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1972: Leafs owner Harold Ballard convicted of fraud

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 He's been called a bully, a tyrant, a mogul, and now... a criminal. Harold Ballard, the irascible president of Maple Leaf Gardens, has just been found guilty of 48 out of 50 charges of theft and fraud. A judge says Ballard showed "a clear pattern of fraud" involving the misuse of $205,000 - including $82,000 of Gardens money used to remodel his home. The 69-year-old now faces up to 20 years in prison.

• Harold Ballard was sentenced to three consecutive three-year terms in Millhaven prison. He served one year. After release, he said prison was like staying in a motel, with colour television, golf, and steak dinners. He claimed to have photographs of himself drinking beer with the guards and wearing one of their uniforms.

• In 1961, Ballard became president and one of the three principal owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He took control of the Gardens in 1971. He quickly developed a reputation for only thinking of the bottom line, and letting players and fans suffer for it. He was known to be vain, crude, racist and sexist. But he also had a generous side, donating money and Maple Leaf Gardens ice time to several charities.

• In 1965, the Beatles were scheduled to play one show at Maple Leaf Gardens. Ballard sold tickets to two shows and told Beatles manager Brian Epstein the band would have to play twice. Epstein was furious, but agreed. The Beatles performed on one of the hottest days of summer, so Ballard ordered the start of each show delayed, the thermostats turned up and the water fountains turned off, and the concession stands to only sell large drinks (a fortune was made on drink sales.)

• After being released from prison, Ballard made an effort to kill off the World Hockey Association's Toronto Toros by raising the cost of leasing the arena, then telling them it would cost and additional $3,500 per game to have the lights on. The Toros soon moved to Alabama.
• In 1978, Harold Ballard fired popular head coach Roger Neilson, but could not find a replacement, so he rehired Neilson and told him to wear a bag over his head (Neilson refused.)

• After the Neilson affair Ballard went on the CBC Radio program As It Happens. When things didn't go his way he told host Barbara Frum "they shouldn't let females on the radio anyway, they're a joke." He told Frum to mind her own business, and hung up.
• Harold Ballard built an apartment inside the walls of Maple Leaf Gardens, and lived there.

• Harold Ballard once refused an order from NHL President was John Ziegler to have names sewn on the backs of players' jerseys because he thought it would hurt sales of programs. After being fined $2,000 a day, he had names sewn on in letters that were the same colour as the background.

• Throughout much of his life Harold Ballard was involved in very public battles with his three children, his wife Yolanda, and other Gardens stakeholders including Steve Stavro, who went on to own the Maple Leafs. Harold Ballard died on April 11, 1990.

Also on August 15:
1925: Jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson is born in Montreal. Peterson makes his debut at 15 playing with local orchestras. In 1949 he makes his solo debut in New York City at Carnegie Hall. He would sign with Verve Records and make Jazz recordings with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire and with his own trio. He is considered one of the most important musicians in Jazz.

1974: The Metropolitan Toronto Zoo officially opens to the public. It's one of the largest public zoos in the world, with over 287 hectares of land.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Aug. 15, 1972
Guest(s): Harold Ballard
Duration: 2:10

Last updated: May 6, 2013

Page consulted on October 1, 2014

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