'As stories get older, they die:' Brampton, Ont. man helps keep memory of hockey legend Bill Barilko alive
TORONTO -- The iconic image of 24-year-old Toronto Maple Leaf Bill Barilko shows him falling forward as he lifts a backhand over Gerry McNeil of the Montreal Canadiens in overtime to win the 1951 Stanley Cup. It was the team's fourth cup in five years.
Barilko would be carried off the ice by his teammates. The young defender from Timmins, Ont., was Toronto's hero.
It happened 70 years ago on April 21, 1951. In August of that year, Barilko disappeared while on a fishing trip in northern Ontario. He was never seen alive again.
Barilko remained missing for 11 years. During that time, the once dominant Maple Leafs did not win another Stanley Cup until the same year that the plane Barilko was in was discovered, about 100 kilometres north of Cochrane, Ont.
The story was immortalized by the Tragically Hip in the song, "Fifty Mission Cap." They wrote the following lyrics in his honour:
"Bill Barilko disappeared that summer
He was on a fishing trip
The last goal he ever scored
Won the Leafs the cup
They didn't win another till nineteen sixty two The year he was discovered."
Keeping the legend alive
As the story lives in Leafs' history, there is one person who works diligently to keep it alive -- a collector from Brampton, Ont., named Mark Fera.
"To me, it's a story that should be told for generations to come," he said.
Fera said he has dedicated much of his life to collecting Leafs' artifacts. His basement is like a museum. It has game-used sticks from the 1960s to today and some original seats from Maple Leaf Gardens. The walls are covered in game-worn jerseys and equipment from players like Daryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, and Auston Matthews.
He said the story of Bill Barilko has become his obsession. He compares it to a Shakespearean tragedy,
"Here's this young hockey player, winning four Stanley cups in five years, carried off the ice. You know you're heroic, your now biggest moment in sport's history, and he's gone just a few months later," he said.
In his collection, Fera actually has Barilko's Stanley Cup ring. He has what is believed to be the puck that scored the winning goal, and, he has actual wreckage from the plane Barilko was inside when it crashed.
The wreckage is prominently displayed in the corner -- mix of twisted metal and wood that includes the fuselage, two seats, and the door that was beside Barilko.
Next to the wreckage, are hand written lyrics to "Fifty Mission Cap" by Tragically Hip's Gord Downie. Fera said that these days, the artifacts seem to be finding their way to him and are helping him do what he feels is important in telling the story.
"As stories get older, they die, and this is traditionally, our Canadian Buddy Holly story."
A legend protected, 70 years later.