toronto blue jays

5 Toronto icons that could have had different names

Would 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.


toronto 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.


toronto st patricks

Long 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.


toronto skydome

In 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.

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