College

The critics have never been kind to Charles Pachter’s Hockey Knights in Canada. His two large enamel murals, located on opposing sides of the subway platform at College station, depict the long-standing sporting rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the home-town Toronto Maple Leafs. The murals represent (in Pachter’s words), “a distillation of Canada’s two founding cultures.” Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs’ former arena, stands a short block east of the station.

Charles Pachter's Hockey Knights in Canada
Hockey Knights in Canada at College station references the
historic rivalry between the Habs and the Leafs

Writing for the Star, Christopher Hume opined that the piece “lacks the presence needed to fill the cavernous and sterile station [...] More than anything, it looks like a kiddie cartoon strip blown up to massive proportions.” Hume later wrote, “Despite good intentions, it was the ugliest thing to happen to the TTC since the Dundas station was reopened.”

In the Globe, John May lamented, “This may be art for the traveller with 30 seconds to kill while waiting for a train. But Pachter could have made those seconds count for more, had he made his reds, whites and blues punch harder against the boring locker-room esthetic beloved by the TTC’s station designers.”

Charles Pachter's Hockey Knights in Canada - the Montreal side
Les Glorieux! Although unidentified, certain players are
identifiable. It’s clearly Guy Lafleur on the far right.

More recently, artist Eldon Garnet assessed the work: “This shows the TTC’s conservatism when it comes to art. It’s an example of what we don’t want in the new subway and LRT stations. It doesn’t compete with the advertising on the walls.”

Harsh!

The $66,000 murals, unveiled by Pachter on April 14, 1985 in what he mischievously called the TTC’s “Sistine Basement”, were embroiled in several controversies beyond their aesthetic merits.

Harold Ballard, the Leafs’ cantankerous owner, rejected the use of the team insignia, as he objected to showing any Montreal players in the piece—notice the actual Maple Leafs name is missing from the jerseys. The standoff between Ballard and the TTC nearly led to a farcical courtroom lawsuit over copyrights.

The second issue arose from June Rowlands (then a TTC commissioner) and several Toronto aldermen, who insisted that the players be portrayed wearing helmets. Pachter obediently acceded, adding several protective headpieces to the design.

Finally, no public competition was ever held for the installation (in contrast to the Spadina line, where a wide-ranging invitational competition took place). Pachter conceived the idea, pitched it to Julian Porter, the TTC Chairman, and the contract was awarded summarily to the artist (along with a 2nd proposal for a mural at Dundas, which was ultimately never implemented). This prompted calls for TTC policy changes with regards to subway artwork.

“Charlie had a moral claim to the project...” said Porter, “because he came to us with the idea. It was his concept.”

Tiling at College station
Corrugated brown tiling and plain trim. An early 80’s renovation
replaced College’s original pale-green Vitrolite tiles with the
current brown ceramic, to the dismay of design purists

For the record, I think Hockey Knights in Canada suits College just fine. To me, and to a generation of young Torontonians, the murals are integral to the station’s identity. Long past the shuttering of the Gardens as a temple of professional hockey, Pachter’s images continue to inspire us with their dynamic evocation of our national winter sport.

College station opened March 30, 1954 as part of the original Yonge subway. It used to get incredibly jammed after every Leafs game wrapped up. Additional Leafs-related visual material was once displayed in various parts of the station, but was removed due to deteriorating condition and the Leafs’ decampment to the Air Canada Centre.

Photo Gallery

Tour the station, and view captioned historical images from its past (including glimpses of the original mint-green Vitrolite tiling, uncovered while the TTC updated its platform advertising brackets, in the fall of 2015):

College Station photo gallery

Transfer:
Transfer from TTC College station
College station transfer

More about College

TTC Station info | Map | Wikipedia: College

Incidentally, there was one art-critic who provided a strong countervailing opinion. Don Humber-Rouge made the following tart comment: “Pachter is the C├ęzanne of popular art in Canada.” When I contacted Humber-Rouge directly for elaboration, he simply winked at me.

Quotes:
  • Pachter, Hume, Porter: Toronto Star, April 15, 1985 A5
  • May: Globe and Mail, April 18, 1985 E7
  • Hume ‘ugliest’ quote: Toronto Star, May 8, 1987 D12
  • Garnet: Toronto Star, August 20, 2011 GT5
  • Humber-Rouge: Globe and Mail, July 31, 1999 D2

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