The perfect temporary home for the Blue Jays
As a Torontonian, my first real cheer of this sporting season was when I heard that Buffalo, N.Y., would be the temporary home of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Buffalo will hopefully provide a safe haven for our stateless Canadian club (assuming the season continues, of course — which I certainly hope proves possible to do safely). And this is a good thing, as the city has always given more to Toronto than it has taken. Now it is time to pay it back.
There is a long history of the two cities sharing teams, and of Canadians heading south of the border to catch a game.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans have invaded the Buffalo Sabres rink since the latter started playing in 1970, when I was a kid. Buffalo provides Toronto fans a fun, affordable environment to cheer against the local team. Buffalo’s revenge: the Sabres have an all-time home record of 72-30-8 against the Leafs.
Buffalo loaned us their NBA team, the Braves, in the early 1970s for some games at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Braves went west and are now the Los Angeles Clippers, the same Clippers that stole Kawhi Leonard from the Raptors.
Toronto hosted select Buffalo Bills football games between 2008 and 2012. Our American neighbours feared Toronto would claim the team that is a religion in its hometown. An annual game or two in Toronto? Try moving the Kaaba from Mecca, the Western Wall from Jerusalem or St. Peter’s from the Holy See.
For many on a budget, Buffalo was an inexpensive stand-in for international travel. All the same, too many Canadians looked down their noses at Buffalo. Toronto was growing and new, and Buffalo was contracting and old. It was our living version of The Guess Who’s American Woman, but Canadians didn’t stay away. We continued to visit and were warmly welcomed, despite our unwelcome comments.
Why did so many of us go? Food comes to mind. Exhibit A: chicken wings in the place of their birth. Connoisseurs of Buffalo wings reviewed establishments as one would Michelin star-rated dining in the south of France.
Yet shopping was the biggest draw. When the exchange rate was better, prices couldn’t be beat. Buffalo’s shopping power peaked when the Walden Galleria opened in 1989. With many U.S. chains not yet in Canada, it might as well have been Milano’s Galleria.
Even groceries were an attraction. They always had the cereals that were not yet available in Canada, the kind that would turn your milk a different colour in five seconds flat. To breakfast-loving kids, Canada was behind cereal’s iron curtain.
At age eight, my first whiff of a legal education was in Buffalo, where I started understanding Canada’s customs exemption limits. It could also be an education in illegality.
Rumour has it that many Ontario families hatched their first and only criminal conspiracies in Buffalo-area mall parking lots, destroying evidence by cutting the tags off everything from socks to sweaters. They could be spotted huddling near waste bins, covering up their dirty work in a cold sweat as if they were in the climactic scenes of Goodfellas.
Back in the ’70s, in a world of TV channels that could be counted on two hands, for those in southern Ontario, Buffalo was America’s front door and, counterintuitively, television opened that door even more than a visit. Their ambassador was Channel 7’s Eyewitness News. Anchor Irv Weinstein,
THEY ALWAYS HAD THE CEREALS THAT WERE NOT YET AVAILABLE IN CANADA.
Rick Azar on sports and weatherman Tom Jolls set a longevity record for an American news team.
Aside from reporting on fires, blizzards and general mayhem, one reason Eyewitness News attracted Canadian viewers was personality. They showed that newscasters could crack a smile and still have authority. This was before CNN, headlined by Buffalo’s Wolf Blitzer, who must have learned a thing or two watching Weinstein. Azar and Jolls are long retired and, sadly, Weinstein died in 2017 at age 87.
While it has not had a major league team for over a century, Buffalo has hosted professional baseball since 1879, mostly minor league, including the Blue Jays’ top farm team, the Buffalo Bisons. In so many ways, Buffalo has been part of the story of Toronto and southern Ontario and, as the Blue Jays temporary home, so it is again.
Oh how I yearn for Irv Weinstein, of blessed memory, to sit behind the news desk one more time, delivering the lead like no other: “Topping tonight’s Eyewitness News, Buffalo is back in the major leagues.” For at least 25 well deserved games, we hope.
Irv Weinstein anchored Eyewitness News on Channel 7 in Buffalo and was well known to many Canadians.