Gardens' capsule holds mysterious ivory elephant
Matthew Coutts, ctvtoronto.ca
Published Thursday, January 26, 2012 6:39PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:16AM EDT
As an 80-year-old time capsule recovered from Maple Leaf Gardens was opened in Toronto on Thursday and the ancient artifacts pored over and considered, the origin of a mysterious ivory elephant garnered the most speculation from curious onlookers.
A construction worker found it buried at the base of the famed arena last July during renovations that would see the historic facility host a Loblaw grocery store and a Ryerson University athletic centre.
Conn Smythe, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, buried the capsule at the corner of Church and Carlton streets when the Gardens were built in 1931, including inside the various artifacts of a Toronto businessman and hockey lover.
The copper box, about the size of a toaster oven, contained no markings or writing on the outside.
The contents included a four-page letter from the directors of the Maple Leafs Gardens detailing the design and construction of the arena, as well as three official hockey rule books.
A stock prospectus from Maple Leaf Gardens and a Red Ensign flag were included among the goodies, as were copies of four Toronto newspapers – the Toronto Daily Star, The Globe, The Mail and Empire and the Evening Telegram – dated Sept. 21, 1931.
Also included was a small ivory elephant statuette attached to a fragment of blue ribbon, included in the time capsule for unknown reasons.
Conn Smythe's son believes the mysterious elephant was a gift to his father, received from a friend dating back to the First World War.
"He escaped to China, where he established an import-export business and sent a lot of beautiful ivory items to my father," Hugh Smythe told CTV Toronto on Thursday.
Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy suggested that the elephant was included in the time capsule for luck. If that were the case, it would not be the last time a simple object was used to harness hockey fortune.
"It could be speculated that it was a good luck charm, no that different than the loonie that was buried below centre ice for the 2000 Olympics in Salt Lake City," Levy said. "But it is not possible to know exactly what its origin is or why it was buried."
The Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1931, the first year playing at the Maple Leafs Gardens, and ten more while in the downtown arena, before launching into a dismal 45-year drought.
The Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre in 1999 and have missed the playoffs for the past six seasons.
The Gardens, meantime, went lifeless and overlooked until the past year, when Loblaws opened a high-end grocery store at the location and Ryerson University built a two-storey athletic centre complete with a hockey arena.
The capsule and its contents will be placed on display for the public display at Ryerson University once a permanent display case is created.
With a report from CTV Toronto's John Musselman