One of the oddest characters I have ever met was a fixture up in the West Greys at Maple Leaf Gardens for as long as I can remember going to Leaf games. George Stewart was a frail elderly man that looked like he weighed about ninety pounds soaking wet. With his protruding chin and toothless mouth George always seemed to be chewing gum but he had nothing in his mouth, like a camel just gnawing at his cud.
His thin gray hair seemed to always be straggly and dirty. He wore an over sized referee jersey with the official N.H.L crest, red arm bands and the name STEWART on the back. George was at every home game holding court up in the corridors of the West Greens and Greys.
People always starred from a distance has they wondered who this peculiar old man was. He was always at Leaf games and garnered most of his attention from first time visitors to the Gardens. Just has I starred and gawked at George during my early visits, after a while you barely noticed him.
George attended games sitting in his usual seat that was rumoured to been paid for by a Maple Leaf Gardens executive. How true that was, I do not know. I do know he was always sitting in section eighty-eight about half way up. He would scurry up to his seat just before game time clutching his scruffy notepad with his glasses at the end of his skinny nose.
Before the end of each period George would always scurry back down to the corridor always before the period had ended. He was a funny little old man and you could tell he had no real assets other than his season ticket and his referee shirt.
Over the course of my visits to the Gardens I remember having two conversations with George.
After always wondering who this George person was I decided I would just go up and introduce myself. I asked him what was so important to always be writing on his notepad at every game. It was a nosey question but his answer just cemented my suspicions that George was an eccentric recluse that really did live in a different world from most of us humans standing around during intermission.
I asked George what he continuously wrote on his pad and why he found it necessary to leave each period with about a minute left to play. It wasn’t like he was lining up for snacks or beers. Sometimes he would be eating an ice cream bar, standing leaning on his cane dropping melting chocolate pieces on the front of his referee shirt but I never saw him in a concession stand line up.
I was fascinated by George’s response.
It seems George Stewart had assumed the identity of the late Jack Stewart who played for the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawk’s during a twelve year career in the late thirties to the early fifties. Jack Stewart was nicknamed “Black Jack” and George flat out told me he was the "Black Jack" Stewart.
George wore two cheap toy rings on his hands, one hand with the Red Wing logo and the other with the Blackhawk logo.
George insisted these were both Stanley Cup rings that he was awarded while playing with the Wings and the Hawks during his career. Furthermore George proceeded to tell me how he was now employed by the National Hockey League has the referee in chief and that he must write down all vital stats so in the event of an earthquake or catastrophe and the Gardens was destroyed all Georges handwritten stats would become gospel. The N.H.L would then submit his info into the official records.
George also explained how he was responsible for picking the three stars at the end of each game so he would rush down to the timekeeper with his selections. George also went on explaining how he had played for Team Canada during the Summit Series back in ’72.
I asked George why I did not remember him and he explained he had been sent home after punching Russian superstar Valerie Kharmolov in the face, he had discredited Canada. He told me he hated those Commie Reds.
What a fuck’n nut bar.
Whenever I took a friend to a Leaf game they all wondered who the old guy with the referee shirt was. I just explained that it was George and he was harmless.
On my second encounter George was looking very frail and looked like he was very ill. I asked him how he was doing he proceeded to roll up his pant leg to reveal that he was urinating into a plastic bag that had been taped to his skinny white leg. I noticed other people curiously viewing George’s intermission antics and I could tell some were appalled and others grossed out.
After that night I never talked to George again and eventually he stopped coming to games all together.
I never knew what happened to him but I would imagine he had probably passed away at his nursing home. I do know for sure that George was a proud war veteran and on one Remembrance Day he was featured on the cover of the Toronto Sun saluting his fallen comrades. If you looked closely at that colored picture under George’s war uniform you could clearly see that George was still wearing his referee shirt. On this day a red poppy was pinned on the collar.