After 48 years, a Cape Bretoner has returned home, but he's not empty-handed.
Cecil Hoyte has brought two hobbies with him, including creating posters of hockey collages, a 35-year passion.
Hoyte said it takes upwards of 50 hours to create a poster — not including the time spent searching for the right photos from magazines to hockey cards — and they’ve sold across Canada.
“It goes back to my love for hockey when my brother Gary and I were growing up,” he said. “We always went to find a good pond, either along the railway tracks where the coke ovens were or at Inglis Lake.”
Last November, Hoyte returned home to spend time with his brother Gary Hoyte, a former steel plant worker, who was sick. Gary died March 28.
“I was with him until the day he died,” he said.
Hoyte has moved into his late brother’s apartment and says he’s here for good.
“I’m happy here, I know my brother is watching over me and I’m happy for my brother, he’s not suffering anymore.”
Hoyte has several siblings including the late Glen Hewer, as well as Ernie, Kevin and Terry Hewer of Sydney, Derick Hewer of Glace Bay and Theresa Elcock of Whitney Pier.
Born and raised in Whitney Pier, Hoyte left the island in 1972 and went to Montreal. In 1979 he headed west. In 1985, he was living in Saskatoon but reuniting with his former partner, he moved to Vancouver.
“I went to the unemployment office and asked when my cheque was coming in and they said in a month or two."
Hoyte needed money. Being a huge sports fan, he had all kinds of hockey, basketball, baseball and boxing photos. He purchased 25 pieces of bristol board and started creating collages. In the beginning he would just sell the original.
“I went to a pool hall and sold one for $20 and went to a bar and sold another for $25,” he said. “I made $45 in half an hour.”
The first ones were rough, he would simply tape them together. There might be 25-50 sports photos on each. Over the years he developed an elaborate process that includes 200-300 photos. He gets prints made and sells the original as well as the copies at flea markets and farmers' markets.
Hoyte has lived in various parts of Western Canada and has worked in construction and commercial interior demolition. In 2011, he moved to Grande Cache, Alta., where he was employed as a janitor in a grocery store.
“No matter where I was, I was also doing my collages.”
Hoyte has spent a lot of time searching for the right photos.
“If a fellow played for five or six teams during his career, I try to get those five or six teams with him in different uniforms.”
Overall, he has created about 130 posters.
The latest piece includes 209 different photos as well as nine autographs from former hockey greats including Brett Hall, Gary Roberts, Thomas Steen, Rich Stutter, Tony Granato, Luc Robitaille and Wayne Gretzky.
“Jaromir Jagr has been on nine different teams in the NHL,” he said. “You won’t go anywhere and find a picture of all his teams, well I have it right here and that’s what makes that poster unique.”
There is also a piece of Cape Breton on the poster with photos of former NHLers Al MacNeil from Sydney, Bobby Smith, who was born in North Sydney, and Al MacInnis of Port Hood.
“Al MacNeil’s brother was my teacher at Sydney Academy,” he said.
There is no place safe from Hoyte’s relentless searches for the right photos including magazines in doctor's or dentist's waiting rooms.
“If I’d see a picture in there, I’d tear it out, put it in my pocket and add it to my collage.”
In 2016, Hoyte began building inukshuks. Always interested in rocks, he used to pick them up on the railways tracks as a child, looking for fossils.
Hoyte said he has seen many photos of inukshuks and taught himself the process through trial and error.
“I would do the head, arms sticking out and finally got the hang of it.”
Since he has made more than 100, mainly miniature ones several inches high that are permanently sealed with glue, but he also builds larger free-standing ones upwards of three feet high.
Hoyte sells his smaller ones and if people have rocks on their property they would like to use, he’ll build one for them.
“They’d be mounted ‘as is’ like in the old days.”
Meanwhile, he hasn’t had to worry about finding something to do during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I love it here,” he said, adding he’s either hunting for rocks or hockey cards.
“Right now I would love to get a Wayne Gretzky with his New York Rangers uniform,” he added.
Glen Morrison of Sydney grew up with Hoyte.
"He was at my house many times and I was at his house many times," he said. "We used to play hockey together."
After 48 years, Morrison was glad to see his friend come home. Although the COVID-19 crisis is limiting contact, he has seen his creations.
Morrison is impressed with his friend's hobbies and the time dedicated to creating the hockey collages.
"He likes doing that kind of stuff," he said. "He puts a lot of time into it. It's his passion."