COLUMN

Poor Toronto, the last to know

Allan Fotheringham July 18 1983
COLUMN

Poor Toronto, the last to know

Allan Fotheringham July 18 1983

Poor Toronto, the last to know

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

The most pitiful thing in the world to see is a city that is embarrassed. Wounded civic pride is painful to behold. Chagrined city fathers gnash their teeth and rend their bosoms in public, issuing little bleats of guilt, filling the gutters with their tears. Poor Toronto, beloved by all, is in this state at the present time. The occasion, viewed with stunned surprise by the residents of the country’s largest and richest and most superior city, is the opening of a domed stadium in Vancouver. The astonishment that this has engendered on the shores of Lake Ontario is akin to news from the hinterland that they have completed sidewalks in Edmonton and electric lights have just been introduced in Regina.

From the bleats of Toronto’s official figures you would have thought Calgary had opened an opera house, Montreal had discovered traffic lights or color television had made its way to Halifax. Torontonians reeled in shock, many of them fainting in the streets, the remainder wandering the graceful boulevard of Yonge Street with a dazed look in their orbs, their faces all pasty. It has been the greatest shock to the metropolis since Punch Imlach last removed his hat.

What has so disturbed the natives is that Vancouver seemed to do it all by stealth, sneaking up on unsuspecting Toronto with this sudden apparition that looks like an overdone loaf of bread. Since the Toronto press generally regards any news emanating from more than 50 km outside Metro as something that deserves to appear on the extraterrestrial pages, the news that Vancouver had been building the thing for two years or so had never penetrated the local headspaces. The official opening on the coast was regarded as an affront, a calculated insult especially designed to make fools of those who lead the nation from its most important city.

Toronto has never really recovered, if the truth be known, from the miracle

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

that Montreal pulled off with Expo 67, which was followed by the cleverly financed Olympic Games, signifying that Montreal was a world-class city while Toronto got on with its strenuous imitation as a failed Boston. Montreal has the Big Owe as its major-league ball park, while Toronto has to be content with Exhibition Stadium, a do-it-yourself collection of bleachers which looks as if it was assembled like a Lego set and serves mainly as a backdrop for the stage shows of imported Hollywood crooners at the CNE, the largest farm fair in captivity.

There is the further problem, a burr under the blanket of all this money, that there seems to be too much energy, too much initiative being generated out in the boondocks. Edmonton has produced the best football team in the land for the past five boring years. Edmonton now has the best hockey club in Canada and seems on its way to a dynasty in that sport with its youthful and maturing team. It owns the best hockey player in the world in Wayne Gretzky. Edmonton seems to have staged the hugely successful Commonwealth Games just the other week, and now the city is back with something second only to the Olympics—the World University Games. Calgary and Banff are now prepping for their time on the world stage with the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Vancouver hosted the Landy-Bannister British Empire Games, seemingly that long ago and now, in 1986, will mount a world’s fair on the banks of False Creek built around the focal point of the new domed stadium and, as a

bonus, will add an international cruise ship terminal and convention centre, shaped like billowing sails, that will jut out into the harbor.

What is further grating is that the 60,000-seat Vancouver dome, in the country’s most fractious labor climate, was built on time and within budget. It cost “just” $126 million, which is less than the estimated cost of what it would take to cover the puzzling hole in Montreal’s roof—if the engineers can ever decide that the hastily built structure can support the uncompleted tower. There is the suspicion that half those gravel trucks may have been filled with more sawdust than gravel.

So we have this further niggling feeling that those on the frontier (i.e. building Vancouver’s dome) have a more resolute thrust of chin and are four-square toilers, clearing the timber and burning the stumps as they go, dreaming of the day they too can become a province of quiche eaters. The solution? The only answer to this clear challenge to Toronto’s suz premacy? The only Sj weapon Toronto knows: £ money. So Vancouver built g the newest and most mod“ ern domed stadium in the world for $126 mill? The Toronto citizenry is being bombarded with propaganda about the urgency for a $U0-million dome to shut out the sunshine and the stars, the fresh lake breezes and the aromatic perfumes floating in from the Gardiner Expressway.

The 55,000-seat Exhibition Stadium and the 27,000 seats in Varsity Stadium and Maple Leaf Gardens are not enough. Windsor, which wants to get into the Canadian Football League but needs a stadium, does not matter. A new playpen for the jocks, Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey asserts daily in the papers, is the only thing that stands between Toronto and economic collapse, unrest in the streets and galloping ringworm. Toronto does not suffer from a need for new playpens, financed by taxpayers so as to make beer companies rich. It suffers from a sorrowful insecurity, a bewildering suspicion that there may be something going on out there in the hinterland. It’s tough being the last one to know.