Updated: Jan 8
We’ve got the Leafs, we’ve got the Jays, we’ve got the Toronto FC, and we’ve got the Raptors. Today we’re talking Toronto sports... with a typographic nerdy twist.
All four of Toronto’s major league sports teams have, at some point, been victorious in their respective leagues.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team is over 100 years old and they last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 after beating the Montreal Canadiens in game 6 (they were the underdogs in the series). The Leafs won the Stanley Cup championship a total of 13 times, but much to the dismay of Leafs fans everywhere, they haven’t won it in the last 53 years.
The Toronto Blue Jays baseball team last won the World Series in 1993, as well as the year prior in 1992. The team was established in 1977 and made their home the Skydome (now called the Rogers Centre), which was the first and only stadium with a fully retractable roof, built in 1989.
The Toronto FC (Football Club) won the MLS Cup final in 2017. The team joined Major League Soccer in 2007 as the first Canadian team in this North American league and quickly became huge contenders who won the championship just 10 years later.
And finally, the Toronto Raptors basketball team had quite a year in 2019, winning their first NBA Championship and causing the City of Toronto, the province of Ontario and all of Canada to stand behind our national basketball team. This franchise was established in 1995 and reached the level of epic just last year with the help of the now household name, Kawhi Leonard.
We’ve got four winning teams, but do we have four winning visual identities? Let’s dive into each franchise’s logo and a look at who, what, when, where, why and how they came to be.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
In digging around the Interweb and doing research for this episode, I learned a lot about the history of Toronto sports that I wasn’t aware of. For example, I didn’t know that the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey franchise began in 1917 under the name “Toronto Arenas”. Their logo was a large, heavy-set navy blue slab-serif-looking capital T with terminals on the ends of each arm.
In 1920, the franchise was purchased by an established men’s club and became a professional team. They were renamed Toronto St. Patricks, with a dark green word mark logo. The St. Pat’s logo changed in 1923 to a dark green pill-shaped symbol with the words ‘St Pats’ inside. The typography is actually quite interesting here. The ‘t’ after the ‘S’, denoting “St” is a superscript and appears smaller and raised to land just above the cap height of the letter S. It appears as though it’s been kerned in closer to the S and it’s nestled right in beside it. The ‘ats’ in Pats is in small caps and each of the letters are kerned in closely to one another, almost to the point of touching . The team’s logo took on 3 additional looks in the next 4 years. In 1927 ownership changed and it was then that the Maple Leafs became the Maple Leafs. The logo reflected the transition from one identity to another; the new team name and the leaf symbol were there, however the leaf was still the Toronto St. Pat’s green. Finally, in 1928 the Toronto Maple Leafs logo looked a lot like it does today, 90+ years later.
The logo continued to shift a little by little but the next big transition was in 1967 in commemoration of Canada’s centennial. The maple leaf in this new logo mirrored the leaf on the Canadian flag. From a design and typography standpoint, a lot changed. The shape of the leaf became less stylistic and a lot more modern. Clean lines, fewer points on the leaf (from 35 rough little tips to only 11) and simplistic shapes reigned supreme. Also, the designer chose to mix type - the ‘n’ in Toronto and the ‘m’ in Maple are lowercase letters, while the remainder of the letters are uppercase. This logo in its current state only lasted four years before transitioning to a bolder, more linear, all uppercase letters in 1971.
According to Font Meme, the typeface used in the Leaf’s logo from 1988 - 2016 was Kabel Black, a geometric sans-serif face, designed by Rudolf Koch in 1928. Other notable companies that use this typeface for their identities include Comic Relief, Build-a-Bear, Monopoly game, the movie Dumb and Dumber and amazingly-named grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly. It’s a commercial font that is available for purchase from $43 Canadian dollars.
Very few changes occurred to the logo until recently when in 2016 the logo reverted back to its roots (in honor of its centennial), inspired by the look of the logo from the 1940’s - 1960’s. This time, there were 31 tips on the leaf that carry the symbolism of the 1931 opening of Maple Leaf Gardens and 17 veins, alluding to the 1917 team establishment. Cleverly, 13 of the veins are placed above the words ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’ to pay homage to the franchise's 13 Stanley Cup victories. Furthermore, the typeface choice is a little less harsh than the one of the 1940’s, with more rounded letterforms, compared to the angled cut corners of the originals.
SportsNet examined how many Stanley Cups were won with which logos and the overwhelming winner was the logo that spanned from 1938 - 1963 (the same logo which the 2016 was modeled after), with 8 trophy wins during this time.
If you’re ever in their neighborhood of Church Street and Carlton Street in downtown Toronto, pop into the Loblaws grocery store on the north west corner. The former home of the Maple Leafs, Maple Leaf Gardens, has been recently converted into a flagship store for the Canadian grocery giant, Loblaws, as well as a sports and recreation facility for Ryerson University now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Memorabilia, including stadium chairs at the snack bar, can be found in this grand grocery store. But for the full experience, wear your best toque and walk down aisle 25. Right next to the tuna you’ll find a red dot on the floor signifying the former centre ice.
Toronto is also home to the Stanley Cup, just a short walk south from the original Maple Leaf Gardens is the Hockey Hall of Fame on Front Street. This original 1892 Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup (purchased and donated by Lord Stanley) was awarded to champions of the league until 1970. It now has a permanent home in the Vault Room at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. According to the official site of the Hockey Hall of Fame, there are currently 2,342 individuals engraved on the cup and the first team to engrave its roster was in 1907 (Montreal Wanderers), but it didn’t become tradition until 1924. Interestingly, there are a few women on the cup and the first woman who was officially engraved on the cup was Marguerite Norris, who was President of the Detroit Red Wings in 1954 & 1955.
All of the text on the Stanley Cup is engraved and there have only been four official engravers in the entire history of the cup. The current official engraver, Louise St. Jacques in Montreal, has been tasked with hammering a punch (not unlike those created by Gutenberg used to make moveable type) into the silver of the Stanley Cup for 38 years. Every September she is sent the trophy and the approved list of names to be engraved on the cup. The cup is methodically taken apart and she works only with part of the trophy (one of the bands), which is secured into a homemade circular jig. She then gets to work. "Before engraving, I go through the list, count all the letters and make certain they will all fit into the space allotted." explains St. Jacques. Each name takes her about 30 minutes to engrave, using hammers of different weights. She uses a piece of metal to create a baseline for the letters to sit on. She relies on optically kerning (letter spacing) each of the characters, which is no small feat.
The process of engraving means that there are no back buttons. So even when proofreading and being as careful as possible, there are bound to be a few mistakes over the course of 2,342 names. Some of the funny ones include:
In the 1941-42 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ player Turk Broda was represented twice on the cup, once as TURK BRODA and once as WALTER BRODA.
In the 1962-63 season, Toronto Maple Leafs was misspelled as TORONTO MAPLE LEAES.
In the 1971-72 season, Boston Bruins was misspelled as BQSTQN BRUINS (mind your p’s and q’s!)
In the 1983-84 season, the Edmonton Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington included his father’s name on the roster (Basil Pocklington), however he was unaffiliated with the team. When the NHL learned of this, they ordered that the name be removed and it’s now covered by 16 X's.
In the 2004-05 season, the lockout is recognized with an engraving that reads: SEASON NOT PLAYED.
In the 2005-06 season, Carolina Hurricanes’s ERIC STAAAL was corrected to ERIC STAAL.
And Leaf’s fans, one final note about your hockey team’s identity. Why is it that they are called the Toronto Maple Leafs and not Toronto Maple Leaves? It has to do with the fact that they were named after the Maple Leaf regiment of the Canadian Army. Because they were named after a proper noun, the pluralization is correct - Maple Leafs, not Maple Leaves.
Go, Leafs, Go!
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Transitioning from a stick and puck to a bat and ball, let’s talk about our Toronto Blue Jays.
The Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s baseball team. The team’s name was a result of a naming contest held in 1976 and of the 4000 submissions received ‘Blue Jay’s was the winner. But the team wasn’t given its name because Toronto is home to an abundance of the blue bird (we’d sooner be named the Toronto Racoons, if that were the case), instead it was likely due to the team’s connection to the owner of Labatt’s Breweries and their Labatt Blue beer. There was outrage. It seemed that Toronto didn’t like their new team name.
Since their formation as a team in 1977, their logo has gone through six major transformations. The Blue Jays original logo from 1977-1996 was designed by Toronto-based company Savage Sloan, Ltd. Although there’s little information out there about the typeface used in this logo, it looks an awful lot like a typeface called Newland Inline. Author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, Simon Garfield, has named Newland Inline #3 on his list of the worst fonts in the world, right behind #2: Ransom Note and #1: The 2012 Olympic Font. Newland Inline rose to ubiquity through the American Spirit cigarette logo, as well as many years later in the Jurassic Park logo. Garfield has this to say about Newland Inline: “It is a dense and angular type, suggestive of something Fred Flintstone might chisel into prehistoric rock. The inline version is bristling with energy and a quirkiness of spirit, a bad type predominantly through its overuse rather than its construction.”
Garfield also notes that Newland Inline was designed in 1923 by none other than Rudolf Koch, the same designer as the typeface Kabel. The plot thickens! Remember taht Kabel was the Leaf’s typeface of choice for years, during the same time that this Newland Inline-esque typeface was sported on the Jays’ logo.
In 1997, a new logo was unveiled, this time with a more modern-looking bird, complete with drop shadows on its face, sitting atop a maple leaf. The word ‘Blue Jays’ appeared underneath the image with an all-cap first and last letter (B and S) and small caps middle letters. This helped to frame the logo and provide visual symmetry.
The strangest identity that the Blue Jays’ logo took on was in 2003, when an anthropomorphized, tattooed Ace (the Blue Jays’ mascot) on steroids was trying a little too hard, flexing his biceps from behind a large and clunky capital letter ‘T’. Yuck. Interestingly, while the different logo variations are all taken credit for by their appropriate creators, this logo is an orphan; perhaps the design was so bad that no one wanted to claim it? This identity didn’t even make it to three strikes; it lasted a single season before being thrown out, replaced with a sleek combination mark: the word ‘Jays’ with an angry and tired looking bird head ready for action. All traces of red were removed from the logo, replaced with a monotone blue, grey and white palette. This logo was designed by Toronto-based Brandid and all reference to their Labatt Blue past was scrubbed from their visual identity for a period of seven years from 2004 - 2011.
For the 2012 - 2019 seasons, the club went back to their roots; a nostalgic logo that sported an updated version of the beloved blue jay, this time with a sleeker profile. (It looks as though Ace brushed his hair back with a little more gusto. His head feathers are a little flatter and sit back on his head further.) From a typographic perspective, something interesting happened in this rendition of the logo. Old was married with new. The original Newland Inline-esqe typeface of the original logo made a comeback, dressing up the word “Blue Jays”, this time paired with a modern, lighter, non-inline version of the face for the word ‘Toronto’. The terminals at the ends of the T’s arms, as well as on the R and the N create a brotherly bond, a sibling similarity to the original typeface. By this point, the franchise had captured a league record no one wanted: 21 consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, directly after having won two back-to-back World Series in the early 90’s. Perhaps the franchise was hoping to tap into some of their vintage winning energy and re-adopted the logo that saw them through two World Series wins.
And finally, in 2019, the team paired back to the basics, removed the words, the baseball and the circle holding everything in place. Ace with a red maple leaf in his hair is what now represents the team.
There’s huge variation in each of the six logos, with differences in styles, colours, and words have changed in the last half a century, but one thing has remained the same: there has always been a profile of a blue jay looking to the left. He began looking young, freshly-fluffed and ready for action. He matured into a modern version of himself. He had a very brief stint with performance-enhancing drugs and got a tattoo against his mother bird’s wishes. He was tired and angry with himself for who he’d become. He decided to go back to the bird he knew before getting caught up in the trappings of modern life. And finally, along with the rest of the world in 2019, he was intrigued by the phenomenon that is Mari Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and decided that all of the background clutter wasn’t sparking joy. So he thanked it and swiftly got rid of it.
Let’s take a moment to do a 7th inning stretch before jumping into our third Toronto sports franchise.
The Toronto FC’s logo history is as neat and tidy as the hair cuts on most of the team’s players. The franchise is merely a teenager, a prepubescent 13 year old who hasn’t yet matured into adult-hood. There has only been one logo in the franchise’s history. The logo was created by AmoebaCorp.
Originally the team was to be named Toronto Northmen but the team name went to an online vote where 40% supported the simple Toronto FC name, a nod to European sports traditions as the FC stands for “football club”, versus soccer, as we call it in North America. The primary logo colour is red, with secondary black, grey and white. The team is nicknamed the ‘Reds’ based on the logo design. (I wonder if the red had been replaced with blue or purple or chartreuse, if any of those names would have caught on… the ‘chartruesuessssss”...)
At the centre of the logo there's a shield that encompasses the majority of the design elements. There is a stylized maple leaf on top (they look more like raspberries to me) and a large grey T centered in the design. A small F and C sit on either side of the T with the word Toronto inside of a ribbon, wrapped around the imagery. Lines and various tinted areas exist within the shield behind the T that look a little like a rugby ball.
Fans and management alike seem to be happy with the logo so we’ll see if it follows in the Maple Leafs’ footsteps (a variety of changes early on) or in the Blue Jays’ footsteps (sticking with the same identity for 20 years). Time will tell.
Finally we come to Toronto’s most recent victors, The Toronto Raptors, the 2019 NBA Champions.
There have been two major Raptors’ logos: the first from 1995-2015 and the second from 2015 to now. The story of the Raptors’ name and visual identity is a fascinating one with a few twists and turns. I mentioned the movie Jurassic Park earlier and I’m about to go there again so “Hold onto your butts!”
The Toronto Raptors were almost not the raptors, but the Toronto Huskies. However, management decided to drop the idea because it seemed as though no one could come up with a logo that didn’t look like the Minnesota Timberwolves. According to a CBC news article in 2019, approximately 125 media partners were asked to contribute name ideas and a final list of 10 names was open to public voting. Are you ready to hear what they were? There were the Beavers, the Scorpions and the Terriers. The final three names in contention: the Dragons, the Bobcats and the Raptors.
And according to Logos-World, the final choice of the Raptors’ name was inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster released in the same year as the inception of the team. That movie is, of course, Jurassic Park. Barney the dinosaur was also a popular kids show of the time and their purple uniforms even became known as the Barney uniform. Dinosaurs were hot in the 90’s, an important piece of popular culture, now ingrained in the legacy of a Toronto sports franchise.
The Toronto Raptors’ first logo was an anthropomorphized dinosaur (velociraptor) dribbling a basketball, with shoes that gave his prehistorically pedicured toenails room to breathe. The word ‘Toronto’ appears in spikes (maybe teeth?) along the top of the logo. The team’s colours were very indicative of the decade in which they were established: a 1990’s vibrant purple with red, white, black and grey accents. In 2009, the vibrant purple was benched and red subbed in.
In 2015, a new logo was introduced, designed by Toronto agency, Sid Lee, and the dino was ditched for a simpler emblem with the presence of the raptor felt in the clawed ball. Also, the current version of the Raptors’ logo is suspected to use the typeface Millionaire. However, this logo found itself on a different kind of court… in the court of law. In a news release by The Canadian Press in June 2019, a legal battle, initiated by Monster Energy claims that the Raptors’ logo claw marks are too similar to their ‘M’ logo. (This was happening in the middle of the Raptors’ prehistoric rise to glory.) The problem was explained this way: "(Monster) will be damaged by registration of the (Raptors) in that the mark will dilute the distinctive qualities of (Monster’s) mark … and will lessen the ability of (Monster’s) mark to distinguish (Monster’s) goods." Raptors owner, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, pointed out that the Raptors have been using claw marks on their mall since the early 90’s and the ball is essentially the same now as it was then. Trademark lawyers quoted in the article said that typically the two sides work out an arrangement amongst themselves. In all of my digging for an answer to the legal battle, I couldn’t find anything. And the Raptors still use their logo. And Monster still uses their logo. So I guess it’s safe to say that the issue was resolved?
The final piece of this Raptors’ visual identity is the iconic phrase and wordmark: We The North. I can picture the typeface used. To me, the phrase and the typeface are inextricably linked; never the two shall part, ingrained in my brain forever.
The Raptors’ new identity and their authentic ‘We The North’ campaign was born far from the streets, in a corporate boardroom by highly paid advertising professionals. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m not sure. Agency, Sid Lee, wanted a way to represent and communicate that the Raptors’ were Canada’s team, embracing its fringe status and standing tall, true north strong and free. The agency landed on ‘We The North’ slogan for two reasons: 1) It felt like a declaration from Canadian basketball fans and 2) “it also sounded wrong in just the right way”.
The agency said they never considered ‘We Are The North’, but they were asked if that’s what it should be or if they should include a comma after the word ‘we’. But shouldn’t there be a comma? Is ‘We The North’ grammatically incorrect? A deep dive on the Internet reveals that it is, in fact, grammatically correct. One Quora contributor explained it this way: “‘We the north’ is used as a way to apply some characteristic to the group such as “we the north will never be defeated". “We are the North” is used to identify who “we" [is referring to].” Another contributor made a good point that “We are the north” is a general and complete statement, one that is likely un-trademark-able. Further, for online marketing purposes #wethenorth is a lot more straightforward, neat and tidy than the awkward and vowel-heavy #wearethenorth. But, are we the north? Technically speaking, the Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves are both further north than Toronto.
And the typeface? A Sid Lee designer found it on the web called ‘Chinese Rocks’, which reminded the agency of hand-written signs posted around NBA arenas. The typeface is inspired by hand-cut rubber-stamp lettering on Chinese export containers of the 20th Century and was designed by Ray Larabie in 1999.
Annnnnnd boom goes the dynamite. That brings us to the end of our look at the visual identities of Toronto’s major league professional sports teams. More than 100 years, 17 logos, 4 teams, 1 city. Toronto, your sports teams aren’t always winners but you still sell out stadiums and your fans are some of the most passionate on the planet.
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