TORONTO (June 19) — The question was inevitable and rhetorical: Would a Stanley Cup parade in our city either match or exceed the monstrous gathering for Monday’s basketball blowout in the downtown core?
First, no sports commemoration will ever top the Raptors’ event with respect to numbers. The city will learn from the consummate danger of allowing more than 500,000 people to clog University Ave. and imperil those requiring access to Women’s College, Toronto General, Princess Margaret, Sick Kids and Mount Sinai hospitals. This was a disaster waiting to happen and horror stories will likely emerge, at some point, from the downtown medical community. No sports parade had ever begun at the Canadian National Exhibition… or turned north on University. When, for example, the Toronto Argonauts won the 1983 Grey Cup, more than 60,000 people jammed Bay St. from Union Station to City Hall. Both celebrations for the Toronto Blue Jays (in 1992 and 1993) occurred in the vicinity of SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) and culminated inside the stadium before 55,000 on–lookers. Never had the city made available nearly seven kilometers of open road for any event. The potential crisis among those standing shoulder–to–shoulder on University Ave. — and, particularly, the 50,000–or–so jammed like sardines into Nathan Philips Square — cannot be overstated.
AERIAL TV IMAGES OF (LEFT) THE MASSES CLOGGING ALL TRAFFIC LANES OF UNIVERSITY AVE. AT THE CANADA LIFE BUILDING AND OSGOODE HALL — LESS THAN ONE KILOMETER FROM THE DOWNTOWN HOSPITALS. AND (RIGHT) IN AND AROUND NATHAN PHILIPS SQUARE AT CITY HALL. BELL MEDIA/CP–24
It is therefore safe to assume that Monday’s event established enduring history. At no time in the foreseeable future will more than a million people be permitted to occupy such a tiny corridor. Whenever the next parade occurs — as a matter of public safety — the route will be shortened and more–tightly controlled. Remember, this was Toronto’s first celebration for an international sports team since the consecutive baseball triumphs a quarter–century ago… in the era before Internet and social media. Today, there are more than three million residents in Metropolitan Toronto — bounding from Lake Ontario to the south; Etobicoke Creek and Highway 427 to the west; Steeles Ave. to the north and the Rouge River (Scarborough) to the east. It is the fourth–most–populous center in North America behind Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles. The so–called Greater Toronto Area (or GTA) encompasses Metro, plus the regional municipalities of Durham, Halton, Peel and York — stretching eastward from Burlington to Oshawa; northward from Vaughan to Newmarket. More than seven million people currently occupy this territory. As such, the numbers that evolved during Monday’s basketball revelry should not have surprised anyone.
Had the parade been for the Maple Leafs instead of the Raptors — and assuming the identical route — the numbers could not have ballooned; there was no space in which to cram more humanity between the CNE and City Hall. The vibe may have been slightly more intense, given Toronto’s intrinsic hockey connection… and that the Leafs haven’t prevailed since the Medieval Period (or so it seems). Of the estimated million people during Monday’s gathering, perhaps 150,000 were die–hard basketball fanatics; the others were there for the “event”. In a Maple Leafs parade, arguably 600,000 would be pure hockey zealots. So, the depth and fervency of a long–awaited Stanley Cup parade would likely eclipse the Larry O–B celebration.
What will the city have learned from Monday’s gathering? Certainly, we hope, to keep University Ave. free of obstruction along Hospital Row (between College and Dundas); preferably, the entire length northward from Front St. If that isn’t common sense, I have no definition for the term. Neither will future parade–planners likely choose the CNE as a starting point. The Raptors’ caravan required more than five hours to cover the seven–kilometer route; it is absurd to tie up the downtown core of any major city for that amount of time. City Hall has long–been the destination for sports parades (Maple Leafs in 1962–63–64–67; Argos in 1983–91–96–97–2004–12–17 and, of course, the Raptors this year). Nathan Philips Square is a large (12 acres) gathering spot and ideal for medium–size events. But, Monday’s parade was the largest aggregation for any event in city annals, rivaled only by the 1984 visit to Toronto of Pope John Paul II. An estimated 500,000 pilgrims converged on Downsview Park (north of Highway 401) for the Papal Mass on Sep. 15 of that year.
It would therefore be imprudent to end another international sports celebration (Raptors, Maple Leafs, Blue Jays) at City Hall. I could see Nathan Philips Square as a starting–point for a parade that advances southward on Bay St. to Front St.; then westward to Rogers Centre. The Jays had the right idea in ’92 and ’93… minimize the parade disruption; maximize the hoopla in a controlled environment (the stadium). The Raptors would have needed to plan such an event for Sunday — three days after unseating Golden State and one day before the Blue Jays arrived for a series with the Los Angeles Angels. The basketball champions chose, instead, to cavort in Las Vegas through the weekend, thereby enabling Monday as the earliest parade date.
CAN IT REALLY BE 25 YEARS?
The past week, in 1994, will forever remain among the most–vivid in my life.
It’s hard to fathom that a quarter–century has passed since the night the New York Rangers ended their 54–year Stanley Cup drought… and football legend O.J. Simpson was suspected of murdering his ex–wife, Nicole Brown, and innocent bystander Ron Goldman. These moments, for me, occurred simultaneously on June 14, 1994 while at Madison Square Garden to cover (for The FAN–1430) Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final between the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. As New York skated toward its decisive, 3–2 victory, word began to spread through the arena that a blood–trail had connected Simpson to the pair of homicides. And, anyone of vintage will remember how the murder trial of the former Buffalo Bills running back dominated international news throughout much of 1995. The lockout–shortened, 48–game NHL schedule of 1994–95 (beginning in the third week of January) was my first covering the Maple Leafs as a radio beat–reporter. The Leafs were still in the Western Conference and therefore made two trips per season to California, Texas, Colorado and western Canada. I can still close my eyes and see the crowd of travelers at San Jose International Airport gathered around large TV sets tuned into the O.J. trial. It was virtually the same in every airport, north and south of the border, leading to the Simpson verdict in early–October 1995.
The Rangers–Canucks series was the best Stanley Cup final I covered in my radio career. Game 5, at the Garden, stands out as distinctly as Game 7. After building a 3–1 series lead over Vancouver with back–to–back wins at the old Pacific Coliseum, the Rangers came home with a chance (on June 9) to win their first NHL title since 1940. The front page of the New York Post (top–left) considered it a foregone conclusion; its “TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT” banner–headline incensing the Vancouver players and coach Pat Quinn. In a game for the ages, the Canucks jumped out to a 3–0 lead only to have the Rangers storm back to tie in the third period. With the Garden in an uproar, Vancouver regained the lead just seconds later… then added two more goals for a 6–3 triumph that spawned the Friday headline (top–right) in the New York Post.
Another Canucks victory on home ice knotted the Cup series at 3–3, but the Rangers finally prevailed in Game 7 (below) amid the O.J. rumors. New York ended the longest–ever Stanley Cup drought (54 years).
The Maple Leafs, right now, are within two springs of equaling that dubious mark.
MAGAZINES THAT FEATURED, 25 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK, THE CHARGE OF DOUBLE–MURDER AGAINST FOOTBALL STAR O.J. SIMPSON. HE WAS ACQUITTED BY A DOWNTOWN–LOS ANGELES JURY.