Jack Blakeley was a mere tyke when he first sensed the sudden rush of cool air in the new indoor artificial ice rink at Main and Gerrard streets, and 60 years later the memory still puts a big smile on his face.
He doesn’t remember all the details – and it’s only through Ted Reeve Hockey Association records that he now knows he wore No. 2 for a house league team known simply as ‘Detroit,’ in that inaugural 1954-55 season.
But he definitely recalls the community buzz that fall.
“It seemed like everyone was involved,” Blakeley says of the fundraising drive, and why he plans to be on hand Saturday, Oct. 18, when Ted Reeve Arena and the Ted Reeve Hockey Association put on an all-day 60th birthday party.
“People were going door to door for donations and there were events all the time,” said former Ted Reeve coach Al Martin, who took time out from helping on renovations to his house to talk with Beach Metro.
“There was real excitement and a huge sense of Beach neighbourhood pride,” he adds, starting to rhyme off names of volunteers.
In all, it was estimated that more than 400 Beachers and East Enders put in time over five years to uphold the community’s promise to raise $125,000. That dollar figure, according to promoters of the project, was going to cover half the $250,000 construction costs.
For about five years, there were dances and bake and rummage sales. Conn Smythe, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, offered up his rink at Church and Carlton for an oldtimers game featuring a reunion of the famed 1930s Kid Line – Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson. It packed Maple Leaf Gardens, thanks in part to a publicity boost from sports writer Ted Reeve and his quirky Toronto Telegram columns.
That the project ended up costing as much as $375,000 – meaning the city’s tab doubled to $250,000-plus – doesn’t appear to have caused much of a scandal in the newspapers, or much grief for local politician Ross Lipsett, who had led the push at city hall.
And it didn’t dampen the standing-room-only party on opening night, Oct. 13, 1954. Three thousand people packed the 1,800-seat rink. Mayor Leslie Saunders was on hand and Lipsett was master of ceremonies.
Smythe presided over the ceremonial first faceoff and there was a performance by a new young pairs figure skating team: Robert Paul and Barb Wagner, who would go on to win gold at the 1960 Olympics.
In the first hockey game ever played in the arena, a fresh-faced kid from Northern Ontario who was still trying to crack the St. Mike’s Majors lineup – then future Hall of Famer and now former Liberal senator Frank Mahovlich – helped his chances mightily by scoring a goal in a 3-0 pre-season win over the Toronto Marlboros.
Ted Reeve himself?
Well, the tough-as-nails veteran of both World Wars and a star football and lacrosse player of the 1920s was apparently too shy to attend, choosing instead to cover football in Western Canada for the Tely.
That was to be expected, according to Globe and Mail sports editor Jim Vipond. He noted in his column on opening day that – although Reeve had initiated the dream of having an indoor rink in his neighbourhood and had been calling in favours from prominent athletes and Torontonians to ensure the fundraising succeeded – he vehemently opposed having the arena named in his honour.
So, in keeping with his presumed wishes (he died in 1983) organizers are not inviting Reeve this time either, though they are using his face on posters advertising the event.
The rink was once home to the East Toronto Skating Club (a neighbourhood institution in its own right) and has hosted lacrosse, wrestling, roller-derby and concerts.
“Thousands and thousands of kids have come through our hockey association, and a few have gone on to the NHL,” says Stephen King, president of the hockey association and a volunteer in many overlapping roles over the past 41 years. “But all the kids matter. Our aim is not only to provide fun and skills development, but to teach sportsmanship and how to play with heart.”
Organizers hope that on Oct. 18 all alumni and their families in the area make a point of being at Ted Reeve. Al Sims, one Ted Reeve graduate who played defence beside Bobby Orr for the Boston Bruins, says he hopes to attend. Current Nashville Predator Rich Clune and former Bruin, Penguin, King and Ranger (and briefly Leafs coach) Nick Beverley, unfortunately, has to be out of town.
“The whole community’s welcome and it’s shaping up to be a fun, full day, rain or shine,” says King, who adds that there’s still lots of work to do and that organizers still need more help from food sponsors.
The day will include food and drink, face-painting, crafts, the Maple Leafs Fan Zone, an on-ice skills competition, a martial arts demonstration, music, a bar and a series of exhibition games.