The Boom & beyond Tunney

While there were few threats to Frank Tunney's promotion throughout the 40 plus years he controlled Toronto and the outlying towns, it did happen a few times. As it was, Frank enjoyed the jewel of the territory, Maple Leaf Gardens, of which he had the exclusive wrestling rights. The Toronto office was seeing 200-300,000 fans a year through the turnstiles at MLG alone through much of the 1950's for the weekly cards.

Amidst the wrestling boom of the 1950's Tunney and his affiliate promoters were also busy promoting the towns around southern Ontario.

Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Barrie, and Oshawa all had regular seasons, and others were run in the summers. He had trusted partners in place to run the bigger towns. Pat Milosh, Sammy Sobel, John Katan, and Tommy Nelson were some of the trusted few.

Others like the Maich brothers (Joe and Don) in Brantford on a smaller scale and Larry Kasaboski in North Bay on a larger one, ran their own show but kept an amicable relationship with Tunney going back to their wrestling days. Kasaboski's Studio TV Wrestling frequently featured Tunney stars 'Straight from MLG!' Dave McKigney (The Wildman) started promoting his brand of mayhem in the mid 1960's but at this time he was a young high flyer working on Red Garner shows.

 Garner and Kasaboski were both promoting shows in Tunney's backyard and it led to some friction.

Red Garner and the Middleweight Circuit

Garner (pictured) card 1951 
Edwin 'Red' Garner, a former amateur standout was based in the small town of Richmond Hill just North of Toronto. He ran a small circuit using mostly trainees from his gym set up near his home in Richvale. He started promoting cards in the 1940's and was going strong by the 1950's.

Using fast and exciting middleweight wrestlers he had a strong fan base around Richmond, Hill, Thornhill, and Aurora.

His wrestlers mostly had an amateur background but it was a pro style. The lighter grapplers didn't pose much of a threat to Tunney and Red started to create a regular fan base North of Toronto.

1952 was an especially good year for Red and company. They were doing brisk business with youngsters including Baron Waldo Von Sieber (later Waldo Von Erich), Jacques Dubois ( Dave McKigney), and Toronto born Gori Ed 'Killer' Mangotich whom later found great success in the UK. Mike (aka Baron) Scicluna and Bull Johnston also spent their formative years on Garner's circuit.

New Action In Stoufville

Despite Garner's success, in early 1953 Stoufville Arena announced a change for it's second Wrestling season -the arena opened in 1952- with a move to 'Southern States wrestlers.' Said to be the same stars from the Grapefruit states which were shown on Toronto's film TV shows. The wrestlers eventually featured were not household names. Irish Michael O'Toole, Steve Zaboski, Wes Glazier, a 'Red Demon.' Don Ireland of Oshawa, Ted Swift from Niagara Falls and others from the area.

That outfit ran a few shows and one report claimed it to be the 'best wrestling show that has been offered here since it was introduced here over a year ago.' The only notable local name that appeared was Killer Jim Conroy (somewhat famous Toronto bouncer) as Bert Killer Conroy.

By 1954 though, Garner was back in to Stoufville kicking off the season with Von Sieber against Mangotich. Garner's matchmaker, former amateur star Roy McMahon (yup), offered a money back guarantee if you weren't happy with the show

If we flash back to 1952 while Garner was filling out the arenas on his circuit, Tunney was running Barrie -using famed sportsman of the day Max Hurley as promoter- as well as Collingwood 60km away. With his regular stars and guests like Boxing great Jack Dempsey as special referee, they were regularly drawing 1000 fans to the small arenas. Tunney's shows ran from 75c to $2.50 for ringside while Garner had lower prices of 65c to $1 for ringside.
*Note: an item said that the top stars had issue with the fact that Dempsey received a hefty $225 to appear in Barrie. A 'very expensive proposition for Tunney.'

Wrestling Returns to Barrie 1954 - with Northland Wrestling

Wrestling was absent from the two towns through 1953. In 1954 Barrie announced a new summer wrestling season kicked off May 25, this time with shows promoted by Northland Wrestling Enterprises headed by Kasaboski. Northland was enjoying a huge upswing at the time due to its popular live TV Studio wrestling, one of the early studio shows in North America. Kasaboski had previously warned off Tunney a few years earlier as Tunney had contemplated running Kasaboski's North. 'I told Tunney I pioneered this territory and to keep out.' Tunney apparently agreed not to muscle in.

 In summer 1954 Kasaboski ran Barrie on Tunney's former Tuesday night while Tunney countered in Collingwood on Wednesday's.  At the end of the month Kasaboski ran a card featuring the very popular little people stars as the main event and filled the arena. Tunney sent his most well known stars of the day alongside Whipper. The Mills Brothers, Fred Atkins, Yukon Eric.

Kasaboski Tuesday Night Aug 10 1954

Tunney Wednesday Night Aug 11 1954

 A July main in Barrie had the former Olympic star and soon to be major star Maurice Mad Dog Vachon vs Bobby Ford while Tunney followed with Whipper vs Sky Hi lee in Collingwood. Dory Funk Sr. and Don Evans also appeared for Kasboski that summer and other U.S. stars came up to enjoy the Ontario North. Kasaboski was regularly drawing 700-1200 to the shows. Tunney's attendance was not reported.

 At that time Kasaboski's circuit was vast. He was running shows in over 30 towns from La Sarre in Northern Quebec across the northwest to Wawa, Ontario. And working his way down as far as Brockville on the Canada/U.S. border. 

1954 sharing the page, Tunney ad taking 2nd place

Tunney Fights Back 

 At the 1954 NWA convention Tunney, who had been elected as vice-president, complained about Kasaboski going into his towns and under-bidding him to promoters. Kasaboski was not a member of the NWA.

Tunney takes Stoufville 1957 
In 1956 Tunney moved into Stoufville bumping Garner out with regular cards featuring Dick Hutton, Fritz Von Erich, Whipper, and the rest of the cast. They also go more frequently to other towns Garner ran including Newmarket and Bradford. Garner continued to run Thornhill and Richmond Hill on alternate days to the Tunney cards. Tunney would promote with 'Big Name Stars' prominent on the ads.

In Sutton (across the Lake from Barrie) in July 1957 Tommy Nelson via Tunney drew 1,500 fans for a main of Whipper vs Kiniski. It was said to be the largest draw at the Sutton Arena for any sport over the past several years.

It's unclear if Tunney had any grievance with Garner who wasn't quite the same threat as Kasaboski was.

Somewhere along the way Kasaboski and Tunney settled up as some of the names crossed over. One Kasaboski card in September 1958 was set to have a main of  Fred Atkins (billed from Frank Tunney's Toronto circuit) vs Bobo Brazil, who were both current stars for Tunney. Bobo no showed forcing Atkins to face Scotty Thompson. It said the 'incident will not go unaccounted. Northland promoter Larry K who brings in the Toronto men through his friendly connection with Frank Tunney, is sure to find out the reason why.'  The recap for that bout claimed Thompson made Atkins 'work, probably harder than he has in many bouts.'

Somewhat related was that the Barrie Fair that same month had originally scheduled wrestling via Kasaboski. It was reported that the OAC had said it was illegal to put on wrestling at the fair so the card was cancelled. Have to wonder as many fairs in Ontario at the time had 'exhibition' wrestling, and if in fact Tunney had something to do with it. 

Northland Winning The Fight

 A column in the Barrie Examiner in Sept 1958 looked at the past season and determined the best wrestling was ....Northland.

   'While the Northland wrestlers were although a mite smaller, proved far more schooled in the science of the game. They were faster, and did more than hold their right arms up, claiming victory.'

 Added was 'Best Villain - Maurice Vachon' and best supporting cast of Bill Curry, Louis Papineau, and the soon to be appearing at MLG Sandy Scott, and Frank 'Scotty' Thompson.
Tunney heads North 1958
Tunney in turn headed North into Kasaboski's area promoting some shows at the Bracebridge Community Centre.  Bracebridge -100km North of Barrie, 200km north of Toronto - is the gateway to the North. For two successive shows they ran Yukon Eric vs Kiniski mains.
In 1959 Ricky Starr missed a Tunney show in Barrie. In a column titled 'Bad Feelings' Barrie Sports Editor Steve Jonescu kicked off with 'Francois Tunney, wrestling promoter at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto doesn't have too many friends among the wrestling crowd in the Barrie area.' He reminded readers of the Bobo no-show the previous year but said that Starr hadn't drawn very many anyways - as they weren't advised of the substitution until they entered the arena. Again it was said 'Northland Wrestling Enterprise was quite upset...'

Garner Still Going Strong

All this time Red Garner wouldn't miss a beat, filling them in at the Thornhill Farmers Market shows and in his home base of Richmond Hill. One of Garner's stars Stoney Brooks was from Campbellford in the eastern part of Ontario and they ran occasional shows in the region including Cobourg and other towns. Kasaboski also occasionally dropped south of his usual circuit and ran Perth and Cornwall and other towns in the Eastern area.

No Hard Feelings

Both Garner (as Great Kudo) and Kasaboski returned to wrestle at MLG in the early 1960's. Garner was slowing down and would retire soon after, but not before a WWWF title shot vs Bruno Sammartino. Larry K wrestled for Tunney in 1958 and again in 1960. He came in for a last time in 1964 to face newcomer The Sheik who spent the better part of the 15 minute bout 'chewing on his victims left ear.' Maybe Tunney got his revenge after all.


Garner teamed up with Gus Marmon and The Olympic Wrestling Club in the early 1960's for a time and they had a short run TV show shown in Eastern Ontario as per ads. Red retired for good in 1964 and went on to drive the Bookmobile (library on wheels) in North York and was later the head of Woodview Library. He passed away in 1994.

Kasaboski continued to promote the North through 1975 but wasn't down in the southern part of the province very often after his initial run in the 1950's. The great story of Northland Wrestling (if you can find it) as told by Gary Howard in  'The Rassler From Renfrew' is a great read - and my favorite wrestling book.

Tunney celebrated the 50th Anniversary of MLW in 1981 and passed on in 1983 after 42 years at the helm. The promotion passed to nephew Jack and Frank’s son Ed, and as far as I know, no one else ever had rights to promote wrestling at MLG before it closed in 1999.


*The info on Tunney complaining about Kasaboski may have come from Gary Howard or maybe Barry Penhale. If you have additional info (I already asked Tim Hornbaker...)

For more on Red Garner and the CCWA see
Red Garner: The Pride of Langstaff
History of the CCWA *back soon 

And more on Ontario Promoters