By Hank Davis
Al Sinclair took some pretty big risks when he organized the first Toronto Sport Card Expo 25 years ago.
“It’s been a quarter of a century. This is our 50th show. Can you believe that? I hardly can. Look at this!” Sinclair gestures toward the packed hall. He isn’t exaggerating. Guests were lined up when the gates opened at 10 a.m., and customers were still streaming in four hours later.
“We started in the gold rush days of the ’90s. The show has matured and evolved from hockey cards to include the entire memorabilia industry,” Sinclair said. “I don’t remember feeling more energy in this room.”
The truth is, Sinclair is being modest. This isn’t exactly a “room.” It’s a 100,000 sq.-ft. cavern. The Toronto International Center holds tens of thousands of people, and contains aisle after aisle of dealers, corporate booths and autograph tables.
The entire back of the hall has been given over to celebrity signings. By the show’s end, guests crossed paths with the likes of Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Chris Chelios, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Howie Meeker, Bobby Baun, Bryan Trottier and many more.
“This is Hockey Hall of Fame weekend. Newest inductees like Nick Lidstrom and Chris Pronger, who normally wouldn’t be available, are here on our doorstep. There’s a lot for the hockey collector to come to Toronto for this weekend. Between us and the hall, it’s a grand slam.”
Just to remind fans that the Toronto Expo isn’t only about hockey, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation, operating in support of the Canadian Red Cross, brought customers a procession of Blue Jays icons, including shortstop Tony Fernandez, pitchers Tom Henke and Duane Ward and catcher Pat Borders. Hall of Famer Andre “The Hawk” Dawson, a member of Canada’s “other” baseball team, the Montreal Expos (since moved to Washington, D.C.), was also on hand to sign autographs.
Sinclair reflects, “The industry has certainly changed. Who would have envisioned 25 years ago that a hockey jersey would auction for $1.27 million? Maybe $1,270. But $1.27 million? (Editor’s note: the referenced jersey is Paul Henderson’s Canada jersey from the 1972 Summit Series.)
“A winning sports team makes a huge difference to the show. The Jays did really well this year. There’s a lot of young collectors here for the first time. They can walk around and buy cards for a nickel. They’ll be back. And so will their kids. It’s a multi-generational thing.
“There’s a lot of positive energy here in the room. One way or another, everybody is happy to be here.”