A dictionary of adjectives could be used to describe Harold Ballard: a flamboyant and controversial figure who unquestionably carved a place for himself in hockey history. A successful manager of amateur clubs, he became a powerful owner in the NHL and one of the most philanthropic individuals of his time.
Ballard's involvement in hockey was no accident. Starting as a young boy the Toronto native was involved in his father's renowned skate manufacturing business. He participated in all facets of amateur hockey as a young adult and eventually decided that management suited his extroverted and aggressive personality.
National recognition came when Ballard led the Toronto National Sea Fleas to the Allan Cup championship in 1932 and automatic qualification for the next year's world championships. Under his guidance the team made unexpected history by losing the gold medal to the United States to give that country its first world title.
Ballard next became the principal executive and chief financial supporter of the junior and senior Toronto Marlboro hockey clubs. His combative will to succeed helped the seniors win the Allan Cup in 1950 and the juniors capture consecutive Memorial cups in 1955 and 1956. Ballard provided a winning and challenging environment which helped a number of players adjust to the rigours of their first NHL camp with a bit more ease.
During his years with the Marlies, Ballard became acquainted with Stafford Smythe and John Bassett Sr. These three associates acquired ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs from Conn Smythe in 1962 and the team went on to win three more Stanley Cups before the onset of the expansion era. Bassett was bought out by the other two in 1970 and within two years Smythe had passed away. Ballard bought the rest of his shares to become the principal owner and chief executive of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
During his reign as owner, the Maple Leafs were raided by the WHA but were rebuilt by general manager Jim Gregory in 1973. The peak of this generally disappointing epoch in Maple Leafs history was an appearance in the 1978 semi-finals under coach Roger Neilson. As an owner Ballard often spoke his mind and earned his share of critics and fans for doing so. He was a prime supporter of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR and provided Maple Leaf Gardens without charge as a training camp.
It was no secret that Ballard loved to draw attention to himself or his sports teams through the media. The grandstanding was absent when he devoted himself to charitable causes. He financed a host of benevolent functions and made the Gardens available for a host of charities. Among the benefactors of his kinder side were the Timmy Tyke hockey tournament, Whipper Billy Watson's skate-a-thon, the Children's Aid Society, and many smaller organizations devoted to helping crippled or underprivileged children. Ballard was honoured by the Ontario Hockey Association, the City of Toronto and the Canadian Rehabilitation Council for the Disabled, among others, for his generosity.
Ballard was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.