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5 Toronto icons that could have had different names

Posted by Chris Bateman / May 11, 2014

toronto blue jaysWould Toronto still love its major league ball club if they were the Blue Sox, or the Towers? Probably, but somehow the Blue Jays name just feels right. Unlike the Raptors, the team seems comfortable with its avian moniker, which was selected by a panel of judges and met with something approaching condemnation in the late 1970s.

Selecting a decent name for a new sports team, stadium, or major infrastructure project is tough. Get it wrong and you run the risk alienating fans or upsetting the city. That's why the City of Toronto has a list of rules governing the naming new streets or the re-naming of old ones: no inappropriate acronyms or "names which are discriminatory or derogatory from the point of view of race, sex, colour, creed, political affiliation or other social factors."

Here are five Toronto icons that could have ended up with a different name.

THE TORONTO BLUE JAYStoronto blue jays

Toronto was one of two cities to be awarded a Major League Baseball expansion franchise in 1976. The name of the team was decided with a public naming contest that year. Over 5 weeks, the public submitted more than 30,000 entries and 4,000 suggestions that included the Toronto Towers, Blues, Blue Sox, Blue Birds, Blue Shoes, Wildcats, Beavers, and Bears. All the "blues" were an attempt to cozy up to Labatt Breweries, which owned a 45 per cent stake in the team.

There was the Algonquins, Iroquois, Trilliums, Hogtowners, Orangemen, and Abners, after Col. Abner Doubleday, a man often mistakenly credited with inventing baseball. The team could have been the Giants if the San Francisco team's planned move north hadn't fallen through.

As we know, a panel of 14 judges, 10 of them from local media outlets, selected the name "Blue Jays" mostly to disapproval. "I don't like it. Why can't they just call them the Toronto Canadians," fan Donald Koster told the Toronto Star. "That's not worth a bleep," said Jack Gorrill, chairman of a local little league.


In the beginning, there were the Toronto Huskies, the long-lost Basketball Association of America side that folded in the 1940s. When the city won an NBA expansion franchise in 1993, the first outside the USA, the club still needed a name. Perhaps hoping the appeal of the Jurassic Park would prove eternal, management selected the Raptors.

Among the names that were rejected by focus groups: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs (short for Hogtown,) Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. The team did opt to commemorate a little piece of history, however. The silver trim on the team's uniform is named "Naismith Silver," after the Canadian inventor of basketball, James Naismith.

THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFStoronto st patricksLong before the naming of a sports team involved legions of PR and professional agencies, the Toronto St. Patricks sloughed their established moniker and team colours in favour of a new military-inspired title. The team started life as the Toronto Arenas, named for their Mutual Street Arena home, but an acrimonious change of ownership resulted in the name being charged after just two seasons in honour of one of the cities principal wards.

The team history also includes the Toronto Blueshirts, but the Maple Leafs of today do not claim an association with that team's records. For mere moments in 1919, the team was known as the Toronto Tecumsehs.

The final name change came on Valentine's Day 1927 when Toronto businessman Conn Smythe bought the team. The origins of the Maple Leafs name aren't entirely clear. Toronto's Double-A baseball team was the Maple Leafs, yet the official story attributes the name to the Maple Leaf Regiment of the Canadian army. Smythe's grandson, Thomas Stafford Smythe, said the name was like the insignia Conn wore during the war but it could also be a reference to a minor league for whom team the team's owner once worked.

THE SKYDOMEtoronto skydomeIn 1987, Toronto was asked to "Name the Dome." 12,879 people entered an Ontario-wide contest to give the city's $338 million sports stadium, the first in the country with a fully retractable roof, a real name. The four finalists from some 150,000 entries were: Harbordome, Towerdome, or just The Dome. "Dome," it seems, was a prerequisite.

The winner of the contest, Kellie Watson from Wallaceburg, had her name chosen by the majority of the 16 judges. For her efforts (and good luck - more than one person entered the name SkyDome) Watson and her husband Rob won a pair of lifetime tickets to every event at the stadium. The prize is still good even though the name has officially changed.


Metropolitan Toronto chairman Frederick Goldwin "Big Daddy" Gardiner dreamed of expressways. During his term of office, the now-defunct senior level of municipal government planned high-speed roads down the Don Valley, Spadina Ave., St. George St., and along the lake shore, through Parkdale, to downtown.

The Lakeshore Expressway or Lakeshore Express Highway, as it was known during the planning stages in the 1950s, was changed to the Gardiner Freeway in 1957 but, according to the Ontario highway act, the new road contained too many interchanges to be a "freeway," and so it kept its expressway descriptor. "Everyone refers to it as an expressway, anyhow," said Harry Clark, the chairman of the Metro roads and traffic committee.

Royalty aside, it was unusual to name a new piece of infrastructure after a living person, especially a politician who was still in office.

"He [Courtland Elliott, president of the Toronto Board of Trade] suggested the road should be named the Gardiner Expressway. Before that, somebody had wanted to name an old man's home after me. Somebody else had wanted to name a sewage plant after me. I didn't exactly like those ideas and so when the third one came along I accepted the honour," Gardiner recalled to the Toronto Star 1961

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Stephen Gardiner/blogTO Flickr pool, Creative Commons.



Jacob / May 11, 2014 at 11:04 am
If only he'd known that 50 years in the future the name "Gardiner" would invoke mostly a negative reaction.
Roy Schulze / May 11, 2014 at 06:25 pm
My remember that my favourite entry for the baseball team was the Toronto Otnorots.
Chris / May 11, 2014 at 11:01 pm
"All the 'blues' were an attempt to cozy up to Labatt Breweries, which owned a 45 per cent stake in the team."

True, but blue had also already been the classic colour for Toronto sports teams for a long time.
Karla / May 12, 2014 at 01:20 am
I seem to remember them holding a contest to name the Raptors on YTV when I was a kid. The winning name came from a kid in Ontario I believe.
jedalus / May 12, 2014 at 01:33 am
I remember being told as a kid that the Blue Bats, was considered as a name for the baseball franchise, because in French it was Le Bat Bleu. Not sure if there was any reality to the story, considering Bat is translated Chauve-Souris.

Also, I've always wondered what happened to the SkyDome naming contest winner. I still can't get myself to call it Rogers Centre! Which probably has more to do with my despising of Rogers, than anything else.
Steve / May 12, 2014 at 04:59 pm
Let's not fool ourselves, it's still the Skydome. Rogers Centre is a terrible name for something that isn't an office building.

Also the Raptors should have been the Huskies.
Skye / June 9, 2014 at 01:17 pm
I also recall reading that Labatt assumed that people would nickname the team the "Blues", and so they were deeply irritated when people started calling them the "Jays" for short instead.
Cap / July 12, 2014 at 08:04 pm
The old Toronto baseball club was, for a short time, called the Toronto Clippers. That would have been a good name for the major league club.
home / January 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm
Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the issues.

It was definitely informative. Your site is very useful.

Thank you for sharing!
Michael / August 1, 2015 at 11:01 pm
I hadn't heard the "Blue Sox" moniker b4...But I really like it!
Mike / August 11, 2015 at 12:36 am
I remember when they were having the NBA team name contest, they initially narrowed it down to 100 and they appeared in The Sun.

There were some awful suggestions (not that Raptors is great...thanks a lot, Crichton and Spielberg), but the one that I've always remembered was the Toronto John Candys.

For the record, the team should have been called the Huskies to honour the previous team.
poppy got sloppy / August 11, 2015 at 08:42 am
I voted for Bobcats in the basketball team naming contest (hey, I was just a kid and thought it sounded cool). Raptors, while still not my favourite name, I can live with. I just wish they'd change the team logo to some type of falcon or hawk instead (a raptor can be any bird of prey). The whole dinosaur imagery makes us look like a big shill for Hollywood.
Rapfan replying to a comment from poppy got sloppy / March 15, 2016 at 06:42 pm
Why would they? There are a multitude of bird mascot teams. The Dino might've seemed like a 'Hollywood shill' in 95 when the team was founded, but now after a few years of success and one of the best marketing campaign in the NBA the Raptors have an identity all their own.
Dibble / March 15, 2016 at 06:49 pm
I met a guy from Seattle once who was a die-hard Raptors fan because when he was 6 he was obsessed with Jurassic Park and everything else to do with dinosaurs, so the strategy worked at least once.
StankyEggo / March 15, 2016 at 11:33 pm
I wasn't really big on the 'Raptors' but the name did grow on me but I most certainly don't like the 'Rogers Center'. Every time I hear Rogers Center I think of the dirt bags that are nickel and dimming me at every turn. I will forever refer to 'it' as the Skydome.
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