, he says the answer is no.
“I didn’t acquire it to sell it off,” he adds.
“However, there is no public form in which to share it with fans and the hockey world. Maybe if the Oilers approached me and wanted to publically display it in their new building, may consider some arrangement where it was on some sort of loan to them.”
Chaulk recently put all his Gretzky material on public display in Edmonton.
He explained the Kinsmen Club of Edmonton was hosting a major fundraiser for around 1,400 guests. Gretzky was the guest speaker, so the club approached Chaulk about displaying his collection.
“I was thrilled and started the process of putting it all together.”
He said Gretzky was amazed at the size of the collection and, “We talked at length about some items. It was a dream to walk through the collection with Wayne and something I never thought would happen.
“He was surprised that one person could have so much of his stuff. He had lots of questions about how and where I got some items and enjoyed looking at all of the history in one room.”
Chaulk collects more than Gretzky material.
“I’m great friends with a couple of NHL legends who frequently visit me and my family. Glenn Anderson and Bryan Trottier have both become good friends over the past few years and I currently have about 15 of Glenn’s game-worn Oiler jerseys and some of Trottier’s items as well,” he said.
“I also have a huge collection of Danny Cleary items, given he’s the first born Newfoundlander with his name on the Stanley Cup. I have 33 of his game-worn jerseys from the four NHL teams he’s played on.
Chaulk has his skates, gloves, helmets, sticks and some of his most significant jerseys, like his rookie one and three of the four Cleary wore in the Stanley Cup final.
“Of course, being from Bonavista, I have a few Michael Ryder jerseys as well,” he added.
Chaulk says his wife is very understanding and gives him “amazing” support for his hobby.
“She understands — or at least pretends to understand — my passion for hockey and collecting memorabilia and she lets me do my thing,” he said.
“We are on a first-name basis with the local FedEx and UPS drivers and every time another mystery package shows up at the door, she just shakes her head, cracks another collecting joke, and laughs it off.”