The History of the Toronto Lions is far older than the name itself. The Club, in its present form, was founded in 1974 by the amalgamation of the "Canucks" and "Scarborough Old Boys" Rugby Clubs - both having roots going back approximately twenty years before that. Just like many successful businesses, our history is one of ups and downs, takeovers and mergers.
Scarborough Old Boys RFC
The Scarborough Old Boys Rugby Club was actually only in existence for two years, having been formed in 1973, after the demise of the earlier "Toronto Old Boys" Rugby Club. Both of these Clubs drew their membership mainly from the students and graduates of the University of Toronto schools, "Scarborough" referring to the University of Toronto Scarborough College campus, where the latter played.
The original "Old-Boys" were formed some time in the mid-1950's and were a premier Club in the 1960's, but they ran only one Team, confining their team list to less than 25 players. Their colours were narrow red and dark green hoops. They are, perhaps, as famous for the later careers of some of their members, as they were for their on-the-field exploits (e.g.: lock, Michael Wilson - former Federal Finance Minister; flanker, Bill Watters - Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the McMurtry brothers, including fullback, Bill - noted Lawyer and author of the "Report on Hockey Violence"; and flanker, Bob - the well known Orthopaedic Surgeon, later Dean of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario).
Always on the move, they never had a permanent playing field, or watering hole. A feature article on Canadian Rugby, published in the Toronto Star - Weekend Colour Supplement, on August 27th., 1966, described the Old-Boys this way: they "are old, not so boyish and rather heavy as 'rugger' teams go; and they favour a tight brand of the game - lots of pushing to wear down the other side and not much running with the ball, to save their own legs." The Old-Boys' Captain, Cautley Tatham, was quoted as saying "It's not a very attractive game, but it wins and that's the object of the exercise", but unfortunately, it didn't work out in the game that the Star reporter, Jack Batten, saw at East York Stadium, as they lost to the visiting University of British Columbia 33-3.
This loss heralded the low ebb for the Old-Boys, as they were relegated from the Ontario Senior League the following year. However, with the addition of some talented young backs, they made a strong comeback; and on their day, their blend of "Brit and Anzac" skills, combined with young Canadian "beef" and speed, was always capable of pulling off an upset against the toughest local opposition, as they did against the Wanderers, in a memorable 8-0 shut-out, during the "Wanderers' Day at the Square" in 1968.
Sevens showed their strength to good effect; the Old-Boys were beaten finalists in the "Centennial Rose City Sevens" in Windsor in 1967 and also reached the finals of the "Quebec Sevens" in 1969, losing 5-3 to Balmy Beach, in the mud. Great Tourists, the Old-Boys reached the 1968 semi-final of the very prestigious Commonwealth Cup in Charlotte, VA., but were unable to repeat, in a return visit two years later.
After losing 9-6 to Niagara Wasps in the Intermediate Cup in 1969, they completed their comeback in 1972, by winning the Cup, having been the only Club to beat the Exiles in Sudbury (14-3), to qualify. They went on to beat the last-placed Senior Club, the Oshawa Vikings, to claim re-entry into the Senior League. But they were then refused admission, as a new rule had been passed after the end of the season, requiring all Senior League Clubs to have a Second Team. As a consequence of the ensuing dispute, the Old-Boys' President and Patriarch, Cautley Tatham folded the Club and many of their top players moved on to play for "the Beach". Although still in Toronto, Cautley never resumed an active involvement with the Sport.
The next year, the remnants, built round the graduating class at Scarborough College, re-emerged as the "Scarborough Old Boys", changing their colours to equal maroon, blue and white hoops. This brief reincarnation was less successful, for although it contained a number of hard working individuals, (which included backs - Kenny Shand, Eric Seery and Stan Dilworth; and forwards - Frank Tamasi, Mike Gillan, Bill McNamara, Tom "the Pipe" Elliott and Andy Kowalczewski), they had lost too many players, so they lacked the depth to be viable, in the long-term.
Scarborough O.B.'s Founding President, Bill Braden, moved to Ottawa in the spring of 1974, leaving Eric Seery to carry on the unequal struggle to keep the Club afloat. But, in one final burst of "Old-Boys" glory, they beat the Canucks 9-3, in their last meeting, played at Chaplin Crescent, thanks to a late try under the posts, by their mercurial young scrum-half, Kenny Shand (a contemporary description).
The Canucks had a slightly longer history, but the actual founding date is uncertain (1954/5). It was reputedly one of the first three or four Clubs formed in Toronto after World War II, with the great influx of "Expatriates" from around the British Commonwealth. It was one of the many spin-offs from the "Wanderers" that occurred in the early Fifties (the Wanderers themselves were only formed in 1949). "Wanderer" Denis Fletcher was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Canucks, although he never actually joined (Fletcher's Fields, at Victoria Square, was named after him). The name "Canucks" was selected to give the Club a Canadian identity, instead of adopting one of the "Old-Country" names in fashion at that time. In reality, this dream wasn't fully achieved until the early 1980's, when the Canadian-born members finally started to outnumber the "Expatriates".
The earliest Club memories we have go back to circa 1955. The first Canucks' President was Alan Risden, but he soon moved to the U.S.A.. He was succeeded, in short order, by Bob Miller (also the first Treasurer) and the late Fred Bunting. Fred stayed in charge for several years, until he moved on to form the Police Rugby Club, as Fred and at least one of his many sons were Rugby-playing policemen. This Club, in turn, later amalgamated with the Toronto Pirates, to become the Buccaneers.
The Canucks started out on Olympic Island in the Toronto Harbour, but one of the most vivid early stories concerns a brief sojourn downtown at Moss Park (next to the Armoury), circa 1964. Then, as now, it was in a very depressed part of town. It was a weekly pre-game ritual for both teams to form a line to clear the pitch of empty bottles and sleeping winos, before the game could start.
But back to Olympic Island. This was a great field, owned by the Metro Parks Department. It was built on a sand base, so the drainage was excellent and conditions were always good. However, kick-off's had to be timed around the Ferry schedule. Many games started short of players on both sides, with reinforcements arriving on the next Ferry (the Leagues didn't start until 1953 and then only in the Fall; also, the rules weren't as strictly enforced as they are today). Other games were cut short by the sound of the departing Ferry whistle, which caused a mad scramble for kit bags and a hasty exit. In the Fall, most players avoided the small and musty shower facilities, preferring a quick dip in the warm lake. Some Clubs arrived in style by Water-Taxi, at the outrageous price of 50¢ per head (the price of two beers in those days). The only problem was that these boats were quite small and a complete Rugby Team loaded them right down to the water-line. Everyone had to sit very still, to keep from capsizing.
Despite all of this (or maybe because of it), "the Island" was a popular venue, which lasted for many years, but the Canucks were finally displaced when the Parks Department began a major upgrade of the whole Metro Parks System, in time for the Centennial celebrations in 1967. The alternative proved to be a bonus, as they built two new fields at Sunnybrook Park, where the Canucks/Lions have remained tenants of Field "B" ever since. However, there was a two year period, while the Sunnybrook fields were being built, when the Canucks took up temporary residence at Caledonia Park, behind the reservoir on the North East corner of Lawrence Ave. W. and Caledonia Rd.. This playing field was the exact opposite of the Island field, as it was built on clay; and after a heavy rain, the water sat around in pools for weeks, which slowly turned into stagnant, smelly mud-baths. They were glad to move to their new permanent quarters at Sunnybrook.
The 1960's were also notable for the legendary Sunday "pick-up" games in the "dust-bowl" at High Park. There was so little grass, that on dry breezy days, the blowing dust and litter could be so bad, that line-outs were actually delayed until the scrum-half could see the ball! Long-time Canuck player Peter Shaw was one of the principal organizers of these games, which featured such improbable Teams as the "All-Stars", the "Unquenchables", the "Hairies" and the "Beardies". Players showed up from all the local Clubs and they played for the Team who's name best matched their physical attributes! The first Rugby game that the writer saw in Canada, was one of these games played in the Fall of 1966, where a bald "Beardie" and an equally bald opponent clashed heads with a clonk like two bowling balls colliding, which echoed literally all around the park. The collision resulted in lots of blood (and stitches later), but no hard feelings. What an introduction to Canadian Rugby!
Although the Canucks' colours were well known and liked in later years, their attire wasn't always so tasteful. In their effort to appear more "Canadian", the Club originally wore a non-traditional, collar-less, hockey-style shirt. It was basically pale blue, with red and gold hoops on the sleeves; and with a large red maple leaf in the centre of the chest. However, the pale blue soon faded to a dirty white, which proved to be most unattractive, to say the least! In 1962, it was decided to redesign the shirt, while maintaining the same basic colours. Thus, their distinctive gold shirt, with red and royal blue "UCLA" shoulder inserts, was born.
Never a "Championship Team", the Canucks were a consistently competitive Club, who sadly, had few major triumphs on the field. The only significant achievement we have uncovered, so far, is that they reached the finals of the Ontario Sevens in 1957.
None-the-less, there were a number of outstanding players over the years. First, there was the extremely aggressive wing forward,Frank Butts, who was the multiple winner of the Canucks' MVP Award. Frank tackled so hard, that he frequently injured himself in the process! In 1964, winger, Chris Hawthorne played for Ontario against Scotland and scored Ontario's only try. Then there was hooker, Joe Brook, who despite his long-held reputation as having the fastest foot in Ontario in the Sixties/Seventies, was never selected by the Province. Ted Houghton was definitely the Canucks' Mr. Versatility. Not only did he play any position asked of him, well and without complaint, but he also anchored their Relay Team in the Wanderers' Road Race for year after year. Finally, there was talented fullback, Mike O'Dowd, who was the proud possessor of the most obvious, but effective, combination fake-kick/side-step/dummy in Canadian Rugby (learned playing Gaelic Football in Ireland).
In 1966, the New York and Toronto offices of the Phoenix Insurance Company, decided to play an ad-hoc Rugby game in New York City, to foster closer relations between the two organizations. Although the game itself was less than memorable (thought to be a 3-3 tie), the Toronto players were so enthused, that they wanted to play more games locally. As a result, they soon formed the "Phoenix Rugby Club", which actually played a few games for the faltering Canucks Second Team that year (the League was more flexible then).
The following year they joined up with another small Club, the Aurora Yorks, to enter the League officially. According to contemporary Canucks' Fixture Lists, they played the 1967 season as "Phoenix-Aurora" and the 1968 season as "York-Phoenix". Sometime during that year, the "Expatriate" Aurora Club disbanded and re-appeared as "All-Canadian" York County. They then broke away on their own again, leaving the "Phoenix" to battle on alone. Because of their earlier close liaison with the Canucks, Mike Hind and Jack Morrison, (who were President and Secretary respectively), formally requested a merger in August 1969. The "Phoenix" officially joined the Canucks in September, in time for the Fall League Season. From then on, the Canucks ran two League Teams regularly.
Toronto Lions RFC
In the years that followed the "Phoenix" merger, putting out those two teams every week became increasingly difficult for the Canucks and discussions took place with several Clubs about further possible mergers. However, it was not until a chance meeting on the St. Clair/Mount Pleasant street-car in the summer of 1974, between the two Club Presidents (Phil Tobin and Eric Seery), that the merger of the "Canucks" and the smaller "Scarborough Old Boys" took shape. A formal meeting of the two Clubs was eventually held in Dave Thomas' basement in Willowdale on November 24th. 1974, at which it was decided unanimously to merge the Clubs and to adopt a totally new identity. Many names were proposed, but after a long series of votes, eliminating the alternatives one at a time, "Toronto Lions R.F.C." ultimately won out.
An interim Committee was formed to develop a Constitution and select Club Colours. Phil Tobin was elected President, a position he held for the next five years. Phil was also chairman of Selectors. In the early years, selection meetings took place in his Davisville apartment on Monday nights and it often took several hours to hammer out the teams. However, regardless of the decisions, it was usually "Phil's Team" that took to the field on Saturday. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Phil did all the 'phoning! (Phil is now retired and living in Widnes, England).
The interim Club Secretary, Harry Anderton, produced a large number of designs for the new Club uniform in a wide variety of all-new colours, but it was a design proposed by Dave Thomas that was finally selected. Contrary to a persistent myth, which implies that the design was based on the very similar Huddersfield Rugby League Club uniform, it was actually based on the predominant colours of the founding Clubs, MAROON from the Scarborough Old Boys and GOLD from the Canucks. The proportions of the maroon and gold bands were suggested by his high school tie (which coincidentally, was also maroon and gold). Although these proportions have remained fairly constant, the actual band width has gradually increased to the current size (maroon - 3½", gold - ½"). The distinctive Lion Crest was specially designed by a Heraldic Design Shop on Yonge St., north of College St., which disappeared a few years later. The official heraldic description is "a Lion passant, regardant, with Maple Leaf".
For the first year, the First Team played in the new colours and the Second Team wore the old Canucks' Gold shirts embroidered with Lion Crests, as the Club couldn't afford two new sets. After that, the Gold shirts were kept for Inter-Squad and "Over/Under Thirty" Games. This tradition continues to this day, although all the original shirts have been lost.
Although there were a few misgivings by some, the marriage of the two Clubs turned out very well, as there was a near perfect match, both on and off the field. In the Club's "front office", Phil Tobin was the General and Recruiter, Eric Seery was the Tactician and Publicist, while Dave Thomas was the Administrator and Quartermaster. The playing skills dove-tailed also. For example, the quick-striking Canuck hooker, Joe Brook, played between the powerful Old-Boy props, Bill McNamara and Art Penty; while the talented young Old-Boy half-backs, Kenny Shand and Alan Morrison, fed the Canucks' experienced centres, Jon "Elbows" Over and John Tayles. The First Team was anchored by Canuck fullback, Mike O'Dowd.
The Club expanded to three League Teams in 1976; and in 1978 won the Toronto and District Championship. This resulted in the Lions being promoted to the newly enlarged Ontario Senior League. However, this also marked the retirement of many of the Lions' original First Team and we were relegated the following year, when the Ontario League was restructured once again and reduced by six teams. We were beaten out for the last available place by the Nomads, who we had beaten during the Season.
Since then, we have not won any titles, but did reach the final of the Old Vienna Cup (now called the Marshall Cup) in 1983, losing out to the Saracens (14-3), in a hard fought game. We did, however, win the T.R.U. Sevens around the same time.
Several of our best players are listed in the Club Honours Section below, but there have been a number of other individuals and events that stand out. The early Lions' successes were powered by the example of the ultra-mobile tight-head prop, Bill McNamara. His very successful style, combining great strength with speed, was emulated in the late-Seventies by our fine U.S. Import second row, "Big Jim" Seidewand and in the Eighties, by two other rugged props; first, Chris Jones and later, Frank Calomino. Unfortunately, Frank's career was cut short by a knee injury sustained at work. Another fine example of the strong, mobile forwards in the Lions' first decade, was Kim Walters. Not only was he a very hard running flanker/centre, but he could also fill in at prop for the First Team, when needed.
However, not all our best players have relied on size and power to be effective. From the beginning, with a few breaks to tour various parts of the World, light-weight flanker/utility back, Brian Adams still provides a shining example of skill and endurance to the newer players. But, for shear tenacity, team spirit and on-the-field effort, the prize goes to now veteran, but still fiery (although maybe not quite so mercurial), scrum-half, Ken Shand, who continues to earn the occasional game in the First Team, after over a quarter century of service with the Lions and the earlier Scarborough Old Boys.
Perhaps the most memorable try ever scored by a Lion, was run-in from inside his own half by meteoric left winger, Dennis Jubenville, against the Gloucester R.F.C. Touring Side in 1980, on that equally memorable Tour. It was one of only two scored against them; and the other was also scored by a Lion, right winger, Tim Bovaird. This was a real "feather in our cap", as even Ontario failed to cross their line. Gloucester were the reigning English Club Champions that year.
The Junior (Under 19) Team was started by Eric Vercoe around 1981 and has run most years since. Now known as the "Predators", (a name suggested by former Junior, Daniel van der Graaf), they usually play in solid maroon shirts, as they have to earn their "stripes".
Rather than concentrating on a single High School, as most Clubs do, Eric energetically recruited from a wide variety of schools in several parts of the City, including Northern Collegiate and Downsview Collegiate, as well as David & Mary Thomson Collegiate in Scarborough (then coached by another former Lion, Dave Schad). For the first few years, Eric was helped considerably, by Mike Gillan, who brought along a number of his students from West Hill Collegiate, where he was Rugby Coach. Later, former Lions' prop, Frank Calomino, who was then Assistant Rugby Coach at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, also assisted for a few years.
These early Teams were quite successful, but unfortunately, Juniors graduate from High School the same year that they finish Junior Rugby. Many go off to distant Universities and are never seen again, while others are lured away by the bigger Clubs, who regard this League as a fertile recruiting ground.
However, a number of our Juniors have stayed with us and have made a valuable contribution to the Club. Prop, Steve Powerplayed for the Ontario Juniors in 1975, several years before we even had a Junior Team. Unfortunately, he eventually joined his compatriots at the Toronto Welsh. Scrum-half, Lee Thomas and fly-half, Tim Mooney, both played for theT.R.U. Junior Team that won the Ontario Championship in 1981 and they did stay with the Club for a number of years. Tim later gave up Rugby for religious Missionary work overseas, but apparently, is now back again and playing for Peterborough occasionally.
In 1982, Eric recruited Ray Lamey and Tom Kilburn from Thomson Collegiate. Usually a scrum-half, Ray has played all the back positions well. He has appeared regularly for the Club for over ten years, most of the time in the First Team. Tom, an aggressive lock/number 8, gave up his regular First Team spot some time ago, but still plays once in a while. The same year, Eric acquired a lone recruit from Bathurst Heights Collegiate, Paul Coburn, who was a permanent fixture in the centre for the First Team, for more than a decade. Their example today, is fuelling tomorrow's growth.
After Eric went to live in England in 1986 (reverse immigration), Chris Clovis assumed control; and using his Neil McNeil High School Program as a base, successfully ran two Junior Teams for several years. This feat was not repeated until 1997, when Dan van der Graaf also ran two Teams.
The best year, so far, was 1993, when under the guidance of Dave Noble (himself a Lion since he was a Junior), the Lions' Juniors won the T.R.U. "B" Division, beating Wanderers 22-14 in the Final.
Men O' Paws (Over-35s)
The "Over-Thirty-Fives" were formed in 1984. A number of the over-the-hill gang had been playing regularly for the Toronto XL's (Over 40's) and it was realized that we actually had enough active members to put out our own Over-Thirty-Five Side for Sunday games.
It was the ageless flanker, Brian Adams (past 50 and still playing League games), who coined the unique "Men-O'-Paws" name, with its multiple meanings! This "moniker" was the hit of the 1989 International Golden Oldies Festival, which was held in Toronto, receiving the loudest cheer at the formal March-Past in Varsity Stadium. PAWS' memorabilia was in great demand throughout the entire Festival.
After a few lean years, Tom Kilburn took over the reins in 1997, bringing in fresh blood from his generation; and the PAWS went undefeated in the four games they played that year (the PAWS were also the mainstay of the "Seconds" during this rebuilding year).
In the latter days of the Canucks, they regularly entered a Women’s Side in the Barrie 7’s, but it was not until 1997 that the Lions fielded their first genuine "15-A-Side" Women’s Team. At the request of a number of wives and girlfriends, John Campbellrecruited a squad of about 25 hopefuls and the "Felines" were born! Although they didn’t win a game that year, they played with great enthusiasm and brought a new spirit to the Club. The next year they won their Division Championship, cementing their position in the Rugby community.
Despite being a "Junior" Club, the Lions have had several excellent players in the Ontario Provincial Side: the classic speed winger, Martyn Roberts in 1977; the hard running centre, Jim Delaney in 1983; and the powerful second-row, Gordon Jones in 1985.Jim Delaney went on to play for Canada in their Tour of England in 1983, playing against England at Twickenham. In addition, Daniel van der Graaf played second-row for the Ontario Under-21’s in 1988.
Toronto Old Boys R.F.C.
1960's - 1972 Cautley Tatham
Scarborough Old Boys R.F.C.
1973 Bill Braden
1974 Bill Braden / Eric Seery
1955 Alan Risden
1956 Bob Miller
1957 - 1961 Fred Bunting
1962 Freddie Miller
1963 Fred Bunting
1964 - 1965 John Thomson
1966 Colin Rich
1967 Bill Wright
1968 - 1971 Jim Shelton
1972 Don Ross
1973 - 1974 Phil Tobin
Our information on Club Coaches is very incomplete, in fact they have always been extremely hard to find! The earliest coach on record was Haydn Harris (said to be from Maesteg R.F.C. in Wales), who was the Canucks' coach in the early Sixties. Then there was Phil Tobin, who joined the Canucks as coach in 1972, bringing his hard-nosed Rugby League background with him.
Doug Curry (former Moseley R.F.C. - U.K., centre) did a great job coaching the Lions in the mid-Seventies, before he was recalled by his company to England; and the energetic Australian, Dave Sharp, followed in his footsteps a decade later, before he too succumbed to the call of home.
In between, Jim Holloway came and went in the late Seventies, while Jim Delaney also coached briefly, during his stay in the early Eighties. But throughout the years, it was the sometimes reluctant Alistair Fraser, who ably filled in when no-one else would.
In 1994, former fly-half Merv Conroy, helped rebuild both League Teams, molding recent Graduates of the Junior Program into an aggressive, mobile unit, anchored by some experienced veterans. This rebuilding process was taken over in 1996 by long-time Lion, Mike Gillan and continues to this day.
The topic of Referees always conjures up mixed emotions any time they come up in conversation, but the fact remains that the game could not take place without them. Many large "Senior" Clubs have rarely had referees associated with them, but the Lions, perhaps due to their social nature, have always had a number of referees affiliated with the Club, in various ways.
Perhaps the most prominent referee to come from the Club, was former Canuck, Mike Gallagher, who was on the National Panel for many years, after retiring from active play with a shoulder injury in the early Seventies. Although associated with other Clubs during their playing days, Bob Spellane and Bob McArthur were both Senior Ontario referees who have enjoyed an informal association with the Lions over the years. Long-time Canucks/Lions, Maurice Cullen and Harry Anderton have laboured at the Toronto & District level for many years, while Club stalwart Eric Seery joined their ranks full-time in the mid-Nineties after decades of "spot" duty. Also, Brian Pearson still referees the occasional game, even though he now lives up in Collingwood. In 2003 Alyn Lunt stepped up to ref & after taking the referee's course we just can't get him to shut up about the rules & laws of the game.
As with Coaches, we are constantly on the look-out for former players who are willing to extend their active days by refereeing, when the wear and tear imposed by playing League games gets too much.
The Lions have always been famous for their hospitality and consequently, have been a popular stopping place for incoming Tours.
Notable visitors include:
St. John's "Swilers", Newfoundland - 1977
Gloucester, England - 1980
Malahide, Ireland - 1981
Harrow, England - 1981
Chepstow, Wales - 1982
Stade Lorraine, Verdun, France - 1984
Tynedale, England - 1986
Chelmsford, England - 1988
Tonbridge, England - 1988
Pwllheli, Wales - 1989
Leeds University, England - 1990
Broad Street, Coventry, England - 1990
Warlingham, England - 1991
Dundee University, Scotland - 1993
Annan, Scotland - 1994
R.A.F. Laarbruch, Germany - 1995
University of Kent, England - 1996
Trafford, England - 1998
Chelmsford, England - 1999
Atlanta Old White, USA - 1999
Wellingborough, England - 2000
Wrexham, Wales - 2001
Berkshire, Shire Hall, England - 2002
However, we have not been as successful in organizing major out-going Tours! But we are masters of the quickie Tour, winning the Cornwall (Ontario) Invitational Tournament three years in a row (1991 - 1993), running many dubious weekend Tours to Montreal, as well as several Magical Mystery Tours to exotic places like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse in New York State and most recently to Cleveland, Ohio.
Our more substantial Tours include:
Newfoundland - 1976
Vancouver, B.C. - 1980, 1982 & 1992
Saranac Lake, New York, U.S.A. - 1980
England (World Cup) Mini-Tour - 1991
Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A. - 1992
However, all this changed in November 1996, when the Club mounted its first major Tour. Twenty-five members, ranging in age from 16 to 52 (including a lady medic), set forth on a two-week Tour of England. On the playing side, they visited Long Buckby, Chelmsford, Warlingham and the London Fire Brigade; where, despite being encouraged by a few former members who had returned to England, they were unable to post a win. However, on the social side, the Tour was a great success. In addition to an official visit to the Gilbert Rugby Museum in Rugby and an exclusive guided tour of Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, in Portsmouth, the Tour Group left a lasting impression on their hosts and on many hostelries in London’s West End!
Club Pubs and Other Hangouts
As previously stated, the Canucks/Lions have always been known for their enjoyment of off-field activities and so, not yet having a Clubhouse of their own, have made a number of "Pubs" their home-base, over the years. Some we have left for greener pastures and some at the request of the Management!
Under the repressive old Ontario liquor laws, there was a very tight control of premises serving alcohol. You could only drink in Hotels, Restaurants, or Taverns. They were all closed on Sundays, weekday hours were limited and you could not stand up and drink in any of them. A waiter had to carry your drink from one table to another if you wanted to move. Tavern "Beverage Rooms" were the lowest standard. Most had stone floors and plastic tables; and they often had sawdust on the floor. Windows had to be frosted, so that the sinners inside could not be seen consuming "the demon drink"! Women were not allowed in, except that some Taverns had special rooms where ladies were allowed, but only with male "Escorts". None of this was very palatable to "Old-Country" Rugby players, who were used to having a quiet pint, leaning on the bar in pleasant surroundings, so private house parties and bootleg bars became standard practice.
The first real breakthrough was in the early Seventies when "stand-up" bars were first legalized. This allowed the "English Pub" format to be adopted. Since then, things have eased considerably, to the point where you can actually drink outdoors! The Lions social habits reflect this slow evolution of the Ontario liquor laws.
In distant days, many Clubs bought/rented houses that were shared between a number of bachelor members. They were also used as Club "Pubs" on certain nights, much to the displeasure of the neighbours and local Licensing Authorities! The Canucks/Lions were no exception, having at least three semi-official "hang-outs" in the Sixties/Seventies:
174 Soudan Avenue 1968 - 1971
386 St. Clement's Avenue 1971 -1972
629 Glencairn Avenue 1973 -1974
In order to avoid direct incrimination, the Club Newsletters of the time always referred euphemistically to the bar in the basement of "Soudan" as the "Horse and Groom" (the bar there was built by Bob Groom). Social activities alternated between it and the basement of Jack Morris' house, which was on Trethewey Avenue and so was known as the "Trethewey Arms". However, the local Authorities began a crackdown, which resulted in Police raids on various houses (not ours), so this, combined with later changes in the law allowing more legitimate "Pubs" to open up, resulted in the practice being discontinued. Our "official" Bars have been many and varied:
The early Canucks relaxed in the bar of the Algonquin Hotel on the Island, until it was closed down and the players had to move to the mainland, finally settling in the Beverage Room of the old Savarin Restaurant/Tavern on Bay St. (torn down in the Seventies). Sadly, it was in the lobby of the Savarin in 1960, on the way in after a Saturday practice, that Club Captain Ben Hills, collapsed and died of a heart attack. That year, the Canucks named their M.V.P. Trophy after him.
The Canucks later used Ye Olde Tavern on Richmond St. West (which became Hy's many years ago), but when they moved to the temporary field at Caledonia Park, they also switched their social activities to the nearby Conroy Hotel at Lawrence Ave. West and Dufferin St., which was reputed to have the largest Men’s Beverage Room in Canada (now known as the Yorkdale Inn).
After the Club moved to Sunnybrook Park, they used the Jolly Miller at Yonge St. and York Mills Rd. for a while. However, when Phil Tobin became the Canucks' President in 1973, the social H.Q. moved to his "local", the New Crest Restaurant on Mt. Pleasant Ave., above Davisville Ave., where the Canucks/ Scarborough merger was planned (now an East European Restaurant). Lions' social member, Richard (Rich) Lee, then a professional guitarist/singer, was often the featured entertainer there.
During the same time frame, the Canucks also frequented the nearby Red Lantern on Merton St., which was noted for its grouchy midget doorman, who did not appreciate Rugby humour. It didn't take long to wear out our welcome there, so we soon moved on! But, it seems our relations with the rest of the staff were friendlier, as at least one of their waitresses played in the Canucks' Ladies Team in the Barrie 7's of that era.
Soon after that, when the less restrictive liquor laws began appearing, the Lions moved to the new King's Head Pub (in an old Church basement, on Yonge St., just North of Davisville). However, this pioneer Pub was very short-lived, killed by its own success, as the local Police closed it down, due to the number of complaints of overcrowding sent in by rival Restaurants and Taverns in the area. But, from then on, the pace of change quickened.
As new Pubs sprang up, the Lions moved in to try them. It has proved to be impossible to establish the exact order or dates, but they tested the waters at the Unicorn and Hector's on Eglinton Ave. East, the Barmaid's Arms, the Fox, Wylie's and the Elephant (later Chartwells) on Yonge St., before settling down for a few years in the mid-Eighties, at Foster's on Elizabeth St., behind City Hall. It was there that the PAWS had a major social triumph during the International Golden Oldies Festival in 1989, when there were long line-ups of elderly Rugby players from around the World, for the entire week, sampling our hospitality. The "old" Foster's closed down in May 1994, consolidating at their second location on Elm St., which is still frequented by some senior members.
But, when a number of key individuals' jobs moved out of the Downtown area in the early 1990's, the Lions officially moved their social "home" to the Duke of Kent, on Yonge St. above Eglinton, where they have remained ever since. We have been such good customers, that the Management have sponsored a number of major equipment purchases and countless free natchos and chicken wings.
In 1993, the long-serving Club Treasurer, Andy Kowalczewski, discovered that he had close family connections at the Polish Combatants Association Hall, on Beverley Street, downtown; and since then, we have made this our home for a number of major Club Social Events, including the very successful 20th Anniversary Reception and Banquet, held in October, 1994.
And of course, there's the traditional Lions' Christmas Eve get-together at the Rose & Crown (just North of the Duke of Kent), which has continued for almost twenty years, despite all the other moves, for reasons that no-one can remember.
On a more serious note, it was the former Canucks' President and a founder member of the XL's, the Rev. Freddie Miller, that began the famous "Annual Rugby Club Carol Sing" at Holy Trinity Church, behind The Eaton Centre. This popular event still continues (usually on the last Friday before Christmas), despite Freddie's move to Australia. The current host is Larry Doyle of the NOB’s.
In order to provide more permanent facilities, either playing or social, a "Building Fund" was set up in 1976. This has received occasional small donations, but at the time of writing, only contained approximately $5,000. Donations are welcome any time
Every Rugby Club has its "characters" and the Canucks in particular, had more than their share. No discussion about the Canucks' "early days" can go very long without some mention of Billy Magee, who was affectionately known as "Magoo", due to his amazing resemblance to the famous cartoon character "Mr. Magoo". Originally from Belfast, he was a some-time hooker and full-time character, given to a variety of strange mannerisms, absent-mindedness and outright weirdness, which is still talked about today.
On a trip to New York in the mid-Sixties, Magoo was in charge of the Club Shirts, but also got involved in helping to unload their precious cargo of Canadian beer from the train. The beer made it alright, but the Shirts were left in the middle of the platform in Grand Central Station and were never seen again.
Sometime in the late 1960's, several Rugby players, reportedly members of the Toronto Scottish, were trying to get out of their lease on an apartment in the exclusive St. Clair and Avenue Rd. area, so they invited the whole Rugby community to attend a giant "lease-breaking" party there one Saturday night. As expected, the resulting commotion was duly reported to the Police, who at that time needed "probable cause" to raid a private home. They usually looked for evidence of illegal drinking to close down such activities. They would then raid the premises, arrest a "token drunk" and charge all the rest as "found-ins".
Several Canucks, including Magoo, dropped in late, after returning from a game in Peterborough. Unknown to them, the Police had staked-out the underground parking lot, looking for "likely suspects" and actually shared the elevator with them, to confirm their suspicions (although staying on the elevator at that time). Poor Magoo was apparently singled out then because of his loud voice and exuberant gestures. A few minutes later, the Police came back to the apartment and arrested Magoo, but just cited the other 65 there as "found-ins". Ironically, he never even had time to down a single beer, but as he still showed traces of an earlier session in Peterborough, he was carted off "downtown" anyway.
True to form, Magoo was late for one Court appearance and didn't even show up for the next one, but most of the other 65 did turn up to watch the highly amusing proceedings. Apparently, the Police description of the events was so unbelievable that the case was dismissed, even in Magoo's absence. The unlucky Magoo finally left for England and was last heard of back in Ireland, still leaving a trail of confusion in his wake.
When it comes to eccentrics, tall, rangy Canuck fullback, Les Miller, was in a class by himself. He took the Rugby image very seriously and could be seen most warm Saturday afternoons on the Yonge Subway on his way to the Island, in full rugby kit, including boots and scrum-cap, complete with "NFL style" dirt patches under the eyes. An awesome sight!
One great oft-told-tale, concerns a trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Les Miller, Ted Houghton and Peter Shaw drove there in an old Volkswagen Beetle. As hey had no where to stay at night on the way back, they pulled into a deserted graveyard to sleep in the car. As it's impossible for three Rugby players to sleep comfortably in a Beetle, Les climbed out, undaunted, lay down on a nearby flat tombstone and quickly fell asleep, totally oblivious to his surroundings. Les retired some time ago and hasn't been seen for several years.
Another Canuck character, was the rotund little hooker, Maurice "Moe" Collins. He lived for Rugby, was an early Canuck and one of the first XL's. A printer by trade, Moe rented various premises around the City, to house his silk screen business. They also served as the Club social centre from time to time and many post-game activities were held in amongst the machinery. At one point he sub-let some upstairs rooms to a Motor-Cycle Gang, who built a steel door at the bottom of the stairs, to keep out the Police, who finally battered it down in a great show of strength, not knowing that they could have easily chopped through the flimsy drywall partition right next to it.
Unfortunately, Moe's life as a printer, with all its corrosive solutions and fumes, had such a devastating effect on his whole system, that he knew that his time was running out and is said to have actually willed his body to the U of T Medical School, so that they could study the results of chemical exposure. But despite his failing health, Moe could often be seen on the touch line cheering on the Canucks and later the Lions. When Moe finally passed away of heart failure, Freddie Miller held a special Memorial Service for him at Holy Trinity Church. Moe was so popular throughout the Rugby community, that the Church was packed. Instead of a traditional service, Freddie had everyone gather in a circle (the Church was still being rebuilt after a fire and only partly furnished) and Moe's family and friends just stood together and retold their special memories of him. It was a unique and most moving event, which exemplifies the true spirit of Rugby.
Then there were "the Two Mikes" (Devlin and O'Dowd), who were the mainstay of the Canucks/Lions' "Choir" in the Seventies, livening up all Club Social Events, with their renditions of the Irish Rover, Danny Boy and many other equally memorable, if less respectable, songs. Former prop/hooker, Mike Devlin, who had previously dabbled in Amateur Operatics in the U.K., kept his "pipes" in tune in Canada by participating in a Folk Group with several other Canucks and their spouses. He returned to England in the mid-Eighties, but fortunately, still visits us, from time, to time. Fullback, Mike O'Dowd, eventually moved to Nova Scotia, where he bought (and still runs) the Boscowen Inn, in the picturesque coastal town of Lunenburg.
The later Lions have also had their share of characters. Foremost amongst them in the early 1980's, was Winston Beckett. Another hooker (it seems to go with the position), he was famous for his insatiable appetite for the ladies. He would often bring one to a game, leave her with someone else and go off to a pre-arranged date with another. He was also well known for his story telling, comic impressions and a distinct lack of sensitivity.
His most infamous performance occurred one Saturday afternoon, during a post-game reception in his backyard on Bathurst St., near Eglinton. He was in the middle of a very loud "Chaplinesque" imitation of Adolf Hitler, when he noticed his horrified neighbours peering over the garden fence. Unabashed, he just smiled politely, saying "Sorry Rabbi" and returning to tend the barbecue, unconcerned. Winston left for Montreal soon after, but it's rumoured that he was seen again recently, sailing with the Ashbridge's Bay Yacht Club!
"Spaceman" John Campbell was very aptly named, as he is suspected to live in another time-warp and consequently, is totally unpredictable. Sometimes a fullback, but also a speedy centre or winger, on good days he was with us and played with great style, tackling ferociously and kicking mightily; but on other days he was apparently in another world, seemingly unable to concentrate on the job at hand. We never did solve that mystery. However, John also served with great dedication off-the-field, both as Club President and T.R.U. President, in the late-Eighties. After a brief return to his old Club, Crusaders R.F.C., in the early Nineties, John came back to the Lions and in 1997, founded the Lions Women’s Team, the "Felines".
The Scarborough Old Boys brought some of their characters with them, in the merger. Nigel Lawton, a lanky, bald-headed, second-row forward, with a flaming red beard, stood out in any crowd. In addition, he was a raconteur-par-excellence. He could recite the monologues of English vaudevillian, Stanley Holloway, like "Albert and the Lion", "Sam, Sam, pick up thy Musket" and 'Arold with the Arrow in 'is Eye", from memory for hours, in his authentic broad Yorkshire accent. He was also involved in local Amateur Dramatic competitions and was highly praised for his part as the off-beat husband in the classic North of England play, "Hobson's Choice", by an adjudicator who was unaware that Nigel's accent was real! Nigel eventually moved to London, Ontario and is still active in the Rugby community there.
Also a red-head, "Old-Boy" Gord Barnum, was a rather large prop, who sported a fine walrus moustache. However, he became increasingly disenchanted with his receding hairline, so he bought an expensive auburn toupee. He was so proud of it, that he decided to wear it in a game, under his scrum-cap. After crashing through the defence to score a try early in the game, he jumped up and threw the ball into the air, exclaiming ruefully "Me haaaaair!!!". Half of the toupee lay on the ground, while the other half was still held on by the scrum-cap. Following an extremely costly repair, Gord came up with a compromise solution. He arrived at the field in complete rugby attire, plus hair and went through the pre-game warm-up wearing it. Then, just before the kick-off, he handed the "rug" to his wife, who was waiting for it on the sideline. When the final whistle blew, Gord retrieved his hair again, before joining the traditional line-up, for handshakes with the somewhat puzzled opposition. This weekly routine continued throughout his career with the early Lions.
Last, but not least, in any sense of the word, is Eric Seery. Starting his 40+ year playing career in England on the wing, Eric worked his way through all of the back positions, until he finally acquired the stature and experience to be promoted to loose-head prop, a position he still plays occasionally, although his main position is now referee. However, it is his off-the-field performances that have earned him lasting fame in the Rugby community.
Perennially Ontario's #1 itinerant Rugby reporter, providing Canadian content to several European newspapers and Rugby magazines, Eric is a walking Rugby encyclopedia and can rattle off all the latest scores at the drop of a hat, not only of the recent International games, but also of many Club games from around the World. He can also recall various League and Championship standings and a great wealth of world-wide Rugby trivia, going back thirty years and more. Not surprisingly, he is still our main source of Tour contacts, both in-coming and out-going.
Eric was also the originator of most of the popular nicknames for the older Lions, like Dave "Charity" Harmsworth, Chris "Job-Jar" Jones, Steve "Mince-Pie" Leonard and Graham "Sparky" Sorfleet, names that have lingered on, in many cases long after the owner has faded away. Some of these nicknames are obvious and some are so obscure that only Eric knows the reason for them. Nonetheless, as a co-founder of the Lions, Eric continued to add his own special brand of colour to the Club, as well as a lot of behind-the-scenes work, year after year. Unfortunately, Eric returned to England in 1997, on family business; and currently resides in Kendal, up in Cumbria, where he remains a loyal Lions supporter.
In the early Eighties, two young Lions of the time, Paul Burton and Tim Wakefield (Tim later went to the York Yeomen), appeared in a very popular Carlsberg beer commercial, which was organized by the O.R.U. to help the local Clubs' finances. The residuals kept the Lions' Bank Account in the "black" for a couple of years afterwards. Some time later, a lost Canucks' shirt mysteriously showed up in a Simpson's (now part of "the Bay") T.V. commercial and a picture of a Lions' game at Eglinton Flats, appeared on T.V. screens in an Eaton's flyer, also without our permission. Unfortunately, despite strenuous efforts, we were never able to collect royalties on either!
Another very successful major activity to raise funds (this time for the Juniors), occurred in 1988, when the Lions ran a T.R.U. Bingo, every second Wednesday night, for six months. Wing-forward, Tom Richter, who was by then permanently side-lined with a knee injury, became known as the "Bingo King", for his unfailing attendance and popularity with the clientele. Tom was last heard of working for the Canadian High Commission in Ankara, Turkey. If he is half as successful there, he will have a great career.
In the Summer of 1994, a number of Lions appeared in a Lenscrafters T.V. "Infommercial" with members of the Saracens R.F.C.. This program used a few players from each Club to help demonstrate how a young Calgary Rugby player was able to return to the sport after Laser Eye Surgery. Lions' scrum-half Paul "Lucky" Plourde lived up to his nick-name, by being asked to appear as the game referee (wearing Lions shirt letter "R") after having been rejected for the program earlier. In addition to the publicity, this activity also generated a small one-time fee for the Club (although the cheque is still in the mail).
However, in 1997 the Club did receive a small payment for being featured in a simulated game (wearing full Lions strip), in the Rock Video "An Ordinary Day" by the Newfoundland Group Great Big Sea, which was seen regularly on MuchMusic. It included many Second Team players including prop, Ron Wilford, Junior Ryan Ross and as referee, former Canuck Mike Gallagher.
Finally, in recent times, the Duke of Kent have sponsored "Toronto Lions Nights", where Club Members have tended Bar and have split the "tips" with a local Charity. This has proved to be very successful.
Celebrity Guest Players
In keeping with our reputation for being a very hospitable Club, the Lions have had a number of Celebrity Guest Players, from time to time.
In the Summer of 1978, the famous Scottish prop, Ian (Mighty Mouse) McLaughlan (British Lions, Scotland and Jordanhill), was on a visit to Canada for the Toronto Scottish R.F.C. 25th. Anniversary, but unaccountably, played two games for the Lions at the Square.
In the Spring of 1980, the legendary English prop, Mike Burton (British Lions, England and Gloucester), was Tour Director of the Gloucester R.F.C. Tour of Ontario. Not only did he play wing forward for the Lions III, but he successfully talked himself out of a send-off during a game against Wexford (a short-lived Club of Wexford Collegiate Graduates, that folded soon afterwards). The Lions were the Principal Hosts of this month long Tour, which is still the highlight of the Lions' hosting history and deserves a complete "History" of its own! As a thank-you, Mike hosted an epic "Last Supper", attended by all the members of the two Club Committees, in a small private room at the now defunct Simpson's-in-the-Strand Restaurant in "First Canadian Place", an event which will never be forgotten by any of the participants.
In more recent times, two young Irish lads, came over two Summers in a row, in the early Nineties and played for the Lions, to get ready for try-outs with Bangor R.F.C.. One of them, Mark McCall, not only won a place in the Bangor First Team, but went on to play centre for Ireland several times, including a game against England in 1996, when he became only the second player with Toronto Lions’ connections to appear at Twickenham.
In addition, a number of players from visiting Touring Teams have come back for guest appearances in later years. Of special note, centre, Jim Delaney originally came over with the Gloucester R.F.C. Tour in 1980. He returned the next year to play several seasons for the Lions and still lives here in Orangeville.
In the August 1966 Toronto Star feature on Canadian Rugby, there were two full page (unidentified) photographs of the Toronto Old Boys and one smaller picture of the bearded Canuck centre, Dave Taylor. Not bad for two of the smaller Clubs in Toronto of that era!
Over the years there have been many Club stalwarts who have contributed tirelessly, both on and off the field. Three names in particular, come to mind. Ken Lythall has not only toiled in the scrum for the Canucks, Lions and PAWS for almost 30 years, but he still holds fund-raising garden parties, at least once a year. Similarly, John Tayles, who was a regular First-Team centre for the latter day Canucks and early Lions, has hosted the Lions' Annual Summer "Champagne & Strawberries" pool party, for the past decade. Also, in addition to his regular appearances for the Lions/PAWS and his intermittent coaching activities, utility forward Alistair Fraser was the long-time co-ordinator of all the T.R.U. permit applications for every Rugby field in the Metro Parks System, a thankless, but vitally important task.
Finally, let us not forget the ladies of the Thomas Family, who have looked after the Club shirts almost continuously, since the inception of the Lions. First grandmother, Ivy (who never used that name outside the family), did all the laundry and repairs until she passed away in 1983. From then on, grand-daughter Lynne took over the laundry chores, with a few breaks to bring the next generation into the world; while major repairs, including dozens of torn collar replacements, have been neatly performed by family friend, Shirley Massey, who remains almost as invisible as her mending.
This is only a representative list of all the many individuals who have done so much to carry the Club through its first twenty five years and have helped to create our reputation for being a Club that believes, not only in the Game itself, but also in that spirit of fair play and fun, that is the real Hallmark of this truly unique Sport. Our sincere thanks to you all and those countless others that you represent.
The writer would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of historical data and anecdotes, by Mike Devlin, Ken Lythall, Bob Miller, Jack Morrison, Eric Seery, Peter Shaw, Jim Shelton, Ron Wilford and many others.
This History is still a "work-in-progress". We have attempted to make it as accurate as incomplete records and faulty memories allow. Corrections, additional information and favourite anecdotes, from all eras, are always welcome, at any time. The author can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
David C. Thomas - April 1, 2002© Toronto Lions RFC
Toronto Lions R.F.C.
1974 - 1979 Phil Tobin 1
1980 - 1985 Dave Thomas 1
1986 - 1987 John "Spaceman" Campbell 2
1988 Eric Seery 1
1989 - 1990 Mike Harding
1991 - 1992 Eric Seery 1
1993 Huw Joseph
1994 - 1999 Ron Wilford
2000 Craig Hopkins
2001 - 2002 John "Spaceman" Campbell 2
2003 - Paul "Fabio" Hewitt
1 Honorary Life Member
2 Toronto Rugby Union President 1987 - 1989
The Juniors have hosted distant Clubs, including:
St. Mark's School, England - 1981
Arnold School, Blackpool, England - 1985
Worksop College, England - 1990
Dinnington School, Sheffield, England - 1996
Forest School, England - 1997
Paris Selects, France - 1998
Framlingham College, England - 2000