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NEWS: Celebrating a legendary Leaf (Jan. 2018)

January 29th, 2018 · No Comments

Charlie Conacher banner presented to Jesse Ketchum

Charlie Conacher’s nephew Brian applauds at the unveiling of Charlie Conacher’s banner at Jesse Ketchum Public School. COURTESY JOHN CALDARONE

By R.S. Konjek

Jesse Ketchum Public School on Davenport Road received a special gift from the Toronto Maple Leafs just before the holidays, thanks to one of its most famous graduates.

On December 12, the school was presented with the original Charlie Conacher banner that used to hang from the rafters of the Air Canada Centre.

Born in 1909, Charlie was one of ten Conacher siblings who grew up in the Yorkville neighbourhood. They all attended Jesse Ketchum, where the children were encouraged to participate in sports.

A poor skater at first, Charlie found himself playing goalie on the hockey team. Eventually, he grew to over six feet tall and played in the NHL for 14 seasons.

Playing as a power forward, Conacher was known for his dominant size and strength, and nicknamed — courtesy of his booming shots that tore a hole through many a net —The Big Bomber.

Charlie realized the dream of almost every local schoolboy when he joined the Leafs, and became a Stanley Cup winner in 1932 and captain of the team for the 1937-38 season. He retired in 1941 and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961.

Charlie’s career and legacy are only one part of the Conacher story.

His brothers Lionel and Roy also played in the NHL and won four more Stanley Cups between them. The Conachers are the only family to have three siblings in the Hall of Fame. Over the years, three more Conacher descendants have also played in the NHL.

“There can be only one Royal Family of Hockey, the Conachers,” wrote Paul White in a recent biography of the sporting family. “The list of scoring titles, all-star game appearances, Stanley Cup and league championships, not to mention other unique hockey achievements, are all documented.”

Charlie’s number 9 is one of thirteen numbers, honouring nineteen different players, that were officially retired in 2016. At that time, the hockey club created brand new banners that now hang at the ACC.

Since then, the Leafs have been delivering the old banners to the hometowns of their honoured players. Charlie’s banner made the shortest trip, just four kilometres up Bay Street to the primary school where he spent his formative years.

“Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jesse Ketchum Public School has been part of the fabric of this city for a very, very long time,” said school principal Elizabeth Holmes at the presentation. “In fact, our school actually predates our beloved hockey team. And like the Leafs, our school is about community. That’s why this event is so important for us. It recognizes the importance of community and how our school and our community helped to shape Charlie Conacher into not just the great player that he was, but also the person that he was.”

Charlie’s connection with the Leafs is special because he is a home-grown hero.

In the club’s entire history, the Leafs have had only three Toronto-born captains. The most recent one was Sid Smith in the 1950s. Since then, the team has named captains from far-flung locales ranging from Saskatchewan to Sweden (Wendell Clark and Mats Sundin, respectively).

Today, there are only two players on the team roster who were born in this city. Professional hockey is now an international affair, and a local-born player making it to the top is increasingly a rarity.

At the presentation ceremony, Charlie’s banner was raised to its new home inside Jesse Ketchum school with the help of his sons Peter and Brad, and his nephew Brian.

Perhaps Charlie’s image will help inspire the youngsters at Jesse Ketchum to pursue their dreams, be they athletic, academic or artistic. Maybe other tributes and banners will someday join Charlie’s.

“Our school today is home to about 450 students whose cultural backgrounds represent countries from all over the world, just like the Leafs of today,” said Holmes. “But what remains constant is that commitment to community, and to working together as a team to achieve success.”

As go the Leafs, so go the kids at Jesse Ketchum.

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