Alan Thicke! Skydivers! Andre Philippe Gagnon doing Burton Cummings impressions! SkyDome’s infamous opening ceremony, remembered.
Twenty-five years ago this week, I attended the literal opening ceremony for Toronto’s then-state-of-the-art retractable-roofed ballpark, SkyDome. Attendance at the televised event was limited to the lucky 50,000 or so winners of a public ticket lottery (my family included)…and seemingly every available B-list Canadian celebrity this side of Front Page Challenge.
Though the producers hoped to make a razzle-dazzle splash, we got a real one instead. As poofy-haired singers, spandex-clad dancers, and a slow-motion motorcade carrying the likes of Al Waxman filled the stadium floor to the tune of a cloying country-swing number titled “Open Up the Dome and Let the People Come In,” organizers opened up the dome and let the torrential downpour come in. As half the crowd bolted for cover, we were left with a sight that would become familiar in the ensuing decades: a sea of empty blue seats.
In retrospect, that soggy spectacle anticipated the SkyDome’s bathetic history in miniature—that of outsized optimism giving way to deflating disappointment. Sure, the stadium boasted a fancy sunroof, man cave–worthy Jumbotron, and voyeur-friendly hotel rooms. But for all that, the SkyDome was a tricked-out version of the ’70s-concrete-donut style stadium that fell out of favour once intimate, retro-styled parks like Baltimore’s Camden Yards started cropping up in the ’90s and set the current standard for the modern baseball venue. By the time the Blue Jays stopped winning pennants, SkyDome had already started to feel like a relic from another era, destined to be shunned like the Domer the Turtle puppets that were distributed as souvenirs on opening night but failed to turn the Dome’s forgotten mascot into the next BJ Birdie. (The Dome’s eventual change in 2005 to the city’s biggest cellphone billboard only seemed to intensify its brutalist sterility.)
Of course, as the past week has proven, there’s no better way to breathe life into a barren ballpark than to field a winning team. And, as a result, the opening-cermony clips available on YouTube (thanks to the industrious uploader known as RetroOntario) now feel a little less like a heremtically sealed time capsule. More than just offer proof that “Blurred Lines” is hardly the most odious song ever crooned by someone with the last name Thicke, those rainy, grainy videos serve as an eternal emblem of how local enthusiasm for our baseball stadium can be so unbridled, we’re liable to soil ourselves.