The Grey Cup and Other Things

Exhibition Stadium in 1959 [CNE Archives, Public Domain]

In the wake of yesterday’s Grey Cup, a few things came to my mind:

  • gridiron football in the snow is amazing
  • all future Grey Cups should be played in the snow
  • the last two times the Grey Cup has been played in the snow were both won by the Toronto Argonauts
  • the Maritimes deserve a CFL team or two
  • the CFL is the last North American major league that has resisted merging with its US counterpart
  • Canadian interest in NFL has steadily increased over the years while American interest in the NFL has declined
  • CTE remains is a huge issue that must be resolved
  • the CFL should see a viewership increase after this game, but
  • the CFL has seen its audience shrunk tremendously over the past few decades
  • the Argos used to have bigger digs than BMO Field

Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, that no longer exists, was always a strange-looking, ugly stadium in my memory. There was the v-shaped ballpark that was bounded in the north by the old north grandstand, that looked like someone had dropped a quarter of an American football stadium onto the outfield with perpetually empty seats way, way at the back and into another sport. All of this was accentuated by a meek blue wall or fence that separated the baseball field from the football field, and that did little to mask an ugly north-east view of the industrial area beyond the stadium. While this was a necessity in 1970s and 1980s when the city didn’t have the space or the money for separate stadiums for its CFL and MLB franchises, for a long time, I have wondered if this was necessary in the days before the Blue Jays when football was king.

The CNE North Grandstand, which is the only thing I have ever found aesthetically pleasing about the Exhibition Stadium, had a capacity of 26,000 when it was opened in 1948. If the city added a south grandstand, with the same design, the capacity would’ve been doubled to 52,000 seats with coverage from the elements instead of the 7,150-seat bleachers added in 1959. If the city continued to fill in this oval, a final Exhibition Stadium could’ve had a capacity in the range of 80,000–100,000 and make it the largest stadium in Canada, about 30,000 more than Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. A full oval stadium, with covered seats would’ve looked good and could’ve filled the region with pride rather than embarassment. The stadium’s large size would’ve made it attractive for international events and the NFL. As an old arena, the stadium might not have been demolished because it might have attained some form of heritage status.

Unfortunately, Toronto didn’t seem to have that much money to burn in the 1950s to the 1970s just on football. The North Grandstand cost $3 million in late-1940s dollars and subsequent city councilors were loathe to spend more than $700,000 on extensions to the stadium per decade or two. And as far as I know, Toronto didn’t have a plan for a full oval stadium. A hap hazard stadium is the product of hap hazard afterthought. And as football has sharply declined in Toronto, with both the Argos and Buffalo Bills being unable to fill the SkyDome, perhaps it is all the better that the grotesque had to have happened and can be forgotten about rather than to have an empty symbol of our excess and naiveté…

At least until the NFL or the Olympics come here and starts demanding a 80,000–100,000 seat stadium from us.

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