Indie show with Terry Yorkston, 1972: Gary Will's TWH

This poster went up for sale on eBay in early 2003. If it hadn't been for Terry Yorkston's name in the opening match, I might not have given it a thought. Yorkston was a prelim wrestler for Frank Tunney in the 1970s who went on to be a referee for Maple Leaf Wrestling. He had been wrestling for years before coming to the Gardens, including a good mid-card run in Quebec. He had just come off a stint in the Maritimes before arriving in Toronto in 1972.

(A few years later, he also worked under a hood for George Cannon. Somewhere in taped-over video heaven is a Cannon TV show with a scrawny teenager in the fourth row yelling "Hey! Terry Yorkston!" all through one of his matches. It took a couple of minutes to solve the puzzle, but I recognized him as someone I knew as soon as he came to the ring.)

 I don't know much about the show on the poster, but I was able to track it down. It was held on August 30, 1972 at the York Centre Ballroom -- south of Eglinton and east of Dufferin -- just a couple of months after Yorkston had made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut for Tunney (as a sub for Chris Colt).

Pat McMahon would go on to become Shillelagh O'Sullivan, who got a brief push at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1973. Andy Martin, from the main event, would make his first Gardens appearance in December. Pat Scott made it to Carlton Street for two matches in 1973. Ernie Schwaab (name misspelled on the poster) had done a job for Killer Kowalski at the Gardens in December 1971. There was a Golden Boy Apollo who wrestled at the Gardens in 1974, but I don't know if it's the same guy. The other names don't ring any bells.

I couldn't find any other shows at the Ballroom advertised in the Star, which is where the ad above is from.

-by Gary Will

Hercules Angelo Mosca?, 1970: Gary Will's TWH

This column by Jim Proudfoot appeared in the Toronto Star on August 1, 1970. It's a nice story about the success Angelo Mosca was having as a pro wrestler -- particularly his work for Roy Shire in Northern California as Hercules.

The only problem with the piece is that I can't find any record of a wrestler named Hercules working for Shire at the time.

The late Ron Valim kept detailed records of Shire's shows in San Francisco and other cities in the territory, and there's no Hercules to be found.

So was he using a different ring name with Hercules as a nickname? I don't see any likely candidates in Valim's results. Other than a few prelim guys, the workers Shire was using at the time are all well-known wrestlers. I don't see anyone who could have been Mosca.

In Proudfoot's column, Mosca is quoted saying the shows could draw 30,000 people to the Cow Palace in San Francisco. That's about double the actual maximum (the annual battle royal in November 1969 drew 15,974 and that seems to be the biggest crowd of the year).

Was the whole thing made up?

-by Gary Will

Whipper Watson's fifth decade in wrestling, 1970: Gary Will's TWH

This Globe & Mail story ran on March 5, 1970 and is a look back at the career of Whipper Billy Watson, who had just started his fifth decade as a pro wrestler.

The story doesn't try to hide the unhideable -- that the 54-year-old Watson's career is winding down and he can no longer go more than once or twice a week. Even so, he would continue to wrestle for nearly two more years until an accident put an unwavering end to his career in the ring.

In the story, Watson says that when he returned to Toronto in 1940 after a lengthy stay in Britain, promoter Frank Tunney wasn't all that enthusiastic, although Tunney says he saw something in Watson right away. There's no question that Watson got the home town boy push from the start.

The writer of this story, Louis Cauz, went on to become a well-known figure in the Canadian horse racing world. He has been the managing director of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the archivist/historian for the Ontario Jockey Club. In 1978, he wrote a book on the Toronto Blue Jays called Baseball's Back in Town. He also wrote a book on the King's/Queen's Plate that was published in 1984.

-by Gary Will

Frank Tunney's 30th Anniversary, 1969: Gary Will's TWH

There were several anniversary shows at the Gardens in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Some were anniversaries of the first Gardens show in 1931. Others celebrated Frank Tunney's years as a promoter. Those were always tricky since there were three different years that could be used -- the year he started working for Jack Corcoran, the year Corcoran passed the promotion along to the Tunneys (1939), or the year John Tunney died, leaving Frank the main promoter (1940).

Tunney's 30th anniversary show was held on May 18, 1969 and featured a rematch between The Sheik and Whipper Billy Watson and the Toronto debut of NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. The show drew 13,000 fans, making it the highest reported attendance at a Toronto card in years.

The writer of this retrospective piece from the Globe, Jim Vipond, went on to become Ontario Athletics Commissioner -- he's the unnamed guy in Jim Freedman's book DRAWING HEAT who's accused of being a friend of Tunney's and a thorn in the side of Dave McKigney.

-by Gary Will

*note the picture used in the paper was taken by Roger Baker, there are a couple of photos from that event elsewhere on the site

CARTOON: Henri DeGlane by Chuck Templeton, April 12, 1934: Gary Will's TWH

This cartoon is more of interest for the artist than the subject. Chuck Templeton was still a teenager when he drew this cartoon featuring Henri Deglane. He had been been hired by the Globe as a sports cartoonist in 1932 -- his first job in media. He quit in 1936 to become a very successful evangelist, which ended when he became an agnostic. Templeton later became better known as Charles Templeton, one of Canada's leading journalists, broadcasters, and writers.

In his memoirs, Templeton wrote that Tommy Munns, who handled publicity for promoter Jack Corcoran, hired him to draw sketches of wrestlers for the programs sold at the events.

-by Gary Will

Grey Cup Preview: The 1952 Edmonton Eskimos: Gary Will's TWH

The Edmonton Eskimos played the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup final in 1952. In its preview of the game, the Globe & Mail ran profiles of the Eskimos players, including three 23-year-olds who would go on to be pro wrestling stars:

The Argos won the game, 21-11. It would be their last Grey Cup victory for 31 years. Kiniski would make his Maple Leaf Gardens debut as a wrestler in 1956, Blanchard in 1957, and Snyder in 1958. Snyder and Blanchard didn't make many appearances in Toronto. The card at right, from March 6, 1958, is the only time they were on the same show. Kiniski went on to become one of Toronto wrestling's all-time greats.

One of their teammates was an all-time star player for the Eskimos, Ted Tully. Maybe that name stuck in Blanchard's head a couple of years later when his son was born.

There were reports in 1950 that Whipper Billy Watson was going to play for the Eskimos, but nothing ever came of it.

-by Gary Will

Parkhurst wrestling cards: 1954-1955

Parkhurst wrestling cards: 1954-1955

In the 1950s, Parkurst was one of the big names in hockey cards -- as well-known as Topps and O-Pee-Chee would be to a later generation of collectors (or Upper Deck and Score to an even later generation).

Parkhurst Products was based in Toronto and began making hockey cards in 1951. It faded from the scene in the mid-1960s (the brand has recently been brought back, but the original company is long-gone).

Since wrestling was so popular in Toronto and throughout Canada in the 1950s, it was a natural that Parkhurst would produce a line of wrestling cards. It made two sets -- a 75-card set in 1954 (numbers have a red background) and a 121-card set in 1955 (yellow background).

There had been many wrestling cards made over the years before Parkhurst got into the business, but they are the earliest Canadian cards that I've seen.

Today, the cards are frequently sold on eBay, and complete sets in good condition are highly sought-after collectors' items.

Because they were made by a Toronto company, there are several Maple Leaf Gardens regulars featured on the cards. Here are a few of the Toronto-based wrestlers who got their own Parkhurst cards

-Gary Will

Tunney-Crockett partnership approved, 1980: Gary Will's TWH

Tunney-Crockett partnership approved, 1980

After Jack Tunney's death in 2004, there was some discussion of whether North Carolina-based promoter Jim Crockett was ever a partner in the Toronto office. Crockett and Frank Tunney worked together from 1978 to Tunney's death in 1983, and Jack and Eddie Tunney continued to work with Crockett for several more months until switching their allegiance to Vince McMahon and the WWF in 1984.

In Canada, during most of the 1970s and the early 1980s, there was a law called the Foreign Investment Review Act (FIRA) which regulated the foreign ownership of Canadian companies. In November 1980, the Canadian Press reported that the government had approved the creation of a new business called Frank Tunney Sports Promotion, which was co-owned by Frank Tunney Sports Ltd., Jim Crockett Promotions Inc., and 410430 Ontario Ltd., said to be based in Hamilton.

The owner of the numbered corporation wasn't identified (it would be a matter of public record, but you have to pay a service charge to access Ontario corporate records), but Hamilton native George Scott is thought to have been the third partner. He continued to own a part of the office after the affiliation with McMahon and is said to have received a large settlement after he was pushed out of that partnership

- Gary Will

The Panther vs the Lion: A Hand-Drawn Ad, 1933: Gary Will's TWH

This is the only fully hand-drawn ad that was ever used for a wrestling show in Toronto and looks completely unlike anything used before or after. Jack Corcoran's show at Maple Leaf Gardens on January 26, 1933 featured the Utica Panther and the Balkan Lion and the artist put the feline references to full effect.

Bulldog Cox would later be better known as King Kong Cox. Dick Shikat was a no-show and was replaced by Frank Speers.

Joe Malcewicz W Dan Koloff (2-1)                 31:51
Sammy Stein W Gentleman Jack Washburn    19:06
Frank Speers WDec Herb Freeman                 30:00
Ted Bulldog Cox W George Hagen                 19:38
Earl McCready W Mike Romano                    15:10
Jack Riley W Cy Williams                               11:26

-by Gary Will

Two Leafs wrestle, rival promoters combine for charity: 1932: Gary Will's TWH

A charity show in 1932 saw two teammates oppose each other and two rivals work together.

There were two big-time wrestling promoters in Toronto in 1932. There was Ivan Mickailoff, who brought weekly shows to Toronto in 1929 and promoted shows at Arena Gardens, and Jack Corcoran, who booked cards at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The two promoters came together to benefit the 50,000 Club Unemployment Relief Fund. Each promoter provided two matches -- one preliminary and one featured event -- to a combined show at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Mickailoff's main bout was between Count George Zarynoff and Pat McGill, who had both worked main events for him in the past. Corcoran's featured presentation saw Ray Steele take on Joe Cox, with a strong preliminary featuring Gino Garibaldi and John Katan -- past and future main-eventers, respectively.

Rounding out the card was a match between two notable members of the Toronto Maple Leafs: team captain Clarence "Happy" Day and penalty leader Reginald "Red" Horner -- both future hall-of-famers. It was the only time in Toronto history that members of the Leafs got involved in a wrestling show. When the match was announced, Montreal Maroons defenceman Lionel Conacher -- Canada's greatest all-round athlete -- offered to take on both Day and Horner simultaneously (two weeks later, Conacher made his pro wrestling debut with Mickailoff).

The show, held on Monday April 25, 1932, drew only 4,500 -- about half of what had been hoped (each promoter drew bigger crowds for his next show).

Apparently, Day and Horner were pro wrestling fans and were able to mimic moves popularized by real grapplers. About the match, the Globe reported that "It was expected that this would be a farcical bout, but the athletes crossed the guessers and made it an honest-to-goodness struggle, with nearly all the modern tactics on display."

William Hewitt at the Star (father of broadcasting legend Foster Hewitt) wrote, "This act was a knockout and the fans got a great kick out of it. ... The hockey players showed the fans a lot of new holds and contortions and displayed surprising speed and agility on the mat."

After the match, Leafs owner Conn Smythe said he'd never let his players risk injury like that again.

Ray Steele W Joe Cox                                    24:05
Count George Zarynoff W Pat McGill      26:50
Hap Day D Red Horner                                  10:00
Tony Catalana W Ali Hassan                         12:39
Gino Garibaldi W John Katan                        17:13

-by Gary Will

The First Weekly Show: May 4, 1929: Gary Will's TWH

Professional wrestling existed in Toronto long before 1929. Frank Gotch, George Hackenschmidt, William Muldoon, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Yousouf the Terrible Turk, and B.F. Roller were among the big-name wrestlers who had previously appeared in the city. Local talent included Bob Harrison and Artie Edmunds.

But it wasn't until 1929 that a promoter was successful in bringing top-ranked professional wrestlers to town on a regular basis. The promoter was Ivan Mickailoff, a former wrestler (his name was spelled many ways, but he used this spelling in his own ads).

Others had tried before Mickailoff and failed. Toronto wasn't known as a wrestling town -- "wrestling has never been a popular sport in the Queen City," said the Globe -- and there was skepticism when he announced his plans to run weekly shows at the Arena Gardens on Mutual Street, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs. But Mickailoff made it work and started Toronto on the path to becoming one of the world's dominant pro wrestling cities.

He ran his first show in front of a small crowd of 500 on Saturday May 4, 1929.

Headlining the show was Canadian champion Jack Taylor, who would wrestle on most of Mickailoff's shows until suffering what was reported to be a broken leg in a match in August.

Also appearing on the first show were former world title claimant Wladek Zbyszko -- the less-heralded younger brother of Stanislaus Zbyszko -- and Henri Deglane, who would claim the world title himself in another couple of years. Taylor, Zbyszko, and Deglane all won their bouts.

Lou Marsh of the Star -- who occasionally worked as a referee for wrestling matches -- found the show to be entertaining, but made sure his readers knew that these bouts were not legitimate contests.

After four shows, the Globe reported that Mickailoff was drawing bigger crowds every week and at the end of the month, it said wrestling was becoming increasingly popular in Toronto.

-by Gary Will

Artie Edmunds -- The Pocket Hercules: Gary Will's TWH

Artie Edmunds was one of the first stars of Toronto wrestling. He was often billed as the Canadian featherweight champion over a career that spanned at least from 1901-1919 and probably longer.

In 1901, Edmunds became the national amateur champion at 115 pounds by winning a tournament sanctioned by the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union (CAAU), held in Toronto at the Mutual Street Arena. The referee for the final was Bob Harrison, who was probably Toronto's most famous wrestler of the 19th century.

Not only did Edmunds repeat at the 1902 tournament in Ottawa, he also made it to the final in the boxing championship before losing. Edmunds would become a professional in both wrestling and boxing, and would be billed as the Canadian featherweight champion in both sports.

 Edmunds regularly wrestled at the Star Theatre in Toronto, a notorious burlesque house that would often book one wrestler for a week to take on all comers. St. Andrew's Hall, the Labor Temple, and the Riverdale Roller Rink were some other Toronto venues that hosted wrestling cards with Edmunds in the main event.

Because of his light weight, Edmunds frequently wrestled in handicap matches where his heavier opponent would have to defeat him two or more times within a set time period. If the opponent was unable to do so, it would be considered a victory for Edmunds.

In 1904, Edmunds was running a boxing and wrestling school on Queen Street West three days a week. Later that year, the Star printed an enthusiastic review of Edmunds's vaudeville act, described as "a combination of physical culture and bag punching."

 A month later, Edmunds was booked to face Major -- a 200-pound wrestling pony. "He may not know anything about strangle holds and full Nelsons, but he has a knack of landing on his feet like a cat," said the Star of Major. "Edmunds is risking a lot in the bout, for the pony has already killed a man." A film was supposed to be made of the match. The pony's owner pulled out at the last minute, and instead Edmunds fought a full-sized thoroughbred, who by all accounts was having his way with Edmunds when the police stepped in to stop the bout following a complaint of animal cruelty.

Before the year ended, Edmunds travelled to New York and spent much of 1905 and 1906 boxing there. By this point he was competing at 125 pounds . The Star said he was "much in demand" at the boxing clubs in New York. He was booked to wrestle Young Roeber -- billed as New York's featherweight champion -- in March 1906. He boxed Jack Britton, who would go on to become world welterweight champion, in New York in February 1908.

 Edmunds returned to Toronto and helped spark what the Star described as a "wave of interest in wrestling sweeping over Ontario." He announced his retirement at the end of 1908, but it didn't last long. He lost a match in March 1909 to Kid Batten at the Star Theatre, but won the rematch a few weeks later. He was also working as a referee at this time, overseeing the match between Yankee Rogers and Hassan Abdullah at the Star.

In 1910, Edmunds went an a tour of Australia and was thinking about going to England and France.

The following year, he worked as the referee for the two highest-profile matches that had ever been held in Toronto to that point: George Hackenschmidt vs Dr. B.F. Roller and Frank Gotch vs Giovanni (John) Perelli.

Edmunds and his younger brothers Fred and Jack -- who were also wrestlers and boxers, although not as successful -- were all reported to have enlisted to fight in WWI late in 1914. Art was discharged from the army because he had lost an eye while boxing in New York. Fred was injured at Vimy Ridge as was said to have had two fingers shot off.

Edmunds continued to be billed as Canadian featherweight champion, and after he lost in straight falls in 1919 against Jack Forbes -- later a prominent referee in Toronto -- Edmunds insisted his title wasn't at stake.

Along with being a wrestler and boxer, Edmunds was also known in the bodybuilding world, such as it was in those days.

Edmunds's wrestling and boxing career had already ended when he was run over by a streetcar at the intersection of Keele and Dundas in 1922. Both of his legs were crushed and one of his feet was nearly amputated.

An Eaton's ad in 1923 said that Edmunds would be at the main Toronto store for six hours to answer questions on gymnasium equipment. Later in the year, he placed an ad of his own in the Star for his services as a health, strength, and "physical perfection" consultant.

 In 1928, Edmunds tried to get a boxing license but was turned down by the Ontario Athletic Commission because of his age. He was reportedly 46 at the time, although there are some inconsistencies in his reported age and he may have shaved a couple of years off at some point. At the time, the Globe called him "one of the greatest small athletes ever developed in this country."

He was working as an instructor at a camp in Bowmanville in 1935 -- and known as Prof. Arthur Edmunds -- when he drowned off Symons Beach.

-by Gary Will