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The Globe and Mail

Ivory elephant a mystery as Maple Leaf Gardens time capsule contents revealed

Of all the artifacts recovered from a time capsule buried at Maple Leaf Gardens some 80 years ago, it is the origin of a small ivory elephant that has sparked the most interest.

The pendant was contained in a handmade copper box that was discovered in July by construction workers toiling on the renovation of the fabled arena, the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the site of storied performances by the likes of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Muhammad Ali.

Just as mysterious is the identity of the person or persons responsible for storing the capsule, which was found tucked in behind the cornerstone of the hockey shrine. The cornerstone was laid during an official ceremony on Sept. 21, 1931, in the depths of the Depression.

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The capsule contained a total of 12 items, which went on display Thursday in Toronto, including the editions of four newspapers from that day – The Globe, The Mail and Empire, The Toronto Daily Star and the Evening Telegram. The headline in The Globe was about Britain abandoning the gold standard and stock exchanges closing.

There was also a four-page, typewritten letter from the directors of Maple Leaf Gardens; a four-page stock prospectus for the hockey team; the rule books from three leagues, including the NHL; a 1931 Toronto municipal handbook; and a Red Ensign flag.

And that ivory elephant, which is no bigger than a keychain trinket.

"It could be speculated that it was the good-luck charm, not different from the loonie that was buried below centre ice for the 2002 Olympics at Salt Lake City," said Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy, whose institution, along with Loblaw Companies Limited, is involved in renovating the Gardens, turning the old building at the corner of Carlton and Church streets into an athletic centre and showcase grocery.

Good luck? The Leafs, playing at the Gardens, captured the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Many are conjecturing the capsule was buried by Conn Smythe, the former owner of the Leafs who was responsible for getting the Gardens built in a scant six months. Mr. Smythe died in 1980.

Several members of the Smythe family were on hand for Thursday's unveiling, including Hugh Smythe, a Leafs physician from 1950 to 1969. Dr. Smythe, 84, said he had no idea of the existence of the time capsule until news of its recovery emerged last year. He said his father never mentioned it.

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"He could well have had nothing to do with the box," Dr. Smythe said.

He said his father once received a small ivory elephant as a gift from a Russian soldier he befriended when they were both prisoners of war in Germany during the First World War. Dr. Smythe still has it in his possession. But he is not certain there is any connection between that and the trinket found in the time capsule.

The stock prospectus that was drawn up to lure shareholders to Maple Leaf Gardens Limited shows that even 80 years ago, the sport of hockey was a lucrative business. The revenue for the hockey club for the first year playing in the new arena was estimated at $500,000, against total operating expenses of $235,000.

Even today, with a franchise that continues to play before packed houses at the Air Canada Centre despite not winning the Stanley Cup since 1967, the Leafs are anything but a white elephant.

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