Hockey and the “Beatle” Bandit

TORONTO (Aug. 15) — You may wonder why any person would mourn the demise of a strip–plaza. Such facilities aren’t normally the object of affection or sadness. In my case, however, I am somewhat disheartened over the gradual decay and obsolescence of an outdoor shopping center around the corner from where I grew up. Through the 1960’s, 70’s and much of the 80’s, the Bathurst Manor Plaza was the nucleus of my north–Toronto neighborhood. Bordered by Finch Avenue to the north; Sheppard Avenue to the south; Dufferin Street to the west and Bathurst Street to the east, the “Manor” (as it will forever be known) flocked to the plaza for everything from groceries to fine china; hardware; liquor and hair-styling.

Today, the facility at the northeast corner of Wilmington Avenue and Overbrook Place is a mini—ghost town. Where once the parking lot was inundated with cars, station–wagons and baby–strollers, or appropriated (in late–spring) by a cluster of amusement–park rides, there is nothing but a sprawl of cracked pavement and empty stores. The few remaining retailers were ordered to vacate by the end of July; the embattled property owner — wishing to erect a high–rise condominium complex amid a community of two–story bungalows — is currently engaged in a stand–off with residents and municipal politicians. The plaza was also the scene of an infamous bank robbery and murder in the summer of 1964 that long–time Manor–ites will never forget.

How does any of this, you are likely pondering, relate to the genre of my website?

Very simple. Beyond the nostalgia of a memorable and happy childhood, my immense collection of hockey magazines was born and nurtured in a cigar/convenience outlet at the north end of the plaza. In the early and mid–60’s, my dad, Irv, would drop by the store on his way home from work for the final edition of the Toronto Star. More often than not, he’d purchase a treat (chocolate–bar; ice cream; Smarties) for me and my sister, Cori. And, once in awhile, Dad would bring home one or two of the monthly hockey publications.

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Most of the time, I would mutilate these items by clipping out the photos and pasting them into a scrapbook. In the late–60’s, as I approached my pre-teen’s and grew more interested in hockey, I would read the magazines and put them away on a closet shelf. After awhile, it dawned on me that I was accumulating quite a collection — one that began to flourish as I exhausted my weekly allowance on the 50 and 60–cent periodicals. Today, I have more than 500–such magazines that date to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s; some of which I got bound into chronological book–form a generation ago. Many of these items are still in mint condition.

Magazines were delivered to the cigar store on Monday and Thursday afternoon. I began to call in advance and request that hockey arrivals be put aside for me. As the months and years progressed, the owners did this automatically. There were three main publications in the 60’s and 70’s: Hockey World; Hockey Pictorial and Hockey Illustrated. The first two were adjuncts of Ken–Wil Publishing in Montreal, which printedThe Hockey News each Saturday between October and May. Hockey Illustrated came out of New York (Complete Sports Publications) and was notable for its four–page spread of glossy, color photos in the middle.

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I TOOK A NUMBER OF MY OLDER HOCKEY MAGAZINES TO A BOOKBINDERY IN THE LATE–80’s.

THE “BEATLE BANDIT” SLAYING

For much of the 60’s, the cigar store was at the southern tier of Bathurst Manor Plaza, next to a branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, which occupied the southwest corner. In the summer of 1964, a suspect called the “Beatle Bandit” held up several banks in the areas of mid and north–Toronto. Matthew Kerry Smith (known by his middle name) of suburban Willowdale would show up heavily–armed; wearing a dime–store Beatles wig and a strapped–on clown’s mask for disguise (by 1964, the long–haired quartet of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr was a world–wide music phenomenon).

On July 24 of that summer, Smith entered the CIBC branch at Bathurst Manor Plaza and began to terrorize the usual swarm of Friday–afternoon patrons; there were no Automatic Teller Machines (ATM’S) back then. As he left with $25,000 in cash, a frequent customer — 54–year–old war veteran Jack Blanc — grabbed a revolver from the assistant manager and took off after Smith. In the ensuing hail of bullets, Smith literally blew apart Blanc’s head; fragments of which were grotesquely found on the balcony of a low–rise apartment just east of the plaza. Smith also fired at a police cruiser before fleeing in a car.

Screams and cries from horrified on–lookers could be heard for blocks in any direction.

After an exhaustive search, Smith was apprehended by Toronto police in January 1965.

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MANOR RESIDENTS LOITER OUTSIDE BANK (ABOVE) MOMENTS AFTER THE HOLD–UP AND SHOOTING. THE ORIGINAL CIGAR STORE CAN BE SEEN NEXT TO THE CIBC BRANCH. LESS THAN A BLOCK AWAY (BELOW), METRO TORONTO POLICE COVER THE FRAGMENTED HEAD OF WAR VETERAN JACK BLANC.

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POLICE COMPOSITE SKETCH OF MATTHEW KERRY SMITH (TOP–LEFT) AFTER THE ROBBERY. AND, NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT OF SMITH’S APPREHENSION NEARLY SIX MONTHS LATER.

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THE VACATED CORNER SECTION (TOP–LEFT) OF BATHURST MANOR PLAZA, AS IT APPEARS TODAY. IT ONCE HOUSED A BRANCH OF THE CANADIAN IMPERIAL BANK OF COMMERCE. SOUTH TIER OF THE STRIP–PLAZA (TOP–RIGHT) WITH FORMER CIBC LOCATION AT FAR–RIGHT IN PHOTO.

STORE OF MAGAZINES

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Justifiably traumatized by the hold–up in their neighboring business, owners of the cigar store requested a transfer to the far–north end of the plaza. A corner unit came available, next to a giant Dominion grocery outlet, and the move took place in the spring of 1965. It was from the new location — in September 1970 — that my horde of hockey magazines began to grow during regular Monday and Thursday visits.

Thus the nostalgia, today, of Bathurst Manor Plaza.

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NORTH SECTION OF BATHURST MANOR PLAZA (ABOVE AND BELOW), AS IT APPEARS TODAY, AND WHERE THE CIGAR STORE MOVED AFTER THE HOLD–UP AND MURDER OF JACK BLANC. THE SECTION BOARDED UP IN BLACK (ABOVE) ONCE HOUSED A BUSTLING DOMINION GROCERY STORE.

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TWO OF MY OLDEST HOCKEY ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINES: FROM 1962 AND 1963.

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ENTRANCE (ABOVE) TO THE CIGAR STORE (AS IT LOOKS TODAY) WHERE VIRTUALLY ALL OF MY HOCKEY MAGAZINES FROM THE 60’s, 70’s AND 80’s WERE PURCHASED. A TILE SHOP WAS THE LAST TENANT OF THE CORNER UNIT. PEERING INSIDE THE WINDOW (BELOW) MADE ME SAD. THE OLD MAGAZINE RACK WOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE LEFT NEAR THE FRONT OF THE STORE; THE CASH REGISTER ON THE RIGHT, WHERE THE PUMPKIN AND TURQUOISE LAMP ARE SEEN. WHAT A MESS!

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MAGAZINE COVERS

As mentioned, my oldest hockey magazines — from the 1960’s — are either stored flat in an army–surplus trunk or have been bound into books. Here are several of my favorites:

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FEBRUARY 1966 / APRIL–MAY 1966.

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NOVEMBER 1966 / JANUARY 1967.

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FEBRUARY 1967 / MARCH 1967 / APRIL–MAY 1967.

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JANUARY 1968 / MARCH 1968 / APRIL 1968.

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DECEMBER 1967 / JANUARY 1968.

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OCTOBER 1967 / JANUARY 1968.

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FEBRUARY 1969 / MARCH 1969.

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NOVEMBER 1968 / MARCH 1969 (SIGNED BY BOBBY ORR).

FROM THE 1970’s

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JANUARY 1975 / APRIL 1978.

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THE VACANT BATHURST MANOR PLAZA, AS IT APPEARS TODAY.

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THE BARBER SHOP (ABOVE) WHERE PAUL, CHRIS AND JIMMY USED TO CUT MY HAIR. AND THE EXPORT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS WALL–CALENDARS (BELOW) THAT WERE DISPLAYED IN THE SHOP DURING THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS STANLEY CUP DYNASTY OF THE 1960’s UNDER PUNCH IMLACH.

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

2 comments on “Hockey and the “Beatle” Bandit

  1. Comprehensive account of the Robbery at CIBC back in 64. You remembered many of the details that I had forgotten. You represent the gold standard of journalism. Keep up the good work. L.B.

  2. Having lived in the Manor with you and grown up there, your reminiscences certainly bring back memories. I enjoyed how you synthesized the hockey magazines and the plaza. Very creative. I know that the echoes of those happy days will be a part of you and of all of us who grew up in the Manor and who still have fond memories of all the things that we bought in those halcyon days. I remember wanting a God-awful denim suit in the 70s and how I pined for a .049 airplane and the Cigar Store. Those memories, like your hockey magazines, are a part of us. But now everything is different. But the joy of where we came from can never be taken from us. Nice job, Howie.

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