Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Here's the true story of the True North Shout-Out

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"I worry that 30 years from now, when they are shouting 'True North' at Jets games, people will be wondering where the idea for this idea came from."

-- Winnipeg Jets fan Chuck Duboff


Sometimes, most times in fact, stories about the origins of Winnipeg traditions, however recent, are better left for locals to tell.

It's been a week now since the Globe and Mail told us how what's become known as The True North Shout-Out got its start at the first pre-season Jets game, "with one voice" spontaneously yelling "True North" at the appropriate line in our national anthem.

"It stuck," the Globe went on, "and now fans yell 'True North!' during the national anthem at every Jets home game."

In homage, as the Globe also reported, to True North Sports & Entertainment for bringing back the Jets and the NHL.

That part is true.

Except that's not how it happened.

Not according to the afore-quoted Chuck Duboff, who introduced me to the man behind the story of how thousands of Jets fans have come to sing "True North."

So strong and loud.


-- -- --

By Tuesday evening, when I finally spoke with Jeremy Harder on a wonky cellphone connection, the origins of the history of The Shout were anything but top of mind.

He had brought his five-year-old old son, Kade Jett Harder, into the city from their home in Winkler and spent hours upon hours at Children's Hospital as his little boy was stuck with needles and underwent tests.

Now the little boy was asleep.

The little boy whose middle name "Jett" speaks almost as loudly as The Shout to his father's belief the Winnipeg Jets would return years before they did.

Which seems only appropriate because, as Jeremy recalls it, the idea of doing something to thank True North first occurred to him back in late May, about a week before CEO Mark Chipman officially announced they had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers franchise and were bringing it north.

"At that time, I started to think it would be pretty neat to kind of do something to honour them," Jeremy said.

But he didn't know what or how.

"Then I was having a conversation with somebody and they mentioned that they got their name True North from the anthem. From that line in the anthem, 'the True North strong and free.' "

Jeremy said he's never confirmed if that was true, but it didn't really matter.

It's what gave him the idea.

"I thought, that's pretty neat. It's easy. All the fans have to do is yell 'True North.' "

But after years of being ridiculed by people who laughed in his face when he told them that one day the Jets would return, Jeremy was shy about shouting his idea out loud, the way he imagined the crowd at the MTS Centre doing.

"I was sick of being mocked all the time, so I kind of just ran it by a few guys to see what they said and what they thought. And they all just thought it was a fantastic idea."

By mid-summer, as Jeremy remembers it, almost two months after beginning his search for a way to thank True North, he put his idea out there on a Jets fans message board.

"I started it up there and probably 99 out of 100 responses were positive to very positive. So then I really started to promote it on the message board. Plus a little bit of Twitter," he said.

"And a lot of word of mouth."

I'm not sure why, maybe because he was on a cellphone and there was a brief pause as I scribbled down that last quote, but it was at this point Jeremy felt the need to ask me a question.

"Can you still hear me?"

Oh, yeah, Jeremy.

And we'll be hearing you for years and years to come.


-- -- --

I had one more question, but it was for Mark Chipman.

The question wasn't about how he felt about the True North Shout-Out.

It's clear that, as he would tell me, the "gesture" Jeremy Harder created is hugely appreciated.

But was it really, as Jeremy thought, our national anthem that inspired the use of True North in the company's name?

"No," Chipman said.

The origin is more complex.

True North, on a compass, is an "inarguable principle" of science, Chipman noted. But he believes there are also inarguable principles in relationships and, moreover, in business. And that's why, Chipman said, True North was incorporated in the name of the business he leads.

"As a reminder to us, on a regular basis, that there are principles at work and we should follow them."

In other words, the words True North were chosen to give the company, and those who work in it, a compass-like true direction.

But, as I told Chipman, I think there's another message, and a different inarguable principle at work with the True North Shout-Out than the one Jeremy Harder intended.

To me, the words True North symbolize the true home of hockey.

And there's no better, or truer, place for it to be shouted out than at a Jets game where the point is proven every time we sing O Canada.

And I hope tonight we sing "True North" louder and prouder than ever for Teemu, the truest Jet of them all.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2011 A15

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