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That time when the SkyDome landed in Toronto

Posted by Ed Conroy / May 10, 2013

Domer SkydomeSome might say that the Rogers Centre SkyDome was born under a bad sign: After the 1982 Grey Cup relayed broadcast to an audience of over 7 million Canadian viewers (at the time, a whopping record) embarrassing images of sullen Argos fans at Exhibition Stadium soaked to the bone, frozen masses huddled under concession stands, overflowing toilets and torrential disaster movie style rain, it became apparent that if Toronto desired to be a world class city, it urgently required an enclosed sport`s Stadium. The Argos might have lost that night, but Toronto`s image was the real loser.

Enter Ontario Premier Bill Davis, who had been in attendance at the great Grey Cup wash out, and who was drowned out the following day during the Argos presser by universal cries of "We want a Dome!" Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, Davis expedited plans for an enclosed stadium to be built in Toronto; a bump in the polls soon followed.

After several years of geographic uncertainty it was finally decided to build a retracting Dome stadium at the base of the CN Tower, at the time a near barren waste-land, but conveniently within close walking distance to the Union Station hub. Construction began in October 1986 with EllisDon winning the lucrative lead contractor bid, and spearheaded by Chuck Magwood, President of the crown corporation formed to run the Dome."Before debt service, the project will throw off something like $30 million in the first full calendar year," he once said, famously.

Two and a bit years and $570 million dollars later, the newly christened SkyDome, designated such after a frenzied months long National contest, was ready to open to the public. Sadly the EllisDon completion came a scant few months later than originally planned, resulting in the gigantic missed opportunity of kicking-off SkyDome activity with the Toronto Blue Jays 1989 home opener (it was held at the old and busted Ex Stadium, for shame). To make up for this, Chuck Magwood and StadCo planned a gala, star-studded party-of-the-century to mark the epic launch of Toronto's, nay, Canada's dome - "The Opening of SkyDome: A Celebration"

Broadcast nationwide on the CBC, hyped for weeks in advance, and hosted by, ahem, Canadians Alan Thicke and Andrea Martin, "The Opening of SkyDome" was clearly one of those events which probably seemed like a great idea at the time, and may well have looked good on paper, but did not translate into compelling television - unless you consider rubber necking an inglorious train wreck compelling. In fact, it is a top tier contender for the most bizarre, frustratingly inept CBC broadcasts of all time, thanks to a potent cocktail of its own misguided hubris and poorly judged antics, and a deft bitch-slap from Mother Nature.

After the rousing WTF intro which clearly caught the elated audience off-guard (beautifully setting the stage for the melt down to follow), the rat-a-tat thud of Quebec impersonator André-Philippe Gagnon`s poor and incomprehensible jokes, and a gaunt, sleepwalking performance from soft rock gods Glass Tiger, Premier David Peterson rocked the mic with a laser pen to officially open the Dome. The legend Oscar Peterson (no relation) then took to his keys to soundtrack this poignant moment which should have carried the emotional weight of the structure itself, but instead marked segued into a gargantuan farce.

CBC host Brian Williams breathless reports that due to a lightning storm in the area, the Dome roof cannot be fully open, thus somewhat deflating the mood of the event, and actually it`s raison d'être. One can only imagine the flop sweat and foul language flying around behind the scenes, as the decision to close or keep open the roof would not have been a light one. Never mind that Chuck Magwood, seated and all smiles ham for the cameras, was busy demanding the roof be opened come hell or highwater. Highwater it was.

Poor Alan Thicke does his best to introduce the salute to those who built the Dome, but by this point the oncoming soak must have been giving broadcasters a migraine induced déjà vu of Grey Cup 1982. Not even the much vaunted touchdown of SkyDome`s kid friendly mascot Domer could raise a smile. The parade for Toronto's bright and shiny new toy was well and truly being rained on.

As if the patience of attendees had not been tested enough, the following song and dance number absolutely defied convention. Dedicated to the people of Toronto, and ostensibly based upon our rich multicultural fabric, "We Are Toronto, That`s Why We Celebrate!" is just about the most cringe-worthy item to limp out of the sometimes taste challenged 1980s, and that`s saying something. You can just about hear the feint sound of a million people changing the channel to watch something, anything else.

Smearing rock salt into an already festering wound, the onslaught of torturous light entertainment continued unabated. Maestro and until-then flawless Toronto jingle chef Tommy Ambrose appeared to sing his specially composed for the occasion ditty, "Open up the Dome!" to which the few people remaining in the stands reportedly yelled back "Close the roof!"

At this point in the "celebration", it is hard to decide which is the most tragic sight: The aging local heroes and middling talent being driven around and announced over the loud speaker in embarrassing rhyming lyrics (look, Al Waxman!), the few die-hard souls who had probably paid out the nose for tickets and were staying put in their seats, or the faces of those young entertainers who had practiced day and night for moths preparing for this, the biggest show of their life, only to be dumped on by the unimpressed gods from above. Karma, or divine intervention?

While scandal and cronyism ran rampant in the years before, and those which followed, and as more and more juicy stories leaked out about StadCo's business dealings, and the enormous financial sucking wound SkyDome created, never mind the renaming of the building, people mostly forgot about "The Opening of SkyDome: A Celebration". Maybe people just blocked it out of their memories, like they would any other traumatic event.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at

Lead image: Domer the (retried) SkyDome mascot



Loserdome / May 10, 2013 at 09:37 am
This cringey shit show was the perfect opening for such a perfectly useless facility.

Built too small to accommodate a 400 m track or meet minimum Olympic opening ceremony capacity or come anywhere close to meeting minimum NFL capacity requirements, the skydome remains a short-sighted moronic disaster from the day the first shovel went in the ground.

But the cherry on top is the government spending 600+ million to build the piece o' shite and then selling it for 25 million to Rogers.

It should never ever ever be celebrated as anything but a huge embarrassing festering zitty blight on the city's history.
Cliff S replying to a comment from Loserdome / May 10, 2013 at 09:55 am
If you are going to rant Loserdome, at least get your facts right.

Construction costs = 570M, The province sold the dome to Interbrew in '94 for 151M, in '98 Sportsco bought the stadium for 85M after it filed for bankruptcy, and Rogers finally bought it in '04 for 25M (the only bit that you got right).

I think it's great that it is too small for an NFL team, or Olympic opening ceremony - Hosting an Olympics would be a colossal waste and would dwarf the cost of building the Rogers Centre.

..and other then wannabe American's (and our mayor) who even wants an NFL team (hint it's less then 54,000 that the Rogers Centre is able to seat for a game).
meow replying to a comment from Cliff S / May 10, 2013 at 10:04 am
Thanks for getting the facts straight.
concerned for your long-term prospects / May 10, 2013 at 10:19 am
oh god. i swear both the writing and grammar on blogto are deteriorating at exponential rates. come on guys, this is getting out of hand. i *want* to like you - i really do! - but you make it so difficult.

"SkyDome was born under a bad sign" like physically birthed underneath a bad sign? or was the event that made clear the need for the dome the bad sign?

"and torrential disaster movie style rain" easy with the adjectives; make with the hyphens!

"enclosed sport`s Stadium" - sports can do without an apostrophe - never even mind that you're using the grave accent in its stead. stadium is still a common noun.

"After several years of geographic uncertainty it was finally decided to build a retracting Dome stadium at the base of the CN Tower, at the time a near barren waste-land, but conveniently within close walking distance to the Union Station hub." what in the hell??

Friar Canuck / May 10, 2013 at 10:19 am
The Argos lost the 1982 Grey Cup. Try reading the Wikipedia article you site BEFORE adding the link.
Ell / May 10, 2013 at 10:23 am
user-pic is short of a disaster in hindsight. But what a buzz there was for the opening, cheesy show and all. It is 24 yrs old now.....and I think we'll be stuck with it for yrs to come. Best hope is a massive renno and increase its intimacy factor (oxymoron). No idea how to do that give the massive interior. Ugh.

Fiendish Bob / May 10, 2013 at 10:26 am
Thalia Assuras!
Anthoney / May 10, 2013 at 10:44 am
Wonder if the winner of the name the Dome contest still has those "ticket's for life".
Kalen / May 10, 2013 at 11:13 am
Was it my imagination or did a sky-diver also fly into the Dome? Family friend Rod Robbie designed it and was pushed out of his office there years later from what I was told. I love the SkyDome and and will forever care less about Rogers. I love this story lol
Skye / May 10, 2013 at 11:31 am
Awesome. I'm quite sure my parents still have a dusty VHS tape of this ceremony.
Patrick / May 10, 2013 at 11:59 am
Get rid of the Skydome, and make a park!! move the dome to somewhere in the GTA, that;s where most of the people who go to the dome are actually from, and for us people living in Toronto we need more PARKS!!!

Alex / May 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm
You forgot to mention that one of the reasons for building the dome was to show up Montreal, who couldn't get their automatic roof closing stadium to work for the expo.
Binky Barnes / May 10, 2013 at 12:54 pm
When building SkyDome, Toronto's timing was awful, as always. The dome was built at the very end of the dome-era baseball stadiums. Since then, North American (ok, U.S.) cities have been moving away from multi-purpose retractable-roof domes and have been building smaller, specialized stadiums, often with a retro feel (Camden Yards in Baltimore is a prime example). I believe there are only a handful of MLB teams that still play in retractable-roof stadiums. What's more, Rogers Centre is the ONLY MLB venue with artificial grass.
Darnell replying to a comment from Binky Barnes / May 10, 2013 at 01:13 pm
I agree. Tropicana Field is not truly an MLB venue.
SYSS Mouse / May 10, 2013 at 01:27 pm
At least it brought us two World Series Champions.
iSkyscraper / May 10, 2013 at 01:27 pm
I know it is cool to complain about the 'Dome, but you have to remember the context of the times. Virtually every major stadium of recent vintage in that era had been built in suburban or, at best, CNE-type portland/fairground locations. It was almost unheard of to put a shiny new stadium right downtown, on top of transit and surrounded by hotels and offices. And compared to those that were (Metrodome and BC Place come to mind), Skydome was far superior in terms of its pedestrian connections and how it fit into the urban fabric. To provide almost no new surface parking and depend on existing lots and garages was revolutionary thinking for the time. To look at the site today it seems like some very forward thinking.

Sure, Camden Yards came around afterwards and retro styling became the norm, but it was Skydome that best showed how you could put a major state of the art stadium downtown and feed off the existing infrastructure and retail. All modern urban North American stadiums owe a debt to the 'Dome for blazing the trail.
tommy / May 10, 2013 at 01:47 pm
And don't forget that the Skydome was the last MLB mega-stadium. All new stadiums since have used more traditional designs, sans roof. Just like the CN Tower being built at the beginning of cable television (and closing out the broadcast era), Skydome was the last of it's kind. Seems to be a trend in Toronto - we stubbornly stick to our guns until it's too late, then do a slapdash project which quickly becomes obsolete.
Skye / May 10, 2013 at 02:18 pm
I used to be an usher for the Jays. We'd always get fans complaining that Toronto should build a retro-style ballpark, just like Camden Yards/Fenway Park/Yankee Stadium.

Those same fans would inevitably, often moments later, whine for the roof to be closed because they were cold. Ummmm...
Binky Barnes replying to a comment from Darnell / May 10, 2013 at 02:52 pm
Tropicana Field's infield is all real dirt. Rogers Centre is completely fake turf.
Me replying to a comment from Patrick / May 10, 2013 at 04:04 pm
Or a condo!! YAY!!
Binky Barnes replying to a comment from Skye / May 10, 2013 at 04:06 pm
That's really funny. Real baseball fans wouldn't grumble like that. On the other hand, this does show up the viability of playing baseball in Ontario. It's a bit dodgy...kind of like playing hockey in Arizona. Not that anyone would be silly enough to try that!
Phil Fry replying to a comment from concerned for your long-term prospects / May 10, 2013 at 11:16 pm
It's a blog not a thesis paper. Enjoy it for the greatness that it is.

p.s. I think your shift key is broken.

JP / May 11, 2013 at 02:37 pm
@Binky - baseball in Toronto is NOT equal to hockey in Arizona.

They've been playing baseball in Toronto since the late 1800s. Of course it's nothing like the history of hockey in the region, but baseball is an important part of the Southern Ontario sports history/culture.
JP / May 11, 2013 at 02:38 pm
*That is the link to the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team (which played from the 1880s to 1960s), but the Wikipedia link takes it to the Leafs NHL team.
JP / May 11, 2013 at 02:43 pm
Yeah, the Skydome was really the last of the huge multi purpose facilities, it's a shame we missed out on the retro ballpark phase. The Skydome is OK for a bunch of things, but not really great at anything.

That said, if you think about all the events/milestones that have occurred there (admittedly unspectacularly) it IS impressive. MLB World Series, the Carter walkoff, 4 million attendance (MLB record at the time), MLB All Star Game, NBA Basketball, NFL Football, Grey Cups, MLS soccer etc etc. It's seen a lot of action at least.
Old Bud / May 11, 2013 at 03:48 pm
I agree with almost all of the comments here, except I love the Dome, always have. I saw games at Exhibition Stadium, and quite a few Expos games at Olympic Stadium. Exhibition Stadium had a lot of history I guess but it didn't reflect well on Toronto as a MLB city. Still it was fun on a sunny day. The pitch of the seats at Olympic Stadium slope back at a lazy angle so you really feel removed from the action, like being a rabbit turd on the edge of a pie plate. Many things about the Skydome were great and innovative. I just saw a game there a few weeks ago, and it still seems fresh and new to me, it's intimate and innovative for all the reasons other posters have noted. The styling is out of step with other parks of course, but count me as a fan for all the many things is still does right, all these years later.
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AR / February 25, 2014 at 02:50 pm
the play-by-play of the opening ceremonies was mostly accurate (as I remember them), except for the fact that Chuck, Rod and Mike were determined to open the roof completely regardless of what happened...and they did.

Most annoyingly the comments, the often repeated myth that the SkyDome cost the taxpayers of Ontario $600 million was restated. This is of course completely wrong.

The stadium cost $570 million, the private consortium paid $165 million of that and the province sold the building for $151 million - leaving a balance of.... that's right $254 Million.

Less then half of the number that is so often quoted.
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Steven / June 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm
I worked at Movenpick at the time - that Godawful restaurant on York street for the Grey haired Phantom of the Opera set. We had a huge dinner rush that night for all of the patrons that were headed to the SkyDome opening. Oh how they fanned out their WAY over-priced tickets on the table and advised us they needed to eat quickly. Nothing was more enjoyable than finding out later how they opened the Dome and rained HARD on all of them dressed to the Nines. There was talk of lawsuits from ruined clothing and hairstyles. It was FANTASTIC revenge on those miserable patrons of that horrible restaurant.
Laurene / August 19, 2014 at 05:05 pm
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Ben / October 7, 2015 at 03:23 pm
I think the Skydome is an urban-planning success. Sure, maybe other teams favour the retro-stadium thing, but that's also a fad. What's amazing about the dome is that they had the gall to build it right downtown.. it's become a catalyst for the area.
Jason / October 8, 2015 at 01:36 pm
If Toronto required an enclosed sports stadium to stay out of the elements, then why are they playing the 2016 Grey Cup outdoors?
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