George Armstrong’s Banner Comes Home

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs / Twitter

This past July, all eighteen banners of Toronto Maple Leafs legends descended from the rafters at the Air Canada Centre. As plans move forward to commemorate the team’s 100th season, new standards will be unveiled later this year and raised to replace the old ones.

In the meantime, the organization is honouring those players and their families by returning their banners to the towns and cities from which they came from. Although Bill Barilko’s tapestry briefly returned to the ACC to coincide with the Tragically Hip’s final Toronto concert – they couldn’t exactly play “Fifty Mission Cap” without him there – the hometown banner tour began this past Friday in Bracebridge Falls where the late Ace Bailey’s was brought to the Bracebridge Memorial Arena. 

The next stop, 250km north in Sudbury, Ontario, is where George Armstrong’s banner arrived. The ceremony took place at the Big Nickel, the site of a giant replica of the Canadian five-cent piece. Tipping the scales at 13 tonnes, it’s the largest coin in the world and the perfect place to honour Armstrong, who was a larger than life figure and legend in Maple Leafs lore.

The Hall of Famer was born in Boland’s Bay (Skead), just a stone’s throw away from Sudbury. As a youngster, Armstrong got his first taste of hockey in the small industrial town, where he honed his skills at the local rink. According to Armstrong, in the book In Loving Memory: A Tribute to Tim Horton, he was spurred to start playing junior hockey when he saw an advertisement for it in the local newspaper. Sensing an opportunity, he also encouraged one of his friends, who just so happened to be Tim Horton, to try out with him for the Copper Cliff Redmen of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Association. While Horton was born in Cochrane, Ontario, he and his family relocated to Sudbury when his father took a job there as a miner. Although Horton had picked up the game in Cochrane, reportedly racking up eight goals in his final contest, he was still a little reticent about trying out. When Armstrong asked him to go, he reportedly said, “We won’t make that team” to which George responded with, “I know, I won’t make it either, but let’s just go. The ice isn’t going to freeze on the lake – Why don’t we just go and try out…we’ll enjoy it, and we’ll at least get some ice time.” 

And the rest is history. Both players caught the eye of Maple Leafs scouts during their time with the Redmen and both went on to enjoy incredible success in Toronto. Armstrong captained the t

While Armstrong was unable to attend today’s ceremony, he was well represented by his family members and, of course, faithful Leafs fans who turned the Big Nickel’s otherwise barren foreground into a sea of blue and white. 

After being a fixture in the Air Canada Centre for nearly twenty years, Armstrong’s banner returns home where it will proudly hang in the Garson Arena. You can bet there will be quite a few pickup hockey players who will be smiling at ice level when they catch a glimpse of No. 10. I know I’ll be one of them.