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Maple Leaf elephant tied to Olympic glory

A small ivory elephant, which was placed inside a time capsule and hidden in the Maple Leaf Gardens building on September 21, 1931, is seen in Toronto on Thursday, January 26, 2012. The meaning of the elephant is unknown.


A small elephant can carry a big mystery.

The uncovering of a time capsule under the former Maple Leaf Gardens Thursday has revealed a possible Olympic gold medal connection with the old building, Globe and Mail research found Friday.

The ivory elephant discovered Thursday matches one that was given to former University of Toronto Varsity Blues forward Charles Delahaye when the Blues won the Olympic gold medal for hockey in 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland says Delahaye's daughter Denise Casey.

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"The Varsity Grads went over there and won the gold medal," said Casey in a phone interview. "I'm staring at the gold medal and white elephant ... Conn Smythe was the coach and that's where the elephant came from, I think."

Casey said she had all of Delahaye's medals, including an Allan Cup championship medal as the top Canadian senior team. "He'd written down at the top [of the frame containing the medals]an X and 'Elephant'. Underneath are all the medals that they won after they toured. I believe the elephant was given to each and every member of the team as a good luck charm," she said. But she could not say what the significance of the elephant was or who had actually given elephants to team members.

"The elephant looks exactly the same [as the one unearthed at the Gardens site]... It obviously was very important to be included among the medals of my dad. I've got the Olympic gold medal, [and medals from]the British Hockey Association, the Berlin Skate, the Allan Cup ... but the top of it is the elephant," Casey said.

Delahaye died in 1973, taking the pachyderm's secret with him.

At the time of construction, Maple Leaf Gardens, built in a rushed six months in 1931 during the Depression, was reputed to be a 'white elephant', sure to lose money. That was one of the whimsical explanations for the ivory icon.

"But that doesn't make any sense to me," said Casey.

She told a Globe and Mail researcher she believes that the players travelled with the elephant charms as good luck.

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Globe researcher Stephanie Chambers called Hockey Hall of Fame archives manager, Craig Campbell to try to shed more light on the elephant.

"There is nothing in the HHOF collections that can pinpoint any hockey-related significance to the elephant." Chambers said.

"[Campbell]had gone through photos in their collection of the 1928 team in St. Moritz but sees no elephant pendants around their necks. He also said that the HHOF has had no donation from that time period that includes the elephant."

Dr. Hugh Smythe, son of the Maple Leafs founder and formerly a team doctor, said the elephant from the capsule may be a replica of one given to Conn Smythe by a friend, a First World War Russian prisoner of war who befriended him.

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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