The Lives of Conn Smythe review

The Toronto Maple Leafs franchise has been revered in the National Hockey League since its inception in 1917. The team that dons the blue and white and is named after a World War I fighting unit, the Maple Leaf Regiment, was built through the ages because of one particular Canadian icon that aided its development.

This icon, who was essential for the growth of Leafs and the NHL, was Conn Smythe.

Kelly McParland (National Post, TCL), writer, editor and columnist at the National Post, has offered hockey fans a truly remarkable book on the man who essentially built the Leafs we know and love, or hate, today. The Lives of Conn Smythe effortlessly shifts through the many chapters in Smythe’s life that forged the Leafs and helped expand the NHL, as well as depict the life of a man who fought in two World Wars, which both left him wounded.

To say Smythe had an impact on Canadian culture is an understatement. But his story is not necessarily known by most Canadians. This book enlightens us on his story and signifies his importance to the Leafs franchise, among other things.

When Smythe purchased the Toronto St. Patricks hockey team and renamed it to the Maple Leafs, while also changing the team’s green and white colours, it signified a drastic change for the Toronto franchise. What came next was nothing short of a miracle. With the team’s popularity increasing, Smythe decided it was time to build a new arena to house its new fans. Maple Leaf Gardens was then built in the summer of 1931 despite the difficulties of finding funding in the midst of the Great Depression. This also marked the beginning of Foster Hewitt’s career, who was renowned for his Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts.

These are just some of the tidbits, among many that McParland managed to contain in 336 pages that make the book such a treat for any hockey fan, but especially Leafs fans.

Upon reading Smythe’s courage in joining two World Wars, I found this particular excerpt especially interesting (from Ralph Allen of the Globe and Mail who signed on to follow Smythe for the paper):

“At battery headquarters a German plane dropped a flare on an ammunition truck and through its light two other plans paraded back and forth strafing. The burning tarpaulin of an ammunition truck threatened at any moment to blow up the piled boxes of ammunition and battery headquarters and the whole area with it. The major did exactly what anyone who knows him would have predicted he would do. He was out of his trench and into the middle of it at once, tugging at the flaming tarpaulin of the truck, directing the dispersal of headquarters transport over his shoulder. The other headquarters people were in it too, doing what they could in the red confusion and a few yards away the crew of one of the major’s guns was blown right off the gun by a bomb and scrambled right back on and resumed firing. When the ammunition truck went up the major caught a piece of shrapnel in the back. When they found him his body was partly paralyzed, but the major’s spirit will never be paralyzed by a truckload of ammunition and a few bombs and machine gun bullets. ‘I’m all right,’ he shouted as he lay helpless on the ground, and they came to carry him to shelther. ‘Get those fires out.’”

It is, in a sense, a quotation that best describes Smythe. As the book describes, the army embodied everything Smythe valued in life and hockey: teamwork, discipline, loyalty, and clear lines of authority.

I could go on forever trying to explain why you should pick up this book. There’s much more information to be absorbed and it would be a shame, especially for a Leafs fan, not to give it a read. What I chose to share is nothing but a sample of what makes this piece of work so special and great tribute to one of Canada’s biggest icons. So without giving too much away, don’t worry about the $32.99 price tag, it’s well worth it.

The Lives of Conn Smythe is available at many book stores, or online at Amazon, and Chapters/Indigo.


Follow me on Twitter @RonGuillet


Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

Really great review Ron, it's interesting to see what happened with the league during the war, especially in Conn Smythe's case.