Graves of Maple Leafs titans Conn Smythe, Harold Ballard neglected
The remarkably nondescript grave of Leafs founder Conn Smythe. (Jack Boland/Toronto Sun)
Some people consider cemeteries spooky or scary, places they’d rather avoid.
The deer that scramble up from the Humber River to eat the flowers at historic Park Lawn Cemetery in Etobicoke certainly don’t feel that way.
On this day — a cold, cloudy January afternoon — five of the magnificent animals (three does and two fawns) have made their way up from the Humber to graze on the cemetery grounds.
A long-time Etobicoke resident who has family resting at Park Lawn said he has also seen coyotes and other small mammals mill about.
If you’re not freaked out by tombstones and grave markers, Park Lawn — with its rolling hills and sweeping greenery — is an excellent place for a stroll, although probably not when the temperature is minus-12.
And if you’re into history, the park is a great place to explore as it’s the final resting place of some of Canada’s most prominent citizens, including eminent newspaperman and broadcaster Gordon Sinclair; Allan Roy Dafoe, the small-town doctor who delivered the Dionne quintuplets in 1934; jazz/rock musician Jeff Healey, a local boy who attended nearby Etobicoke Collegiate; and former provincial cabinet minister John MacBeth.
Also resting at the west-end cemetery are some great sports figures from the past, including Hockey Hall of Fame winger Harvey (Busher) Jackson; Andy Kyle, a Toronto boy who played both Major League Baseball and professional hockey (the first person to do so); and Lou Marsh, an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I and a sports-journalism pioneer. In 1936, the Lou Marsh Trophy was created to be awarded each year to Canada’s top athlete.
Long-time Toronto Sun sports editor George Gross also rests at Park Lawn. The Baron’s headstone features a notepad and pen with the number “30,” the designation traditionally used by journalists to indicate the end of a story.
Many of the graves and headstones are lovingly preserved and enhanced with candles and flowers and other features that speak of the person’s life and accomplishments. Healey’s has a guitar and trumpet beautifully engraved on his headstone.
Some graves, however, seem neglected. One of those is the resting spot of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard.
If you make a left after entering Park Lawn from Prince Edward Dr. and head around a bend, at the top of a small hill is the Ballard family plot. The family name is inscribed on both sides of the gravestone, although on one side it’s impossible to read as a large shrub has grown over the stone. A quick trim would fix that up in no time.
But what’s really unfortunate is the garbage piled around the headstone. Buried deep inside the shrub, and lying alongside the stone, are a couple of discarded plastic food containers, the kind you get when you order out from Swiss Chalet. There’s also a broken wine bottle that’s clearly been there for some time.
Harold Ballard was not generally beloved during his time as the owner of the team, but he was the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the most storied sports franchises in North America and a Canadian institution.
Ballard probably deserves better than to have his family plot soiled by take-out chicken containers and a broken wine bottle. Nobody deserves having garbage discarded around their grave site.
Lying in front of the Ballard family headstone are a couple of small, flat grave markers, where Ballard’s mother and father rest. A few feet below those is the marker of Ballard’s wife, Dorothy, and beside her is the former owner and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On this day, it’s difficult to locate Harold Ballard’s grave marker, unless you know where to find it. The modest stone lies beside a small tree and is covered in leaves and snow. Even when that’s brushed aside, the inscription is almost impossible to read until you scrape the hard frost off the face.
There are no wreaths or candles like there are at many of the other grave sites, nor has anyone kept the marker clean and free of leaves and sticks.
It’s almost like Pal Hal has been completely forgotten.
Park Lawn is, in fact, the resting place of two past owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs: Ballard and the franchise’s founder, Constantine Falkland Cary Smythe, better known as Conn. Smythe’s accomplishments are legendary — Leafs founder and principal owner, the builder of Maple Leaf Gardens, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and First World War hero.
What’s remarkable about Smythe’s tombstone is just how unremarkable it is. It’s dignified and you can spot it easily from the road, although the headstone is worn and mouldy and there is nothing to commemorate his standing as a war hero with the 40th (Sportsmen’s) Battery or as the founder and owner of the fabled Maple Leafs.
No markers or inscriptions or prominent regimental emblems or anything along those lines. And certainly no Leafs paraphernalia placed around the stone like you might see at the grave site of an equally legendary athlete or celebrity.
Of course, it’s a family’s prerogative to attend to a loved one’s grave site as they see fit. But you might think — given the Maple Leafs’ historical significance in this country, and this city especially — that the organization might do a better job in preserving or commemorating the final resting place of two of the team’s former owners, principally the franchise founder. At least lay a wreath from time to time.
Former Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Richard Peddie said he doesn’t remember the organization ever commemorating either Smythe or Ballard at their grave sites. It may have happened, but he doesn’t recall if and when, and there certainly weren’t any wreaths on this day.
The Leafs have recognized Smythe over the years with tributes at Maple Leaf Gardens and the Air Canada Centre, especially on Remembrance Day, an acknowledgement to his military past.
But when you visit their graves sites, you would never know that Conn Smythe and Harold Ballard had anything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs.