Arena Gardens: Toronto's original wrestling palace (1922-1938) : Gary Will's TWH

Maple Leaf Gardens is Toronto's most storied wrestling venue and is one of a handful of sites that can credibly be called a pro wrestling mecca. For 64 years, the Gardens was host to top level pro wrestling matches, including four NWA world title changes.

But before there was Maple Leaf Gardens, there was another Gardens that was Toronto's primary wrestling venue -- the site where major league pro wrestling became established in the city. That was Arena Gardens -- later known as Mutual Street Arena.


Arena Gardens was where Ivan Mickailoff began promoting weekly shows in 1929. It was also where he presented his final Toronto show in 1938 -- the last time the building was used for pro wrestling.

Even before Mickailoff came to town, Arena Gardens had been the site of two matches between Stanislaus Zbyszko and Canadian champion George Walker in 1922 and 1924 (see ad at right).

Some of the names that Michailoff presented at the Arena included Strangler Lewis and Toots Mondt, as well as reigning world champions Gus Sonnenberg, Ed Don George, Henri Deglane, Jim Londos, Ali Baba, and Everett Marshall, who all defended their title in the building (as did light heavyweight champion Billy Weidner). Toronto-made world champion Vic Christie defended his title there once as well.

Rival promoter Jack Corcoran also promoted some shows at the Arena in 1931 before moving over to Maple Leaf Gardens when it opened in November of that year.

Arena Gardens was built in 1912 for $500,000 and was at the time the largest indoor arena in the country. It was located east of Yonge on Mutual Street between Dundas and Shuter, not far from Massey Hall, which was also used at times for pro wrestling shows, particularly when the Arena was closed for repairs. Sir Henry Pellatt, the man behind Casa Loma, was one of the Arena's primary backers.

The NHL's first Stanley Cup winners, the Toronto Arenas (1917-18), were named after the building and played their home games there, as would the Toronto St. Pats and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 1938, the Arena was leased to William Dickson who turned it into a recreation facility offering ice skating in winter and roller skating in summer. Dickson bought the building in 1945 and it remained in the family for the next 43 years. Curling sheets -- 18 of them -- were added in a 1962 renovation, and the building was renamed The Terrace, a name it kept until it was sold in 1988 to become the site of a condominium complex. It closed its doors on April 30, 1989 and was demolished a few months later.

In the Toronto Star, Jim Proudfoot wrote:

The birthplace of professional hockey in Toronto is about to disappear - torn down and replaced by, yes, yet another picturesque pile of residential condominiums. Before long, people will dwell at Cathedral Square and they'll have no idea, most of them, that their homes sit precisely where so much of this city's history took place. A Stanley Cup was won there and the Maple Leafs started out there. Sammy Luftspring fought there and Frank Sinatra sang there. The Harlem Globetrotters entertained there and Torchy Peden rode his bike there. Foster Hewitt broadcast his first hockey game there.

Soon it'll be gone and shortly after that, forgotten.

And so it's goodbye forever to another chunk of what's made Toronto what it is today, about to join Sunnyside [amusement park], Thorncliffe [racetrack], Dufferin [racetrack], Icelandia [skating rink/arena], Ravina [Gardens -- one-time practice rink for the Leafs] and Long Branch [racetrack] in a dim and distant past - just a trivia question of the 21st century.

- by Gary Will


1939 Ring Results: Gary Will's TWH

 1939 RESULTS: Toronto debuts for Thesz, Longson, Nagurski, Sexton

This was the year that John Tunney took over the promotional duties from Jack Corcoran. Some of the wrestlers he brought to town for the first time included Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, Bronko Nagurski, and Frank Sexton. Man Mountain Dean made his final Toronto appearance during the year.

Corcoran began the year with two big elimination tournaments, with the winners meeting in the third show of the year. The tournaments ended up being the biggest draws of the year, as it was a down period for wrestling in Toronto.

All shows at Maple Leaf Gardens unless otherwise noted. Jack Corcoran was the promoter through March 16, followed by John Tunney.


39/01/19          Att: 5,500+

ELIMINATION TOURNAMENT:

FINAL: 

Joe Savoldi W Chief Jules Strongbow 1:06

    to win the tournament

SEMI-FINALS:

Chief Jules Strongbow W Chief Little Wolf 12:05

Joe Savoldi WForf George Richards

QUARTER-FINALS:

Chief Jules Strongbow W Hardy Kruskamp 7:30

Chief Little Wolf W Jim Austeri 17:43

Joe Savoldi W Tom Mahoney 15:40

George Richards - bye

FIRST ROUND:

Hardy Kruskamp W Al Sparks 12:39

Tom Mahoney WCOR Ernie Powers 13:27

Chief Little Wolf W Housepainter Hogan 9:00

Chief Jules Strongbow W Jack McArthur 3:56

(subs for Dean Rockwell)

Joe Savoldi W Gus Zaharias 14:07

George Richards WDQ Chief Chewacki 14:15

(Richards subs for Len Hall)

Jim Austeri - bye

 

39/01/26          Att: 6,000

ELIMINATION TOURNAMENT

FINAL:

Vic Christie W Hans Steinke 20:25

    to win the tournament

SEMI-FINALS:

Vic Christie W Nanjo Singh 5:02

Hans Steinke WDQ Chief Chewaki 5:31

QUARTER FINALS:

Chief Chewacki W Cardiff Giant 7:10

Vic Christie W Chris Zaharias 7:28

Nanjo Singh WDQ Man Mountain Dean

FIRST ROUND:

Vic Christie D Chief Jules Strongbow

(Christie wins coin toss)

Chief Chewacki W George Richards 15:54

(subs for Hans Steinke, who still ends up in the tournament)

Man Mountain Dean W Dean Rockwell 1:31

(subs for Wee Willie Davis; Rockwell was scheduled to be given a first-round bye)

Cardiff Giant W Scotty McDougall 11:12

Chris Zaharias W Joe Pazandak 9:50

Nanjo Singh D Alex Kasaboski

(Singh wins coin toss)

 

39/02/09          Att: 4,500

TOURNAMENT WINNERS BATTLE FOR $1,000 AND WORLD TITLE SHOT:

Jumping Joe Savoldi

WCNC Vic Christie (1-0) 38:15

Man Mountain Dean W Jack McArthur 3:08

Chief Jules Strongbow

W Cardiff Giant 5:00

Hardy Kruskamp W Joe Pazandak 19:37

Tom Mahoney W Al Dunlop 14:00

(Subs for Chief Chewacki)

 

39/02/16          Att: 5,500

WORLD TITLE:

Jim Londos W Jumping Joe Savoldi 76:10

Sandor Szabo W Joe Pazandak 10:50

(subs for Chief Chewacki)

Chief Jules Strongbow W Al Sparks 14:36

Hardy Kruskamp W Tom Mahoney 14:55

Housepainter Hogan W Jack McArthur 8:14

 

39/02/23          Att: 5,000

WORLD TITLE:

Jim Londos W Jumping Joe Savoldi 46:15

Hans Steinke W Housepainter Hogan 15:32

Vic Christie NC Tom Mahoney

(subs for Gus Zaharias; Strongbow refuses to leave the ring after his match and attacks Mahoney, who is unable to wrestle; Joe Pasandak, George Richards, and Jack MacArthur are among the run-ins who try to get Strongbow out of the ring; Strongbow is suspended by the Ontario Athletic Commission)

Chief Jules Strongbow W Ernie Powers 13:34

Hardy Kruskamp W Cardiff Giant 17:39

 

39/03/02          Att: 2,500

Vic Christie

W Chief Jules Strongbow (2-1) 26:49

Hans Steinke WDQ Hardy Kruskamp 15:04

Jack Washburn W Tom Mahoney 9:20

Walter Sirois W Cardill Giant 10:39

Joe Pazandak D Ernie Powers 30:00

 

39/03/16

WORLD TITLE:

Jim Londos W Vic Christie (2-0) 41:13

Sammy Stein W Bad Boy Brown 14:42

(Stein subs for Hardy Kruskamp)

Gentleman Jack Washburn

W Louis Newman 8:21

Chief Jules Strongbow D Walter Sirois 30:00

Chief Saunooke W Ernie Powers 3:43

(subs for Stein)

Toots Mondt runs the show while Corcoran is in Florida recovering from pneumonia

 

39/03/23 - John Tunney

Jack Washburn W Joe Savoldi (2-1) 30:42

Sammy Stein W Chief Jules Strongbow 14:05

Scotty McDougall W Cardiff Giant 15:40

Louis Newman W Al Dunlop 14:07

Angelo Leone D George Richards

Walter Sirois vs Wild Man Zim had originally been advertised, but is dropped

 

39/05/18          Att: 3,500

King Kong Cox W Dutch Heffner (1-0) 60:00

Steve Crusher Casey W John Katan (2-1)

(Cox and Casey are advertised as world title claimants)

Gentleman Jack Washburn W Cliff Thiede 7:00

Gino Garibaldi W Walter Podolak

Tommy Nilan D Alonzo Woods 20:00

(Nilan billed as Australian champion)

 

39/05/25

Dan O'Mahony W Gentleman Jack Washburn

Tommy Nilan W Alonzo Woods

Cy Williams W Jackie James 6:30

(Williams said to be world title claimant)

Purple Mask W Len Macaluso 3:46

Ivan Rasputin W Jerry Wimpy Monohan 7:37

 

39/06/01           Att: 3,000

King Kong Cox

W Gentleman Jack Washburn 10:22

(Cox billed as world champion claimaint)

Tommy Nilan W Jim Coffield 19:50

(Nilan billed as Australian champion)

George K.O. Koverly W Jackie James 16:35

Purple Mask W Walter Podolak 10:56

Ivan Rasputin W John Katan 17:34

 

39/10/19          Att: 4,500

First show of the season

Yvon Robert W

Gentleman Jack Washburn (2-0) 7:47

Steve Crusher Casey D Everett Marshall 60:00

Cy Williams W Jackie James 20:27

Leo Numa W Jerry Monahan 11:33

 

39/11/09          Att: 4,200

NBA WORLD TITLE:

Bronko Nagurski W Dan O'Mahony 23:00

Yvon Robert WDec Frank Sexton 30:00

Wild Bill Longson DDQ Tommy Nilan

Cy Williams W Leo Numa 8:00

Elmer Eastup W Jerry Monahan 7:00

 

39/11/16          Att: 3,200

Everett Marshall W Cy Williams (2-1)

Louis Thesz W Dutch Heffner 28:31

Wild Bill Longson W Hal Rumberg 15:00

Elmer Eastup W Jackie James 14:31

(Eastup accompanied by Count Rossi)

Bobby Pearce W Al Dunlop 10:38

(Pearce is world sculling champion)

 

39/11/23          Att: 4,000

Steve Crusher Casey

W Wild Bill Longson (2-1)

Don Louis Thesz W Cy Williams 11:22

Elmer Eastup W Hal Rumberg 12:00

(Eastup managed by Count Rossi)

Frank Sexton W Mayes McClain 23:00

Tommy Nilan W Al Dunlop 10:27

 

39/11/30          Att: 4,000

NBA WORLD TITLE:

Bronko Nagurski W Ernie Dusek 45:55

Don Louis Thesz W Frank Sexton 24:36

Joe Savoldi W The Angel Pat Riley 10:00

Elmer Eastup W Jim Wright 13:00

 

39/12/07          Att: 3,800

Everett Marshall

WCOR Wild Bill Longson 52:46

(Fans attack Longson after the match)

Louis Thesz W Jerry Monahan 13:55

Ivan Rasputin W Mayes McLain 12:27

Frank Sexton D Don Evans 30:00

 

39/12/28          Att: 4,200

Wild Bill Longson W Danno O'Mahony 20:27

Elmer Eastup W Dutch Heffner

(Eastup managed by Count Rossi)

Leo Numa W John Katan 21:20

Frank Sexton D Abe Yourist 30:00


-by Gary Will 


Frank Tunney's Custom Buckle


    Over the years I have heard from family members of wrestlers, referees, and assorted other capacities. Some have been kind enough to share their personal photos and other items that are part of their family collections. This one is very special.

    Frank Tunney's custom belt buckle. Made by Alex Mulko aka Nikita Kalmikoff/Mulkovitch, the Toronto based wrestler and artist that made our title belts as well as many others. He also made jewelry and belt buckles in addition to the belts. Looks like a crown which is fitting for the King of  Toronto wrestling. What a beauty! 

Thanks to Frank's grandson for sending that over.

-AC