"Conn Smythe with children in wheelchairs". From the City of Toronto Archives, retrieved from Flickr's Creative Commons.

Toronto Maple Leafs Book Review: The Lives of Conn Smythe: From the Battlefield to Maple Leaf Gardens

In the second installment of this new section of Editor In Leaf, we review a biography featuring the founder of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The book highlights the life of the now legendary figure in both Canadian and hockey history from childhood to death, and includes some of the most intimate details of the Major’s life. If you are a fan of hockey history, or just history in general, this book will keep you entertained from cover to cover.

Maple Leafs history in terms of ownership can be divided into three seperate distinct groups. The most recent group started when Steve Stavro purchased shares from Molson after the death of Harold Ballard, and formed the merger with Larry Tanenbaum that formed Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. This era is the one most fans are familiar with, as the corporate nature of the group has made them largely unpopular among the team’s most rabid fans, and yet grown the iconic Maple Leaf brand into a world-class entity.

The previous era under Harold Ballard made the organization somewhat of a joke. His inability to accept the changes from the 1970s into the 1980s led to a huge decline in the team’s ability to compete, and left the fans wanting more. The original ownership group, led by Major Conn Smythe is the period which most Leaf fans revel in, and the time with which the group had its greatest success. The book covers only the earliest period.

The book begins with Smythe’s humble beginings in Toronto in the early 1900s, and moves chronologically through his life with some intricate details. Documentation of his military history is shown through found letters and published articles, which he frequently did when lobbying a position. Smythe shared many of the traits of Harold Ballard in his dealings with the local media, using the newspaper to sway influence and gain advantage. His relationships with the Globe and Mail newspaper helped him gain considerable advantage with the Maple Leaf board, and served as his personal mouthpiece for years.

If nothing else, the stories in this book are the stuff that Disney movies are made of. A guy winning the money in a horse race to buy enough shares to become part owner in the local hockey team, convincing a group of local businessmen that it was their civic responsibility to purchase the team to prevent it from moving to Philadelphia. Smythe and Frank Selke not long after worked hard to gain support of unemployed union workers during the great depression helping pave the way to build Maple Leaf Gardens. The rest of the story is a struggle between personal relationships as well and professional ambition, which would intertwine for the remainder of Smythe’s life.

If there could be one critical mark on the book, it would be that it is not all that different than the previous autobiography “Conn Smythe: If You Can Beat em’ in the Alley”, providing little new detail into the life of the man. A great benefit to this book as opposed to the latter mentioned is that Smythe himself had little part in this, which provided more detail from people that may not have been as friendly towards the man.

In summation, if you are a person that enjoys learning of the history of the National Hockey Leaague or the Toronto Maple Leafs, you will enjoy this biography. The book can be purchased at Amazon.com and is available in both print and for kindle e-readers. The book can also be purchased at bookstores throughout Canada and the United States.

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