Quick Bits: Toronto Circuit

 A common misconception is that Toronto was a 'one city town' a'la St Louis. It wasn't. For most of the history of the Toronto office there was a busy and vibrant circuit. 

Ivan Mickailoff began the weekly cards at Arena Gardens in Toronto in 1929. Right from the start he was branching out with cards around the region. Hamilton, London, Brantford, Kitchener, Oshawa, Timmins, and other towns all saw action in those early days. 

When businessman and boxing promoter Jack Corcoran entered the wrestling scene in 1930 he replicated the outward growth. He started to build the circuit using associates in the smaller towns. Sammy Sobel was an early partner running big parts of the area for Corcoran. Phil Lawson (Whipper's trainer) another. 

As Maple Leaf Gardens (1931) became the jewel of the territory, the promotion was set. They averaged 250-300,000 fans through the turnstiles over some 40-50 cards a year for a big portion of the history.

That didn't mean they were sitting pretty. After Frank & John Tunney took over in 1939 (with business in tough) Frank continued the circuit growth with stops in over 30 cities many seasons. He took advantage of his associate promoters setting up a strong network of former wrestlers and old-timers; John Katan, Pat Milosh, Don & Joe Maich, Tommy Nelson, and others. 

They ran the outliers though Frank made the weekly trips around the region, often with Sobel & Nelson, and later Whipper and Pat Flanagan in tow as they monitored the scene. Sometimes two towns a night with split crews. For a time Flanagan facilitated a lot of it acting as a booker of sorts. 

This served the office well through the boom of the 1950's. The region was on fire and they ran feuds from MLG through the towns, packing them in. Back then there was a roster. Many of the regulars started to make the Golden Horseshoe (area around western Lake Ontario) their home base. Fred Atkins, Jim Hady, Sky Hi Lee, Sandor Kovaks, Tim Geohagen, and many others that gravitated to the territory. 

Kingston, ON 1952 Former NHL'er Gus Marker in charge locally

Frank may have gone further out more often but ran into some competition with Kasaboski's Northland. He looked to avoid the trouble as business was good closer to home. Other towns that were part of the circuit at times were left for other promoters. Yet others left seasonal. 

By the 1960s, many of Frank's old associates had dropped out. Sammy Sobel, the main lieutenant died in 1958. John Katan left that same year to run a golf course. Tommy Nelson stayed on until he retired in the mid 60's. Pat Milosh was a rare exception, staying at the helm in Oshawa to an extent through 1992. Whipper & Flanagan continued to represent the Toronto office in many of the smaller towns, booking the Arenas through the local Managers for the most part. 

Others sprang up to fill the void in some of those towns. Whipper himself ran many shows and other wrestlers moved on to promote with the Tunney stars. Dave McKigney the most prominent, later started filling in the smaller towns, many of which Frank had only occasionally or rarely ran. Much of the wrestling talent though still came through the Toronto office. 

Example of a week back in the 40s-50s.  Note the towns had overlapping seasons that weren't year round.

Mon: Niagara Falls, Kitchener
Tues: Hamilton, Oshawa, Kingston
Wed: London, St Catharines, Barrie 
Thurs: MLG (& Ottawa early days), Cornwall
Fri: Brantford, Milton, etc
Sat : Stoufville, Owen Sound, and other towns seasonal 
Sun: Off- wrestling & boxing not allowed in Ontario on Sundays till 1964

During the summer months many of the cottage type towns and resort stops saw some wrestling too. There weren't many towns along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Georgian Bay, that didn't see a wrestling card at some point. The 'Stars from Maple Leaf Gardens' covered a lot of territory. 

By the end of the 60s and into the Sheik era, Frank was already 30 years in as promoter. He started to take a smaller role, letting Jack control much of the groundwork. The roster was gone. Many of the smaller towns were left to McKigney and others, occasionally still in tandem with Jack & the Toronto office. For a time Jack even ran with McKigney before it all turned sour. 

The Toronto office too had shrunk back by then. What used to be a busy office full of reporters, boxing guys, associates, commissioners, and old wrestlers, now was a small unit of Frank, Jack, & Norm Kimber for the most part.

With the Mid-Atlantic era (1978) and the success it brought, they went back to an office run circuit. Looked something like this for the most part, revolving towns/days a bit over the seasons.  

Sunday: MLG 
Monday: Brantford, Dundas, Guelph, St Catharines - TV day
Tuesday: Kitchener
Wed: London
Thurs: Kingston, Oshawa
Saturday: Niagara Falls, Buffalo

As with other territories occasionally they doubled up. In Apr 1982 they ran Buffalo in the afternoon and MLG in the evening. Ottawa the next day. Bockwinkel & Flair a part of those big cards. 

The difference by that time was that much of our top tier talent was now imported. While many of the M-A stars stayed on past the MLG card, others continued back south. The circuit also only ran for a week a month or so though there were some spot shows on the off weeks, more so in the summer months. 

The circuit was finally ended for good when Jack aligned with the WWF in 1984. The NWA days actually ended with a circuit show. Other towns still saw cards but they soon became few and far between compared to the old days. 


A general look at all of the promoters besides Tunney et al at Ontario Promoters
Sobel, Nelson, Milosh, Lawson, and others mentioned can be found in the Hall of Excellence
A small war with Kasaboski as Tunney went north is at The Boom beyond...