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Etobicoke football stadium re-named in honour of the late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

May 2024

For a man who loved football, the re-naming of Centennial Park football stadium to Rob Ford Stadium on 28 May, the day that would have been Ford’s 55th birthday, is a fitting tribute. The newly-rechristened Rob Ford Stadium is a 2,200-seat stadium, opened in 1975 in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, that is primarily used for soccer, track and field and Ford’s much-loved game of football.

As a young man, Rob Ford had dreams of becoming a professional football player. While studying political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, he made the football team, but never played. Ford left Carleton after only one year.

While playing wasn’t in the cards, Ford was a volunteer coach for the Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School football team in Etobicoke. Even while serving as the Councilor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North (2000-2010 & 2014-2016) and later as Mayor (2010-2014), he continued to coach “his boys” at Don Bosco.

Additionally, he established the Rob Ford Football Foundation to support underprivileged schools struggling to maintain football teams.

Sadly, Rob Ford died on 22 March 2016, a year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with an abdominal tumour. Forced to withdraw from the mayoral race to receive medical treatment, Ford won back his old council seat, literally from his hospital bed. While he was briefly able to return to council, a new cancerous tumour was found on his bladder. Treatment proved ineffective and Ford died at the far-too-young age of 46.

Last year, Councilor Paul Ainslie,  Ward 43 Scarborough East, put forth a motion to re-name Centennial Park football stadium in Ford’s honour, a proposal that quickly gained support from council, including from Mayor Olivia Chow and passed 17-6. This was in stark contrast to October 2017, when Toronto council rejected a proposal by then-Mayor John Tory and Councilor Stephen Holyday, Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre 24-11.

Mayor Chow, in her comments, noted how despite being on opposite sides politically, the right-wing Ford championed the renaming of the Toronto Island Ferry Docks in 2013 to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, in honour of Chow’s late husband, the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 2003 until his death from cancer in 2011. Layton also served on the old Toronto City Council and Metro Toronto Council in the 1980s.

Even during the darkest days of Rob Ford’s life, when the pressures of public life and his addictions to drugs and alcohol were taking a tremendous toll on his physical and mental health, he never had a bigger smile on his face when wearing his coach’s hat.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Ford’s brother, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Rob’s widow, Renata and their two children, Stephanie and Doug, and various local politicians.

Rob Ford served as Toronto’s 64th mayor between 2010 and 2014.

One of the councillors who changed their mind was Paul Ainslie, who brought forward the motion.

“All of those who served with Rob Ford on council knew that he had two passions — representing his constituents not only across the city but in particular in his home community of Etobicoke, and football,” said Ainslie.

Councillors who initially voted against naming the stadium after Ford cited his controversies, such as racial slurs and skipping some Pride celebrations.

Despite these, the late Rob Ford earned Chow’s support.

A huge contingent of former players from the Don Bosco Eagles high school football team — the team Rob coached — stood on the field behind the podium at Centennial Park in Etobicoke on Tuesday night and held huge images on placards of their former coach who took them to a 2013 Metro Bowl football championship.

Rob Ford’s immediate family — widow Renata, and his now two teenaged children, Stephanie and Dougie, were in attendance along with his brother Doug, the Ontario premier and his family.

Hundreds in attendance braved the elements as the ceremony was put into a rain delay.

Rob’s daughter Stephanie spoke glowingly about her dad and the honour bestowed upon them to name the football stadium in his name.

“If anything were to be named after my father, this stadium would be the most fitting,” she said. “It represents his love for Etobicoke and how much he did for the people as mayor, but also what he did for his second love — football.”

Doug Ford spoke about his brother and how he treated the members of his Don Bosco football — teenaged boys back then and now young men — as “his kids.”

“For Rob and our family it just means absolutely everything to us,” Doug said.

The premier praised , who put the motion to rename the stadium forward, and said he was also “grateful” to Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow to rename the stadium in honour of his late brother who died at the young age of 46 in 2016 to a battle with cancer.

Also read: Toronto Council votes against honouring late mayor Rob Ford – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com).

Sources: Rob Ford Stadium opening in Toronto this week | True North (tnc.news), Rob Ford Stadium scores big with family, former players, dignitaries | Toronto Sun, Rob Ford – Wikipedia, Rob Ford Stadium – Wikipedia, Jack Layton – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/rob-ford-stadium/

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