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Punch it up 

A long-vacant theatre on Gottingen is about to step into the ring as a boxing gym. Guy Quenneville straps on his gloves.

You might walk by it every day: IT’S that building on Gottingen Street—a relic left over from its days of yore as a movie theatre—that for years has displayed the same, puzzling message, “Pioneer Frontier. Explode my heart.”

For a long time, this building—spanning 2110-2112 Gottingen Street—has been crying out for someone to make good use of its space.

Someone finally will. Mickey MacDonald, a local entrepreneur and businessman, has purchased the building and is turning it into a boxing gym. He plans to call it Palooka’s Gym, after the titular boxing hero in the Joe Palooka boxing comic strip from the 1930s.

MacDonald is a long-time boxer who, at 54 years old, still works out six days a week with a personal trainer at his side.

At a gym above Downeast Communications on the Bedford Highway—a business he bought in 1991—MacDonald pounds away fiercely at a punching bag, grunting like an animal that’s found some fresh meat to gnaw on. Eventually, his Swedish trainer pops his head into the room and calls, “Time!”

MacDonald has been looking for an opportunity to pass on his boxing skills. He wants to create an atmosphere in which kids will not only learn the ins and outs of boxing but, more importantly, how to lead a successful life.

“When I got into boxing, it gave me a focus,” says MacDonald. He is speaking from his office, which is adorned with photos of his family, boxing paraphernalia and a framed poster from the original Rocky movie.

“And I think kids—no matter who they are or where they’re from—they need a focus. A lot of times they’re distracted and maybe fall into the wrong path because they don’t have a direction. They get bored. They get frustrated, just like I did.”

MacDonald grew up in Fairview in a family of seven kids. His father became ill at a young age, forcing his mother to take care of the entire family.

MacDonald calls the place he grew up in “a rather tough neighborhood. You either fought it or beat up —one of the two.”

MacDonald fought it.

“I was frustrated. Trying to find a focus in life.” He left, like many his age, to find work in Toronto. Pretty soon he found himself living on the streets, doing drugs and picking fights.

“And in fighting a lot in the street and the bars, I thought, ‘Here, I’m a tough guy.’ I’d seen these guys box and I said, ‘I’d like to try it.’ So I went in and I sparred with some of them and I kind of liked it.”

MacDonald hopes his return to his original passion can also help young Halifax kids start on their paths to successful business lives. While he won’t be coaching kids himself, he knows of a lot of trainers in the area who he says would be happy to volunteer their time.

“I always applied the same disciplines and things I learned in boxing into my business, and that is: you get up everyday. You go to work with a commitment and energy to be the best you can be. You work hard at it. It worked for me.”

MacDonald says boxing is a good sport to get into for other reasons.

“A lot of people refer to it as a poor man’s sport. I think boxing is not necessarily a poor man’s sport, but it’s a sport that doesn’t cost very much to get into.”

MacDonald’s brother, Rick, who runs a boxing gym of his own on the Bedford Highway and works with a lot of young boxers, says Mickey definitely has his work cut out for him.

“A lot of kids, they get very angry and they put up a lot of barriers,” says Rick. “And the way they react is no different than a little kitten: If a dog comes up, he gets his back up, and turns into a vicious little animal, with his claws out. Well, kids are the same thing. When they feel scared, they become aggressive.”

The board of directors for the gym will soon decide exactly how admission prices for the gym will work, although MacDonald says he will do everything he can to make boxing affordable for young boxers.

“Any money made from the gym will be used for scholarships for youths in the area,” he says.

MacDonald hopes to open the gym sometime during March or April.

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