From Soap to Toronto's First Baseball
Stadium – Branding Through Public Space
There’s a Heritage Toronto plaque fixed to the façade of the building at 655 Queen Street, just east of the bridge. It tells the story of the link between baseball in Toronto and a soap brand that’s in many households to this day. Nearby is the site of Toronto’s first baseball stadium. In the 1880s and 1890s crowds of fans would throng here to access the grandstand of baseball grounds known as Sunlight Park. At one time there was even a laneway here called Baseball Place, now it is a parking lot.
Toronto Wins the Pennant!
The Toronto Canucks began playing in the “stadium” in 1886, competing in the International League. The following year the team won Toronto’s first baseball championship behind the heroics of Ned “Cannonball” Crane.(The plaque, unfortunately, is a decade off in its date for Cannonball’s feat.)
Cannonball Crane was a large man,a power pitcher who played in the major leagues for most of his career, but following a bad season in 1886, he could only catch on with Toronto’sminor league team. Here he revived his career with a 33-win season and a .433 batting average.
His greatest moments came on September 17 and 18, 1887, in the league championship series against the team from Newark,NJ. On Saturday, Crane pitched both ends of a doubleheader, winning the first easily, 15-5. In the second game he drove in three runs in the eighth inning to send the game into extrainnings, then hit the game-winning homer in the eleventh for a 5-4 victory. The next day he also pitched his team to a 22-8victory to clinch the pennant.
Stadium Named for a Brand –Before the Rogers Centre
Cannonball went back to the majors, but baseball continued at the park. In 1893 the stadium’s name changed to Sunlight Park,in honour of the soap flakes brand manufactured in the Lever Brothers factory behind the outfield fence. William Hesketh Lever, the founder of the Lever Brothers company (with hisbrother James), was known for his advertising acumen as much as for his manufacturing skills.
Sunlight Soap was Lever Brothers’first branded laundry flake product, launched in England in 1884. When Lever opened his Canadian factory at Eastern and Broadview in 1893, he saw an opportunity to link his product in consumers’ minds with the clean, white uniforms of baseball players, so applied the brand name to the stadium next door.Ted Rogers would have approved.
Sunlight Park ball grounds closed in 1896. Today, while Baseball Place is sadly gone, Sunlight Park remains as the name of the street leading to what is now BMW’s Canadian headquarters, formerly the Lever Brothers, or Unilever,Building, at Eastern and Broadview.