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The Zen Gearhead and Nicholson Brothers

Over the years we have frequently published stories and come to know the many characters from the legendary Saskatoon motorcycle shop, Nicholson Brothers. Here, one old hand from those not-forgotten days salutes another with a fond farewell.

On February 28, 2020 in Montreal, my old friend and fellow motorcyclist Gerry Sabourin went to meet his maker, and I would like to pass on a few words of remembrance.

In 1947 Gerry came from his home in Ottawa to work for Nicholson Brothers Motorcycles in Saskatoon, and that is where I met this remarkable person.   

Angus McDonald’s friend Gerry Sabourin about 1951 on his Triumph Trophy. Taken in front of #135 Third St. in Saskatoon.

He was the second mechanic to work for the Nicholson Brothers, Dave Oats being the first.  Gerry left Nicholson’s when I started there in 1952, but he returned a few years later and we worked together for a few years.

Gerry’s qualifications for the motorcycle business were a little odd.  He was an intellectual, a respected artist well known in art circles of eastern Canada, and a student of Eastern religion. He also had a fascination for exotic machinery and introduced me to the world of formula one car racing. When Gerry wasn’t talking about racing motorcycles or formula one cars he would be on about Zen Buddhism.

Before coming to Nicholson’s Gerry was working at Rolls Royce Aero Engines assembling their “Nene” Mk.10 turbojets. But prior to that he had a rather unusual job; working for the government, he had to track down children born of Canadian mothers and fathered by German prisoners of war being held in Canada. In hindsight I am surprised that we got along so well with him being an intellectual and me being a grunt.

Those were the years of Gerry and I making great road trips covering most of Canada and the northern USA. In those no helmet days, he stood out with his flowing red hair and red beard.  I know of at least one teenage girl who carried his photo in her wallet.  

He was also very competitive; weekends would often find him on the road to Pike Lake west of Saskatoon, drag racing the “Harley boys” and that sometimes resulted in a holed piston in his Triumph Trophy.

Gerry’s first bike was a model 18 Norton and he progressed through a number of cycles to an Ariel Square Four and eventually a Vincent Black Shadow. But I still think that 1950 Triumph Trophy of his (with spring rear wheel hub) was one of the best looking motorcycles I have ever seen. The engine bottom end was Tiger 100, and the top end was from the Grand Prix, with very coarse fins that were somewhat square.  I believe it came from a generator that Triumph made for RAF bombers in WWII.

When we worked together at Nicholson’s, Gerry used his German made coffee grinder every morning, and it eventually wore out. I rebuilt it for him using a Triumph valve guide to replace the bearing that had failed.  When I last talked to Gerry a few years ago he was still using the same grinder.  Those were good quality British-made valve guides.

Gerry and I worked together for only a few years, but they were absolutely the best years of my working life. How fortunate I am to have known this wonderful human being. Those were the REALLY good old days.

by Angus McDonald Canadian Biker Issue #347

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