A shortened version of this story also appeared in The Hamilton Spectator December 10th, 2021.
I once called Ivor Wynne Stadium my Tivoli.
On July 7th, 2010, my article – Ivor Wynne is Already a Great Stadium Location – was published on the local advocacy site Raise the Hammer. Little did I know then that it would lead to a campaign to save ol’ Ivor Wynne.
I put a lot into advocating for the aging girl. Probably more than I should have considering my world was otherwise crumbling around me. Perhaps it was an escape? Maybe I was pleading to save my marriage through fighting for something I was good at communicating about – sports?
Either way, I learned so much about life, people, politics and most importantly myself, through all of those months of research, advocacy and in the end, I was given a taste of political victory when I turned on the radio early January 2011, to learn that Ivor Wynne had won the day.
Of course we bid an emotional goodbye to our beloved pile in 2012, but sport tradition continues along Balsam in a new way – albeit rotated 90 degrees – in what we now call Tim Horton’s Field. Well, except for those ‘still calling it Ivor Wynne’.
For over 50 years, as captured in this compilation of stories from the Ivor Wynne Stadium scrapbook, our city talked about old versus new and possible locations to relocate to such as Kings Forest, even back then.
Fast forward to 2021, and here we are finally ready to host a Grey Cup in Hamilton after the redevelopment of the Balsam grounds and across the way, at the old Scott block. The area is looking sharply dressed and ready to show the world how far we’ve come from uni-benches to backrests; troughs to urinals; Light Bright’s to the big screen and now, the big show.
Hamilton hasn’t had the opportunity to host many of these cherished events. Seven times during the Hamilton Tigers and Hamilton Alerts days, the (H)AAA Grounds hosted Canada’s football finals. Civic Stadium saw one final in the era of the Hamilton Flying Wildcats and only twice after it was renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium, with the last Grey Cup we hosted occurring back in 1996. Five times Hamilton won it all at home during the (H)AAA days, and only once at 75 Balsam back in 1972 – the year before I was born – the last time the Tiger-Cats played a home Grey Cup game.
We know that a home championship appearance in football is rare but for Hamilton, so has hosting the game itself with number 11 and 12 on the horizon over the next three years to Torontos’ 48 times hosting the main event – almost half of the CFL’s lifespan.
Of course we all want to see our Tabbies at home for a celebration of this magnitude: the first Grey Cup since 1996; first at Tim Horton’s field; first since the pandemic hit and the biggest single event post pandemic shutdowns. There is much to laud from all those times we were at threat of losing our team through the lean years, to the bitter end of another of what seems a trend of 50 year battles to make major decisions in our hometown.
There are certainly more important matters beyond the stadium grounds from housing affordability, truck routes and the need for safe and complete streets, the continuing threats of COVID-19, our crumbling health care system, BC fires and floods, safe drinking water, to the effects it’s all having on the mental health of kids and adults alike.
I’ve been following the Tiger-Cats through parties with families as a kid, a personalized Ti-cat bus parading the Pattison hosers and our friends through the streets of Hamilton on game day, to as an adult walking over on a Friday after work, buying a scalper ticket for $5, grabbing a beer, and writing, dreaming, or people watching in the years where the product on the field was rebuilding and attendance was scarce.
While surely there are more important things than a sporting event, there is a lot of symbolism in these moments beyond whether we are cheering on the home team or not. I for one need a reason to shut out the hate and heartbreak if for just one day. To celebrate the journey to this moment and embrace the positive ways our city is moving forward, including those from out of town setting up roots and falling in love with Hamilton in large numbers after a lifetime of being called stinktown and the armpit of Ontario – now getting to know the hard-working and deep-hearted people who have lived beyond the smokestacks in architectural gems that just needed a little TLC.
For me, being at Tim Horton’s field for the 108th and my first ever Grey Cup, will be a celebration and reflection on all of the above and the part 75 Balsam and our Tabbies have played throughout the story of my First 48. From time with family, learning about advocacy, taking my little girls to their first games, and what it all taught me about how to fight for more important things like my children and education matters as a former school trustee. Thanks to COVID for eliminating my seats I’ll be standing but I’ll be there.
I played a role in the Road to 108 from being a die hard fan, blogs I have run such as Save Ivor Wynne and A Beautiful Night for Football. I am looking forward to being there to celebrate our team’s success which as I tell the kiddos I coach, has nothing to do with the score clock or whether you make it to the big game. In the case of our Tiger-Cats, hosting this year’s Grey Cup is truly about having a healthy team, a strong front office, and a stadium and district we can be proud to showcase to the world in just over a weeks time, and again in 2023.
While we are all dreaming of cheering on our Cats on December 12th, I hope they will be there with us either way to celebrate Hamilton because for me, that is what this day is truly about.
I believe everything happens for a reason. I am remarried now and although life has it’s pains and hard struggles, everything I have learned and all that I have fought for led me to someone who has brought so much to our home team – like our family’s Grover, Ozzy, Danny Mac, or Simoni.
I wish I could be there in Toronto to give our boys a boost this Sunday, but as I say as a coach, ‘go out there and have fun and leave it all out there on the field’. That’s all anyone can expect from you – especially yourself. If we see you enjoying playing this game regardless of the outcome, we’ll find joy in watching.
If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we never know if there will be another game tomorrow – especially for those nearing the end of their careers. Go out there and as Coach Burke once roared, play each game – each moment, as if it was your last play ever.
Go Hamilton Go! This is your moment to shine.