With the Grey Cup arriving in Toronto, we explore the sporting history of the park where the cup made its debut back in 1909.
During World War II, Montreal-based Park Steamship Company named additions to its war cargo fleet after a few Canadian parks. Among those chosen were Hillcrest and Rosedale. Assigned to write historical plaques about each park, poet P.K. Page contacted Toronto civic officials for background information. Parks commissioner Charles E. Chambers provided Page with the info she required, but noted at the end of a March 27, 1944 letter that “neither park has any historical importance.”
Chambers forgot Rosedale Park’s key role in Canadian football history. This might be understandable, as the Grey Cup’s debut there on Dec. 4, 1909 was an anti-climatic affair. Fans and media expended their energy during the semi-final at the park the previous week, when the heavily-favoured Ottawa Rough Riders were trounced by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 31-7 in front of a crowd of 11,000 spectators forced to sit 15 deep around the field.
Click here for a close-up view of the front page
of the December 6, 1909 edition of the Toronto Daily Star
By comparison, only 3,807 spectators turned up to watch U of T defeat the Parkdale Canoe Club 26-6. Though it was anticipated that the Parkdale squad would be steamrolled, a close score during the first quarter prompted headlines like the Star’s “Parkdale Gave Varsity an Interesting Argument.” The World observed that “the interest in the struggle was probably the least ever shown” in a football final. “Even the college contingent lacked spirit, and choruses led by the Highlanders’ band were half-hearted.” There wasn’t even a trophy to hand to the victors—it took a series of frustrated letters from football officials to Grey’s staff to produce the $48 bowl made by Birks jewellers, which was given to the champs three months later.
Rosedale Park’s association with athletics stretches back to May 24, 1892, when it officially opened as the Rosedale Lacrosse Grounds. Those disappointed by the home team’s loss during the debut lacrosse match found other distractions during the opening festivities. “The presence of a large number of Toronto’s most charming belles was a noticeable feature,” the Mail noted. “The galaxy of beauty which congregated on the grandstand was enough to turn the head of even the most experienced among the players.”
Rosedale Park in 1921. Photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 52, Item 947.
The site was purchased by the City from the Toronto Lacrosse and Athletic Association in 1917. The grandstand disappeared, leaving more space for sports like cricket, high-school football, ice hockey, lawn bowling, and tennis. A few athletic organizations, like the Toronto Track and Field Club, wore out their welcome with neighbours and City parks officials. Despite being denied a permit to continue practising running and pole jumping on the grounds in 1951, the “Red Devils” continued to use Rosedale Park. Living up to their nickname by hurling “ungentlemanly remarks” at park staff and hanging around the fieldhouse after closing time didn’t help the group’s appeals to Parks and Recreation. After arrangements were made to move the club to Varsity Stadium, the pole-vaulting pit was quickly filled in lest they return.
Most complaints about the park during the 1940s and 1950s were directed at the aging clubhouse. Clubs battled for precious dressing-room space—by 1950, women had to use a small lobby to change after a cricket club took over their quarters. The City rejected a request from the Highland Tennis Club to build an addition from fear other users would request their own extensions. Neighbours complained about smoke from the coal-fired building due to a lower-grade rock introduced during World War II that continued to be used. The building was eventually replaced by the current clubhouse, which includes changing facilities and offices for the Rosedale Tennis Club.
The park remains a central part of North Rosedale’s leisure time. For over 65 years, it has hosted the Mayfair community celebration. Recent upgrades include new playground equipment and a revamped historical plaque unveiled earlier this year to honour the first Grey Cup. If he had been on hand for that ceremony, Charles Chambers would have eaten his words about the park’s lack of history.
Additional material from the May 25, 1892 edition of the Mail, the December 6, 1909 edition of the Toronto Star, and the December 5, 1909 of the Toronto World.