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'They’ll be remembered as good community people': Cape Breton sports icons pass away days apart

One man was nicknamed “The Godfather” -- the other was known as “Bearcat.”

Aside from their colourful nicknames, what Peter Hanna and Blair Joseph had in common was they were beloved in their respective Cape Breton sporting scenes.


"(Hanna) was 40 when he started running. He was 65 when he did his first Ironman,” said Herbie Sakalauskas, president of the Cape Breton Road Runners.

Along with his athletic accomplishments in running and triathlon well into old age, Hanna was the subject of a recent documentary for running all 17 legs of the Cabot Trail Relay Race -- twice.

“The Last Leg” was released on Bell Fibe TV1 in 2022.

Hanna’s finish in Baddeck, N.S., before his family and friends in July 2021 -- at age 80, while battling cancer -- was a special day.

"It was amazing to see the turnout that Peter actually got,” said Sakalauskas, who also produced the documentary. “It was no surprise. Everybody knows Peter. Everybody loves Peter."

Peter Hanna died on June 6, 2023, after years fighting prostate cancer. (Source: Pier Community Funeral Home)


From local rinks to the professional hockey ranks, Joseph was known as a coach and a guiding mentor to hundreds of players over a lifetime in the game.

"All you had to do was mention Bearcat to any of our former players, and immediately a smile would come on their face,” said Paul MacDonald, former president of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Eagles and current general manager of Sydney’s Centre 200.

On Wednesday, people were lined up out the door of a Sydney funeral home to pay Bearcat their final respects on the day of his wake.

"The Xs and Os are one thing, but it's that personal relationship that he was able to develop with the players, and people in the game, is what most remember,” MacDonald said.

Blair Joseph passed away on June 4, 2023, after a battle with pancreatic cancer. (Source: Dignity Memorial)


Joseph passed away over the weekend after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Hanna died Monday after years fighting prostate cancer.

"I think they'll be remembered as good community people, and good people,” MacDonald said. “I know that's said a lot, but this is really true about both."

Each man had a special ability to connect with people.

"Even though I don't know if I deserve as much recognition as I'm getting, I certainly am thankful,” Hanna said during “The Last Leg.”

Joseph’s funeral is set for Saturday at the Membertou Health and Wellness Centre.

Hanna’s is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Holy Redeemer Church in his home community of Whitney Pier, N.S.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page Top Stories

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