Nfld. & Labrador

Grandson of 1930s Newfoundland boxing champ on quest to find missing title belt

A St. John's man is pleading with the public to help him on his journey to track down a championship boxing belt won by his grandfather 81 years ago.

Norm Downey says whereabouts of elaborate title belt a mystery since WWII

Norman J. Downey seen in a photograph with the Newfoundland Boxing Association championship belt he won in 1936. The family has been trying to track down the whereabouts of the belt for decades. (Submitted by Downey family)

A St. John's man is pleading with the public to help him on his journey to track down a championship boxing belt won by his grandfather 81 years ago.

"I want to find this belt. I've dreamed many times about finding this belt and hanging it in my rec room," said Norm Downey.

"Somebody has it. It's in somebody's attic, forgotten about."

Norm Downey believes his grandfather's title belt is out there somewhere, and is asking anyone who has any information to contact him on Facebook. (CBC)

His grandfather, Norman John Downey, started down the path to winning the 1936 Newfoundland Boxing Association title several years earlier — where so many good stories begin — in a bar.

Scrapper goes pro

Originally from the area of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula now known as Winterton, Downey's grandfather had moved to Kitchener, Ont., in the 1930s to work for the BFGoodrich tire company.

"He was at the bar one night having a few beers with the boys and a fight broke out. Someone sucker punched him, actually," Downey told CBC.

"Grandfather, being a Downey, he decided to get involved."

Former Newfoundland boxing champ Norm J. Downey, left, and the promoter who introduced him to the sport put their dukes up for a family photo in 1965. (Downey family)

Not only did he get involved, but clearly held his own during the bar room brawl, because later that night he was approached by a local boxing promoter, who suggested he come visit a local gym.

Downey's grandfather had no interest in the sport at first, but after some persistence from the promoter, he finally dropped by to watch a few bouts.

"He decided to put the gloves on and got in the ring to get a taste of it," Downey said.

After seeing him fight, the gym started grooming Norm J. Downey as a boxer, and over the course of the next several years he fought 147 bouts in Canada and the United States, winning all but three.

An article from The Compass newspaper from the 1930s about Downey's boxing career. (Submitted by Downey family)

With all that experience in the ring, Downey returned home to Newfoundland where he stepped in the ring for seven fights before getting a shot at the Newfoundland Boxing Association championship title in 1936.

The belt

On the line wasn't just the glory of being the best fighter in Newfoundland, but also a beautiful championship belt worth 50 British pounds — a lot of money in the 1930s.

Just before the war broke out it went into safe keeping.- Norm Downey

"It's a leather belt. On the front there's a gold frame and in that frame is two boxers carved in ivory and that's linked on each side with gold nuggets. Each gold nugget is linked with gold chain."

"Grandfather is the only one with a name engraved on the side, on one of the nuggets."

​Though the family still has the championship trophy that went with the title win, the current location of the elaborate belt has been a mystery since just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Downey family still has the trophy that Norm J. won back in 1936, but the belt remains elusive. (Downey family)

Downey has talked to people who have shared stories about seeing the belt, including one woman who saw it before it was packed up and put into a vault in a law office in downtown St. John's.

"Just before the war broke out it went into safe keeping," he said.

"Inside the box was the belt, everyone 'ooohed and awwwed', they closed the box and it's never been seen since."

Family effort

Downey's uncle first began the quest for the belt, and now the task has fallen on the shoulders of Downey himself, who is asking anyone with information or stories about the belt to contact him on Facebook.

"I hope to get the belt and finish the quest," he said.

With files from Anthony Germain