|Bill Ballard, right, holds his foot against those of father Harold Ballard former head of the Toronto Maple Leafs - on October 5, 2010. (Michael Peake/QMI AGENCY)
TORONTO - In terms of Hockey Hall of Fame memorabilia, this would rank up there with the machine you put your ticket stub in.
It’s a concrete slab.
The slab, once part of a new ice pad poured in 1983 at Maple Leaf Gardens, was unveiled outside the venerable Toronto arena on Tuesday.
What was supposedly special about this concrete slab, as opposed to other concrete slabs (which usually aren’t that compelling), was that Harold Ballard, the late owner of the Maple Leafs, had added his hand and footprints in the concrete, along with an inscription — an inscription that was being kept secret until the unveiling. (Later, the slab was being donated to the HHOF).
Given Ballard’s sense of mischief and cantankerousness, speculation was running high that the inscription would be something good, something racy or ridiculous, something that matched Ballard’s larger-than-life personality. Something along the lines of: ‘Please drop this on the Gorbachev’s head’ (Ballard didn’t like Russians).
Alas, the slab was a big letdown, as concrete slabs tend to be.
The inscription was nothing more than Ballard’s name and a date.
Still, the cameramen and photographers went wild, taking pictures and interviewing various Ballard associates, including his son Bill and former Maple Leafs great Ron Ellis.
“This kind of reminds me of going back to the circus,” Bill Ballard said of the proceedings. “And of course, my father would have enjoyed this. There wasn’t a microphone he wouldn’t chew on.”
So now, when you pay your $15 to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame, you get to stare at a concrete slab.
Isn’t that exciting?
However, the morning wasn’t a complete waste.
Also taking part in the proceedings was David Crombie, the one-time mayor of Toronto, back in the day when the citizens of this once-great burg elected civic leaders who actually cared about the general populace and not just about some arts group demanding funds to put on a mime festival on Bay St.
Crombie was generally beloved during his time at City Hall (1972-1978) so much so that he was referred to as Toronto’s “tiny, perfect mayor” — as opposed to the current mayor, who’s known as Toronto’s “tall, perfectly willing to spend mayor”.
Anyway, Crombie said that he is closely following the current civic election with a sense of sadness and forboding, and he issued a plea to the mayoral candidates, be it Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi or that other guy: Stop the name-calling, anger and finger-pointing, for the good of the city.
A veteran of numerous political wars, at all levels of government, Crombie said that he can’t recall an election with so much animosity and anger — animosity on the part of the candidates and anger on the part of the voters.
“Yes, there was name-calling and we had characters and we had people who got angry,” said Crombie, of his time as mayor and as a member of parliament. “But there was also a certain camaraderie. There really was. There was a sense of somehow, at the end of the day, we all knew where Jerusalem was. We had different roads to Jerusalem, but we were all agreeing that Jerusalem was the place to go. Whether you’re the Premier, the Prime Minister or the Mayor, your job was to try to bring together people to move forward.
“Today, it’s actually the opposite — federally, provincially and locally. You divide to win,” he said. “Before we used to bring people together to win. But right now, in vogue, the best way to win, people think, is to divide and conquer, and that is not helpful to the city.”
Crombie, who was a key figure on Toronto’s solid bid for the 1996 Olympics, said that he understands the public anger.
“There’s a feeling that the taxpayer’s money was not being respected,” he said. “(And) there was a sense that people were angry about traffic, and are not being paid attention to. And, finally, more importantly, there was a sense that their (politicians’) job was not to listen to our needs, but our job (as the public) was to fit into their plans. There was kind of a self-righteousness about it. They didn’t intend it that way, but that’s the way things came out. And that’s why they’re angry.”
Yeah, Toronto’s in trouble. People are angry, the roads are clogs, taxes are high, Nazem Kadri is on the front page.
But we can always cheer ourselves up by visiting the concrete slab.