I have visited Toronto four times in my life. To be honest, it's not enough. Toronto is Canada's largest city with a population of around two and a half million. It ranks 9th among North American cities. It passed Montreal by as the largest city in Canada back in 1977. Geographically, Toronto is on the north shore of Lake Ontario between the Humber and the Don rivers. There are a number of off-shore islands that make it's harbor almost landlocked.
My first visit to Toronto was with my friend Louie Manzione and his son Travis back in July of 1994. Lou and I used to be off-ice officials for the New Jersey Rockin Rollers professional roller hockey team that used to play out of the Meadowlands back in the 90's. After one game, they were leaving to go to a hockey tournament in Toronto, so I went along. We drove all night to Toronto. Lou and I spent one day just walking around the city. We had lunch at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant and dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in the SkyDome. On another day, the three of us made a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I took a lot of photos, but unfortunately, they were lost later.
My second trip was in June of 1996. I was coaching with the Atlantic District Select-14 hockey team. It was a team of some of the best 14 year olds from New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania. I was flown up to Toronto on June 27 and was there to July 1 (Canada Day). The one hour Air Canada flight was much quicker then the eight hour drive. We were there for a tournament, but after it was over, I was able to visit Toronto again. I walked around on July 1st. This is Canada Day and there were celebrations everywhere. The photo at right shows the festivities in front of the Ontario Parliament Building. I couldn't stay that night to see the fireworks over Lake Ontario. However, I did go to the top of the CN Tower and, of course, I visited the Hall of Fame again.
A Short History of Toronto
After the American Revolution, British Loyalists leaving America settled in the area leading to the formation of Upper Canada. Lieutenant-Governor John Simcoe Graves moved the capital of Upper Canada from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the site of Toronto because of it's location. Simcoe named the new capital York after the son of King George III. Despite all o the plans for the city, it developed slowly. It's unpaved streets gave it the nickname "Muddy York."In April of 1813, During the War of 1812, American troops captured York and set fire to a number of government buildings (they also set fire to buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake). The British would retaliate the following year when they torched a number of government buildings in Washington D.C.
After the war, the city grew as wave of immigrants arrived from Britain. However, a small group of wealthy British men, called "The Family Compact", dominated the government of York and all of Upper Canada. A Scottish radical newspaper publisher named William Lyon Mackenzie (1795-1861) challenged their power in his paper. Leading the radical wing of the Reform Party, Mackenzie was elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1828. The Compact had him expelled from Parliament. He was re-elected and re-expelled five more times.
Toronto was incorporated as a city in 1834 (the named was changed from York because it's namesake, the Duke of York, was not so popular anymore). Mackenzie (photo above) was elected as Toronto's first mayor. He then returned to Parliament which was subsequently dissolved by the governor in 1836. Realizing that he could not change things through legal means, Mackenzie decided on armed revolt. In December of 1837, his supporters marched into the city and were met by loyal citizens. After a brief skirmish, both sides retreated. The rebellion collapsed the next day and Mackenzie fled to the United States.
Although two of Mackenzie's supporters were publicly hanged, the revolt succeeded and political change came to Upper Canada. In 1841, Upper Canada and Lower Canada (mostly Quebec) were united as the Province of Canada. Mackenzie was even allowed to return in 1849. Toronto continued to proper, but was steered in a genteel way. It was nicknamed "The Good" but was considered dull by many.
Since World War II, Toronto has received waves of immigrants from around the world making it a very cosmopolitan city. It's skyline has changed dramatically in the last 25 years with large shinny skyscrapers and the tall CN Tower. Though the waterfront has diminished since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Hockey has always been popular in Toronto. They had a number of clubs through the late 19th century into the 20th. The amateur Toronto Blueshirts won the Stanley Cup in 1914. The Toronto Arenas won in 1918 and the Toronto St. Pat's in 1922. It's first professional sports team still in existence, the Toronto Maple Leafs started in 1927. They won their first Stanley Cup in 1932 and have won 10 Stanley Cups since then (though their last Cup came in 1967). Major League baseball came to Toronto in 1976 with the creation of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise. They captured the World Series in 1992 and again in 1993. Toronto had a brief one-year stint with professional basketball in 1947-48 with the Toronto Huskies. The NBA returned to Canada in 1995 with the Toronto Raptors franchise
The most prominent landmark in Toronto is the CN Tower. On Front Street next to the SkyDome, it towers 1,815 feet above Lake Ontario. It is the largest building in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It also holds the record for World’s Longest Metal Staircase and most recently, the World’s Highest Wine Cellar. In 1995, the CN Tower was classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The tower shares this designation with the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil/Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (another place we have been to), the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel (we went through here also), the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building (naturally we were here also).
Construction of the tower started in 1973 and took a little under three and a half years to build at a cost of $63 million (around $300 million in today's cost). It was built by Canadian National (formally Canadian National Railways). Elevators take under a minute to go up the 1,136 feet to the Skypod. That is the circular structure two/thirds of the way up. It is a seven-story structure that has outdoor and indoor observation decks with an incredible view. There is a fine dinning restaurant called "360" that has a rotating floor that does a complete revolution every 72 minutes. There is another restaurant called "Horizons Cafe" that is not as expensive. Another interesting, if not somewhat scary, attraction is the glass floor. The have a large section with a glass floor that you can walk on. It is somewhat unnerving as it appears that there is nothing between you and the ground 1,136 feet below.
You can take another elevator up another 230 feet to another even higher observation deck called Space Deck. This has even better views. On a clear day, like when I was there, you can see all the way to Niagara Falls and Buffalo. It's not cheap to visit. The cost for a ticket to the Skypod is $18.99 (another $5.00 if you want to go up to the Space Deck), yet despite this they get almost 2 million visitors a year. It is open from 10 AM to 10 PM (10:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays). Here is a picture of my friend Lou down by the lake with the tower in the distance.
My third trip was when Debbie and I made a day trip to Toronto back on August 1, 2001. We flew up to Niagara Falls for a week long vacation. We drove from Niagara Falls to Toronto, which took about an hour. We parked below the SkyDome, so when we got out of the baseball game, we could leave quickly. Since Debbie and I love to take boat trips where ever we go, we did so here too. We took a hour cruise out on Lake Ontario. It didn't go out into the lake as much as it cruised to the islands in the lake. We took a bus tour through the city also. We found an English Pub for lunch. I had some Fish & Chips served in a London Times newspaper - how authentic.
Hockey Hall of Fame
As you can see, we made it to the Hockey Hall of Fame, again. Here's Debbie and I with Lord Stanley's Cup back in 2001. It's really a replica hat they use these days, the actual silver Stanley Cup, that is the very original, is kept in the vault in the Hall permanently. It is not strong enough to be held up by winning teams anymore so in 1969 it was permanently retired. Debbie checked to make sure that the New Jersey Devils, who won the cup in 1995 and 2000, were listed (they were) along with her favorite player, Kenny Daneyko. Of course, Debbie will be the first to remind you that the Devils won it again in 2003. The last time the Boston Bruins won the cup was back in 1972.
We spent about four hours walking around the exhibits and of course I took a lot of pictures. They have a big exhibit on Bobby Orr. Of course, without a doubt, they have more space dedicated to Wayne Gretzky than any one else.
The Hall of Fame began in 1945 with it's first inductees, though it didn't have a building yet. 14 people were inducted, including Hobey Baker, Art Ross, Howie Morenz, Georges Vezina, Frank McGee and Lord Stanley himself. The first Hall of Fame building was finally completed in 1961 in Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) grounds. On June 18, 1993, the Hockey Hall of Fame opened the doors of its current home in BCE Place. The new $35 million facility comprises 57,000 square feet, including 10,000 square feet in the restored Bank of Montreal building (photo left) located on the corner of Yonge and Front Streets, with the balance in the Shopping/Food Court Concourse level at BCE Place. To enter the Hall, you have to go down into the concourse and enter though the mall. Most of the Hall of Fame is underground. The bank is where they have the Legends of Hockey. These are all the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. They have etched glass plates to commemorate the individual members who have been inducted. Also in the bank are all of the special trophies that they give out at the end of the year like the Conn Smyth Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, James Norris Trophy, Frank Selke Trophy and Vezina Trophy to name some. They also have the Stanley Cup in the center o the room so you can have you picture taken with it (as you can see in the photos above and below). In the bank's vault, they have the original Stanley Cup along with the band they removed from the cup a few years back to make room for the new winners. Each band contains 13 Stanley Cup winning teams.
After you enter (there is a $12 fee) you come to the Legends - Past & Present. The have objects from the most recent inductees. When Debbie and I were there, On my more recent trip, Grant Fuhr and Pat LaFontaine were among the honored inductees. Next to this is the Grand Old Houses of Hockey. This exhibit pays homage to the NHL's most famous arenas. The vibrant histories of the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, Detroit Olympia, Madison Square Garden, Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto are displayed utilizing artifacts and graphics. They actually have Bobby Orr's knee brace that he wore when he scored his famous overtime goal (when he was photographed flying through the air). Here is Damian and I with the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Next to the Grand Old Houses is a recreation of the Montreal Canadien's locker room from the old Forum in the 1990's. Above on one wall are pictures of famous Canadiens with the quote, "to you from failing hands we pass the torch be yours to hold it high".
As a life-long Boston Bruins fan, I get morbid chills just being in this room. Of course, Damian had to try on the goalie pads.At left is the Conn Smyth Trophy, which is presented annually to the playoff MVP. This is one of my favorite trophies. The trophy has a replica of Maple Leafs Gardens with a large maple leaf behind it. It was named after Conn Smyth. Conn Smythe’s name was synonymous with hockey in Toronto for five decades. Having purchased the Toronto St. Pats in 1927, Smythe changed their name to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and altered their sweaters to the blue and white we know today. A powerful leader, Smythe had been coach, general manager and owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame with his induction as a builder in 1958. In 1965, the inaugural presentation went to Montreal Canadiens’ captain Jean Beliveau. Only two non-Canadian's have won the award, American Brian Leetch in 1994 as a member of the New York Rangers and Sweden's Nicklas Lindstrom with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. Goalie Patrick Roy has won it the most times with three.
In the middle is a statue of a goalie (I know it obvious), but that's what it is. It's a bronze replica of Canadien great Ken Dryden, who was inducted back in 1983 (if you want to see the picture of Dryden used for the statue, click on the photo). It's next to the display on goalie equipment. You should see what passed as goalie masks around 40 years ago. On the right is myself back in 2001 at, of course, the Boston Gardens (pronounced Bah-ston Gah-dens) display.
On the left is the entrance to the Hall of Fame' Grand Old Houses of Hockey. The histories of the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, Detroit Olympia, Madison Square Garden, Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens are displayed utilizing artifacts and graphics. The booth in the left of the picture is from the Olympia in Detroit.
On the right is the Wayne Gretzky exhibit, which as you can imagine, is the biggest there. It's in the "Legends of Hockey" showcase. They have the goal net that Gretzky scored his 802nd goal in (breaking Gordie Howe's record) with 802 pucks stacked up inside. Gretzky is one of the most admired hockey players in the world, except by Debbie. You see, before Gretzky retired, he made the unforgivable sin of joining the New York Rangers. And Debbie, hates the New York Rangers (as do all New Jersey Devils fans). Then there was that 'Mickey Mouse' comment he once made.
Of course, I had my picture taken at the Bobby Orr display. This one is pretty large (though not as much as Gretzky's). They have many artifacts from Orr's career with the Boston Bruins, included a pair of bronzed hockey skates.Bobby Orr is considered the greatest defenseman to ever play hockey, some consider him the greatest player (some others might argue for number 99). Born in Parry Sound, Ontario, he was signed to a professional contract with the Boston Bruins when he was only 14 years old. He redefined the position of defenseman. Orr became famous for rushing the puck. He won the Norris Trophy (for best defenseman) eight consecutive times along with being named first-team all-star. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972, Orr was awarded the Conn Smyth Trophy both times. A knee injury ended his career prematurely forcing him to retire in 1979.
Also in the Hall of Fame is the World of Hockey display which shows all sorts of items from international hockey. Some of the hockey jerseys from around the world are interesting, if not bizarre. There is also the Hometown Hockey display which features artifacts covering the different levels of hockey in the United States and Canada. They have a section here on the early evolution of hockey with equipment dating back to the 1880's to the early 1900's. The Broadcast Zone lets you recreate great moments in hockey with you being the announcer. This is a lot of fun. Finally, there is NHLPA Be A Player Zone where you can shoot on a goalie or be a goalie and block shots from the interactive machines.
The Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes in North America, was donated by Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston and Governor General of the Dominion of Canada (photo at left), in 1893. Lord Stanley's father was once the Prime Minister of Great Britain and one of his ancestors was the step-father of King Henry VII of England. Though he knew very little about the game, his wife enjoyed it and his seven sons all played the game and talked him into donating the trophy. Lord Stanley had an aide purchase the trophy for 10 guineas ($48.67 at that time) in London for presentation to the amateur hockey champions of Canada. Since 1910, when the National Hockey Association took possession of the Stanley Cup, the trophy has been the symbol of professional hockey supremacy. It has been competed for only by NHL teams since 1926.
In 1893, Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) hockey club won the cup for the first time though they won it by being the Amateur Hockey Association champions. There were no playoffs. Lord Stanley himself returned to Britain during the season and did not get a chance to present the trophy then named the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup.
The following year, the cup was actually played for when their was a tie in the Amateur Hockey Association. The Montreal team again took home the trophy when they beat Ottawa in a one-game playoff on March 22, 1894 by the score of 3-1. As hockey grew in Canada, teams formed out west and wanted a shot at the cup. The following year, the Winnipeg Victorias defeated the Montreal Victorias 2-0. The Montreal Victorias or "Vics" would come back and win the next three cups. In the early days, players added their names to the trophy by scratching them onto the original bowl with a knife or a nail. As of 2002, there are 2,116 names on the Stanley Cup. Jean Beliveau, of the Montreal Canadiens, had his name engraved ten times.
The Ottawa Silver Seven also won three straight Stanley Cups between 1903 and 1905. Once, after winning the Cup, the Ottawa team took it as the celebrated. One of the players, drunk from Champaign, drop-kicked the cup into Rideau Canal near Ottawa. Luckily, the canal was frozen and the cup was found there the next morning, though a bit dented. On June 14, 1908, Lord Stanley died in England, but in 1945, he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In 1916, the first American amateur club, the Portland (Oregon) Rosebuds competed (unsuccessfully) for the Cup when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens.
From the NHL's formation in 1917 until 1926, the Stanley Cup was awarded to the winner of a playoff between the NHL and the Pacific Coast Hockey League. When the PCHL dissolved in 1927, the Stanley Cup was presented exclusively to the NHL playoff champions. In 1917, the PCHL champion Seattle Metropolitans became the first U.S. hockey team to win the Cup when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens. The Toronto Arenas became the first NHL team to win the Cup the following year when they defeated the Vancouver Millionaires.
In 1919, there was no champion. Montreal and Seattle were again playing for the Cup when the Flu epidemic broke out in Seattle. With the series tied at two games each, a number of players became sick and Montreal's captain Joe Hall died. The series was canceled and left as a tie.
The NHL took total control of the Cup in 1927 with the original Ottawa Senators defeating the Boston Bruins (how sad!). The New York Rangers became the first U.S. based NHL team to win the the Cup the following year when they beat the Montreal Maroons. The Montreal Canadiens have won the most Stanley Cup with 24 while the Detroit Red Wings (third on the list) is the American team with the most Stanley Cups. Between 1956 and 1960, the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup a record five consecutive times.
The original Stanley Cup has been retired and is kept in a safe in the Hockey Hall of Fame where I was able to get this above photograph (I didn't use a flash, to avoid a reflection on the glass).
We visited the SkyDome that night. The Skydome was built in 1989 and is famous for it's fully retractable roof. The roof is made up of four sections which open in a smooth, circular motion. It takes only 20 minutes to open or close the eight acre roof. Another feature is it's Video Board, one of the world's largest, measuring 110 feet wide by 33 feet high. Along with the Blue Jays, it is also home to the Toronto Argonauts Canadian Football team. They give tours of the place, but we didn't take it. It is one of Toronto's top three tourist attractions (along with the Hall of Fame and the CN Tower).
We went to a Toronto Blue Jays game that night. I bought tickets over the Internet few weeks earlier. I got some good seats behind home plate. As you can see from the empty seats around me and the crowd in the distance, many people there don't buy the expensive seats. Of course, this let me really stretch out. I was never so comfortable at a baseball game. It was a nice night, so the roof was open (as you can tell). The Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins by a score of 3-1 in the shortest game in the American League that year: 2 hours and 1 minute. Debbie was very happy; she finally got to see a homerun, two of them in all. One of the Blue Jays, Carlos Delgado, hit a blast to deep center.
My fourth trip was in March of 2004 for another hockey tournament. My nephew Damian traveled with the Bayonne Rangers Midget A team for a weekend tournament. For me, it was another chance to go to Toronto. I took Damian to the Hall of Fame (of course). I don't think he found it as interesting as I did. They changed some of the place around since I was there in 2001. We couldn't spend as much time as we would have liked due to the fact that we had to get back to a game.
Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant
After our fourth game on Saturday night, we drove back into downtown Toronto for dinner. We ate at Wayne Gretzky's restaurant (where I had lunch back in 1994). The place is full of Gretzky memorabilia. Everything from jersey's to old skates to awards. We had a good time and got to meet Wayne Gretzky's dad, Walt. He took his picture with us and gave us some autograph's. He seemed to enjoy doing this.
What a group! Well, from left to right, we have Kevin Capodice, Tom D'Alessio, Tom's dad Tom, Peggy Capodice, Damian, Nick Capodice and myself with Walt front and center.
In front of Gretzky's; in the left picture is myself with Damian, Tom and Kevin (the guy with the brown jacket is Leigh - a local having a quick cigarette). In the right picture is Kevin, Damian and Tom doing their best not to smile for the picture.
We walked around a little after dinner. We strolled around the SkyDome and over to the CN Tower. Then we back to the hotel. As always, another fun visit to Toronto.