The year was 1954 and the Toronto Maple Leafs did not win the Stanley Cup. It was in July of that year that I was born. In January 1954, Elvis Presley recorded a 10 minute demo record in Nashville, and four days later paid a Memphis studio $4 to record his first two songs. Tod Sloan led the Leafs in scoring. RCA manufactured the first colour television, a 12.5-inch screen for a $1,000. The average new car cost $1,600 to $1,900.
In March of that year, the Yonge Street subway opened. It was the first of its kind in Canada. Hank Aaron hit the first of the 755 home runs he would hit in his career. Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile. The first issue of Sports Illustrated was published that year. Hurricane Hazel tore through Toronto in October of 1954. A pack of Parkhurst Hockey Cards cost 5 cents. The package included 6 cards, 2 wrappers, and a piece of gum. Today a complete set sells for $6,000 to $8,000. The wrappers are worth $400 to $500, and the album (which was a 25 cent mail-in promotion) $200 or more. This is assuming you can find any of these items.
I acquired my first real piece of memorabilia around 8 years later. This is how it all began. The beginning of an over-50-year journey of collecting items, knowledge and memories. A cousin of my dad’s was close friends with Leaf defenseman Carl Brewer. They had, at one time, talked of becoming priests together. My cousin actually attended some road games on the Leaf team bus.When he found out that I was becoming this Toronto Maple Leaf hockey-mad kid, he did what any great 2nd cousin would do; he got me a used game stick from Carl Brewer!! They say you remember your first!
It was a CCM custom pro stick. Black taped blade and white taped handle. (White tape…. wow!) A blue stencilled Number 2 on the shaft (his sweater number) with Brewer stamped just below it! His name and number on his own stick! Wow again! It was beautiful! (Did I just say that?) It was like gold. Although at 8, I doubt that I could tell the difference between gold and sawdust, but you get the idea. That stick was my pride and joy. I would sit that stick on the grass during ball hockey games to show to my street pals. It was probably more like rubbing it in. Funny, today I still get that same rush when I acquire a new piece.
My dad was a St. Mike’s boy and worked at IBM for 40 years.He played in the IBM Sunday Morning Men’s League at Leaside Arena. This was just down the street from the IBM plant in Don Mills. I loved that rink! Big, a lot of room to run around, a huge picture of the Queen hung at one end, that arena “smell” that old rinks had, a good smell. The hot chocolate, the Fudgesicles that were so cold they stuck to your tongue (like fence posts in the backyard, but that’s another story), and an older man (to me anyway) who sharpened the skates, who happened to be the father of Toronto Maple Leaf star forward Frank Mahovlich.
Mr. Mahovlich wore blue overalls. He was a big man, had rough working hands and walked with a limp, or so it seemed. Hanging around the rink for four hours every Sunday, when I wasn’t running around the rink looking for used tape to make a ball with, or a broken stick to shoot that made-up ball, I’d hang around his small shop! Not much talk was needed because after all, he was Frank Mahovlich’s dad…what was there to say?
We lived in a new developing suburb called Scarborough. My dad’s family still lived in the city in the High Park area where my dad grew up. One Saturday my father and I got in the car. Unlike kids today, I was happy to just follow my dad around and not ask twenty questions such as, “Where we were going?” “Why do I have to go?” etc. We went to my uncle’s house in High Park. My dad told me he had something for me. To my amazement, my uncle produced not one, but two of the most beautiful (there’s that word again) posters I’d ever seen. It was Frank Mahovlich in colour, in a stopping motion and spraying snow. These posters were a promotion from Libby’s (canned beans). If you bought the Libby’s product, you got a poster. This was a Dominion Stores promotion. Our family shopped at Loblaws so I had never seen it! I found this out years later of course.
Anyways, my dad asked, “What do you think we should do with the extra poster?” I can only assume I looked at him as if he had two heads. “Are you nuts dad? Give one away?” I asked. Well, when I failed to understand what they were getting at, my dad and uncle suggested, “Wouldn’t it be nice to give one to Mr. Mahovlich.” “Uhhh no dad, it wouldn’t!” I professed. “He’s his dad for crying out loud, he can see him in person anytime he wants. This is for me!!!” Anyways, I lost that discussion, as my dad and my uncle were planning on giving one of the posters to Mr. Mahovlich all along.
We got in the car and headed to Leaside Arena. One more desperate plea from me: “If Mr. Mahovlich isn’t there, can I keep both?” Of course he was there. As we approached the skate shop, my dad handed me the poster. I handed it to Mr. Mahovlich. I remember he smiled and patted me on the head. He turned around and immediately hung that poster on the wall in his shop, along side a few hockey cards and newspaper clippings of Frank. That poster hung in his shop until he retired. Recently, his grandson Ted told me he has a photograph of his grandfather in front of his shop with my gift poster in the background. I went home and did the same thing on my bedroom wall.
I loved that poster. I knew then and there I was hooked, but I had no idea what was in store for the next 50 years!