BY JARRETT RUSNAK
TORONTO – So I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Regina, proudly sporting my ‘Toronto Argonauts 100th Grey Cup Champions’ t-shirt all over the Rider Nation. I mean, fair’s fair right? It was only a few weeks previous that I wandered through the corporate headquarters of the Toronto Argonauts basking in my Rider Green jersey during Grey Cup Week. I’m feeling all smug and superior (and my nerdy high school self would be envious) when all of a sudden a CANADA POST MAIL DELIVERY TRUCK pulls up, stopped for a red light – and it’s painted in Roughrider Green! Rider logos and everything. Canada Freekin’ Post!
Made me and my t-shirt feel kind of insignificant. Nothing like that truck happens here in Toronto.
I was reminded of that moment earlier today when the Argos asked me to cover a media event announcing the 2013 inductees of the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Argonaut legend Leo Cahill was entered, along with the notorious Angelo Mosca of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Other inductees included George Bell and Pat Gillick of the Toronto Blue Jays, 2012 London Olympics gold medalist, Rosie MacLennan, Leafs’ great Charlie Conacher, Show Jumping World Cup champion Ian Miller, Sandy Hawley Award winner Dave Perkins, Brian Williams media award winner, Ralph Mellanby, and golf great, Arnold Palmer.
I was there to write something about Mr. Cahill. Any fan of the CFL would know what his legacy means to the league. Mosca would have been an alright story as well, provided he didn’t hit me with his cain. Neither showed up due to travel issues. The Argos had a representative at the event, but no one was there from the Tiger-Cats.
Gillick and Bell also weren’t there. Somebody named Roberto Alomar spoke on their behalf. No one from the Jays organization put in an appearance. Ditto for the Leafs. Alomar and MacLennan were present and generous with their time. That was it for big names.
The event itself was held in the back room of Shoeless Joe’s on King Street West. Pretty low key given all those big names being thrown around. I was beginning to feel a sensation wash over me. Call it disappointment. No. Actually it’s a something much worse.
“Call it shameful, and you can quote me on that,” are the words legendary broadcaster Brian Williams told me to use when writing about the event. “The Argonauts have so many players here, you have Olympic champions, you have men, you have women, you have Wayne Gretzky, you have hockey, football, you name it – I mean Ontario has produced so many great athletes and builders – and there’s Saskatchewan with a million people in the province, and what do we have in Ontario, 10 million – and Saskatchewan has a great sports hall of fame because Saskatchewan appreciates their heroes – like the United States.” Williams went on to say he felt strongly that Ontario was only just learning how to appreciate its sports history and traditions.
Indeed, I was shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that The Ontario Sports Hall of Fame has no building. There is no physical place to go to learn about The Hall’s inductees. In digging deeper, I fell into a conversation with Tracy Gray, Director of the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame at the event. He went on to tell me that everyone associated with the organization is a volunteer. They are all mostly retired folks with a passion to preserve Ontario’s sports history. They’re putting their own time and money towards that mission. The signage, programs, food, and alcoholic beverages provided free of charge to all who showed up for the event, were being paid out of pocket by himself and Bruce Prentice, who is President of the Hall. There is no other funding for any activity the organization takes on. Not provincial. Not federal. Not corporate. Not anything. This is a marked departure from the financial structures of most other Sports Hall of Fames in Canada.
I’m sitting there in that bar on King Street West, in the heart of the 5th largest city in North America, and I am gobsmacked at how shoddy this arrangement seems. I’ve written in the past of what great corporate citizens the Argonauts are, but their annual budget pales in comparison to the Leafs and Jays – not to mention any number of multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporations that are headquartered here in Toronto.
How about a little chump change fellas? Is Ontario’s sports history not worth a small percentage of a percentage of your corporate GDP? A hockey rink burns down in small-town Saskatchewan, and the resulting sports dinner raises a sizeable chunk of what the community needs to rebuild. Please tell me what corporate barriers need to burn down before the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame may be realized as a physical entity. Maybe Toronto needs to import some prairie know-how.
Brian Williams made a point of saying to me afterwards that he’s now involved in the effort and working with other like-minded individuals. He hopes to be making some kind of announcement this summer.
Oh. And congratulations to Leo Cahill and all the other 2013 inductees.