I have what has been called the most comprehensive collection of Toronto Maple Leaf memorabilia in existence. I never started out to accomplish that, but rather to just surround myself with memories of the team I cherished growing up. The other benefit over time would also allow me the pleasure of having my own “sports haven” to entertain family and friends.
Over the years the collection outgrew itself and all the places I lived in. Today it has a permanently designed home. Now we not only host special times for family and friends but have expanded to include numerous charities. I’ve had many ex Leafs and celebrities from different walks of life visit the room.
One lasting memory came a few years ago. I was hosting a meeting of a group I belong to called “The Society of International Hockey Research.” During such meetings held at various locales, a special guest was usually invited to speak to the group. On this particular occasion the special guest was Anne Barilko. Anne’s brother Bill has become one of the most famous Maple Leafs of all time. His number 5 and Ace Baileys number 6 are the only 2 numbers that have ever been retired by the Leafs.
Bill played for the Leafs from 1946 to 1951. He became famous for not only scoring the winning goal in over time in the 1951 Stanley Cup final, but also because he died that summer in a plane crash in Northern Ontario. What made the story even more astounding was the fact that his body would not be discovered 11 years later. 1962, the year his body was discovered, would also happen to be the next time the Leafs would win the Stanley Cup. The Canadian rock band “The Tragically Hip,” would immortalize Barilko forever with the hit song “Fifty Mission Cap”.
As Anne was looking around at the items in the collection, she suddenly stopped. In the case in front of her sat her brother’s last contract as a Maple Leaf. Also in the case was a ticket stub and program from the famous game, along with a few other items. She quickly pointed out that her mother had gone to that game and had never saved any of these things. As Anne stood by the case, she was reading a letter Bill had written to the Leafs. In the contents Bill was asking for a tryout with the Leafs minor team in Pittsburg so he and his brother Alex could play together. Anne became very quiet.
At that moment, time seemed to stand still. I never said a word and actually stepped back to give Anne a moment alone, to take this all in. When I looked back at her, tears streamed down her face as she continued to read. I could feel the emotion building inside me as I watched this sad yet wonderful moment. This small connection Anne was making with her brother was almost surreal. I had this great feeling of pride come over me. I realized in my small way and through my collection I’d given Anne this moment to reflect on her brother’s life. What an awesome feeling that was.
Anne Barilko passed away a few months later.