They came so close. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats looked lost in the early going, down 20-3 after the first quarter and looking like they couldn’t find the playoffs with a GPS and a flashlight. Then they managed to climb back into the game against their provincial rival Argonauts at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, actually tying the game 40-40 with less than two minutes to go, only to lose by a last-minute field goal 43-40 Thursday night.
A defeat is how the season officially ended for the Ticats — and a 6-12 record, third in the Eastern Division — but perhaps they can take some solace in the fact that they won their last game on their former home gridiron at Ivor Wynne Stadium the week before. The 28-18 victory came against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who will shutter their own Canad Inns Stadium on Saturday against Montreal. But the facility known at one time as Winnipeg Stadium doesn’t have nearly the history of the building located at the corner of Balsam and Beechwood in Steeltown.
Formerly known as Civic Stadium, it is one of the iconic sports fields in Canada. Opened in 1928 to host the first British Empire Games in 1930 — the precursor to today’s Commonwealth Games — it would be renamed in 1970 to honour the chairman of the parks board, Ivor “The Driver” Wynne.
Born in 1918 in Wales, the former Ifor Wynne emigrated with his family to Canada in 1924 and settled in downtown Hamilton; he would earn a bachelor’s degree at McMaster University and a Masters in Education at Syracuse University. Wynne would return to McMaster and spend the next 17 years as its athletic director, building the physical-education department and becoming known as a catalyst for sporting endeavours in Hamilton. He also did colour commentary for both college and professional football telecasts on local station CHCH-TV.
Named chairman of the parks board in 1967, Wynne was consulted on the renovations to Civic Stadium in 1970, but he contracted diabetes and subsequently died of a rare blood disorder that year, a day before his 53rd birthday. The City of Hamilton went against its own policy of naming parks and facilities after local citizens and renamed the renovated stadium after him.
The cries of “OSKEE WEE WEE! OSKEE WAA WAA! HO-LEE MACKINAW! TIGERS… EAT ‘EM RAW!” roared for the last time at the old building on Oct. 27. (A 10-minute documentary made in 1968 titled “Oskee Wee Wee” can be seen here on the National Film Board website.)
Now the building, which saw seven Grey Cups an an infamous concert by British rock band Pink Floyd (among other shows), waits quietly for the wrecking ball. The site will eventually host the New Ivor Wynne Stadium, set to open in 2014 and will be the soccer venue for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Plans have not been finalized for a Tiger-Cats home field in 2013 but in an ironic twist, McMaster University has said it will not allow Ron Joyce Stadium, the home field of the Marauders, to be used for Ticats games next season. If “Ivor the Driver” was still around, the situation might be different.