Vintage Toronto Ads: Take a Gamble on Charles Stoneham

Originally published on Torontoist on May 15, 2012.


Mail and Empire, April 26, 1920.

Today’s ad may be one of the least visually dazzling we’ve featured, but the man behind it didn’t lack for colour or controversy. Anyone interested in investing in northern Ontario mining stocks might have wanted a second opinion before dealing with Charles Stoneham.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1876, Stoneham entered the financial field as a clerk for a life insurance company. He established his own brokerage firm, Charles Stoneham & Co., in 1913, which eventually operated offices across North America. Though sometimes portrayed as a Wall Street broker, Stoneham ran a “bucket shop,” which allowed gamblers to place bets on stocks without actually buying or selling them, a practice that was legal until the stock market crash in 1929. Stoneham developed close ties with notorious gamblers like Arnold Rothstein, corrupt institutions like Tammany Hall, and political figures like New York governor Al Smith.

These relationships came in handy whenever his shady business dealings landed him in legal trouble. Within a year of today’s ad being first published, Stoneham closed his firm (“without explaining his motive,” according to the New York Times) and shifted investor accounts to other brokerages that quickly failed. He was eventually acquitted of charges ranging from mail fraud to perjury, though in one case a juror claimed he was intimidated into changing his vote.

In 1919, Stoneham became majority owner of the New York Giants baseball team, which he operated until his death in 1936 from Bright’s disease (or, as the Toronto Star put it, a “lingering organic disease”). He was succeeded by his son Horace, who was once described as a “knowledgeable owner who drank into the wee hours with his favourite players and others whom he considered part of the team’s family.” Horace moved the team to San Francisco after the 1957 season and was almost responsible for transplanting the franchise to Toronto. Prior to the 1976 season, Horace agreed to sell the team to a consortium that included Labatt Breweries and CIBC, but municipal officials in San Francisco erected legal blockades until owners amenable to leaving the team in the Bay Area were found. Any disappointment over Toronto’s loss of the Giants was short-lived, as a consortium with similar backers soon landed the expansion team that became the Blue Jays.

Additional material from The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella (New York: Harper Perennial 1996), the September 1, 1923 and January 7, 1936 editions of the New York Times, and the January 7, 1936 edition of the Toronto Star.



The Saga of the Maple Leafs’ Futility (Part One)

Originally published on Torontoist on May 2, 2012.


Globe and Mail, May 3, 1967.

Forty-five years ago today, the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, defeating the Montreal Canadiens in a six-game series. Few could have imagined that nearly half a century later, fans would still be waiting to see the team hoist the trophy again.

Over the next two days Torontoist will look at the good and bad moves the team has made since 1967, without resorting to cries like “Leafs suck!”

Until his death in April 1990, many of the franchise’s faults could be blamed on one man: Harold Edwin Ballard. From the time he entered the Leafs’ ownership as part of a triumvirate with John Bassett and Stafford Smythe in 1961, Ballard seemed driven less by a love of the game and more by greed and a near-pathological need for attention. The same year the Leafs won their last cup, that greed appeared to drive the decision to sell their top farm teams in Rochester, NY and Victoria, BC for just under $1 million. The move robbed the Leafs of 45 players, many of NHL calibre. The combination of the sale, the expansion draft to stock six new teams in 1967, changes to player development rules that denied the team the use of the junior Marlboros as a feeder team, and aging stars thinned the Leafs’ depth pool, which led to a last place finish during the 1969/70 season.

Following Bassett’s decision to sell and Smythe’s death in 1971, it quickly became clear that Ballard, not the players, intended to be the Leafs’ star attraction. A year-long stint in prison for defrauding the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens provided a temporary break, during which the Leafs became the second NHL team to dip into the emerging European talent pool. Unfortunately, the experiment ended after the signings of Inge Hammarstrom and Borje Salming due to Ballard’s seeming xenophobia, which caused future European stars to sign elsewhere.


Darryl Sittler and Rosemarie for March of Dimes Put Yourself in the Picture campaign, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1970s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 4256.

Despite the team’s slow but steady improvement during the mid-1970s with young talent like Salming, Darryl Sittler, and Lanny McDonald, the omnipresent Ballard (who lived in an apartment in the Gardens by this point) loved denouncing players after bad nights. He was especially annoying during playoff runs—when Ballard boasted that the Leafs would defeat defending Stanley Cup champions the Philadelphia Flyers during the first round of the 1976 playoffs, ratcheting up the pressure on players considerably. Coach Red Kelly tried to distract the team by latching onto the “pyramid power” fad (basic idea: if you placed pyramids around a room, it was felt they would have supernatural powers). Kelly’s amateur psychology seemed to work when Sittler scored five goals in one game, but the Leafs lost the series in seven games.

When Roger Neilson replaced Kelly in 1977, Ballard faced a new problem: a coach who preferred improving the team over hanging out with the owner. Players raved about Neilson’s unconventional coaching methods, while the media dubbed him “Captain Video” for his use of videotape to analyze the team’s performance. An envious Ballard devised unsuccessful attempts to embarrass Neilson, such as distracting his video review sessions on the road by sending a prostitute to his hotel room. Despite taking the team to the semi-finals during the 1978 playoffs, Ballard was eager to dispose of Neilson. The situation devolved into farce when, after retracting a March 1979 firing attempt when he couldn’t secure a replacement, Ballard tried to convince Neilson to approach the bench with a paper bag over his head. Neilson refused to go along.


Left: 1959/60 Parkhurst hockey card of Punch Imlach. Right: 1974/75 O-Pee-Chee hockey card of Lanny McDonald, sans trademark moustache.

After finally firing Neilson and general manager Jim Gregory following the 1978/79 season, Ballard initially considered Don Cherry and Scotty Bowman as their respective replacements. Instead, he rehired Punch Imlach, who had guided the Leafs to their last Stanley Cup. It was one of the most catastrophic moves in franchise history. Imlach was an old-school disciplinarian who expected his orders to be followed without question. His hard-nosed approach destroyed a team that had developed cohesiveness, leadership, and pride. Most of his wrath was directed at captain Darryl Sittler, initially for defying his request not to participate in a Hockey Night in Canada intermission skills competition program. The team failed to receive a court injunction to block Sittler’s appearance, despite contracts that obligated the team to participate in the program. Relations deteriorated between Imlach and Sittler, who was backed by his teammates. Out of spite, and because Sittler had a no-trade clause in his contract, Imlach unloaded the captain’s closest friends on the team. A series of bad trades ensued, the worst sending Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville to the Colorado Rockies in December 1979. A demoralized Sittler had the “C” removed from his sweater. The only swap that worked in the Leafs’ favour saw fan-favourite enforcer Tiger Williams sent to the Vancouver Canucks for goal scorers Bill Derlago and Rick Vaive.

The 1980s marked the dark ages for the franchise. Following Imlach’s dismissal after a heart attack in 1981 (the second he had suffered during his tenure), Gerry McNamara led the team to six losing seasons. A veteran scout before becoming GM, McNamara seemed as interested in battling the media as building a competitive team. When McNamara attempted to prove he had suffered brain damage following a car accident, the jokes flowed. McNamara had to work within Ballard’s increasing stinginess with funds, which resulted in the Leafs having only three full-time scouts, rarely pursuing free agents or participating in the waiver draft, and filling key roles with people already in the organization. Prospects were often rushed to the NHL far sooner than they should have been, though promising players like Wendel ClarkRuss CourtnallVincent DamphousseAl Iafrate, and Gary Nylund emerged.


Harold Ballard with Miss Tiger Cat and Miss Blue Bomber, 1960s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2409.

By the end of the 1980s, Ballard’s declining health muddied personnel matters. After an interregnum, 30-year old Gord Stellick was hired as McNamara’s replacement in 1988. He made one colossally bad trade (Courtnall for John Kordic), found himself saddled with a coach forced into the position by Ballard (George Armstrong), and was left virtually powerless during the next amateur draft. As sportswriter William Houston observed, “Everything seemed out of control. At the top was a feeble and ailing owner, who refused to give his general manager any real control. The coach didn’t want to coach. And many of the players didn’t seem to want to play.” The situation was such that Maple Leaf Gardens’ stock rose whenever Ballard entered the hospital. According to one investor, “We know he had diabetes. We know he doesn’t follow his diet. We know he’s eighty-three. That’s why I started buying stock.”

But the last season of the decade showed signs of hope. After Stellick resigned, new GM Floyd Smith and coach Doug Carpenter guided the 1989/90 Leafs to the team’s first .500 season since 1978/79. It helped that Ballard had grown too infirm to meddle. Wendel Clark delivered one of the best lines following Ballard’s death on April 11, 1990: “I wish him well—wherever he goes.”

Things were looking up for the 1990s.

Additional material from Leafs AbomiNation by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange (Toronto: Random House, 2009), Maple Leaf Blues by William Houston (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990), and Why The Leafs Suck And How They Can Be Fixed by Al Strachan (Toronto: Collins, 2009).


Part two of this series was written by another author and may be found here.

The Leafs’ Stanley Cup drought now stretches over half-a-century. Will spring 2018 change that? Stay tuned…

Ron Wilson’s Recent Departure From the Leafs Was Not His First

Originally published on Torontoist on March 5, 2012.


Imagining a 1979/80 Ron Wilson hockey card (the only suitable picture I could find at the time was black & white).

Friday’s firing of Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson marked the second time the organization has let Wilson go. The first time was not accompanied by catcalls or media pressure to leave the team—it was barely acknowledged, if at all. Wilson’s first departure was as a player, following a frustrating season that included injuries, limited playing time, and a personal loss.

As the 1979/80 season approached, Leafs publicity director Stan Obadiac penned a coffee table book spotlighting the year to come. While the book was full of hope, the Leafs were descending into chaos. Following poorly executed dismissals of coach Roger Neilson and general manager Jim Gregory, owner Harold Ballard hired Punch Imlach, who had coached Toronto’s Stanley Cup winners during the 1960s, to run the club. Over the next two seasons, Ballard and Imlach dismantled a promising team, as feuds with stars like Darryl Sittler lowered clubhouse morale and resulted in one of the worst trades in team history (dispatching Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville to the Colorado Rockies to spite Sittler). Ten straight seasons of sub-.500 play ensued.

Wilson, like his teammates, had a two-page spread in the coffee table book. Entering his third season with the Leafs, he was praised for his smarts. According to new coach Floyd Smith, quoted in the book, Wilson was “a very intelligent hockey player and he moves the puck exceptionally well for a defenceman and he shoots well. If there is a drawback, it’s his size. He has all the natural skills and ability.” Wilson had good hockey genes—his father, Larry, played in the NHL during the 1950s and briefly coached the Detroit Red Wings, while uncle Johnny was an All-Star player with Detroit, then coached the Pittsburgh Penguins during the late 1970s.

Each player responded to a questionnaire. Among Wilson’s responses:

Sports celebrity pro and con: “Celebrity? I kind of like it all. But there’s a lot of pressure put on you by the public to win. Of course you want to, but people do put a lot of pressure on you, especially in Toronto because it’s such a hockey city. Otherwise, I enjoy the attention because I realize that I’m only going to get it here for a few years. When I was growing up, Dave Keon was my hero, then Bobby Orr. Now I wear 14, which was Keon’s number, so that’s a really big thrill for me.”

Are you superstitious as a hockey player? “Yeah, I am a little superstitious. Before each game and period I always whack the goalie three times on the pads. I’ll eat the same meals if I had a good game before, but I’m not like guys who wear the same clothes. Last year I had a four-leaf clover stuffed in my glove for a while, but I lost it.”

Favourite books, films, TV, music: Mystery novels are Wilson’s favourites. Since he was an economics major in college, and hopes to work on an MBA in the next couple of years, he brushes up on that subject by reading texts. “I go to every movie that comes out, especially on the road. I saw The Deer Hunter twice. I’ll go see anything, as long as it’s entertaining.” Quincy is his favourite television show and Ron watches all sporting events. He listens to Doobie Brothers and Beach Boys records and catches the occasional repertory theatre in Providence, Rhode Island [Wilson attended college there with current Leafs GM Brian Burke and pursued post-graduate work in economics during the off-season] .

Personal goals for the 1979-80 season and future in hockey: “I’d like to be able to play a regular shift. I wouldn’t set any goal-scoring or point-scoring goals for myself. I just want to play a lot to give myself a chance to score 15 or 20 goals. As far as the team’s concerned, getting up to first place is a goal. I’ll just play until I stop enjoying it. If I don’t play a lot this year or next year I may hang up the game because it’s no fun sitting on the bench. I like the action.”


Goalie Mike Palmateer stares out from the cover of The Toronto Maple Leafs 1979/1980.

Wilson received few shifts with the Leafs in 1979/80. Prior to training camp, his father died of a heart attack. A pre-season knee injury sidelined him during the fall, followed by a cracked cheekbone and cracked thumb. He spent most of the year with the Leafs’ farm in Moncton, New Brunswick, where along with the other prospects he grumbled about lack of playing time and moves by Imlach that blocked call-ups to Toronto, like the signing of 41-year-old defenceman Carl Brewer after half-a-decade of retirement. “I think I’m being phased out,” Wilson told the Star in December 1979. “I haven’t even got a line anymore. I want to be traded like everyone else.”

It was an injury to Brewer, along with other limping defencemen, that led to Wilson’s return to the Leafs on March 28, 1980. “I felt like a little kid again when I got the call,” he told the Star. “After a while in the minors, you start to get the feeling you don’t figure in the big team’s plans, that you’ve been forgotten.” Wilson played five regular season games and three playoff games, scoring one goal and four assists. Following the Leafs’ early exit from the playoffs, Wilson was sent back to the New Brunswick Hawks for a championship run that saw the team lose the Calder Cup final.

With little fanfare, Wilson left the Leafs organization and played several years in Switzerland before returning to the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars during the 1984/85 season. Nearly 30 years passed before he returned to the Leafs as their coach. However his second stint with the team would go, it was certain that it wouldn’t end as quietly as the first one.

Additional material from The Toronto Maple Leafs 1979/1980 by Stan Obodiac (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), and the December 15, 1979 and March 30 1980, editions of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Bobby Orr’s Pizza Weekend

Originally published on Torontoist on October 4, 2011.


Don Mills Mirror, October 13, 1971.

If Tim Horton could run a donut shop, why couldn’t Bobby Orr lend his name to a pizzeria?

Orr may have skated into the pizza business to fend off others hoping to utilize his name in the restaurant business. Around the time the first pizzas were delivered in 1970, Orr’s representatives sent lawyers after other restaurateurs hoping to cash in on the Bruins star’s fame, such as two New Hampshire gentlemen who dreamed of opening Bobby Orr’s Eating Place locations throughout the granite state.

Before the first puck dropped for the 1971/72 season, Orr signed a five-year deal with the Bruins that, at $200,000 per season, made him the NHL’s first “million dollar man.” Besides leading the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory, he picked up the Conn Smythe, Hart, and Norris trophies. We doubt any of that silverware made its way to the pizzerias for a special promotion. (“Buy two pizzas and win a chance to touch Bobby’s latest Norris Trophy!”)

Vintage Ad #1,668: Bobby Orr wants to give you some of his dough

Toronto Star, June 9, 1971.

Known as either Bobby Orr Pizzerias, Bobby Orr’s Pizza Restaurants, or Bobby Orr’s Pizza Parlor, the chain planned to expand across Ontario, but the business endured as well as Orr’s infamously bad knees. An Oshawa newspaper ad hinted at the problem, proclaiming, “Bobby Orr wants to make a comeback,” after, as Star columnist Jeremy Brown put it, “a lapse in quality.” As for the former locations listed in today’s ad, the new one in Willowdale is now a salon/spa, the Keele store is currently a Mr. Sub, and the Cabbagetown branch is a real estate office.

Additional material from the December 17, 1970, and May 21, 1971, editions of the Toronto Star.


7172 opc orr card

1971/72 O-Pee-Chee hockey card.

Whatever name it carried, the chain appears to have come to an end in 1973, when Winnipeg-based owner Champs Food Systems sold the pizzerias to an unnamed buyer for $100,000. As part of the deal, Orr Enterprises withdrew the hockey star’s name from the restaurants.

In his book Power Play, Orr’s agent Alan Eagleson included a paragraph about the pizza business:

Oscar Grubert is a really successful restaurateur of the chain variety. He owns the rights to several of them, all big–Cavanaghs and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Winnipeg, Mother Tucker’s in other places. When his deal for Bobby Orr Pizza Places was launched in the Royal York Hotel, a lot of celebrities, from Pierre Berton to Robert Fulford, were on hand, as well as all the sportswriters. The fanfare was for a new Bobby Orr Pizza Place to open in Oshawa. Oscar set them up and they did well, except Bobby didn’t want to have anything to do with them. He’d say “I never eat this stuff,” that type of thing, and wouldn’t go to an opening. So Oscar finally said, “We might as well get out of that deal.” If Bobby had co-operated he’d be making hundreds of thousands of dollars from that business now, but he just kissed off an association that could have been a long-time money-winner for him.

Or one that Eagleson probably would have benefited more from than Orr. In a 1993 Globe and Mail column on fact-checking, Robert Fulford disputed Eagleson’s account of the pizza chain’s launch night. “It’s nice to be called a celebrity,” Fulford noted, “but I’ve never been in the same room as Bobby Orr and never heard of Orr Pizza Places.”


A New Look For the Blue Jays?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2011.


It may be back to the future time for the Blue Jays.

Based on a leaked image picked up by the “athletics aesthetics” website Uni Watch, the 2012 Blue Jays may adopt a variation of the iconic logo the team used during its first two decades. While the version making the rounds of the internet lacks the baseball backdrop of the original version, sites like The Score are reporting that their sources indicate a ball will be part of the final design.

The Star, who asked its readers to design a new Blue Jays uniform last month, notes that a change has been in the works, but the organization has kept a tight lid on what they’ve devised. When we contacted the team’s communications department this morning, they expressed surprise about the potential new look. As an employee put it succinctly, the logo was “news to me.”

Going back to a variant on the original logo makes sense for the Blue Jays, as the 2012 season marks the team’s 35th anniversary. The design could invoke nostalgic memories among fans that the generic current logo likely never will, especially if those flashbacks involve the championship teams of the early 1990s.

Who knows, maybe Blue Jays–branded junk food will also make a comeback.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Originally published on Torontoist on June 28, 2011.


The Body Politic, September 1981.

If you were a baseball fan in Toronto during the summer of 1981, the best place to catch a game was a neighbourhood diamond. The Blue Jays played so poorly during the first half of the season that when major league players went on strike in mid-June, it was a relief to long-suffering fans (the team lost 11 straight games before the walkout). While the Blue Jays didn’t make it to the World Series, Toronto was home to championship baseball action that October thanks to the effort of the Cabbagetown Group Softball League (CGSL) to bring the fifth edition of the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) to the city’s east side.


The Body Politic, September 1981.

The CGSL grew out of regular pickup games played Sunday afternoons beginning in 1975. As the Body Politic noted in a September 1981 profile, the evolution from drop-in games to full-fledged league was “shaped by two distinct but connected concerns: how to improve standards of play with without slamming the door on inexperienced players and how public to be as a gay organization.” The league took shape over the winter of 1977–78: four teams were formed, regulations were drawn up, and a diamond was reserved at Riverdale Park. By the time the league hosted the GSWS, 170 players took the field for teams with colourful names like the Zyppers and Mes Petits Choux. For players like social worker/Raw Talent left fielder Morris Berchard, the league gave him “the opportunity to meet gay people with similar interests outside bars. It has given me an appreciation of my gayness.”

Over 300 players from 11 cities participated in the GSWS. Mayor Art Eggleton turned down an invitation to throw the first pitch, sending only a letter wishing tournament organizers “every success.” The local entrant in the GSWS, East Side Story, finished near the bottom of the tournament. Wet weather forced the championship game to be moved to the Logan/Lakeshore diamond. Surprise cheerleading was provided by the local branch of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “We expected to deal with a lot of fear of effeminacy on the part on some players and fans,” noted Sister Liturgia, “but our appearance produced very little nunophobia.” More than 500 spectators showed up to watch the Los Angeles Griffins defeat the Milwaukee Wreckroom 4-0. At the banquet that followed at the Holiday Inn on Chestnut Street (now U of T’s 89 Chestnut residence), the attendees depleted the hotel’s champagne supply.

Additional material from the September 1981 and October 1981 editions of the Body Politic.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Jumping Jays

Originally published on Torontoist on June 15, 2011.

1989 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Tony Fernandez had good reason to jump for the Star’s camera in 1989: when today’s ad was first seen by the original owner of this scorebook, the Jays were transforming what appeared to be a long, losing season into an American League East title.

The filled-out scoresheet in the magazine shows that on May 16, 1989, the Jays came back from a 6-0 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians 7-6. It was interim manager Cito Gaston’s second victory in a row after replacing Jimy Williams the previous day. Under Williams, the Jays had won 12 of their first 36 games, which led to merciless booing from the fans in Exhibition Stadium. According to general manager Pat Gillick, Williams’s biggest problem was “He was too nice a guy and too honest a person. Sometimes players don’t like the truth.” The Star observed that few players were upset by the manager’s dismissal—before Williams’s final game, a louder-than-normal card game was played in the team clubhouse.


The scorecard for the May 16, 1989 Blue Jays-Indians game. Note that the card was printed before the managerial change.

The Star guessed that the top candidates to permanently replace Williams were former Yankee skipper Lou Piniella and Syracuse Chiefs manager Bob Bailor. The paper treated Gaston as a temporary fill-in, an impression furthered by his claim that while he’d like to manage someday, he was happy as batting coach. “I don’t know what I’d do if it were offered to me,” he told the paper.

Star sports columnist John Robertson had the following thoughts about Gaston:

Nothing would please me more than to see Cito Gaston go undefeated during his 10-day appointment as interim manager. But I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting the job on a permanent basis. He saw first-hand what it did to Jimy. And Cito Gaston is far too nice a guy to end up with Jimy’s ulcers.

Robertson was probably pleased when, following hefty compensation demands from the Yankees if the Jays tried to hire Piniella, Gaston lost the “interim” tag from his job description on May 31. The hiring proved effective, as the Jays ended the season in first place with 89 wins and 73 losses.

Additional material from the May 16, 1989, and May 17, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.