Mayor Ford Is Right: Toronto Needs a Football Stadium

07/24/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 09/23/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 25: Argos QB Ricky Ray passes during the game as the Toronto Argonauts win the 100th Grey Cup 35-22 over the Calgary Stampeders at The Rogers Centre November 25 2012 DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STAR (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

When you think of the city of Toronto, what colour comes to mind first and foremost? Blue, of course!

The city's flag is blue. The major street signs are as well. Whenever a city official gives a press conference, an image of City Hall and the word "Toronto" -- both in blue -- adorn the lectern situated in front of them. The Leafs, the Jays, the University of Toronto -- all blue.

The reason for this? In the 1870s, to honour their English roots, members of the Toronto Argonaut Rowing Club selected Oxford blue and Cambridge blue to adorn their rugby football jerseys, a sport the rowers would play to stay in shape in the off-season.

This October 18th will mark the 140th anniversary of the Toronto Argonauts' first ever football game, played against the Hamilton Football Club no less. Before the Jays, Raptors and NFL TV games arrived on the scene, winning a Grey Cup -- being the best of eight teams -- once meant as much to Toronto as winning a Stanley Cup -- being the best of just six.

The Boatmen brought the Cup home ten times over the course of their years at Varsity Stadium on the grounds of the University of Toronto. In the 1950s, the club moved to Exhibition Stadium. Despite not winning another Grey Cup until 1983, the team routinely recorded sell outs.

The Blue Jays arrived on the scene in 1977. Exhibition Stadium was retrofitted for baseball as a result. Ultimately, both teams moved into SkyDome in 1989, at a time when multipurpose stadia appeared to be the future.

A decade later, Rogers Communications bought the Jays. A few years thereafter, they bought the stadium, too. The Argos -- North America's oldest continuous professional football franchise -- became effectively homeless.

Between the Jays' home schedule -- which is obviously given priority by Rogers -- and the amount of time it takes to convert the baseball field to football dimensions, the Argos will be forced to play two Tuesday games this season.

Football fans' flagpoles have been banned from the stadium since 2006. Security -- draped in Rogers uniforms and clearly more used to dealing with baseball fans -- routinely harass Argos fans for cheering too intensely.

The individuals working the concession stands at Argos games don Blue Jays caps; the Argonauts get none of the revenue from sales. The Argos' Grey Cup and retired numbers banners are regularly taken down when the Scullers aren't playing. The Dome itself is cavernous and the sight-lines aren't good -- the result is a stadium that isn't conducive to producing noise for a football team's defense.

The Toronto Argonauts are one of Canada's oldest institutions and they've won the Grey Cup a record 16 times. One in two people living in the GTA tuned in to watch the Double Blue win the 100th Grey Cup this past November.

The Argos and their fans deserve their own stadium where their history can be properly preserved and where the team's fan base can sustain itself and grow in a football-friendly environment. Better yet if the stadium's construction can benefit one of Toronto's communities in particular.

The University of Toronto nixed plans last decade to build a new stadium for the Argos on the site of Varsity Stadium, despite details of government funding having already been secured. BMO Field's dimensions appear to be unable to accommodate the length of a Canadian football field. But Mayor Ford, in his recent comments endorsing a new football stadium for the Argos, mentioned Downsview as a possible location.

This idea merits some consideration. The area certainly isn't development-averse, with a subway extension under construction through Downsview and a hospital being built at Keele/Wilson. The Argonauts' fan base is largely suburban, providing for a win-win: convenience of location for the fans and an opportunity to revitalize businesses on Wilson Ave west of the Allen. Proximity to York University is another plus.

Montreal and Vancouver have already received major stadium renovations. Hamilton, Winnipeg and Ottawa are all getting or have already opened beautiful, brand new ones. Let's protect our heritage, build for the future and get the ball rolling for Toronto. I guarantee that ball will produce an Argo bounce.

Grey Cup 2012