"No dress rehearsal, this is our life," sings the Tragically Hip in the song Ahead by a Century, but for Katie Hauser, the line describes the kind of life her husband, Michael ‘Doogie’ Hauser, lived.
“He always thought he was going to die young, so we teased him about being old and said he was going to be sticking around for awhile,” said Hauser about Michael, who passed away Sept. 24 at the age of 53 following a five-year battle with cancer.
Hauser, married to Michael for 19 years, explains his experience with the disease includes bladder, lung, liver, abdominal lymph node and spinal cord cancer.
“His tumours were always a little bit challenging,” said Hauser, who said Michael went up more than once in front of the tumour board.
A beloved friend, husband and father, Michael was also the former owner of downtown bar Doogie’s and Pablo’s bar in Downtown Guelph.
In 1997, the bar initially opened as Doogie’s and the Pinata before Michael joined forces with his brother, Daniel Hauser. They converted the restaurant area into a second but joined bar called Pablo’s in 1999. Together, the two operated Doogie’s and Pablo’s, which became a fixture in the local bar scene for more than a decade.
“Thousands of people came through, several thousands, so a lot of people have these memories. There are people I saw who met their current spouse at that bar,” said Paul 'PK' Kendall, a close friend of Michael's who worked at Doogie’s and Pablo’s until 2003.
He explains the two bars were then named after their nicknames.
“There was a popular show in the '80s called Doogie Hauser, and it was about a child prodigy doctor, and his nickname was Doogie for as long as I could remember,” said Kendall.
He said he first met Michael in 1992 when they worked at a bar and restaurant called Cliff & Norm’s and the Silver Peso, but they didn’t develop a friendship until four years later.
“We were friendly, but we became closer friends in 96 when the bar went under and Mike let me know that his intent was to buy the bar and restaurant, and convert it,” said Kendall, “He wanted to know if I would basically volunteer my time with a few other friends to get it ready.”
Working closely together during the three months prior to opening Doogie’s, Michael gave Kendall the job of watching the door and bartending shifts to help him become a bartender.
Throughout his time working there, Kendall said Michael became like a brother to him.
“If he made you a promise, he would do everything in his power to keep it,” he said about Michael. “He stressed that it was all about family to him.”
Kendall mentions the same loyalty Michael had for his staff he extended to his customers too, resulting in many of them becoming regulars.
“I think he realized that the strength of the bar was going to be its sense of community, and as a owner, if he showed loyalty to those customers, he was going to have a good business and it was going to feel like family," he said. “He knew if the generosity came from him it would be repaid in kind."
Another aspect of Michael people know is that he was a big Tragically Hip fan. Kendall said Michael had Tragically Hip memorabilia around the bar, including a picture of Gord Downie.
Out of all the memories he has at Doogie's and Pablo's, Kendall said his favourite was seeing Michael performing a Tragically Hip song. Despite the performance being shaky and out of key, Kendall said everyone at the bar gave Michael a standing ovation.
“It was amazing, we had so much fun just knowing he was not a performer at all, but he loved the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie so much that he would risk it all to perform."
For Katie, she recalls meeting Michael for the first time at Doogie’s and Pablo’s in 1999.
“We met when I was playing darts,” said Hauser. “We met on the dart team.”
It would be another couple of years before they started dating, but quickly became serious after Katie met Michael’s daughter Linda.
“He said we should think about getting serious and I said, ‘Are you asking me to go steady?’” said Hauser, “and it was very shortly after that that we picked out our wedding date.”
Hauser and Michael were married May 5, 2002. Their wedding song was 5 Days in May by Blue Rodeo.
As their family grew from Michael’s daughter to four kids, Katie said operating the bar became more challenging, especially in 2012.
“That’s when the bar industry was starting to take a turn,” said Hauser. “We would borrow money all summer so we could make back enough money in the fall.
“That lifestyle is difficult when you’re not getting home until three in the morning and you have little kids, it gets hard.”
That same year, Hauser said the family made a decision to move to Nova Scotia for a fresh start. Michael sold the bar to new ownership and they moved in 2012.
Challenges finding work resulted in Michael going to work in Alberta, and then back to Ontario. The family eventually moved back to Guelph in 2016, into the same house they originally rented behind Stone Road Mall.
“In retrospect, it was a terrible experience, but we didn’t know what was going to happen," said Hauser.
After selling Doogie’s and Pablo’s, Michael went on to work as a cell tower inspector. He got his start in August 2014, when a friend from Doogie’s and Pablo’s started a business called KTECH Telecom.
Despite having a deathly fear of heights, Hauser said Michael went on to climb and inspect cell towers, including ones up to 500 feet.
“He loved that,” said Hauser about the work Michael did prior to his cancer treatment. “It’s pretty awesome, they literally climb up these towers, inspect them and mark all these deficiencies, and they flew all across Canada doing that.”
Michael would go on to climb his last tower in the summer of 2019, a couple years after his initial cancer diagnosis of stage four bladder cancer in June 2017. Looking back, Hauser said Michael was showing symptoms while they were still in Nova Scotia.
“He had symptoms long before that and was bounced between doctors and specialists before they finally made the discovery,” she said.
After having his bladder removed and replaced with a neobladder in 2018, Michael was briefly declared cancer-free before he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his left lung. He then participated in 60 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy.
His wife said Micheal began participating in palliative immunotherapy with a new drug called Keytruda in October for 25 cycles over 18 months.
“Nobody had that many, it was unique,” she said, mentioning most people take the medication for an average of nine months. “He was kind of a pioneer in Keytruda.”
Kendall said Michael was very open about his condition with him and they tried to spend as much time together as they could. In early 2020, Michael and his family visited Kendall in California, where they went to sports games together.
“By the time they left, it was the first week of March and I didn’t think I would see him again,” said Kendall.
In February 2021, Hauser said the cancer spread into Michael’s liver and abdominal lymph nodes. The months leading up to September, Michael was at home receiving visits from family and friends. His bed became set up in the living room, where he and Katie would watch every Jays game and most of the Olympics in August.
“We loved it, we were so into it," said Katie. "Our favourite thing was probably the women’s softball.”
Kendall recalls changing a flight to Guelph twice from October 1 to September 13 after Michael told him he wasn’t going to make it.
“He knew his body, and I’m glad he gave me that heads up,” said Kendall. “I’m just glad I had the time with him.”
On the day Michael passed, both Kendall and Hauser talked about the significance of the timing of it – 3:13 p.m.
Hauser explains both she and her mother have birthdays on March 13, and her grandfather and step-father both passed away on the 13th day of different months.
“The number 13 has been perpetual in my life and my mother’s life, and Michael started seeing it through me too,” said Katie.
“She said he did it on purpose,” added Kendall, who got the call from Katie after Michael’s death.
“It was at 3:13 that he left, so I know that it was his way of saying that he was okay, but it was his way of making us laugh at the last second," said Hauser.
“That’s why I don’t feel like he’s gone, maybe he’s out there somewhere, somewhere with Gord Downie.”