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Barilko legend to get new monument

Back Roads Bill tells us how the Leafs legend is about to be celebrated in his hometown of Timmins

It is an "all call" to Maple Leaf fans. At a new location there will be a sea of blue and white sweaters and jerseys respectively congregating from across Northern Ontario, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m.

The second most asked question by tourists, after where is Shania Twain’s childhood home, is where is Bill Barilko buried? It is Timmins’ Buddy Holly story. 

He’s not an honoured member of the Hockey Hall Of Fame, not yet anyway. His legend lives on because of the Tragically Hip song that became an anthem for Leaf fans across Canada. There will be a new unveiling of a Barilko billboard in Timmins on the fourth Wednesday of August, early evening. Timmins east, near Porcupine Lake just off of Highway 101; the calendar day commemorating his death. 

Gord Downie’s lyrics within ‘Fifty Mission Cap’ is the main reason Bill Barilko is still remembered. Many iconic players have donned the leaf insignia but the ’Leafs Nation’ has a special place for the Timmins native. Bill Barilko's number five sweater would become the second number to be permanently retired in 1962 thought to be a lucky charm. The 1992 song is about Barilko's death and the Leafs' subsequent Stanley Cup drought. The song has been credited as singlehandedly reviving the Barilko legend that included an array of theories and speculation related to his sudden and no trace disappearance.  

Known for his hard hitting style, William "Bashin' Bill" Barilko (March 25, 1927 – August 26, 1951), played his entire National Hockey League career for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a rising star, during a span of five seasons; he played in the 1947, 1948 and 1949 NHL All-Star Games. Barilko and the Toronto Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup champions on four occasions: 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1951.  

The fans went wild on that triumphant night of April 21, 1951. One iconic photo shows teammates hoisting Barilko on their shoulders as fans swarm on to the ice. Their hero scored in overtime,  putting the final nail in the coffin of the Leafs’ bitter rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. It would be Barilko’s last goal. 

“It is one of the greatest and most memorable goals of all time,” NHL goaltender Ken Dryden is quoted as saying in Kevin Shea’s book, ‘Without a Trace.’ 

In 2002, The Star newspaper named it one of the top 10 sporting moments that fans would never forget.  

Four months after that game-winning goal, he vanished. In August, 1951, Barilko made the fateful decision to go fishing before returning to Toronto for training camp. He was visiting his family in Timmins where he grew up, and accepted an invitation from friend and local dentist Henry Hudson to fly to James Bay.  More than two months later there was still no sign of the missing plane or its occupants. Searchers covered more than 78,000 square kilometres. The massive aerial search ended with a final price tag of $385,000 (about $3.7 million today), making it the costliest in Canadian military history. Time marched on, and the rumour mill included that Barilko was involved in gold smuggling. 

In early June of 1962, just weeks after the Leafs finally won the Cup again following an 11-year drought, a helicopter pilot spotted shining metal among the dense black spruce 75 kilometres north of Cochrane. On June 6, searchers trekked two kilometres into the dense bush to find the Fairchild 24 pontoon plane partly submerged in a swamp. Two skeletons were still strapped in their seats. Investigators determined Barilko and Hudson were killed on impact.

Kevin Vincent is an author of two books on great gold mining robberies in Timmins. He is the founder of TimminsToday.com, a videographer and entrepreneur, he has been working on this project for years with a community volunteer group dubbed the “The Mission.” 

Kevin said, “The billboard will be a tribute to Bill and seventy years overdue.” 

Canada’s foremost collector of hockey and Leaf memorabilia, Mark Fera, will be on hand, including the long lost winning puck scored by Barilko.   

“I intend on bringing down several items, including his contract, the puck that he scored the game-winning goal with, some original photos from the crash site, and several other items. The fuselage unfortunately is so fragile that I do not even want to move it from its current position until it has a more permanent display, however, I do believe that we will be able to get some of the parts of the plane that are already in Timmins.”  

Where did the puck, the winning goal scored by Barilko, end up? 

“The Hockey Hall of Fame believed to have the actual puck given to them in 1963, (but) only a few short years ago, a family in Hamilton came out and let everyone know that they had the actual puck."

Dave McGirr, a long time Timmins resident now retired to Lake Bernard, Sundridge was one of 11 other determined people who made the trek on Oct. 16, 2011 to recover the plane wreck and bring it home. ‘The Mission,’ an 11-minute film, focuses on the efforts of determined fans to recover the plane wreck. 

“It was a very proud and emotional experience to be involved in the recovery of Bill Barilko and Dr. Henry Hudson's plane. A major reason for this mission was to highlight the legacy of a great Canadian Legend and to underline that Bill Barilko was from Northern Ontario, he should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”  

Barilko is buried within the “Historic Protestant Sites,” Section E, Row 2 of the Timmins Memorial Cemetery, and if you visit you can add to the shrine. Final details, such as the unveiling time, are evolving and will be posted on a new Facebook page, it will be called Barilko Billboard.

Kevin says, “An even bigger story might be in the works - very exciting turn of events - I’m sworn to secrecy.” 

Stay tuned as the Maple Leaf organization may be involved or a mining company and there remains a need to display Barilko memorabilia at a permanent place within the “city with a heart of gold.


Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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