Thursday, April 30, 2015

The True Story of Toronto's Island Ghost

They say that on some dark nights, as an eerie mist creeps over the Toronto islands, you can still hear him moaning somewhere in the distance. On others, you might hear him walking up the steps of the old lighthouse, even though there's no one there — or see a ghostly light shining up top, even when the lantern isn't lit. Sometimes, you might find his fresh blood spilled on those old wooden stairs. Or even catch a glimpse of him yourself: a spectre stalking through the undergrowth, or wandering the paths around the lighthouse, bloodied and beaten, his arms missing. They say he's the ghost of Toronto's first lightkeeper and that he's searching for the pieces of his body that were hacked off more than two hundred years ago and buried somewhere in the sand.

The story of John Paul Radelmüller came to a bloody end in Toronto, but it began more than six thousand kilometers away — in the royal courts of Europe.

He was born in Bavaria — which is part of Germany now — in the town of Anspach, not far from Frankfurt. This was in the middle of the 1700s. Back then, the British royal family were all from Germany. King George II had been born in Hanover; Queen Caroline came from the very same town where Radelmüller grew up. And even though they were ruling England, the royal family kept close ties to their homeland. Many of their servants were German, too.

That's how Radelmüller ended up in England. He was a teenager when he got a job as a royal servant during the reign of "Mad" King George III: he attended to the king's younger brother, Prince William. But as luxurious as the royal quarters were, it can't have been an entirely easy life. The king was suffering from bouts of severe mental illness and frequently clashed with the prince. At the same time, the prince's son was such a jerk that even members of his own family called him "The Contagion". After sixteen years serving the prince, Radelmüller finally quit. He headed back home to Bavaria to become a farmer. 

But this was 1798. The French Revolution had plunged Europe into decades of chaos and war. Radelmüller's farm was caught right in the middle. He was forced to flee, becoming a refugee. Knowing he would be welcome back in England, he returned to the royal court.

Prince Edward
This time, he served as a porter to one of the "mad" king's sons: Prince Edward. The Prince Edward. The father of Queen Victoria. The guy Prince Edward Island and Prince Edward County are named after.

Edward was a huuuuuge fan of Canada. In fact, he's the very first person who ever used the word "Canadians" to refer to both anglophones and francophones. By the time Radelmüller joined his staff, the prince had already spent years living in Québec and in Nova Scotia; he was only back home in England to recover after falling off his horse. Soon, he headed back across the Atlantic to Halifax. And his new porter went with him.

It didn't take long for Radelmüller to fall in love with Canada, too. When Prince Edward fell ill and was forced to return home to Britain, Radelmüller stayed at his side — but he came back to Canada as soon as he got the chance. He landed a gig as a steward for the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.

Still, he dreamed of becoming a farmer again. Someone had told him the best farmland was far to the west, in the brand new province of Upper Canada. He was determined to make a new life for himself out here on the Canadian frontier. And no one was going to stop him. The Governor was reluctant to let him go — promising to give him letters of recommendation and then holding them hostage at the very last moment, hoping his trusted steward could be convinced to stay on for another year. But Radelmüller's belongings had already been loaded onto a ship ready to set sail. So he left anyway, making the grueling five-week trip up the St. Lawrence in the dead of winter.

Radelmüller arrived in Toronto on New Year's Day in 1804. He knew nobody. He had no job. No land. No letters of introduction. It wouldn't be easy. Our city was still just the tiny little town of York back then. The population was still counted in the hundreds. It had only been ten years since John Graves Simcoe and his British soldiers had first arrived to carve the muddy capital out of the ancient forest towering over the northern shore of Lake Ontario. This was still very much the frontier.

But Radelmüller succeeded anyway. First, he headed north up Yonge Street to Markham, founding a school where he taught English to the Germans who had recently settled there. Before long, he was recognized as their official translator for all government business.  

Soon, there would be an even better opportunity.

Toronto Harbour, 1793
Simcoe had picked this spot as the place to build his city because of the Toronto islands. Back then, they were still connected to the mainland: they were just one big, long, sandy peninsula stretching out from a marsh where the Port Lands are today. The sandbar wouldn't become an island until a big storm created the eastern gap in the 1850s. The peninsula created a natural harbour with only one way in: through the narrow western gap. That entrance would be easy to defend. In fact, Simcoe was so excited that he called the spot Gibraltar Point — named after the rocky fortress at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Simcoe declared that a lighthouse was one of the very first buildings they should build in Toronto. Right there on Gibraltar Point.

About ten years later, construction finally began on the south-west corner of the sandbar. The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was the very first permanent lighthouse built anywhere on the Great Lakes. It was the first stone building in Toronto. When it opened in 1808, it towered over the beach right next to the water, stretching sixteen meters into the air. That's about five storeys. It would be the tallest building in our city for almost fifty years. At the base, the walls are nearly two meters thick, built of limestone shipped north across the lake from a quarry at Queenston — high on the heights at Niagara, which you can still see from Toronto on a clear day. At the top of the lighthouse, a bright lantern shone out as a beacon to the ships sailing through the dark waters at night. It burned two hundred gallons of sperm whale oil every year.

As Toronto's first lightkeeper, Radelmüller's job was to light the lamp every evening and extinguish it at dawn. Plus, he would be in charge of signaling the city every time a big ship pulled into the harbour. He flew a Union Jack for every vessel arriving from Kingston. And the British Red Ensign for ships sailing north from Niagara. (That's the flag you can see in the painting at the top of this post.)

He lived in a small wooden cabin next to the lighthouse. And soon, he was joined there by his family. A couple of years into his new job, Radelmüller married his wife, Magdalena. The wedding was held at Toronto's first church: St James', a little wooden building at King & Church Streets — the same spot where St. James' Cathedral stands now. Before long, they had a daughter: little Arabella was born.

Detail from a Canada Post stamp
It was a quiet, peaceful life. At least at first. They say Radelmüller even made some extra money on the side by brewing beer in the German style he'd learned to make back home. But it didn't take long for the chaos that had driven him out of Germany to find him far on this side of the Atlantic. The wars sparked by the French Revolution led to the rise of Napoleon. And while the might of the British Empire was distracted by the tiny French Emperor, the Americans seized their opportunity. They invaded Canada. The War of 1812 had begun. Just a few short years after Radelmüller had started his new job as our city's first lightkeeper, Toronto was in the middle of a war zone.

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was suddenly even more important. The Great Lakes were a key battleground. Control of Lake Ontario was most important of all. Keeping the British fleet safe from the treacherous shoals near the harbour was an essential job — one lost ship could turn the tide of the entire war. And it seems that Radelmüller was up to the task, playing his vital role far out on his lonely sandbar as the war dragged on for nearly three years.

Tragically, he wouldn't live to see the end of it. On Christmas Eve of 1814, a peace treaty was finally signed. But negotiations were held in Belgium, which meant that it would take weeks for the news to cross the ocean and finally reach Toronto. By the time it did, Radelmüller was already dead. He'd been murdered.

It happened after dark on the second day of 1815. The story of that terrible winter night has been told over and over again, passed down from one generation of Torontonians to the next over the course of the last two hundred years. The details are vague; there are many different versions of the tale. But it goes something like this:

Radelmüller and his family weren't the only ones on the sandbar. Hunters and fishermen used it too. First Nations families occasionally camped nearby. And not far from the lighthouse, there was a new military blockhouse. To this day we still call that spot on the islands "Blockhouse Bay". It was built during the War of 1812, armed with a gun designed to the protect our harbour against the Americans. And it was manned by soldiers from Fort York. They spent most of their time keeping watch and preparing for an attack. But they were also friendly with the lightkeeper. Sometimes, they'd row down Blockhouse Bay to visit the lighthouse and drink some of Radelmüller's beer.

On that cold January night at the very beginning of 1815, two of those soldiers came for a visit. They were called John Henry and John Blowman. At first, everything seemed to be going well. They all drank long into the night. But at some point, Radelmüller decided the soldiers had had enough. He cut them off. And that's went everything went horribly wrong.

CBC Archives
The soldiers were angry; they got violent. One took off his belt, the other grabbed a rock, and together they attacked the lightkeeper. Radelmüller ran, bleeding and afraid, scrambling up the steps of the lighthouse in a desperate bid to escape. But the soldiers followed, relentless. They broke down the door and chased him up the narrow wooden stairs to the very top of the lighthouse. That's where the lightkeeper made his last stand: up there, high above the ground as his flaming beacon shone out across the dark lake. There was a final skirmish. Radelmüller was pushed over the railing and fell to his death. It was over. The lightkeeper lay still.

The two soldiers knew they were in deep trouble. The penalty for murder was death. And so, they worked quickly to cover up their crime. They found an axe and used it to hack the body into pieces, severing the limbs. Then, they buried what was left of John Paul Radelmüller, bit by bit, in a series of shallow graves dug in the frozen sand. Their grisly job finished, they ran. 

That, it seems, was a mistake. It was more than a little suspicious: disappearing the very same night the lightkeeper did. Less than two weeks later, the York Gazette announced their arrest. "From circumstances there is moral proof of [Radelmüller] having been murdered," the paper reported. "If the horrid crime admits of aggravation when the inoffensive and benevolent character of the unfortunate sufferer are considered, his murder will be pronounced most barbarous and inhuman. The parties lost with him are the proposed perpetrators and are in prison."

It took more than two months for the case to come to trial. When it did, the soldiers were acquitted. There was little evidence. No one had ever found the body. There would be no justice for the lightkeeper.

And so, his soul was doomed to haunt his lighthouse for the rest of eternity.

At least, that's what people like to say. The details, as you might imagine, are more than a little bit sketchy — right down to the inconsistent spelling of Radelmüller's name. It's hard to find a single record of anyone who has ever claimed to have actually seen the ghost. Even the story of the murder itself is hard to verify. The tale was passed down from one generation of lightkeepers to the next. The first concrete record of the story seems to have been written down by the Toronto newspaperman and historian John Ross Robertson — but that was a hundred years after the killing took place. It was told to him by another lightkeeper at Gibraltar Point — George Durnan — whose family manned the lighthouse for more than seventy years (from the 1830s right up until 1908). Durnan didn't mention a ghost at all. And Robertson suspected that even the murder had probably never happened. He found no record of the crime in the archives of the York Gazette. "There is no doubt that it has been garnished in the telling," he admitted. "It may be a fairy tale..."

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, 1900
Decades later, the last of the island lightkeepers — a woman with the awesome name of Dedie Dodds — spoke to the CBC. "There may be a ghost," she told them, but there were plenty of rational explanations for everything. "The cooing of the pigeons is very eerie on a dark night. And the wind howling through the lighthouse gives you the shivers. When the moon is full, it's reflected back from the top of the lighthouse." Just a few months earlier, even she had been momentarily fooled. "It gave me quite a start."

Still, it made for a very good story. And Durnan did claim to have found a piece of related evidence. He said that one day, he went looking for Radelmüller's remains around the spot he'd been told he could find them. There, buried in a shallow grave about a hundred and fifty meters to the west of the lighthouse, he found a coffin. Inside, there was a human jawbone.

It was all more than enough to fuel the legend. By the time Dodds became the lightkeeper in the 1950s, the phantom had become part of the myth — and the grisly tale of the haunted lighthouse had become one of Toronto's most beloved ghost stories. In fact, by the end of that decade, it would earn official recognition. After a century and a half of continuous service, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was finally going to be decommissioned. To honour the old building's new life as an historical monument, a new plaque was going to be erected. 

The Ontario Archaeological and Historical Sites Advisory Board decided to include the ghost story as part of the official story of the building. It was the final sentence on the new plaque:

"The mysterious disappearance of its first keeper, J.P. Rademuller, in 1815 and the subsequent discovery nearby of part of a human skeleton enhanced its reputation as a haunted building."

That line sparked a heated battle. The Advisory Board might like it, but the Metro Toronto Parks Committee disagreed. The councillors on the committee were appalled by the idea that such fantastical nonsense was going to be officially recognized. One councillor dismissed the story of Radelmüller's ghost as "a myth... an old wives' tale" unworthy of inclusion on a plaque. "I can't see it would make the place attractive to children," another councillor worried, completely misunderstanding children. Even the Metro Chairman himself, Fred Gardiner, the guy the highway is named after, weighed in. "That," he declared, "would only scare people."

The plaque in 2015 (photo by me)
But the Advisory Board refused to back down. The plaque went up anyway and the story of Radelmüller's ghost was preserved. Today, you can still find it there on the side of the lighthouse, giving the people of Toronto a colourful connection to one of our most interesting — but most easily forgotten — landmarks.

Today, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse anywhere on the Great Lakes. Some people consider it to be the oldest in all of Canada. The only older lighthouse is in Nova Scotia — but it's been repaired and renovated so much that even Lighthouse Digest suggests that it might not really count anymore.

For more than two hundred years, our first lighthouse has kept watch over our city. It's the oldest building in Toronto that still stands in the same place where it was originally built. It has borne witness to all of our greatest and more terrible moments. It saw the American invasion during the War of 1812. The raging storm that turned the sandbar into the islands. The Great Fires of 1849 and of 1904. The arrival of the first steamships and of the first trains. It has helped thousands of sailors bring thousands of ships safely into our harbour, carrying countless new Canadians into our city to make this place their home. Once the tallest building in Toronto, the lighthouse has watched our skyline grow into one of the most impressive in the world, topped by one of the tallest buildings humanity has ever built.

It's easy to forget the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, out there alone on the island. The light was turned off long ago. The cottages where the lightkeepers and their families once lived have now all been demolished. The shoreline has evolved, grown with silt, moved more than a hundred meters away. Even with an 1830s extension taking it another few meters into the air, the lighthouse has nearly disappeared among the trees. It has been swallowed up by the same city it helped bring to life.

But the story of the lightkeeper's ghost helps us to remember — to remember not just the history of that building, but of what this place used to be.

Today, the guardian of the lighthouse is a volunteer. His name is Manuel Cappel. He too is from Germany, just like Radelmüller was. He lives on the islands, where he also builds bicycles; he used to run the Rectory Café. Torontonians today ask him the very same question they've been asking the island lightkeepers for generations now: is the lighthouse really haunted?

He gives them the same answer he gives everyone. An answer that couldn't be more true.

"It is," he tells them, "if you want it to be."


A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead
Coming September 2017

Pre-order from Amazon, Indigo, or your favourite bookseller
The story of Toronto's island ghost will appear in The Toronto Book of the Dead, coming from Dundurn Press in the fall of 2017.

Edward Butts uncovered much of Radelmüller's true history in his book Murder: Twelve True Stories of Homicide in Canada. You can borrow it from the Toronto Public Library here, or buy it from Dundurn Press here.

The story of the lighthouse and its ghost has been told many, many times. Gary Miedema told it for Spacing. Chris Bateman told it for blogTO. Jordan Pipher told it for the Hogtown Crier. Sarah B. Hood told it for Adventures in Upper Canada. Jacqueline Martinz told it for Torontoist. Wikipedia tells it here. Lighthouse Digest tells it here. Urban Toronto tells it here, with an assist from Heritage Toronto. The Friends of Toronto Islands tell it here. The Toronto & Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Society tells it here. A TV show called Creepy Canada told their own version of the story, which you can watch on YouTube here

John Ross Roberton's original version appeared in volume two of his "Landmarks of Toronto" books. You can find in online thanks to here

The Ontario Catholic Paranormal Research Society (which seeks to either debunk ghost stories, or re-contextualize them as religious events) did their own investigation of the lighthouse. They found no evidence of paranormal activity and raise many of the most convincing doubts about the story of Radelmüller's ghost here.

The Toronto Star talks to the current guardian of the lighthouse, Manuel Cappel, here. And in PDFs, which I think you're able to access if you have a Toronto Public Library card here and here. You can check out the website for his bike-building business here.

The Star also covered the story of the battle over the plaque here. And they talk to Dedie Dodds here.

The CBC talked to Dedie Dodds and a member of the Durnan family in the 1950s. You can watch that video online here

The main image is a slightly cropped version of "View of York" which was painted in 1816ish by Robert Irvine. It's on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario and has been featured on their website here

The old map of the harbour comes from the awesome Historical Maps of Toronto site here. And the photo of the lighthouse in the year 1900 comes from the Toronto Public Library's digital archives here.

This post is related to dream
25 The Lightkeepers' Daughter
Arabella Radelmüller, 1815

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Dreams Project in the New Issue of Spacing

Spring is finally here, which means the new issue of Spacing magazine is too. And since thisissue includes one of my own pieces, I thought I'd write a quick note to let you know about it. The theme of the cover section this month is the sky. Which made it a perfect fit for a version of my post about the day in the fall of 1950 when the sun went weird in the skies above Toronto:

"The sun was most ominous of all. For most of the day, it was hidden behind those dark, swirling, purple clouds. But in the few brief moments when it did shine out from between them, it was shining the wrong colour: a frightening blue-mauve. It cast no shadows. And it shone with no rays."

The launch party for the issue is happening on Tuesday night, April 28th from 7pm to midnight at the Jam Factory on the east bank of the Don River, which is supposed to have a spectacular view of the skyline. It's $10 — which includes a copy of the magazine and $5 for FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), which helps to save birds from flying into windows.

You'll find all the details on Facebook, here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

An Illustrated History of Baseball in Toronto

No one knows exactly when baseball was born. There's a bullshit story about an American war hero, Abner Doubleday, inventing the game in the 1830s, but that's a lie. What we do know is that by the end of the 1850s, baseball had already arrived in Toronto. That's when the Globe wrote about a local team practicing every Monday afternoon on the U of T grounds. But back then, many Torontonians still sneered at the new sport — they dismissed it as a sandlot game played by "undesirables." Cricket and lacrosse were much more respectable. And they were much more popular, too.

That didn't last long. Soon, baseball had established itself as one of the most popular games in the city. Local teams were beginning to win followings. In the 1870s, the Toronto Dauntless played a home game at the Toronto Cricket Club (it was at the Grange; the field was nicknamed "The Taddle" after nearby Taddle Creek). Meanwhile, the Toronto Clippers played at Queen's Park. Finally, in the 1880s, our city got our very first professional team. They were originally called the Toronto Baseball Club — they would dominate professional baseball in Toronto for the next eighty years.

Baseball was still so new back then that some of the rules were still being worked out. A pitcher needed four strikes to retire a batter. He could throw five balls before giving up a walk and he was allowed to hit the batter with a pitch. Umpires asked players and fans for their advice. Sacrifice flies didn't exist yet. And it was only now that they started making home plates out of rubber instead of marble.

The Torontos, as they were called, first played at the Jarvis Street Lacrosse Grounds (near Church & Wellesley, where Barbara Hall Park is now). But soon they had their own brand new stadium on a spot overlooking the Don Valley. Spectators could walk in off Queen Street or ride up in their carriages and park their horses on the grounds. Admission was a quarter — or an extra ten cents to sit in the best seats in the house. The sheltered grandstand had enough room for more than 2,000 people. It was originally known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, but it would soon be nicknamed Sunlight Park in honour of the nearby Sunlight Soap Works factory. When the stadium opened in 1886, even the Lieutenant Governor came to see the first game. Someone in his entourage had their hat knocked off by a foul ball.

Location of Sunlight Park (via "What sports stadiums used to look like in Toronto" on blogTO)
The Torontos were one of the founding members of a brand new league. It featured teams from Canada and the north-eastern United States, so they called it the International League. It would eventually grow to become one of baseball's official Minor Leagues. It's still around today. The Blue Jays' AAA team, the Buffalo Bisons, are part of it. 

It didn't take long for the Torontos to make their mark. In their second year in Sunlight Park, they were stacked with star players. Outfielder Mike Slattery stole 112 bases, which is still the International League record. The ace of the pitching staff was a giant of a man: Cannonball Crane. He won 33 games that year — more than any other pitcher has ever won on any Toronto team — and he was also the league's best hitter. (His .428 batting average is still considered to be the best by a pitcher in professional baseball history.) On the final weekend of the season, Crane pitched three times in two days and hit a game-winning home run. It was enough to clinch the pennant. More than a hundred years before Joe Carter hit his famous blast at the SkyDome, Toronto had won our very first baseball championship.

Players from the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club: Mike Slattery, Harry Decker and Cannonball Crane

By the end of the 1800s, the Torontos had a new name: they now called themselves the Toronto Maple Leafs (four decades before the city's hockey team started calling themselves the same thing). Under the new moniker, they quickly grew into one of the most successful teams in all of Minor League Baseball history. Five of their squads are included on the official MLB list of the top 100 greatest Minor League teams ever. And at least a dozen of their players would eventually end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Leafs were now owned by the Toronto Ferry Company, who were always looking for new ways to lure customers to the islands. (The guy who owned the business, Lol Solman, was the brother-in-law and business partner of the famous rower Ned Hanlan, whose family had been living on the island for years.) The Toronto Ferry Company already owned an old timey amusement park at Hanlan's Point and the beautiful Hotel Hanlan. Now, they added a sports stadium to their empire — it was at Hanlan's Point that the Toronto Maple Leafs played most of their home games for the next thirty years.

You can see the stadium here, built right beside the Circle Swing ride. It also doubled as a venue for lacrosse:

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1905-1910 (via Wikipedia)

And in this photo of a ballgame played at an earlier version of the same stadium in 1897, you can still see evidence of the old Victorian era rules. The umpire stood behind the pitcher — not behind the catcher, like they do today. And there was no mound either — the pitchers threw off flat ground:

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1897 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

In another photo from 1907ish, you can see the city's skyline in the background as well as the Circle Swing and some of the other rides

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1907ish (via the Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada)

While in this photo of the same view in 1908, you can see the Union Jack flying on the right:

But my favourite photo of Hanlan's Point Stadium is probably this one from Opening Day in 1908. (You can click it to enlarge it — and the other photos, too.) On the left, you can see the sails of a few ships just barely poking up above the grandstand. On the right, you can see the championship pennant flapping in the breeze, with a roller coaster called the "Royal George Scenic Railway" to the right of that. Fans were allowed to spill out onto the edges of the field back then; the women in the crowd are standing in the shade of their big Edwardian hats.

Hanlan's Point Stadium, Opening Day 1908 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)
Of course, fans who went to see games at Hanlan's Point were pretty much forced to take the Toronto Ferry Company's ferries. The fleet included the brand new Trillium, which — amazingly — is still in service today. Here it is back around 1913, in the days when the Maple Leafs were still playing on the island:

The Trillium, 1913 (via the Toronto Archives)

But the island wasn't the only place the Leafs played their home games back then. In the very early 1900s, they also spent a few seasons playing at Diamond Park. It was on the mainland, where Liberty Village is now:

Diamond Park, 1900-1907ish (via the Toronto Public Library)
Diamond Park, Opening Day 1907 (via the Toronto Public Library)

And it was a good thing the Leafs had a back-up ballpark, because Hanlan's Point Stadium was made of wood. It burned down twice — the second time, in 1909, it took the amusement park and the hotel with it:

Hanlan's Point Fire of 1909 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

The Hanlan's Point Fire of 1909 (via the Toronto Archives)

This time, Hanlan's Point Stadium was rebuilt in concrete and iron. When it first opened, it was hailed as the biggest ballpark in all of the Minor Leagues. It boasted 18,000 seats, which is almost as many as the Air Canada Centre has today. Over the next few years, it witnessed some of the greatest moments in Toronto baseball history. The Leafs won two more championships and featured future Hall of Famers like second baseman Nap Lajoie (one of the best ever) and the slap-hitting outfielder Wee Willie Keeler (whose famous saying "Hit 'em where they ain't" is still a staple of baseball broadcasts more than a century later).

The new island stadium was also where a young pitcher for the Providence Grays hit his very first professional home run. His name was Babe Ruth. They say his blast soared over the fence and splashed into Lake Ontario.

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1918ish
The amusement park was rebuilt too. The Circle Swing ride wasn't in service any more, but it was at least partially salvaged from the fire. When the new stadium was built, the old ride was re-purposed as a monument, standing guard outside the ballpark, where they lit it up at night. It beats the hell out of a stupid Ted Rogers statue:

Hanlan's Point Stadium, after 1910 (via Chuckman's postcard blog)
And just over the right-field fence, you could still find part of a roller coaster:

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1919 (via the Toronto Archives)

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1912ish (via the Toronto Archives)
Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1910 (via the Toronto Archives)
Hanlan's Point Stadium, Opening Day 1910ish (via the Toronto Archives)
Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1931 (via the Toronto Archives)

Here, off to the left, you can see the Circle Swing lit up with lights:

Hanlan's Point Stadium, 1928 (via the Toronto Archives)
Hanlan's Point, 1919 (via the Toronto Public Library)

1899 score card (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)
Toronto Maple Leafs, 1897 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

Baseball was now big business, but the game still hadn't left the city's sandlots behind. All over Toronto in the early decades of the 1900s, children and adults still played on countless local teams in countless leagues — some professionally, some just for fun, some with their co-workers from offices and factories — and in countless pick-up games in the city's parks, streets, empty lots and backyards. Just like they do today.

They played at Christie Pits (which we still called Willowvale Park back then):

Christie Pits, 1922 (via the Toronto Archives)
Christie Pits, 1920 (via the Toronto Archives)

Christie Pits, 1920 (via the Toronto Archives)

They played at Riverdale Park, on the banks of the Don River, not far from where Sunlight Park once stood:

Riverdale Park, 1930ish (via the Toronto Archives)

Riverdale Park, 1914 (via the Toronto Archives)
Riverdale Park, 1915 (via the Toronto Archives)

They played beside the ferry docks at Bayside Park (which we call Harbour Square Park now):

Bayside Park, 1923 (via the Toronto Archives)

And at the Perth Avenue Playground (in what we now call the Junction Triangle): 

Perth Avenue Playground, 1915 (via the Toronto Archives)

Perth Avenue Playground, 1915 (via the Toronto Archives)

They played on Deforest Road in Swansea:

Deforest Road, 1900 (via the Toronto Public Library)

And in High Park:

High Park, 1922 (via the Toronto Archives)

High Park, 1933 (via the Toronto Archives)
And at Sunnyside, too:

Sunnyside, 1924 (via the Toronto Archives)

And it wasn't just men and boys anymore. Back in baseball's earliest days, girls weren't supposed to play. Physical activity was seen as dangerous and inappropriate for women. But times had changed. Now, Toronto's women and girls were picking up bats and balls, forming their own teams and their own leagues, drawing their own big crowds:

1924ish (via the Toronto Archives)
1918 (via the Toronto Archives)
The East Riverdale East Juvenile Baseball Champions, 1923 (via the Toronto Archives)

Even Miss Toronto got in on the action. In 1937, the winner of the beauty pageant was a teenaged softball pitcher from the Beaches. The night Billie Hallam won, a police escort raced her from the pageant to a ball game at Kew Gardens and then back to a banquet at the Royal York. ("[T]here is nothing like exercise and sport," she told the press, "to make a girl a real lady.") The next time she returned to the mound, a crowd of ten thousand people was there to see her pitch — the most ever for a game at Kew Gardens. At one point, she even did a photo shoot wearing her uniform:

Billie Hallam, 1937 (via the Toronto Archives)

Billie Hallam, 1937 (via the Toronto Archives)

That very same year, Hanlan's Point Stadium was demolished. But by then, the Toronto Maple Leafs were already long gone. They had a new home.

Maple Leaf Stadium was the city's biggest ballpark yet: with more than 20,000 seats, it was bigger than the biggest Minor League stadiums are today. It was designed in the 1920s by the architects at Chapman & Oxley — the same firm responsible for many other 1920s lake shore icons: the Palais Royale, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and the Princes' Gates. It took a hundred and fifty construction workers and fifty teams of horses to build it. But the entire thing went up in just one off-season, with the crews working right to the very last minute.

This photo was taken just a few weeks before the stadium opened in 1926:

Maple Leaf Stadium, March 6 1926 (via the Toronto Archives)

And this one was taken three days before the first game:

Maple Leaf Stadium, April 26 1926 (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium under construction, 1926 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

Maple Leaf Stadium ready to open, 1926 (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

The elegant Maple Leaf Stadium would stand at the foot of Bathurst Street for the next forty years — it was the last home the Leafs would ever know. They won six more championships in that building. And they welcomed even more future Hall of Famers onto their rosters: players like the slugger Ralph Kiner and the pitcher Carl Hubbell (who once famously struck out five future Hall of Famers in a row at an All-Star Game, starting with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig). One of Toronto's second basemen, Sparky Anderson, became the manager of the team in the 1960s — it was the first gig in a managing career that would land him in the Hall of Fame, too. Meanwhile, some of the biggest giants in baseball history came by for a visit: Branch Rickey threw out the first pitch when the stadium first opened; Major League Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had stopped by, too. Ty Cobb got the very last hit of his career in an exhibition game against Toronto at Maple Leaf Stadium in 1928.

Opening Day, in particular, was a party. Players had paraded through the streets of Toronto before their first home game of every season since all the way back in the 1800s. And the tradition continued at Maple Leaf Stadium. In 1960, for instance, the players met fans at the King Edward Hotel the night before. Then, on the afternoon of the game, they paraded up Bay Street from the lake to Old City Hall. They rode in convertibles, joined by four bands, baton twirlers and colour guards. Mayor Nathan Phillips was there waiting to meet them. He declared it to be "Baseball Day" in Toronto. Then everyone headed over to the stadium.

Jim Hunt wrote about it for the Toronto Daily Star: "Opening day is the most wonderful of the year. Fans who may not go to another game will be there. School kids who have buried a grandmother for the past five seasons will have another funeral tomorrow. And spring will have arrived. Officially, it came on March 21 but for a baseball fan it isn't spring until the ump bawls: 'Play ball' at Maple Leaf Stadium."

Maple Leaf Stadium, 1929 (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium, Coronation Day 1937 (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium, Opening Day 1961 (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium, Opening Day 1961 (via the Toronto Archives)
Maple Leaf Stadium, 195something (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

Maple Leaf Stadium, 1940s or '50s (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium (via the Toronto Archives)

Maple Leaf Stadium (via the Toronto Archives)

The 1926 Toronto Maple Leafs (via Mop Up Duty)

Program, 1946 (via Mop Up Duty)
Here, you can see some familiar Toronto institutions advertising on the outfield wall. There are three  in a row, left to right: the Horseshoe Tavern, Loblaws, and Tip Top Tailors. You can also see that the fans were still allowed to spill into the outfield. Some are sitting where the warning track would be today; others are perched atop the wall itself:

Maple Leaf Stadium (via the Toronto Archives)

When the Maple Leafs' reached their Diamond Jubilee, they got a new mascot: a cartoon of an old timey baseball player called Handlebar Hank. You could find him on the sleeves of their uniforms for a while, and towering over the main entrance to the stadium:

Handlebar Hank (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

Outside the stadium, you would find the familiar chaos of traffic jams, parking frenzies and crowds:

Maple Leaf Stadium, 1932ish (via the Toronto Archives)

Crowds outside the stadium, post-war (via "Baseball's back in town" by Louis Cauz)

Maple Leaf Stadium, 1956 (via the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America)

Maple Leaf Stadium (via Digital Ballparks)

While the stadium might be gone today, many of the neighbourhood's landmarks are still there. Next door, the Tip Top Tailors building has been turned into condos. Across Fleet Street, the old Loblaws warehouse is now being turned into a new store and some more condos. And the silos of the old Canada Malting complex (behind the outfield wall, next to the lake) are still there today, too:

Maple Leaf Stadium (via High On History)

During the Maple Leaf Stadium years, the International League expanded to become even more international. In the 1950s, the Leafs made regular trips all the way down to Cuba to take on the Havana Sugar Kings. (They were part of the league until the early 1960s, when the JFK administration brought in the embargo against Castro's regime.) For a while, there was a team in San Juan, Puerto Rico, too.

But the International League's greatest moment came in the 1940s. All the way back in 1887 — the year Toronto won their first championship — they'd made history by becoming the first baseball league to officially ban Black players. Now, they were on the right side of history. In 1946, the Montreal Royals signed a new player by the name of Jackie Robinson. He played his first professional games for them in the International League, including some at Maple Leaf Stadium. He led the league in hitting that year and led the Royals to the championship. The next year, he became the very first player to break Major League Baseball's colour barrier.

Jackie Robinson, 1946 (via Cooperstown in Canada)

In the 1950s, the Maple Leafs got a new owner, too. This guy in the tie, Jack Kent Cooke:

Jack Kent Cooke (left, via the Toronto Archives)

Cooke grew up in the Beaches, went to Malvern Collegiate and started his career by selling encyclopedias. But before long, he had landed a media job under Roy Thomson; by the time he turned 30, he'd already made his first million. Eventually, he would go on to own the L.A. Lakers, the L.A. Kings, the L.A. Daily News, and the racistly-named football team in Washington. He even bought the Chrysler Building in New York City. He owned it until the day he died.

When he took over the Leafs, they were struggling. Attendance was down; the teams were terrible. But Cooke turned it all around, investing in star players and doing everything he could to make Maple Leaf Stadium the place to be, no matter how crazy his ideas might seem. There were raffles. Giveaways. Free hot dog promotions. Celebrity guests. Ladies' nights. Family nights. Cheerleaders. Flagpole sitters. Fireworks. One night, they gave away a pony. Another day, there was a diaper-changing contest held at home plate. Players were drafted into a cow-milking competition. If you brought a black cat to the stadium on Friday the 13th, you got free tickets. And it all worked like a charm. Attendance doubled, setting a new Minor League record. Cooke was named Minor League Executive of the Year. The team even started winning pennants again.

But Cooke's big dream was to bring a Major League Baseball team to Toronto. People had been talking about it ever since the 1800s. Even Al Spalding, the founder of the National League, had suggested it. And Cooke was determined to finally make it happen. Every time a Major League team was struggling, or thinking about moving to a new city, there he was with his cheque book in his hand. He tried to buy the Braves. The Orioles. The A's. The Tigers. When that didn't work, he tried to land an expansion franchise. But he was foiled at every turn.

Eventually, he gave up. He moved to Los Angeles and sold the Leafs. It was the death knell for the franchise. They would only last another three years. After eight decades as the biggest baseball team in Toronto, the Maple Leafs were finished. They moved to Louisville in 1967. Maple Leaf Stadium was demolished in 1968. Today, there are condos and a gas station where it once stood.

But Cooke wasn't the only one who dreamed of bringing Major League Baseball to Toronto.

In the 1970s, there was a new ownership group who followed in his footsteps. Labatt teamed up with CIBC and the head of the Globe and Mail. They were planning to buy the San Francisco Giants and move them to Toronto. In 1976, the deal was done. They'd even renovated Exhibition Stadium to accommodate the new team. But then the mayor of San Francisco stepped in. There was a court case. San Francisco won. The Giants stayed where they were.

But the dream still wasn't dead. There was one more chance. The Major Leagues were expanding; they were going to add two more teams the following year. One would end up in Seattle. The other, it seemed, would come down to Washington or Toronto — with President Gerald Ford lobbying hard on behalf of the American capital.

He lost.

On April 7, 1977, it was snowing in Toronto. But no one cared. More than 40,000 people made the trek down to crappy old Exhibition Stadium on the CNE Grounds. They packed the bleachers overlooking the artificial turf, huddling against the cold while a Zamboni borrowed from Maple Leaf Gardens cleared the snow off the field. Mayor David Crombie was there that day. So was Foster Hewitt. All over the country, people tuned into the CBC to watch Anne Murray sing "O Canada". And then, for the very first time, the Toronto Blue Jays took the field.

Ten years after the death of the Maple Leafs, baseball was back in Toronto. And the rest, as they say, is history:

Exhibition Stadium, Opening Day 1977 (via the Globe and Mail)

The Toronto Star celebrates Opening Day 1977 (via Berger Bites)

George Bell and the Blue Jays clinch their first pennant, 1985 (via the Blue Jay Hunter)

SkyDome under construction (via The Grid)
SkyDome under construction (via

Skydome Opening Day, 1989 (via Blue Jays Fans)

Joe Carter and the Blue Jays win their first World Series, 1992 (via Sportsnet)

Joe Carter's home run wins the 1993 World Series at the SkyDome


I've also written about Nap Lajoie, Toronto's greatest second baseman ever, and the 1887 Toronto Baseball Club, who brought home our city's very first baseball championship

The most extensive history of baseball in Toronto was written by Louis Cauz in "Baseball's back in town", which you can borrow from the Toronto Public Library here, or buy from Amazon here.

The Torontoist guys have a whole whack of Historicist articles about the history of baseball in Toronto. Kevin Plummer writes about Jack Kent Cooke here, about Lol Solman here, about Billie Hallam here, about old timey Maple Leaf tobacco cards here, about the Toronto-born Arthur Irwin, baseball player and polygamist here, and about the amateur Toronto Oslers turning pro here. Meanwhile, Jamie Bradburn writes about Toronto's long road to a domed stadium here and he has a brand new post about the first Opening Day at Maple Leaf Stadium here.

Over on blogTO, Chris Bateman has a brand new post about those 1887 champions here. And Derek Flack's has an old post about "What sports stadiums used to look like in Toronto" here.

The Washington Post has more about Jack Kent Cooke here. And the American National Biography Online has more here.

You can learn more about the history of the International League here. And more about the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park from Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada here.

The New York Times wrote about Toronto and baseball just before the 1992 World Series here. The Atlanta Constitution newspaper got all ethnocentric about it, running the big headline, "This is OUR game!" More than 20 years after the Jays beat them for the championship, they still have a team so racist that their big cheer is the unbelievably offensive "tomahawk chop".

There's more about about the Toronto Cricket Club thanks to Edgar A. Bracht in this PDF.

And over on Mop Up Duty, Daperman shares his own personal memories of Maple Leaf Stadium here.