Mike Wilson has assembled the greatest trove of hockey treasures on the planet aside from the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Just don’t refer to him as a ‘collector.’
Indeed the man known as the Ultimate Leafs Fan has amassed enough memorabilia over the past few decades to display the artifacts in the basement of the Toronto home that he shares with partner Debra Thuet; an underground museum-like man cave simply referred to as “The Room.”
Many of the most significant, one-of-a-kind items are chronicled in his new book “Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan”, co-authored by veteran Toronto Sun beat reporter Lance Hornby and fellow hockey historian Paul Patskou.
“I hate to think of myself as a collector, but more along the lines of a preserver of history,” Wilson said. In a frenzied, saturated market in which the prices of collectibles such as cards, sweaters, and autographed sticks and cards have skyrocketed, Wilson is loath to possess an item solely based on its commercial value.
“What really drives me – I like to tell everybody – it’s about a time and place in history,” he said. “To me when I look at an artifact, no matter what it is – you don’t even have to be a Toronto Maple Leaf fan to appreciate this – it will take you back to the time to the place you were, and the historical significance of what’s developing around it.”
Visitors to “The Room” are frequently amazed, perhaps even flabbergasted, at the plethora of items on display. There is an original turnstile from Maple Leaf Gardens, along with the original dressing room door emblazoned with the Leafs logo and the words “Authorized Personnel Only.” There are the rookie contracts of Hall of Famers Tim Horton and Ted Kennedy.
A display case filled with Leafs sweaters chronicles the evolution of the team’s appearance and logo throughout the franchise’s history. Nearby is the stick rack from the hallway at the fabled arena at Carlton Street where Horton and Kennedy along with Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich and countless Leafs stored their twigs.
“Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan” ranks the artifacts on a 1-to-5 scale based on the value of the respective item. More importantly, the story behind the exhibit is chronicled in detail.
“Every story has far-reaching bounds beyond what the actual item stands for,” Wilson said. “Nothing excites me more than showing someone an item or an artifact, and that that person picking up the story and carrying it forward and adding more to it.”
It was the story of Bill Bariko’s sister Anne reading a letter written by her Stanley Cup-winning brother that endeared the Donohue family to contact Wilson. Dan Donohue of Hamilton, Ontario held, for many years, the puck that Barilko used to score the famous 1951 overtime goal to clinch the Stanley Cup for Toronto.
For many years it was believed that the rubber disc resided, on display, at the Hockey Hall of Fame. But video footage obtained by Patskou confirmed that the actual puck was in fact retrieved by Dan’s father Harry amidst the celebration at Maple Leaf Gardens, 65 years ago.
The Barilko story and subsequent tragedy, immortalized in The Tragically Hip’s song ‘Fifty Mission Cap’ comes full circle with the coincidental discovery of the player’s body in 1962, eleven years after he boarded a small plane that disappeared over Northern Ontario. Wilson’s most recent windfall for his collection was the acquisition of the 1962 Stanley Cup banner that used to hang in Maple Leaf Gardens.
The banner came into Wilson’s collection shortly after the publication of his book.
Will there ever be a point where Wilson would be satisfied that his collection is fully complete? In a word, no.
“As a pure preserver of history, there’s never an end,” Wilson said. “Because, you never know. If I had said (there’s an end) five years ago, I never would have found the 1962 Stanley Cup banner, or some of the programs or magazines I’ve found.
“Any pure player in this field is never going to be satisfied. That’s the beauty of this, it’s the element of surprise when something comes at you.”
”Inside the Room with the Ultimate Leafs Fan“ is available from Quarry Press Inc.
Visit the Ultimate Leafs Fan at www.ultimateleafsfan.com