Friday, January 27, 2012

Time in a Copper Box: The Maple Leaf Gardens Time Capsule

The mere mention of a time capsule evokes memories of a past event.

On April 21, 1986 a large television audience sat glued to their sets watching as host Geraldo Rivera opened a secret vault in Chicago's Lexington Hotel. Why such interest in this vault at this location? The answer is simple - Al Capone.

The noted gangster who ruled the underworld during the 1920s and 1930s was the individual responsible for constructing the vault. Speculation was rampant as to what was inside. The theories ranged from gold and cash to dead bodies.

As usually happens when something is hyped to the extreme, the outcome tends to be a downer. When Rivera and his team finally cracked through the door, all they discovered was a load of dirt and an empty bottle.

It could be the nature of the process, but one can hardly avoid building-up feelings of anticipation when attending or watching an event like the one taking place in 1986.

With this in mind, I made my way down yesterday to the George Vari Engineering & Computing Centre at Ryerson University to attend a media conference. It was time to identify the contents contained within a time capsule discovered at Maple Leaf Gardens in the autumn of 2011.

Upon entering the atrium level, the items from the capsule were on display for all to view. It was a huge relief not to have the same results as the Capone/Rivera experience.

The time capsule was the home for 80-years for the following 12 pieces as described in the media release.

A four-page, typed letter from the directors of Maple Leaf Gardens describing the design and construction details of the new arena.

A stock prospectus for Maple Leaf Gardens.

Four newspapers from September 21, 1931 including the Toronto Daily Star, The Globe, The Mail and Empire and the Evening Telegram.

Three official hockey rule books, one each for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, the Ontario Hockey Association and the National Hockey League.

A Red Ensign Flag.

1931 Toronto Municipal Handbook.

A small ivory elephant with fragments of a blue ribbon.

 These items were stored in a homemade copper box, then placed behind the cornerstone at Maple Leaf Gardens. The ceremony for the cornerstone took place on September 21, 1931. Checking newspaper reports from the next day, there was no mention of the time capsule.

Most intriguing of all the items is the ivory elephant. Although its meaning and importance is not known, there was plenty of speculation. The general consensus being it represented a symbol of good luck.

Sheldon Levy, President of Ryerson University provided his thoughts. "I do believe the whole box suggests a sense of risk and a sense that people were unsure of the times during the depression. Whether it would all work. Would the investment come true. The elephant to me was a sense of I wish us luck."

Dr. Hugh Smythe, son of the legendary Conn Smythe, spoke of a family connection to an ivory elephant. "In the First World War my father who became a prisoner of war and as a prisoner of war he met a Russian by the name of Logvinoff. He gave my father his boots as my father's were shot-up. So Logvinoff who had two pairs of boots he gave my father one pair. As he learnt later it was typical of Logvinoff as it was his best pair of boots he gave to my father. After the war he came to Canada and married a Toronto girl. He moved to Shanghai and was an importer/exporter. He sent us a number of things including an ivory elephant which we still have."

Obviously, this wasn't the elephant in the time capsule, but it does indicate Conn Smythe was in possession of a similar item. Also, Dr. Smythe pointed out his father wasn't on the Board of Directors at this time and only served as an employee. Thus, his exposure to this project could have been limited or his participation wasn't required at all.

Another mysterious part of the discovery relates to the copper box. In particular, the inner lid. Once opened, a hand-engraved inscription was noticed. It read "M.B. Campbell 124 Lindsay Ave 9/21/31." It was pointed out to all assembled at Ryerson that very few details were known about M.B. Campbell.

After the gathering I decided to conduct some detective work at the Toronto Reference Library. A check of city directories supplied some valuable information. The records show a Milliard B. Campbell living at 124 Lindsay Ave in Toronto, Ontario. He was employed as a draftsman at Ewart Armer and Byam Ltd. - consulting engineers. The president and general manager was Frank R. Ewart. They were located on 36 Toronto Street. Their office was in the Excelsior Life Building.

Of course, this information doesn't shed light on Campbell's input or why his name is on the lid. However, it does help to provide some background as to his complete name and occupation.

As for the other findings, Arne Kislenko a professor of history at Ryerson University, provided some insight. He is of the opinion that by including the amateur rule books there was some doubt if the pro game would take-off. He made reference to the difficult financial times in 1931, with the depression raging on and unemployment at 30 percent.

President Levy indicated the ivory elephant could have an impact on the current Toronto Maple Leafs. "We have found the good luck charm for the Maple Leafs. They are now on the road to the Stanley Cup," stated the longtime hockey fan.

Perhaps, it is one white elephant the Leafs wouldn't mind being in the room. With the ivory elephant safely hidden in a copper box tucked behind the cornerstone, Toronto's NHL team were crowned Stanley Cup champions 7 months later in April 1932.

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