Museum of History acquires massive collection of Leafs memorabilia

From left to right : Jean-Marc Blais, director general of the Canadian Museum of History, Dr. Jenny Ellison, Curator, Sport and Leisure, Debra Thuet and Mike Wilson. Photo: Canadian Museum of History.

While for some hockey fans, it might be hard to imagine anything about the Toronto Maple Leafs being historically significant, but it is, in fact, true, especially in this 100th anniversary year of the NHL and the franchise.

At least the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board believe it to be the case for the collection of Leafs memorabilia accumulated over the years by Torontonians Mike Wilson and Debra Thuet.

The museum has announced the acquisition of the collection which holds more than 1,700 items, including pieces connected to legends Wayne Gretzky, King Clancy, Paul Henderson, Tim Horton and Conn Smythe.

King Clancy’s World Champion Stanley Cup Puck (1931–1932).
This puck commemorates King Clancy’s first Stanley Cup win with the Toronto Leafs, and the team’s first Cup after moving to Maple Leaf Gardens. Clancy kept this puck as a souvenir. Collector Mike Wilson purchased it from Clancy’s family, and it has never before been publicly displayed. Photo; Canadian Museum of History.

Wilson has been collecting for half a century. His dedication has earned him the nickname  The Ultimate Leafs Fan.

“Every item in this collection has a story to tell about the history of ‘Canada’s game’ and hockey’s singular place in the hearts and minds of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” said Jean-Marc Blais, the museum’s director general, in a media release.

The cultural property board says the collection has “outstanding significance and national importance.” Included are pieces of players’ equipment, trophies, paintings, pucks, sculptures and items linked to the former Maple Leaf Gardens — including the door that hung at the entry of the home team’s dressing room from 1931 to 1999. There are also hockey cards, books, calendars, photos and memorabilia. In all there are more than 1,250 artifacts associated with the Leafs. There are items linked to such things as the Canada Cup, other Canadian teams and the NHL. The museum believes this collection will help it explore the place of the game in Canadian history.


Usher’s Cap and Cardigan from Maple Leaf Gardens (1960s). Fans seeing a game at the Maple Leaf Gardens during the 1960s would have encountered ushers in this uniform.
Conn Smythe wanted the Gardens to be an elegant place to enjoy a hockey game. He particularly emphasized decorum in the “gold” section of the arena, where both men and women worked. For many years, only men worked in the upper levels, reflecting the expectation that fans in the “cheap seats” were not as well behaved. We do not know what section this uniform is from, unfortunately, but it appears to have belonged to a man. Photo: Canadian Museum of History

Wilson said, in the release, that he believes “hockey not only symbolizes Canada, but identifies us as Canadians.”

Wilson’s collection gives the museum one of the most important and and comprehensive collections of hockey artifacts in the country. Its collection also contains objects relating to players such as Jacques Plante, Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Hayley Wickenheiser.

Some of Wilson’s artifacts are part of the museum’s current show Hockey. Wilson will talk about his collection at the museum Saturday morning from 11 to noon.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.