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Buffalo and Toronto: A Love Story

Author: Jeff Z. Klein

My mother was from Toronto, which makes me not too unusual around here, considering all the Buffalonians with a Canadian parent, family member, spouse, loved one or ex. So I’m pretty sure none of us need to be reminded how close the relationship is, was and always will be between WNY and the GTA.

But for those Buffalonians who have no relationship with Toronto — and in honor of the Blue Jays finding a home and refuge at Sahlen Field — here are just some of the deep connections between the 6 and the 716:

  • SPot Coffee is owned by a Toronto company.
  • Labatt, founded in Toronto, is the best selling beer brand in Buffalo.
  • The 19th-century educational systems of both cities were endowed by the same man, Jesse Ketchum.
  • When Irish-American Civil War veterans launched the Fenian Invasion from Buffalo in 1866, they fought against Canadian militia made up largely of University of Toronto students who’d been called away from their final exams.
  • The Ontario provincial parliament building in Queen’s Park was designed by a Buffalo architect, Richard A. Waite.
  • The City of Buffalo rushed 27 firemen via special train, along with two pumpers and 2,000 feet of hose, to help fight the Great Toronto Fire of 1904. They saved several buildings, including the one that now houses the Hockey Hall of Fame.
  • Burgard High School grad Al Dekdebrun quarterbacked the Toronto Argonauts to the 1950 Grey Cup title in a game known as the “Mud Bowl.” Dekdebrun scored the only touchdown that day (starting at the 26:48 mark of this video).
  • The Argos’ head coach in that game was Frank Clair, who would go on to win five Grey Cups in all. Clair began his head coaching career at UB in 1948.
  • Buffalo’s most famous musician, Rick James, got his start in Toronto while AWOL from the U.S. Navy. He was rescued from a Yonge Street fight by Levon Helm and Garth Hudson (future founders of The Band), and played with Neil Young in the Mynah Birds.
  • Punch Imlach took the job as the Sabres’ first GM and coach to get back at the Maple Leafs for firing him, and he did when Sabres won their first game in Toronto, 7-2.
  • Tim Horton, and Tim Hortons.
  • There are three Duff’s locations in the GTA.
  • Some Buffalo diners ensure that vinegar is available for French fries.
  • Peameal bacon at butcher shops is a thing here.
  • The Buffalo Bisons and Toronto Maple Leafs are the only North American pro sports teams whose nicknames use incorrect plural forms.
  • The Tragically Hip.
  • SCTV’s spot-on parodies of U.S. television were written and performed by Toronto comedians who grew up watching Buffalo TV: Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas and Martin Short (those last two from St. Catharines and Hamilton respectively, but OK), not to mention fellow parodists Dan Aykroyd and Jim Carrey.
  • CHUM Radio ran an on-air promotional campaign in 1988 to have Irv Weinstein elected president of the United States, prime minister of Canada — or both.
  • WNED/WBFO is “Buffalo Toronto Public Media.” Almost two thirds of the TV station’s viewers and donors live in Canada, mainly Toronto.
  • The Buffalo Bills’ all-time leading scorer, Steve Christie, is from Oakville, part of the GTA.
  • Drake keeps throwing shout-outs to Buffalo and WBLK.
  • Swiss Chalet.

Lead image: Blue Jays showing Buffalove: When the Toronto Blue Jays set up cardboard cutouts of fans at Sahlen Field, the three images they took care to place behind home plate were Geddy Lee of Rush (top left), the fan known as Home Plate Lady (top center) — both longtime fixtures at Jays games in the Rogers Centre — and, in a nod to their home away from home, Bisons superfan Mark Aichinger

Jeff Z. Klein is the writer and executive producer of the Heritage Moments series on WBFO.

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