Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
At a Toronto station that fed fans into the city’s hockey arena, a 1985 mural that depicted the Maple Leafs’ biggest rival enraged team owner Harold Ballard.
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While waiting for the next subway at Toronto’s College Station, riders see two platform walls facing each other. One depicts players of the city’s NHL hockey franchise, the Maple Leafs; the other shows their historic rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
The piece, made by Canadian artist Charles Pachter and called Hockey Knights in Canada, Les Rois de l'Arène, appeared in 1985—much to the dismay of the owner of the Maple Leafs, who tried to have it taken down.
As the CBC reported in 1984, team owner Harold Ballard was furious that the Toronto Transit Commission station feeding fans into his Maple Leaf Gardens would depict his team’s arch-enemy. He even threatened to pull permission to use the Maple Leafs logo on the piece. Pachter—no stranger to artistic controversy (see the reaction to his 1972 painting Queen on Moose, which depicted a young Queen Elizabeth II, on a moose)—saw Ballard as a bully, and the TTC backed him up, confirming that the piece would not be in violation of copyright law
Ballard, who had served time in jail on 47 counts of fraud, theft and tax evasion the previous decade, had a comically villainous persona; he embraced chaos in his workplace and proudly used racial slurs and sexist language in public. Leafs fans remember him for overseeing the historic franchise’s darkest days. Pachter’s piece was installed towards the end of the 1984-85 season, one in which the Maple Leafs held the worst record in the NHL. Said the artist to the CBC at the time, “The Leafs being in the condition they’re in, it’s good press for him.”
Ballard died in 1990 and in 1999 the team moved a few stops down the TTC’s Line 1 to Air Canada Centre. But Hockey Knights in Canada, Les Rois de l'Arène remains in its original place.
H/T CBC Archives
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Harold Ballard’s first name as Howard.