A Maple Leaf Gardens Gallery

Based on a gallery post originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2011, with new material mixed in.

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Maple Leaf Gardens, 1969. Photo by Bob Olsen. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0098050f.

“Where pucks once flew 15 feet or more on the ice, shoppers will stare at a 15-foot wall of cheese.”

That’s how this story originally began, published on the day Loblaws opened its Maple Leaf Gardens location. The arena on the upper level (still officially called, as of 2019, the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre) was still a few months away from opening. The occasion was a good excuse to take a stroll through the building’s history and the diversity of activities it had witnessed.

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The Globe, February 13, 1931.

In a timeframe that would be almost unheard of today, the request for a building permit was made in February 1931. The arena was open 10 months later. Also note the simultaneous request to the city to build an arena in Spadina Crescent, which was never constructed (the site is now U of T’s Daniels Faculty).

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Sketch of Maple Leaf Gardens, The Telegram, March 5, 1931.

Construction of Maple Leaf Gardens began in July 1931 and proceeded rapidly in order to be ready for the 1931/32 hockey season. Over 1,200 labourers, 750,000 bricks, and 77,500 bags of concrete were required to build the arena.

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Opening night ceremonies at Maple Leaf Gardens, Mail and Empire, November 13, 1931.

Over 13,000 people attended opening night on November 12, 1931. Maple Leaf Gardens President J.P. Bickell hoped that the arena would “be regarded as a civic institution, rather than a commercial venture, because its object is to foster and promote the healthy recreation of the people of this British and sport-loving city.” Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs lost to the Chicago Black Hawks 2-1.

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From W.A. Hewitt’s “Sporting Views and Reviews” column, Toronto Star, November 13, 1931:

The new Maple Leaf gardens proved a revelation to the hockey public last night. Everybody expressed amazement and pleasure at its spaciousness, its tremendous capacity, its comfort, its beautiful colour scheme, and its adaptability for hockey and all other indoor sports, with the spectators right on top of the play.

The crowd–a record one for hockey in Canada–was splendidly handled. No confusion, no crowding or rushing, everything done in the most orderly and systematic manner. The opening ceremonies were elaborate and a little lengthy, but that was excusable when one considers the importance of the occasion. They don’t open million-and-a-half arenas every night in the week.

Hewitt’s son, Foster, became a Gardens legend over his decades of broadcasting games on radio and television.

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Wrestling match, Whipper Billy Watson versus Dick Hutton, Maple Leaf gardens, July 5, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7520.

Seven days after the first hockey game, pro wrestling made its debut at the Gardens. A crowd of over 15,000 watched Jim Londos defeat Gino Garibaldi on November 19, 1931. The match was promoted by the Queensbury Athletic Club, who had recently hired Frank Tunney as its secretary. Within a decade Tunney took over the promotion and would be responsible for most of the venue’s wrestling cards until his death in 1983. One of his most popular draws was East York native Whipper Billy Watson, seen here defending a world title against Dick Hutton in 1956.

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Irvine “Ace” Bailey of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club in his office, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2370.

Among those who kept offices in the Gardens was Irvine “Ace” Bailey, who was one of the Maple Leafs’ top forwards until he was nearly killed by a vicious hit from Boston Bruin Eddie Shore in December 1933. Though unable to resume his playing career, Bailey went on serve two stints as the University of Toronto’s hockey coach and worked as a timekeeper at the Gardens until 1984.

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Skater jumps through ring of fire at Toronto War Savings Committee youth rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, February 13, 1941. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Iten 7068.

What lengths did organizers go to grab the attention of those attending the numerous war rallies at the Gardens during the Second World War? How about a skater jumping through a flaming hoop?

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Communist leader Tim Buck (front left) and others, Communist Labour and Total War Committee meeting, Maple Leaf Gardens, October 13, 1942. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7099.

Over 9,000 people attended a rally held on October 13, 1942 to support lifting the ban on the Communist Party that had been imposed under the War Measures Act two years earlier. Leader Tim Buck urged full support for the war effort to destroy the Axis powers, including conscription. Assorted labour leaders and politicians across party lines were also on stage to oppose the ban, including Ontario Premier Mitch Hepburn. One wonders if Hepburn’s motives were to further embarass Prime Minister Mackenzie King as much as helping the Communists break the ban and boosting war morale.

The ban wasn’t lifted, so the Communists reorganized as the Labour-Progressive Party the following year.

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Recruiting station at wartime rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, June 1, 1941. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7033.

The Gardens were used for numerous events supporting the war effort, from fundraisers to recruiting stations like this one. Even though he was in his mid-40s, Conn Smythe signed up for military service during the Second World War, eventually leading a sportsmen’s battalion and publicly criticizing the federal government’s handling of the war. Injuries sustained while caught in a German attack in July 1944 caused Smythe pain for the rest of his life. increasing his irascibility.

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Toronto Youth for Christ rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, circa 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7111.

Religious rallies were a popular draw, such as this one for Toronto Youth for Christ in 1946. Faiths ranging from Roman Catholics to Jehovah’s Witnesses held mass meetings inside the arena. This photo also provides great views of the ceiling clock and the portrait of King George VI that Conn Smythe proudly displayed.

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Mayor Robert H. Saunders and Charles Templeton at Toronto Youth for Christ rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1946. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7114.

Mayor Robert Saunders talks to Charles Templeton (then in the evangelist phase of his life) during the Toronto Youth for Christ rally held on June 15, 1946. Over 16,000 people attended the event. “The pageant was as colourful as a professional revue and more gripping than the hundreds of athletic contests which have been fought out before hoarse throated thousands in the Gardens,” the Star reported. “With colourful, authentic costumes, fanfares from trumpets, excellent staging and colourful, effective lighting the story of religious leaders throughout the ages was unfolded.” Among the other speakers was Billy Graham.

Templeton, who was associated with the Avenue Road Church of the Nazarene (now the site of the Hare Krishna temple), gradually lost his faith, declared himself agnostic, became a journalist, ran for the leadership of the provincial Liberals, edited Maclean’s, and generally lived a busy, interesting life.

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Bingo players, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1940s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7368.

On occasion, Maple Leaf Gardens became the biggest bingo hall in the city. I think they called O67…

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Lou Brody at Maple Leaf Gardens, between 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2439A.

Cleaning the ice surface, pre-Zamboni.

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Badminton played on skates in Maple Leaf Gardens ice show, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6709.

Ice badminton, anyone?

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Liberace at Maple Leaf Gardens, May 8, 1954. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3404.

As longtime Gardens publicity director Stan Obodiac described this photo in his book Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years of History (Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981), “Liberace exchanged his glittering suit for a straw hat in a 1954 country number.” While this particular number wasn’t mentioned , the Star reported in its May 10, 1954 review of the pianist’s show that “every time he ran off to make a change of costume or pull some cute gag, middle-aged women, who looked as though normally they’d be the soul of domestic decorum, got up and rushed after him.”

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Stanley Holloway putting on makeup, Old Vic Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Maple Leaf Gardens, December 1954. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Iten 7342.

Veteran British actor Stanley Holloway applies his makeup between cigarette puffs before a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a touring company from the Old Vic in London. Globe and Mail drama critic Herbert Whittaker was disappointed with Holloway’s performance as Bottom. “I expected this prime exponent of earthy humour to be rougher, more simple,” Whittaker wrote in his December 15, 1954 review. “This Bottom is surprisingly modern, betraying his music hall antecedents without whipping us with uproarious burlesque. But he found himself not eclipsed but rather aided when he donned the monster head of an ass which the Ironsides have provided, and which is almost the hit of the production.” Also starring were Moira Shearer (The Red Shoes) as Titania and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) as Demetrius.

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Maple Leaf Gardens refreshement stand, April 12, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7422.

Time for a refreshment break. Based on the date, my guess is that this photo was taken prior to the fourth game in the Eastern qualifying series for the Memorial Cup between the Toronto Marlboros and the Quebec Frontenacs.

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Globe and Mail, April 13, 1955.

The Marlies won the game 3-1, and went on to win both the series and the Memorial Cup. The roster was full of future Maple Leafs stars, including Bob Baun, Billy Harris, and Bob Pulford, along with future Leafs coach Mike Nykoluk.

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Crowds on new escalators, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1955. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7446.

Obodiac claimed that Maple Leaf Gardens was the first North American arena to be equipped with escalators.

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades rehearsing Peter Pan with journalist, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6776.

Long before journalists earned the wrath of Harold Ballard, reporting from the Gardens had its share of dangers, For one, you could have conducted an airborne interview with Peter Pan before a 1950s edition of the Ice Capades.

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades with broken leg, with members of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, between 1958 and 1962. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6757.

It appears this injured Ice Capades performer’s recovery from a broken leg was assisted by Maple Leafs Tim Horton, Carl Brewer, and Bert Olmstead.

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Bill Haley and the Comets, Maple Leaf Gardens, April 30, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7213.

In what was considered the arena’s first rock n’ roll show, Bill Haley and his Comets headlined a 12-act bill on April 30, 1956 that also included Bo Diddley, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, the Drifters, the Platters, and Frankie Lymon. “Like natives at a voodoo ritual,” the Star reported the following day, “the crowd writhed and reeled until their pent-up emotions burst the dam of reason and the clambered on to the stage and into the aisles to dance.” The following years, the Gardens was one of three Canadian stops Elvis Presley made on his only tour outside of the USA.

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Perry Como and Conn Smythe with “Timmy” in Como’s dressing room for Easter Seals show, “Timmy’s Easter Parade of Star,” Maple Leaf gardens, April 14, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7314.

A benefit concert for Easter Seals was an annual staple of the Gardens schedule beginning in the 1950s. Preparing for the 1957 edition are crooner Perry Como, “Timmy” Paul Gamble, and Conn Smythe. While Perry and Paul take the photo session in stride, Conn looks a little spooked. While researching this gallery, we discovered this wasn’t an unusual expression for Mr. Smythe.

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Likely from the same photo session, with Whipper Billy Watson and another youth subbing in for Perry Como. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7318.

As for the concert, the April 15, 1957 edition of the Globe and Mail observed that “it was the front rows to which Como and every star before him played. Bright-eyed children with crippled legs were the most fortunate: many there had crippled bodies as well as bodies, but they too obviously enjoyed every minute and hopped up and down with ecstatic delight.”

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Toronto Star, April 13, 1957. Click on image for larger version.

Other performers ranged from wrestler Whipper Billy Watson to the stars of CBC’s variety series Cross Canada Hit Parade and Country Hoedown.

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Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent and his wife Jeanne at Liberal party rally, Maple Leaf Gardens, June 7, 1957. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4213.

The federal Liberal election rally on June 7, 1957 was a political disaster, as a teenage heckler attempting to climb onstage fell backwards and hit his head on the concrete floor. The overall Liberal campaign that year was a dud.

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Cliff Richard and the Shadows at the Biggest Show of Stars for 1960, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7220.

Cliff Richard and the Shadows were among the acts featured in the January 1960 edition of the “Biggest Show of Stars” package tour.

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Toronto Star, January 26, 1960.

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The Isley Brothers, Biggest Show of Stars, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7252.

Other acts on the bill included the Isley Brothers and Clyde McPhatter.

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Audience at the Biggest Show of Stars for 1960, January 25, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7245.

A row of screaming fans at the January 1960 edition of the “Biggest Show of Stars.” Testing the limits of their vocal chords would serve them well, especially if any of them went on to see the Beatles at the Gardens four years later.

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Toronto Maple Leafs versus Chicago Black Hawks, between 1958 and 1964. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7529.

Ageless goalie Johnny Bower guards the net for the Maple Leafs against Chicago Black Hawks forwards Ron Murphy (10) and Eric Nesterenko (15).

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Toronto Maple Leafs versus Boston Bruins, between 1961 and 1963. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7527.

In this early 1960s match against the Bruins, the Leafs’ Bob Pulford (20) has his stick primed while team captain George Armstrong attempts to help. Among the Bruins trying to prevent a Leaf goal are Pat Stapleton (4), Ed Westfall (18), and Leo Boivin (20).

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Two men in Maple Leafs Gardens dressing room, pointing to painted Toronto Maple Leafs sign, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7447.

A clubhouse motto erected by Conn Smythe to inspire the Maple Leafs. The City of Toronto Archives does not identify the two gentlemen pointing at the inspirational words, but we think they may be forward Sid Smith and goalie Harry Lumley.

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Sonny Fox with Harold Ballard at Maple Leafs Gardens, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3038.

Harold Ballard’s association with Maple Leaf Gardens began during the 1930s when the future Maple Leafs owner was involved with a number of local amateur hockey teams. This picture, featuring Ballard with American television personality Sonny Fox, was taken long before hockey fans began uttering his name with contempt.

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Dave “Tiger” Williams signing an autograph for Greg Crombie, 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8857.

This photo appears to have been left on the cutting room floor when I prepared the original post, probably to make the gallery a nice, neat total of 28 images.

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Greg Crombie at Maple Leaf Gardens with King Clancy, 1978. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 8859.

Francis “King” Clancy was the sunny face of the Maple Leafs, whether it was as a player in 1930s or a team executive from the 1950s until his death in 1986. In his biography of Harold Ballard, sportswriter William Houston compared Clancy to a leprechaun. “Clancy usually has a big smile, a twinkle in his eye to go along with his high-pitched voice. He has an amiable personality and offends no one…He is full of stories from his hockey past and can be a delightful companion.”

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One of the last chances the public had to stroll around Maple Leaf Gardens before its conversion into its present form occured during Nuit Blanche in October 2008. While there were art installation on the arena floor, the real magic that evening was hearing visitors tell stories about their experiences in the building. There were also plenty of reminders that the Leafs had left behind after vacating the premises, such as this Mercury ad.

A Collection of Heroes and Villains

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For most of my time with Torontoist, the holiday season meant rounding up Toronto’s heroes and villains for the year. Some choices were obvious, others were hotly debated during staff meetings. Feeling drained by the time December rolled around, I usually stuck to my comfort zones (heritage matters, media), feeling that other writers were better at articulating hot button cultural and political issues.

It took time for me to grow comfortable with writing opinionated pieces. When I worked for the University of Guelph’s student newspaper, the section editors had the opportunity to write editorials. My lone contribution was one of the weakest, being little more than griping about aggressive PR people I had to deal with while handling the arts section (I was probably too afraid to write anything stronger, given the toxic atmosphere in that office). Later on, I always feared any opinions might come off as too trite, too weak, and too bland for anybody to care about. I can be a slow, deliberate thinker, and it has taken years to develop many of my viewpoints.

Let’s dive into my contributions to Heroes and Villains. I did not contribute during my first two years with the site (2007-2008) and certain I skipped 2009 (though it’s hard to say, given the individual entries have vanished from the interwebs – here’s the list). To replace the original artwork, I’ll use a mix of photos and appropriate vintage illustrations.

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“The defendants before the court.” Illustration by Eugene Lampsonius. Oevres illustrées de Balzac, vol. 1-2 by Honoré de Balzac (Paris: Gustave Havard, Maresq et Companie, 1851). Old Book Illustrations.

2010 Villain: Rob Ford’s Campaign Team

Originally published on Torontoist on December 17, 2010.

Pundits and voters who held low opinions of Rob Ford during the municipal election campaign had to admit that his brain trust did a brilliant job of capitalizing on voter anger and the lacklustre campaigns of his opponents to win the mayor’s chair for the outspoken Etobicoke councillor. Beyond appeals to the “little guy” and catchphrases like the focus-grouped “gravy train,” tactics employed in the march to victory by now–Ford Chief of Staff Nick Kouvalis and his associates at Campaign Research demonstrated a disconcerting willingness to achieve their goals by any means possible.

When the Ford camp learned the Star possessed the recording of a potentially damaging telephone conversation in which the candidate promised to find OxyContin for constituent Dieter Doneit-Henderson, Deputy Communications Officer Fraser Macdonald jumped into gear—and invented a person, Karen Philby (a.k.a. QueensQuayKaren), a George Smitherman supporter who spouted political views on Twitter. While Philby (whose last name, shared with a Cold War spy, might have tipped off her purpose in life) quickly achieved her intended goal—securing the Ford campaign its own copy of the conversation from Doneit-Henderson—she continued to post tasteful barbs directed at the other candidates (such as referring to Sarah Thomson as a “bitch”).

Philby also proved useful in undermining other candidacies. As “will he or won’t he” stories filled the press regarding John Tory’s intentions, the Ford campaign devised ways to keep him out of the fray, since they figured much of their support would gravitate to Tory if he ran. The methods ran from the mildly amusing (a YouTube video demonstrating Tory’s lack of superpowers when it came to stopping out-of-control gravy trains) to the deceptive: a Ford staffer called into Tory’s CFRB radio show as Philby to attack the host’s integrity.

Now that Ford occupies the mayor’s chair, we wonder what further shenanigans will be deployed to sway public opinion or neutralize opponents. Will a “Gloria Burgess” or “Donna MacLean” step forward to try to embarrass or derail Ford’s enemies? If the campaign was a preview of what’s to come, Ford’s key staff may score points among hardcore devotees and political junkies for the cunning of their tactics, but also further deepen cynicism about politicians in general and about City Hall in particular. We hope what we saw on the campaign trail does not foreshadow four years of dirty politics that use up energy that would be better expended solving the problems of the mayor’s cherished taxpayers.

UPDATE: The Rob Ford era…le sigh. When John Tory won the mayoralty in 2014, one of his campaign advisers was Nick Kouvalis.

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Portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie. Toronto Public Library.

2010 Hero: Shawn Micallef

Originally published on Torontoist on December 22, 2010.

In the foreword to his book, Stroll, Shawn Micallef notes that Torontonians have convinced themselves that our city is underwhelming compared to those world-class ones, such that “we don’t expect to turn the corner and see beauty or be amazed.” Yet Micallef, in an ever-growing number of media outlets (Eye WeeklySpacingYonge Street), uses his sharp observational skills to discover the city’s hidden treasures. In a year in which the media, politicians, and other naysayers suggested that everything in Toronto is broken, Micallef’s curiosity and keen interest in Toronto’s virtues injected a necessary and refreshing optimism.

Stroll, published this year, compiles stories drawn from Micallef’s psychogeographical walks across the city, ranging from the parking lots of Pearson Airport to the tip of the Leslie Spit. Readers gain a sense of the sheer size of the city and are taken to unexpected spots, like the middle of Highway 401 above Hogg’s Hollow. The stories he tells in the book, along with those featured in his Eye columns, weave together history and urbanism, and empathize with the residents of the locales he wanders through.
Micallef’s writing acknowledges the suburbs without denigrating them or deepening the divide between the inner and outer city. Instead, he creates connections between these geographies, mapping the relationships between all who inhabit the GTA. When he went to Etobicoke to cover one of Rob Ford’s campaign barbecues for Eye, Micallef did not mock or demonize those attending, as a journalist for a downtown-based alt-weekly might stereotypically be tempted to do, but portrayed the attendees as normal human beings enjoying their evening. While Micallef irritated several followers on Twitter for not etching those around him as illiterate cavemen, as though the writing were already on the wall, the piece demonstrated his ability to see beyond the echo chamber and understand why people might support somebody who most of his audience finds repulsive.

Micallef’s impish sense of humour was comedic relief during the long, dreary municipal election campaign. For most of the year, he successfully disguised himself as the city’s firebrand first mayor on Twitter: @rebelmayor. While other observers defined the negative tone of the race, @rebelmayor defiantly functioned as a court jester whose mock campaign updates and serious barbs at candidates (those most voters would have also aimed muskets at if given the opportunity) provided a release for the frustrations of the electorate. Though @rebelmayor has been retired for the moment, Micallef’s commentary continues under his own handle on Twitter: after Ford officially assumed office, Micallef encouraged Torontonians to act on their libertarian impulses regardless of how silly they were.

Given how the next four years at City Hall are promising to shape up, we’ll need all the comic relief we can find. Toronto will also need more people like Micallef who are not afraid to defy the defeatists and express what they love about the city.

UPDATE: As of 2018, Micallef is a columnist with the Toronto Star. @rebelmayor pops up once in a while.

Here are the ultimate winners of the competition, along with links to all of the entries.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

2011 Hero: City Hall Deputants

Originally published on Torontoist on December 12, 2011.

One of Rob Ford’s major accomplishments during his first year in office has been to provoke greater engagement in civic government. The mayor’s zeal for cutting City services has energized citizens to defend programs they believe are vital to Toronto’s well-being. If there was a point when any honeymoon Ford had was over, it was during the deputations given at the marathon Executive Committee session in July. As we summed up at the time, “It was the most important slumber party held in Toronto in years.”

Over the course of almost 24 hours on July 28 and 29, 169 citizens commented on service cuts proposed in the Core Service Review report. Speakers were not the lazy, unemployed types that several executive committee members attempted to portray them to be. Many had never addressed city council before and endured insults and reductions in their speaking time. From teary-eyed teens to neurosurgeons, the deputants represented all corners and social strata of the city.

Among the highlights was a speech dripping in Swiftean satire from retired educator Mary Trapani Hines. Her performance quickly went viral, inspired the “yellygranny” tag on Twitter, and possibly encouraged more people to go to City Hall to witness the rest of the session. Other theatrics included a visit from Santa, and puppet show that caused Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to declare that some deputants were disrespecting council.

But it was councillors like Mammoliti who were being disrespectful. While claiming it was a great exercise in democracy, Mayor Ford paid scant attention to the speakers. Attempts to thin the deputant ranks ranged from running an all-night session to Mammoliti’s insistence that City staff determine if disabled participants were faking their incapacities. These obstacles mattered little when the hardcore Fordites were shown for the fools they were as the testimonials rolled on and a celebratory spirit developed within City Hall.

In the months since these deputations, opposition to the Ford administration’s brain trust has gained momentum as other citizens gained the confidence to fight them—witness the success of CodeBlueTO in derailing a new vision for the waterfront. Another marathon Executive Committee session in September saw an almost equal number of people speak. Early indications are that the voting on proposed City budget cuts won’t go smoothly. Most importantly, the deputants showed that Torontonians aren’t accepting the Ford Nation vision of them as mere taxpayers but instead are citizens who care about the services that make this city their home.

UPDATE: Giorgio Mammoliti was defeated in the 2018 municipal election. It will be interesting to see if the repercussions of Premier Doug Ford’s downsizing of city council and other acts against the city will cause a similar cycle of public pushbacks in 2019 and beyond.

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“Compositor at his case.” Illustrated by E. Bourdelin. Les grandes usines, volume 1 by Julien Turgan (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1875). Old Book Illustrations.

2011 Villain: Sun Media

Originally published on Torontoist on December 21, 2011.

When the Toronto Sun sought a new comment page editor in October (a job filled by former Rob Ford press secretary Adrienne Batra), one requirement was an understanding of the paper’s self-mythologized role as “an organization with edge and attitude that sticks up for the little guy.” Problem is, Sun Media’s shameless support of right-wing politicians who gut programs supporting the vulnerable and who distort facts to play to their ideological base is screwing the little guy.

Decisions to pull its papers out of the Ontario Press Council and to mercilessly attack the CBC reveal a desire to be accountable to no one, especially when Sun Media’s properties bully those they perceive as different or not aligned with their world view. Their refusal to apologize for running a transphobic ad during the Ontario provincial election reconfirmed the organization’s perennially poor relations with the queer community. April’s launch of the Sun News Network brought a Fox News mentality to Canada’s airwaves, complete with guest-haranguing anchors. Krista Erickson’s vicious attack on dancer Margie Gillis for receiving government grants, which Sun Media’s corporate parent Quebecor has been known to accept, prompted thousands of complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

The Gillis incident illustrates Sun Media’s desperation to grab attention by any means. Despite the Sun’s “Welcome to Hell” cover following Dalton McGuinty’s re-election, a ring of fire hasn’t encircled Ontario. While most of Jack Layton’s political opponents paid their respects during the public outpouring of grief following his death, Sun News Network outfitted provocateur Ezra Levant with a garish orange wig and cans of Orange Crush while he and Michael Coren mocked people’s genuine feelings.

To the surprise of few, the Sun emerged as an unofficial City Hall mouthpiece this year. The paper and its City Hall columnist Sue-Ann Levy share the Ford administration’s view of Torontonians as taxpayers first, citizens who appreciate social services, the arts, and fire protection second. Levy’s unwavering support of the gravy hunt and her sycophantic attacks on administration opponents make us wonder if secretly she’s a satirist pulling an elaborate joke on everyone.

But it’s Sun Media’s consumers who are being played for fools. By ratcheting up the outrage to appeal to those who hate to see anyone receive any (perceived) advantage over themselves, and creating resentment of any use of public funds for purposes that its readers feel provide no direct personal benefit, Sun Media’s properties appeal to the worst in human nature. They prey upon our anger and foster a fear of those who don’t share their views or fit into their preferred societal norms. Sun Media’s revered “little guy” would do better to educate himself elsewhere on the nuances of issues that affect him than be patronizingly urged to direct his frustrations in destructive ways.

UPDATE: Postmedia bought the Sun papers in 2014. Sun News Network folded in early 2015. As the Toronto Sun was the heir to the Telegram upon that newspaper’s demise, it can be argued The Rebel was SNN’s offspring. The outrage expressed by the Sun has only grown shriller since this article was written.

Roundups of 2011’s other heroes and villains.

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Checking out the former location of centre ice in the Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws, November 2012. 

2012 Hero: Maple Leaf Gardens

Originally published on Torontoist on December 9, 2012.

It probably comes as a relief to many hockey fans that Ryerson University has been using part of Maple Leaf Gardens as an arena since the Mattamy Athletic Centre opened in September. The reminders of the building’s past are all around you: from the recreation of the old marquee above the entrance, to the walls of photos of memorable moments, to the row of old seats lining the wall by the escalator.

At street level, the Loblaws store, which opened in November 2011, also mixes past and present. Beyond the wall of cheese and specialty food counters, the store’s pillars commemorate important dates in Gardens history. You can look at old newspaper wrestling ads while sitting down with a coffee. Centre ice is quietly marked with a red dot in the middle of aisle 25, though we hope staff haven’t been called too many times to clean up broken bottles of soy sauce from the adjoining shelf. There’s a hanging sculpture made from a jumble of salvaged arena seating. Even the parking garage is decorated with names of sports teams from the past.

The current state of Maple Leaf Gardens is a large-scale example of what can happen when a heritage building’s new owners embrace the structure’s past, rather than treat it with token recognition. Even future bookings, such as the upcoming Ontario Liberal leadership convention, harken back to the political events that regularly graced the Gardens. The site’s deep resonance with the public probably helped in its renewal. One can only imagine the outrage if the Gardens had suffered the fate of 81 Wellesley Street, which was suddenly knocked down in January before it could receive a heritage designation.

For years after the Toronto Rock played their last game there in 2000, we wondered if Maple Leaf Gardens was going to rot away. Former owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment might have been satisfied with that fate, given its reluctance to sell the Gardens to anyone who posed the remotest threat to the Air Canada Centre’s event bookings. As recently as last year, MLSE filed a lawsuit against Ryerson to prevent the university from using the name “Maple Leaf Gardens” for promotional purposes. Ultimately MLSE’s obsession with the bottom line won’t prevent the public from referring to the building by that name: we still call the Rogers Centre “SkyDome,” after all.

Besides, as long as the NHL lockout continues, the Gardens can boast it has hockey games. The Air Canada Centre can’t.

UPDATE: The NHL lockout ended the following month.

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“The shriek of Timidity.” “The defendants before the court.” Illustration by Gustave Doré. The days of chivalry, or the legend of Croquemitane by Ernest L’Épine (New York: Cassell Petter and Galpin, c. 1866). Old Book Illustrations.

2012 Villain: Extreme NIMBYism

Originally published on Torontoist on December 10, 2012.

Condos will destroy neighbourhoods, blot out the sun, and reduce my property values. Rapid transit lines in the middle of wide suburban streets and bike lines on busy downtown arteries will cripple my commute by minutes. Change will kill my comfortable lifestyle and bring strange new people into my community.

Those are effectively the arguments provided by the loudest, NIMBYest opponents of building and transit projects around the city. While there are many people who offer reasoned, carefully thought-out arguments for and against new construction plans, they are often drowned out by those driven by fear, innuendo, and sound bites. The result over the past year has seen ugly battles in neighbourhoods stretching from Humbertown to the Beach.

There is little space left within the city to develop the classic single-family homes that characterized Toronto’s neighbourhoods until the middle of the 20th century. To cope with an ever-increasing population, the city needs to build up. This does not mean 45-storey towers everywhere: smaller-scale projects like the proposed six-storey condo causing havoc in the Beach provide one solution. Yet, to hear the loudest opponents of that project, even a small condo will destroy the community’s character.

What these people forget is that Toronto neighbourhoods have changed before: Jarvis and Sherbourne streets were once the preserve of the ultra-wealthy, Cabbagetown was a slum, Liberty Village was industrial, and the suburbs were farmland or small settlements. Even if they benefitted from a wave of gentrification that shaped their neighbourhood into the comfortable community they know now, these people expect things to remain static. Like it or not, the “villages” they live in are part of the city and cannot stay removed from its overall infrastructure issues.

The true ugliness of the loudest NIMBYs emerges when the economic homogeneity of their neighbourhood is challenged, prompting fear of what even a slightly more economically diverse neighbourhood might mean. At one community meeting regarding Humbertown recently, one proponent of a proposed residential development was told to “get a job” when he argued it would keep area prices affordable. That kind of fear is ugly, and unfair.

In these cases all parties—tenants, homeowners, developers, designers, activists, and bureaucrats—need to put kneejerk, defensive, and reactionary responses aside and work together, to arrive solutions that benefit whole neighbourhoods in the long run. Painful as the process can be, it’s better to work the kinks out of a development proposal than obstinately block it, and better to accept that change is a healthy part of life in a healthy city than to reject even small alterations to the landscape as gross betrayals.

UPDATE: Roundups of 2012’s other heroes and villains.

 

2013 Hero: Church Street Parklets

Originally published on Torontoist on December 30, 2013.

A parklet is, as the name suggests, a teeny tiny baby park. Generally an extension or reuse of existing space, like a sidewalk or a parking spot, it’s a small sliver of the street that’s used to provide greenery and public enjoyment. As we observed earlier this year: “The idea isn’t to promote recreation. Instead, the goal is to reclaim space for pedestrians and idlers and bring vibrancy back to streets that have been dominated by automotive traffic. Building a parklet is a means of creating a sidewalk cafe atmosphere, even—especially—in places where there aren’t any sidewalk cafes.”

A series of parklets was installed this summer along Church Street, in Church-Wellesley Village, as a test run for similar street infrastructure initiatives planned for World Pride in 2014. Backed by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) and the local BIA because of its constructive use of public space and potential to boost local businesses, the project found sponsors in Home Depot and a carpenter’s union. They were installed in a flash, as well: to observers like the Star’s Christopher Hume, their speedy implementation marked a break from the city’s traditionally timid approach to such experimentation.

Beyond offering lounging space from which to watch the city pass by, the parklets offer a glimpse of how we can make streets more amenable to all. Traffic flow improves when fewer drivers block the road with complicated parallel-parking manoeuvres; friends running into each other can move into a parklet to talk without disrupting the pedestrian flow or inducing sidewalk rage.

We’d be happy if similar initiatives to reclaim public space spread across the city. While there’d inevitably be complaints that losing a handful of parking spots would provoke a disaster of St. Clair-ish proportions, we suspect most people would latch on to the parklets—perhaps then, most complaints would take the form of sighing over filled seats.

UPDATE: While parklets didn’t return to Church Street after 2013, they made summer appearances on Elm Street for several years.

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Goad’s map of Corktown area, 1884. 

2013 Hero: Corktown Common

Originally published on Torontoist on December 31, 2013.

The appeal of Corktown Common is as simple as getting to hear the rhythm of frogs who live there. The chorus of croaks emerging from its marshes on a hot summer night temporarily transports you from a heavy construction zone to somewhere far from the city lights.

Though the park won’t be finished until 2014, the sneak preview we enjoyed this summer demonstrates how aesthetic, environmental, and recreational needs can be realized and met in a space Torontonians can be proud of. Adults appreciate the effort Waterfront Toronto made to create a varied green landscape; kids can run wild up and down the knolls, glide down the built-in slides, or go for relaxing swings; cyclists riding the Don or Martin Goodman trails are able to fill their water bottles or take a stretch. (We also recommend just lying on the grassy field and staring up at the clouds). When residents move into the condos rising to the west, we imagine the park will become a community gathering place, an oasis amid the desert of concrete and glass.

July’s intense downpour tested one of the park’s major purposes, which is to function as a berm by protecting downtown from the effects of flooding along the Don River. It passed the test, holding back the waters that trapped commuters and motorists in the lower Don Valley.

Corktown Common demonstrates the viability of Waterfront Toronto’s efforts to improve our lower shoreline, do so in a way that’s enjoyable as well as functional—and in the process, increases our excitement about the many other projects they still have in the works.

UPDATE: It’s still a great park.

I don’t remember the reason why I didn’t contribute a villain in 2013 – either I was nearing my fill of the City Hall gong show by that point, or felt it was better to stick to positive contributions.

Roundups of 2013’s other heroes and villains.

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Grounds of Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Cultural Centre, May 2015.

2014 Hero: The Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Cultural Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on December 22, 2014.

The need for an institution such as the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre, which opened in September, was brought into relief during this year’s municipal election. Anti-Muslim incidents, including sign defacing and slurs, underlined the usefulness of a bridge-building complex. Though bigoted louts probably won’t venture near it, the complex’s role as a cultural centre has great potential to, according to its mission statement, “foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the contribution that Muslim civilizations have made to world heritage. Through education, research, and collaboration, the Museum will foster dialogue and promote tolerance and mutual understanding among people.”

Though controversial in some circles for bringing about the destruction of John B. Parkin’s 1960s modernist Bata Shoes Head Office, the complex at the Eglinton Avenue and the Don Valley Parkway has the potential to become a new architectural landmark—much as Mies van der Rohe’s iconic steel and glass Toronto-Dominion Centre did after replacing the Beaux Arts–influenced Bank of Toronto headquarters 50 years ago. Like that project, the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre has architectural heavy hitters behind it, including Fumihiko Maki, Charles Correa, and Moriyama and Teshima.

“Don Mills once was a locus for innovation in architecture and planning,” Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic noted, “with offices and warehouse buildings designed by some of Canada’s top architects in the 1960s. That modernist legacy has been badly diluted by new buildings, but the absurdly fine quality of the museum and Ismaili Centre will set a new standard.”

The items displayed in the museum, which has been touted as the first in North America devoted solely to Islamic art, literally provide a colourful take on the culture. Among the most impressive items are painted, lavishly illustrated manuscripts. Cross-cultural influences stand out, whether through works inspired by local cultures or in Iranian paintings that would not have looked out of place in Renaissance Europe.

For once, Toronto may have received just the kind of world-class institution it covets.

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Fort York, 1885. Toronto Public Library.

2014 Hero: The Fort York Neighbourhood

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2014.

For years, it seemed as if Frederick Gardiner had had the last laugh. Though attempts to move Fort York to make way for the Gardiner Expressway failed during the 1950s, the historical site’s location, hemmed in by traffic jams in the middle of an industrial neighbourhood, did it few favours. But thanks to recent developments, the old military grounds now sit at the heart of a revitalized area of the city.

The big news from Fort York itself was the opening of its new visitor centre in September. Though still incomplete, the structure offers a visually stunning space for exhibits and other educational activities. The result of a partnership between Vancouver’s Patkau Architects and Toronto’s Kearns Mancini Architects, it has been described by the Globe and Mail as “part building, part landscape” due to its string of steel rectangular panels.

This year’s edition of Nuit Blanche took advantage of the space within the fort’s grounds (even if the entrances did create bottlenecks), as well as nearby parks such as Canoe Landing. These green spaces offer a place of respite for visitors and incoming residents amid the condo towers rising nearby—and more are in the works, including Mouth of the Creek Park. The chain of parks creates public space and pedestrian corridors, even if the Ford administration did manage to stymie progress through actions such as delaying the construction of a bridge to Garrison Common.

To serve the community’s creative, intellectual, and social needs, the Toronto Public Library opened a two-storey branch across from the fort in May. The branch offers amenities such as a digital innovation hub (complete with 3D printing) and architectural features such as wooden ceiling beams that honour the area’s historic wharves—and it has filled the large library desert that was created by the closure of the Urban Affairs Library in 2011.

While the neighbourhood emerging around Fort York will experience growing pains, it seems poised to integrate itself at last into the fabric of the city.

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Cartoon of Olivia Chow by Andy Donato, originally published in the Toronto Sun.

2014 Villain: Not-So-Latent Bigotry on the Campaign Trail

Originally published on Torontoist on December 23, 2014.

“Diversity Our Strength.” Toronto’s official motto reflects our idealized image of the city as a shining beacon of multiculturalism and tolerance. Yet, as Rob Ford’s mayoralty proved, a significant segment of the population finds bigotry and divisiveness palatable.

Public displays of intolerance marred the recent municipal election campaign. During the mayoral race, Olivia Chow faced a steady stream of slurs about her ethnicity. Some questioned her speaking ability, referencing her accent and the slow speed of her talking—the latter the result of partial facial paralysis. During a debate at York Memorial High School, a heckler told Chow to go back to China. The Sun lowered the conversation by publishing an Andy Donato cartoon depicting a Mao-suited Chow riding the coattails of her late husband Jack Layton (the paper lamely defended it by claiming it always depicted NDPers in the garb preferred by historic Chinese dictators). Whatever your opinion of Chow’s campaign, these attacks were despicable.

So too was the anti-Muslim bigotry that reared its head in ward races. Running in the heart of Ford Nation, Ward 2 candidate Munira Abukar saw her campaign signs defaced with messages such as “Go Back Home.” In Ward 10 (York Centre), TDSB trustee candidate Ausma Malik was targeted by opponents who tried to depict her as a supporter of fundamentalists. Candidates also reported car window smashings and garbage tossed on volunteers.

In the wake of these incidents, front-running candidates had little or nothing to add. As Torontoist’s Desmond Cole observed, “If diversity is our strength, why do political candidates believe they will lose ground for publicly condemning racism?” Pandering to the basest instincts of some voters encourages the ignorant and intolerant and demeans our public discourse—and so does remaining silent.

UPDATE: Roundups of 2014’s other heroes and villains.

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The City, June 18, 1978.

2015 Villain: Paul Godfrey

Originally published on Torontoist on January 4, 2016.

Since debuting as a fresh-faced, twenty-something North York city councillor in 1964, Paul Godfrey has, for better or worse, played a key role in shaping modern Toronto. Since early crusades against “sip n’ sex” at fast food drive-ins, Godfrey has rarely shied away from controversy. During half-a-century in the public eye, he became a consummate networker and backroom operator, especially in local Conservative circles. He often jokes about a line his mother told him as youngster: “When you have your choice in life between smart and lucky, take lucky all the time.”

That luck produced an impressive string of top-level jobs: chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, publisher/CEO of the Toronto Sun, president/CEO of the Blue Jays, chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, chair of the board of trustees of RioCan, and now president/CEO of Postmedia. But his track record has sometimes raised questions regarding whose interests he works for. This is a guy who promoted amalgamation, Mel Lastman, and our desperate need for a casino.

This year was not one of Godfrey’s better ones. His ham-fisted support of the Conservatives during the federal election campaign made a laughingstock of the country’s largest newspaper for the Tories regardless of the opinions of local editorial staff. Andrew Coyne resigned as comment editor of the National Post after a column was spiked for his support of another party. Reeking of desperation, the front page of the chain’s papers bore a Tory attack ad during the final weekend of the campaign. Readers and employees were disgusted, while the competition (including Toronto Star chair of the board John Honderich) had a field day attacking Godfrey’s disregard for freedom of the press.

While Postmedia newsrooms were slashed and its papers hemorrhaged circulation, Godfrey and other officials didn’t exactly share in the pain. A total of $925,000 in bonuses was paid to its top six executives, some of which stemmed from the acquisition of Sun Media, which closed this spring. The optics of these payments, including the $400,000 given to Godfrey, did little to improve Postmedia’s optics in an industry in crisis. He was paid a total of $1.76 million for his trouble, thus living up to his mother’s adage about luck.

Godfrey has enjoyed a long run wielding the levers of power. It’s time to turn them over to somebody else.

UPDATE: As of 2018, Godfrey is still at Postmedia, where he continues to draw a healthy paycheque.

Roundups of 2015’s heroes and villains.

I declined to contribute to 2016’s batch, which proved to be the final edition. By that point I was only writing Historicist for the site, slowly edging toward my decision to leave Torontoist for good.

What would a 2018 edition of Heroes and Villains look like? A few candidates would be obvious. Doug Ford would be high on the villain side, for any number of reasons. I put out a call for suggestions via Facebook and Twitter, and here’s what came back:
2018 Heroes
Ulli Watkiss
Tanya Talaga
Kyle Lowry
Austin Matthews
Overdose prevention activists
Candidates in the 47-ward council race
Chanty Marostica
2018 Villains
Doug Ford
Ontario Proud
Dean French
Faith Goldy
Giorgio Mammoliti
Sidewalk Labs
Sky Gilbert

Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Toronto Ads: Strength! Science! Slams!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 28, 2008.

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Toronto Star, October 28, 1948 (left) and November 4, 1948 (right).

While hockey has usually been portrayed as the main attraction for spectators at Maple Leaf Gardens, the building had an equally rich professional wrestling heritage. Starting with a Jim LondosGino Garibaldi card in November 1931, a parade of dignified heroes and costumed heels entertained packed houses at Church and Carlton. For half-a-century most of the matches were promoted by Frank Tunney, who, when asked if the sport was on the level, responded “The ring is level, isn’t it?”

The tag team matches in the spotlight today featured one of the city’s most popular mid-century sporting figures, Whipper Billy Watson. Born William Potts in East York in 1915, he moved to England to begin his professional career in 1936, where a promoter quickly determined he required a snappier moniker. Watson first hit the ring at the Gardens in 1940 and continued to wrestle until injuries sustained in a car accident ended his career in 1971. He spent much of his life supporting charitable organizations in the GTA, with his contributions ranging from championing Easter Seals skate-a-thons at the Gardens to campaigning for therapeutic pool services in York Region.

Heels Sky-Hi Lee (named, with spelling variations over the years, due to his 6’9″ stature) and the Masked Marvel (one of many to grace Toronto cards) triumphed over Watson and tag team partner Fred Atkins on October 28, 1948, prompting a rematch a week later. The villains did not emerge unscathed—Tunney told the press a few days later that Lee had suffered multiple leg wounds and “and a few more on his back that he claimed was wrought by a nail file in the hands of an infuriated fan. Also his ankle was swollen from the bending treatment it received when another fan leaped on the ramp and tackled him. Lee wanted the ramp built higher, the customers searched, the ushers provided with tear gas bombs.”

The Toronto Star was filled with outrage from the Watson-Atkins camp. The defeated wrestlers were “fully aroused over the foul treatment accorded them by the villainous pair in last week’s match.” Watson was offended by the officiating of Cliff Worthy, who “let the Mask and Lee get away with everything short of murder…and then he saw Hi Lee kick me off the ring apron. He should have disqualified the Mask and Lee. Instead he gave them the bout.” The day of the rematch, the Star pictured Watson in perfect health and ready to rumble. “He’s so much in the pink,” the caption writer noted, “that Dr. Myron Millar of the Ontario Athletic Commission turned over his stethoscope to the Whipper and said ‘You tune in on me.’”

Did good triumph? The scriptwriters were fuzzy about that—accounts depicted a mayhem-filled night, with much of the body-slamming, rope-choking action taking place on the ramp before referee Bunny Dunlop declared a tie, then called the match off due to the ensuing pandemonium. A crowd of 1,000 spectators mulled around Tunney’s office, jeering the promoter, Dunlop, and the heels. With a sly smile, the Star noted that the disgruntled fans “vowed they wouldn’t come back next week—because the Ice Capades will be in the Gardens.”

Additional material from the October 30, 1948, November 1, 1948, November 5, 1948 and May 10, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Wrestling match, Dick Hutton vs. Whipper Billy Watson, Maple Leaf Gardens, July 5, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 7520.

Looking for an action shot of Whipper Billy Watson on the city archives website, I came across this picture from a bout where Watson defended his National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship against Dick Hutton.

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Toronto Star, July 4, 1956.

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Globe and Mail, July 5, 1956. Fritz von Ulm soon changed his wrestling persona to Fritz von Goering.

I can’t match the colourful writing style used by sportswriters to describe vintage wrestling matches, so here’s the Star’s account.

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Toronto Star, July 6, 1956.

Time in a Capsule at Maple Leaf Gardens

Originally published on Torontoist on January 26, 2012.

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September 21, 1931: the headlines on all four of Toronto’s daily newspapers reported Great Britain’s suspension of the gold standard. As readers flipped through the pages that day, copies of each paper were being placed in a time capsule incorporated into a new arena rapidly being built on Carlton Street.

Eighty years later, construction workers uncovered the time capsule under a ceremonial stone by the front doors of Maple Leaf Gardens, during the building’s conversion to a Loblaws store. The copper box was quickly removed by Loblaws officials for content review. The items inside were publicly unveiled today during a press conference at Ryerson University this morning.

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Besides newspapers, the items included professional and amateur hockey rulebooks, a municipal handbook, a mini Red Ensign flag, a letter to Gardens directors, and a stock prospectus. Ryerson history professor Arne Kislenko suggested that the lack of more NHL memorabilia and inclusion of amateur rulebooks suggested the still-shaky ground pro hockey stood on 1931, when Conn Smythe built the Gardens: the NHL was only in its 15th season when the arena opened, and a stable lineup of franchises had yet to materialize.

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Every time capsule needs a mystery item—something whose inclusion puzzles the people who find it decades later. In the MLG time capsule that mystery is provided by a pendant-sized ivory elephant, whose significance has officially stumped Ryerson officials. Kislenko hinted he had a theory, but was under a gag order not to reveal it. The public was invited to submit their thoughts on what the white elephant might mean (there’s a box for suggestions), as well as ideas for what they would include in a new time capsule to be placed in the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre under construction at the Gardens. Suggestions may also be submitted via Ryerson’s Facebook page or by tweeting @RyersonNews.

Several members of the Smythe family were on hand including Conn’s son, former Maple Leafs physician Dr. Hugh Smythe. Though he wasn’t among the official speakers, Smythe, wearing a blue tie dotted with small maple leaves, attracted an ever-increasing number of reporters away from the official photo op. When asked about the white elephant, Smythe told of a family acquaintance who had been a fellow POW with Conn in Germany during the First World War and later escaped to China, where he exported curios. This acquaintance often sent the Smythe family gifts, including small ivory white elephants.

Smythe also had good things to say about the changes made to the landmark his father built. “It was always a people place, meant for crowds,” he noted.

Those crowds will be able to see the time capsule until 5 p.m. this afternoon at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre (southeast corner of Church and Gould streets). After the viewing, the items will be placed in storage until a permanent display is created.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Comes a Time When Rust Never Sleeps

Originally published on Torontoist on December 13, 2011

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Rolling Stone, October 5, 1978.

Though the visuals in today’s ad refer to Neil Young’s album Comes a Time, the set list during his performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on October 1, 1978, barely touched on that record—only three of the 20 songs that night appeared on the country-flavoured collection. Instead, as the Star’s Peter Goddard put it, Young’s performance was “firmly fixed in the present” as fans experienced a preview of one of the artist’s most influential albums, Rust Never Sleeps.

The Globe and Mail’s Katherine Gilday described Young’s performance as highly theatrical, “right from the symbolic props that were propelled from various directions onto the stage, down to a stage crew reminiscent of those strange berobed creatures from Star Wars who took an ongoing role in all the proceedings.” She felt that it was “less the theatrical gimmickry than the recreation of powerful past emotions through an imaginatively structured program that provided the true drama of the evening.”

The evening’s set list:
Sugar Mountain
I Am a Child
Comes a Time
Already One
After The Gold Rush
Thrasher
My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)
When You Dance I Can Really Love
The Loner
Welfare Mothers
Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown
The Needle And The Damage Done
Lotta Love
Sedan Delivery
Powderfinger
Cortez The Killer
Cinnamon Girl
Like A Hurricane
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
Tonight’s The Night

Vintage Toronto Ads: You Will Believe A Bear Can Play Hockey

Originally published on Torontoist on September 9, 2008.

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Scene, September 20-26, 1970.

If Baikal was “the Bobby Orr of the bruin hockey world,” we hope that the bear’s knees were sturdier than the hall-of-famer’s. The results of two years of hockey drills for Baikal and nearly a dozen other bears were on display for Canadian audiences in the fall of 1970, when a Moscow Circus tour provided a slight thaw in Cold War relations.

The tour got off to a rocky start in Montreal after two trapeze artists hung helplessly for more than 10 minutes when a rope ladder became entangled around a swing and caused the acrobats to lose their footing. When the troupe arrived in Toronto, a photo call with three bears roped in Maple Leafs defenseman Jim Dorey and goalie Jacques Plante. Besides their prowess with the puck, the bears showed off their soccer, ballet, and tango skills.

The circus engagement forced the Leafs to go on an extended road trip to wind down their exhibition schedule. The team’s regular season started in Vancouver, where the Canucks earned their first NHL victory in a 5-3 match.

Reviewing opening night for the StarJim Proudfoot observed a less-than-enthusiastic crowd of 5,000, whose frosty reaction was attributed to the attempt to cross traditional circus acts and the Ice Capades.

As long as the Muscovites are doing their own thing they’re just marvelous. Their acrobats, their unicyclists, their trampoline athletes, their jugglers, all are magnificent. But they would be just as magnificent without skates. It is when the Russians attempt such things as production numbers and pairs and singles, just like they must have seem in some mediocre touring revue, that they fall absolutely flat. The comedy numbers are an example. Perhaps the audiences would be convulsed in Omsk or Minsk but in Toronto they were bored, or what is even worse, annoyed. One reservation must be made: the girls are gorgeous and sparkling and admirably energetic, and when they return the customers’ applause in the finale, beaming with genuine pleasure, they succeed where so many diplomats have failed. They make us love Russia.

Proudfoot was also impressed by the bears, who looked “no more disorganized than the Leafs on a bad night. They scored three goals, which doesn’t always happen on hockey night at the Gardens.”

Moscow-based circus acts returned to Toronto later in the decade. A planned appearance in October 1983 was cancelled by Gardens owner Harold Ballard after a Korean airliner that carried several Canadian passengers was shot down by the Soviets. Other cities followed Pal Hal’s lead and the circus tour was quickly scrapped, though the performers had an extended layover in Halifax when Aeroflot flights to Canada were suspended.

Besides joining the international condemnation of the Soviets after the airliner incident, Ballard may not have wanted to have been shown up by hockey-playing bears who may have exhibited stronger stickhandling than the Leafs of the early 1980s.

Additional material from the October 7, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hockey Night in the 1930s

Originally published on Torontoist on January 15, 2008.

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1937 (left), December 6, 1937 (right).

The rumour mill is swirling around the Maple Leafs this week, as a less-than-stellar season and mixed signals from club ownership lead to daily reports about the fate of the team’s management and captain. With all signs pointing to a third straight early vacation at season’s end, the team’s followers are steamed.

Fans 70 years ago may also have been frustrated with the club, though in their case the problem was a team that usually reached the Stanley Cup finals but couldn’t quite win Lord Stanley’s silverware. At least if the team lost, the TTC was there to offer a cheerful bow before a warm trip home.

Under the stewardship of coach Dick Irvin, the 1937/38 edition of the Leafs finished first in the Canadian Division, eight points ahead of the New York Americans. The NHL would drop its divisional structure after the season, when its active membership fell to seven teams after the Montreal Maroons suspended operations (the franchise initially asked for a year off, tried to relocate to St. Louis and officially folded after the 1938/39 season). The existence of the Maroons explains why the Montreal Canadiens are billed by their nickname in today’s ad, as other period game notices indicated the city the Leafs were up against.

The game in question resulted in a 3-3 tie, highlighted by a stick-swinging fight initiated by future Habs coach Toe Blake. The Toronto Daily Star’s headline two days later read “Leafs Draw With Canucks But Lose to Tough Mick.”

The major hiccup during the season was the loss of captain Charlie Conacher in November, due to a dislocated shoulder. Doctors urged Conacher to retire—he sat out the rest of the season, but would return to action with the Red Wings the following year. Leading scorers for the Leafs, and the league, were right winger Gordie Drillon (26 goals, 52 points) and center Syl Apps (21 goals, 50 points).

TTC conductors would have had a busy playoff season, as the Leafs fought their way past the league-leading Boston Bruins into the Stanley Cup finals. Transit authorities didn’t have to worry about a mass victory celebration as the Leafs lost the Cup on the road to the Chicago Black Hawks, a team that still holds the record for the lowest regular season winning percentage by a Cup holder (14 wins, 25 losses, 9 ties). The Leafs may have tempted the fates by rejecting calls for goaltending assistance by Chicago after Mike Karakas suffered a broken toe—legend has it that the Black Hawks approached veteran minor leaguer Alfie Moore while he was drinking in a Toronto bar. It was the fourth time the Leafs had gone down in the Cup finals since their last championship in 1932 and they would lose twice more before hoisting the Cup in 1942.