The John P. Metras Sports Museum was founded in 1984 by the ‘W’ Club. Situated at the front of Alumni Hall in Room 100, the museum served to make visible what had long been the pride and joy of student’s and staff at Western: the university’s legacy of excellence in athletics. The museum’s first curator, legendary Mustangs coach Dutch Decker, worked tirelessly to honour that legacy, teaming up with Bob Gage of the London Free Press to establish a foundational collection of photographs and artifacts, many of which were donated by staff and alumni along with an array of financial contributions. Bob would take over as curator from Dutch in the 1980s and carry on in that role through the new millennium, using his vast knowledge of Mustangs athletics to help build the museum into an institution of which the university could be proud. With support from the ‘W’ Club and encouragement from many close friends at Western, Bob would use that knowledge to compile a history of men’s athletics at the school titled Mustangs Tales, which has served as the foundational text of the museum since its publication along with Helen Luckman and Pat Morden’s account of women’s athletics, also titled Mustang Tales.
When Bob passed away in 2009, he bestowed over $1 million to Western Athletics, with a large portion of that money going to the museum to ensure that Western’s athletic legacy would continue to be preserved. That task fell to Ted Hessel (BA ’58, BEd ’69), a close friend of Gage’s and a long-time volunteer with the ‘W’ Club. Over his tenure as curator, Hessel oversaw a significant expansion of the museum’s collection, beginning with the opening of the museum’s workroom in Thames Hall that allowed him to move his large collection of memorabilia from his basement to campus. Along with his work of creating exhibits and entertaining visitors, Ted made it his personal mission to collect and digitize all of Western’s team photographs– an ambitious task that has required him to enlist the help of countless hard-working individuals, including many from the [former] Women’s Athletic Alumni (WAA) club. Hessel has partnereded with members of the newly founded Western Mustangs Athletic Alumni to help keep the museum as strong as ever, ushering in the next generation of dedicated volunteers and spearheading the museum’s massive digitization project. Ted retired from his position as curator in the fall of 2015, passing the baton to a new generation.
The museum’s collection consists of a large variety of photographs, artifacts, newspaper clippings, programs, and other items pertaining to Western’s athletic legacy. Many of these items have been donated by former coaches and athletes or have been found within the pages of the museum’s large collection of Occidentalias, most of which were donated to the museum by the late June Burr. The centerpiece of the museum’s holdings is it’s comprehensive team photo collection, which consists of over 2,100 unique pieces and spans from the early 1900s until today. The museum also boasts a burgeoning oral history collection, developed in partnership with Western’s History Department, that serves as a way to collect the memories and feelings of a host of athletic alumni.