Calgary

Former Leafs owner Harold Ballard's colourful life transformed to Lego legend by Alberta family

An Alberta family is creating Lego dioramas paying homage to some of the legendary stories about former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard.

Transforming the stories of former Leafs owner into Lego dioramas

Left, former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, shown in a file photo. Right, in a tableaux created by Joel Cadieux of Red Deer and his children, Ballard is confronted by former Maple Leafs captain Darryl Sittler, who ripped the 'C' off his jersey because he was furious that Ballard had traded his friend, Lanny McDonald. (Left, The Canadian Press/right, Joel Cadieux)

Heard the one about how former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard once put a hockey stick across the entrance to the sauna in Maple Leaf Gardens, then informed Hockey Night in Canada executive producer Ted Hough that he couldn't leave until Harold got an extra $1 million for TV rights to Maple Leafs games? Harold got his million bucks.

Or how about the time, in the 1960s, when Ballard booked the Beatles into Maple Leaf Gardens, and on the day of the show, turned off the air conditioning and the water fountains so that he could reap a windfall selling soft drinks? (And sold tickets to two Beatles show, even though they'd agreed to do only one.)

Or the time, at the dawn of colour TV, when informed by a Hockey Night in Canada executive that he needed to add extra lights to Maple Leaf Gardens, Ballard threatened to cut the broadcasting cables unless Hockey Night in Canada paid for them? They paid.

Joel Cadieux and his kids have created dioramas that tell the story of Harold Ballard, the former owner of the Toronto Maple leafs, who alienated fans with his temper tantrums and bizarre behaviour. (Davis Cadieux)

That's just three stories about Ballard that Joel Cadieux of Red Deer, Alta., discovered when he began a project that combined his four children's love of Lego with his mom's hatred of Harold Ballard.

"My mom was a diehard Leafs fan and I grew up in the '80s, and things didn't go really well for the Leafs in the 1980s," Cadieux said in an interview Tuesday with David Gray on the Calgary Eyeopener. 

"I just remember my mom always cursing Harold Ballard and saying how horrible of a person he was and how it was all his fault that the Leafs were terrible," Cadieux added.

Ballard was a legendary personality who was known for alienating many of the most popular Leafs stars of the day, including Dave Keon, the team captain, and Darryl Sittler, another captain, whom Ballard knew he couldn't trade, so he traded Sittler's best pal instead, Lanny McDonald, to the Colorado Rockies.

He also got caught up in a tax fraud situation that resulted in him spending a year in prison.

Cadieux didn't really know all that stuff, however, until he found himself with four Lego-loving children, looking for a project, which prompted a few Google searches of the legend of Ballard.

"I couldn't believe some of the things he said and did," Cadieux said."Then I had four kids of my own and we played with Lego a lot. And, yeah, the two just somehow came together and we started work our project at nights — and here we are."

Now that Cadieux and his children have built dioramas of  those iconic Ballard stories, he's releasing pictures of them, one a day, for 100 days, on Twitter and Instagram.

There are other stories, too. There's the one that Ballard used to tell, about going to Russia for the 1972 Summit Series, and urinating on Lenin's Tomb — which he later said wasn't true.

Or the time he appeared as a guest on CBC Radio's As It Happens, where, rather than be interviewed by Barbara Frum, he complained about women reporters and hung up on the air.

Or the story about how he disciplined one of his children by sticking their finger in an electric socket.

Cadieux said the more you dig into the legend of someone like Ballard, the more it becomes difficult to distinguish between what really happened and what became urban lore, because it sounded like something Harold would have done. And he's not even sure it matters what was true and what was just bar stories.

The 1967 Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, Ballard's fourth and final time his name would appear on the cup.

"You know what is truth or not?" Cadieux said. "I wasn't going to let Harold's version of the truth get in the way of a good story, that's for sure."


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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