One of the world’s top hockey collections has a new home. The Canadian Museum of History has purchased over 1,700 items from Mike Wilson, known as “The Ultimate Leafs Fan.”
The collection was built over a 50-year period by the Toronto resident, with help from his wife, Debra Thuet. The purchase price, according to the Toronto Star, was just under $2 million. Wilson, who has his own website, You Tube channel and Instagram page showcasing the collection and some of the famous names who have visited, still owns about 500 items that were difficult to appraise including signed contracts from Tim Horton and George Armstrong.
Most of the collection was displayed in Wilson’s basement until last month.
“Every item in this collection has a story to tell about the history of ‘Canada’s game’ and hockey’s singular place in the hearts and minds of Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” said Jean-Marc Blais, Director General of the Canadian Museum of History. “We are grateful to Mike and Debra for building and maintaining the collection and working with Canada’s national history museum, where it will be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations.”
The Mike Wilson and Debra Thuet, The Ultimate Leafs Fan Collection has been deemed to be of “outstanding significance and national importance” by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board. Objects include game-worn jerseys, game-used sticks, trophies, paintings, pucks, sculptures and items linked to the former Maple Leaf Gardens — including the door that hung at the entry of the home team’s dressing room from 1931 to 1999. Archival materials consist of hockey cards, books, calendars, photos and memorabilia.
In addition to over 1,250 artifacts associated with the Leafs — founded in 1917, the year the NHL was established — the collection contains items linked to Wayne Gretzky, the Canada Cup, other Canadian hockey teams and the NHL. The collection will help the Museum document the evolution of hockey as a game and a business, explore its social and cultural impacts, and illuminate the everyday experience of fans.
Wilson told The Star he began collecting around age seven when his father’s cousin gave him a game-used stick signed by the entire Leafs team.
“When reality sets in and that truck pulls into the driveway, and they start taking stuff off the walls, the reality really starts hitting home,” Wilson said of the sale. “So it’s been a pretty emotional ride for me.”
The museum offered Wilson the chance to have a curator’s role, so he’ll still have easy access to the items he once owned and a say in how they’re presented.
With the acquisition of this large and diverse collection, the Museum is touting itself as “the keeper of one of the most historically significant and comprehensive collections of hockey artifacts in Canada.” Among its other holdings are iconic objects relating to Montréal Canadiens greats Jacques Plante and Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and to five-time Olympic medallist Hayley Wickenheiser.
The acquisition of the Wilson collection follows the couple’s loan of artifacts, of which 35 items were selected for display in the Museum’s current special exhibition Hockey and special display The Ultimate Hockey Collection. More than 154,000 visitors have seen the exhibitions to date. On Saturday, Wilson was at the museum, showcasing some of his most rare and interesting pieces.
Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History attracts over 1.2 million visitors each year.