Mention the name Harold Ballard to most Canadian hockey fans and their first memories of the legendary sportsman are of his flamboyant and controversial days as President of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Very few fans however are aware of his true sporting background, his devotion to charitable causes, and his long association with the Marlboro Hockey Club.
Growing up in downtown Toronto young Harold participated in many sports, often as a member of teams run out of the old St. Mary’s Church on Spadina Avenue.
The athletics programs were run by none other than the legendary Frank Selke Sr. who would eventually move on to become an integral part of the success enjoyed by both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.
Harold’s involvement in hockey was a natural progression. His family owned the renowned “Ballard Skate Blade Company” and young Harold tried to involve himself in all facets of minor hockey, from playing, to coaching and finally management.
As a young adult it became obvious that his management skills represented his best opportunity for advancement in the game he loved. His first taste of success came as manager of the Senior “A’ Toronto Sea Fleas, winning an Allan Cup title in 1932.
As defending national champions they would represent Canada at the 1933 World Championships, bringing home a silver medal after a tough loss to the U.S.A.
The next step up for the fast rising star was as Chief Executive Officer and chief financial supporter for both the Senior and Junior Marlboro teams.
His combative nature and will to win filtered down to his teams and resulted in National titles for the 1950 Senior Marlboros and the 1955 and 1966 Juniors.
Many of these players would move on to become cornerstones of the parent Maple Leafs and their subsequent Stanley Cup victories.
During his time with the Marlboros Ballard would become acquainted with both Stafford Smythe and John Basset Jr. The three associates would eventually band together to purchase the Toronto Maple Leafs from Stafford’s father, the legendary Major Conn Smythe in 1962.
The threesome would go on to win three Stanley Cups together during the very successful 1960’s.
By 1970 Stafford Smythe had passed away and John Basset was bought out leaving Mr. Ballard as both principal owner and CEO of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
Over the years Harold would time and time again demonstrate his love and support of Canadian hockey, both amateur and pro alike. While continuing to operate the Marlboro Juniors out of Maple Leaf Gardens he also provided weekly practice ice at no charge to each of the Marlboro minor teams at the hallowed hall.
Mr. Ballard was also quietly devoted in assisting charitable causes. He financed a host of benevolent functions at the Gardens for various charities including the “Timmy Tyke Tournament”, “Whipper Watson’s Skateathon”, the Childrens Aid Society, and the “Easter Seals” skate for crippled children.
Mr. Ballard has been honoured by the Ontario Hockey Association, the City of Toronto, and the Canadian Rehabilitation Council amongst others for his continuing support.
Even after his passing in 1990 Mr. Ballard’s legacy was passed on by his family, generously donating funds in his name to our Toronto Marlboro minors to aid in the purchase of new equipment, sweaters and ice time.
His generosity has not been forgotten and in fact the Marlboros top award for outstanding service has been named in his honour.