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Armstrong: Never disappointed in Leaside

George Armstrong, left, and Maple Leaf buddies Mike Walton, Bobby Baun and Eddie Shack. Photo: Jeremy Lewis

George Armstrong, left, and Maple Leaf buddies Mike Walton, Bobby Baun and Eddie Shack. Photo: Jeremy Lewis

For the 55 years that George Armstrong, the captain during the Stanley Cup years of the Toronto Maple Leafs and known as The Chief, lived in Leaside he did a lot of community coaching, but shied away from publicity.

He gave in on Nov. 20 at the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame induction night and was affable, chatted and joked with many there, signed his autograph, and had his picture taken many times.

He had been so well liked during his career that former team members Eddie Shack, Bobby Baun and Mike Walton showed up, as did Cliff Fletcher, Senior Advisor to Leafs president Brendan Shanahan.

Shanahan, who was of town, “asked me to be here for George,” said Fletcher.

So were many others, waiting for his acceptance speech.

Here’s a slightly edited version of that speech.

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Cliff Fletcher says his boss sent him "to be here for George." Photo: Jeremy Lewis

Cliff Fletcher says his boss sent him “to be here for George.” Photo: Jeremy Lewis

I was told I didn’t have to speak. And I told them why I didn’t want to speak because I’m not very good at it. And I’m just about to prove it to you now.

First of all, people are probably wondering, what has he got around his neck up here? And I’ll tell you what it is – it’s a native decoration; it’s like women putting costume jewellery on when they get all dressed up to go out. Natives, we used to put these things on for important occasions like a war dance or a pow wow or things like that. And this is kind of a special occasion. So I wear this on behalf of my mother.

In 1960, 55 years ago, I knew that I had to make a move in my life because I had children – Brian and Betty Ann. Brian was six and had to go to school. And the way we were doing it at that time was not ideal.

We were putting him into school in Sudbury in September. Taking him out of school in November, putting him in school in Toronto someplace in November, taking him out of school in April, putting him back in school in Sudbury in April to finish the year. So I knew that I had to move to someplace in Toronto year-round so he could go to one school.

I had lived in many places – I lived in Stouffville, I lived in Agincourt, I lived at Main and Danforth, I lived on Davisville Ave. – I lived all over the city. I was looking for a place that was close to work – Maple Leaf Gardens – that had good schools, good recreation, and so I chose Leaside to live in. And I must say, I’ve never been disappointed.

Inductees from left to right; Athlete of the Year Reid Humphrey, Tom Irwin (son of inductee Arthur "Laurie" Irwin), Gabby Smyth (granddaughter of inductee Pat (Watt) Friesen), inductee George Armstrong and inductee Norm "Charlie" Ahier. Inductee Annie Fahlenbock was in Hawaii on her honeymoon. Her sister Meghan accepted the award. Photo: Jeremy Lewis.

Inductees from left to right; Athlete of the Year Reid Humphrey, Tom Irwin (son of inductee Arthur “Laurie” Irwin), Gabby Smyth (granddaughter of inductee Pat (Watt) Friesen), inductee George Armstrong and inductee Norm “Charlie” Ahier. Inductee Annie Fahlenbock was in Hawaii on her honeymoon. Her sister Meghan accepted the award. Photo: Jeremy Lewis.

And now, the cream coming to the top of the milk is me getting inducted into this Leaside Sports Hall of Fame. I don’t know whether I deserve it or not but I sure am happy to get it. Being chosen to go in with such worthy people as were elected to go in today, I’m very happy to be part of that.

I’m especially happy and thankful to have fellows such as Mike Walton and Bobby Baun and Eddie Shack and Mr. Fletcher come out here on this occasion. I guess they’ve added a great deal to this event here tonight for you people, I’m sure.

I think that’s about all except to say that hockey’s a great game. It’s a very serious sport and we had a lot of fun playing it. And people say, well, as long as you have fun playing … well, the only time I had fun is when we were winning! I never had much fun when we were losing – I’ll tell you that much!

And I have one very serious story to tell you before we leave, and it involves one of the fellows who is here now – his name is Bobby Baun.

Down at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturdays before the game we had to go down and fix our sticks and try our skates out at noon and make sure everything was right for the game that night. And after that we’d go and fix our tickets also, because we all used to get a pair of free tickets to go to the game.

And so, when our meetings were over, we’d rush upstairs to the special ticket office to get in line to pick up our tickets to go home so our wives and whoever was going to the game with them could go.

And so I got my work done quickly and got upstairs quickly – it was like going through that door over here, and there were stairs right up to the top and then you would line up there. And so, I’m up at the top and I’m about third in line, and things were going kind of slowly, and I’m waiting, and I hear the door downstairs close.

I turned around and looked and there was Bobby Baun coming up the stairs. And so he comes over and he stands behind me. There’re no young kids here (so I can say) I had my hand behind my back, and I kinda give Bobby Baun a little flick in the jewels, kind of thing.

And I’m waiting there, expecting to get a punch in the back of my shoulder or in the back of my head or something, and nothing happened, you know? So I turned around and I was going to say something to Bobby Baun, and there’s a guy standing there I never saw before in my life!

That is a true story and I will close with that. Thank you very much!

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You can watch the video of his speech and the video introduction to it at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=ZHAqJbjcJP0