Tuesday, October 08, 2019

New Book on the Canadian Heavweight Title Parallels the "Mid-Atlantic Era" in Toronto

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

In late 1978 or early 1979, I started noticing in some of the newsstand wrestling magazines that the top stars in the Mid-Atlantic wrestling area were regularly headlining in Toronto. At the same time, the Canadian Heavyweight champion, with his Canadian Heavyweight title belt, started showing up on our weekly Mid-Atlantic television programs and on our local cards.

This was long before the days of the Internet and behind-the-scenes wrestling newsletters, and I had no idea what was going on. One of our weekly TV programs was  called "World Wide Wrestling" and so I just assumed that maybe we now really were worldwide!

It wasn't until well into the 1980s that I learned the our promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. and the promoter in Toronto Frank Tunney had a working relationship.

My first exposure to Toronto wrestling was in 1977 when the tape of an NWA World Title change in Maple Leaf Gardens aired on our local TV shows. "Handsome" Harley Race defeated Terry Funk for the famous "ten pounds of gold." The TV commentators were former NWA president Sam Muchnick and a former NWA champion I later would learn had been a fixture of Toronto wrestling for decades, Whipper Billy Watson.

Two things made Toronto seem special and unique to me right off the bat. First was that elevated walkway, the famous Toronto "ramp", that led to the ring. I had never seen such a thing, and that whole concept intrigued me. Secondly though, and more lasting in my memory over the years, was the iconic call by Toronto ring announcer Norm Kimber announcing the new champion. I actually made an audio cassette recording of that, and the many times I've listened to it over the next years had it burned into my brain. It wasn't just what he said, it was the dramatic way he said it...

"The winner of the match, the time 14 minutes 10 seconds with an Indian deathlock, the new heavyweight champion of the world Harley Race!"  - Norm Kimber

In my opinion, Kimber was one of the great ring announcers of all time.

I later learned there were many other things that made Toronto unique and special. Toronto was one of those towns that was similar to St. Louis and Houston in that they often booked wrestlers from lots of different territories and promotions to make up their big cards, and although it was an NWA town, all the various world champions from the NWA, WWF, and AWA all defended their titles there. And of course the name of the venue sounded cool to me, too. Maple Leaf Gardens. This sounded akin to Madison Square Garden and gave it a more mythical feel as a teenager at my great remove.

I've recently had the pleasure and good fortune to assist author Andrew Calvert in publishing his new book "The Canadian Heavyweight Title: A Complete History 1978-1984." Andrew publishes the popular Maple Leaf Wrestling history website (MapleLeafWrestling.com.)  His book chronicles Toronto's Canadian Heavyweight title during those years, a time period known to locals as the "Mid-Atlantic era" because of the close relationship with the NWA territory of that name in the United States. Andrew has done a wonderful job in telling the story of the title and all of the champions who held it during those years, many of whom were headlining in the Mid-Atlantic territory as well.

The research and writing in the book is Andrew's; I only did the layout and design, and helped structure the book in a similar fashion to what I've done with a few of my Gateway history books on our championships. We are honored to include it here in the series of books we've published on the Crockett championships. The book is available exclusively on Amazon, with links included in our Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store.


Since first discovering way back in the late 1970s that Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat were selling out Toronto cards at the same time they were headlining here, I've always wanted to know more about that special time in Toronto. As a result of helping Andrew lay out his book, I've learned a great deal about this special time, including the fact that the working relationship between Tunney and the Crocketts was much more formal and corporate than I ever knew before. It actually involved Tunney, Crockett, and George Scott, as the three formed a separate company behind the scenes. You'll learn all the details of that in Andrew's book, how it came together, and how it eventually fell apart.

The book includes a detailed history of the Championship from its inception in 1978 until its demise in 1984, as the Toronto office developed a new relationship with the WWF. Plus, a look at all the champions that held the title, the championship tournaments, and all the title changes. The book also includes a brief history of Toronto wrestling in general, a spotlight on Frank Tunney, newspaper clippings, vintage photographs, and more.

And for those interested in the belt itself, the book is lavishly illustrated with detailed photos of the original Canadian title belt, crafted by the famous belt maker Alex Mulko, aka Nikita Mulkovich, as well as details on how you can own a cast replica of the original for your very own.

It was a magic time, during a wonderful period when the Canadian and U.S. titles were defended on the same Toronto cards, alongside the NWA, WWF, and AWA titles. Experience all this rich history in Andrew Calvert's great new book, available now on Amazon.com.