In Memoriam
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September 27, 1926 – April 23, 2006
Steve Stavro, pioneer of the box store concept in the food industry as founder of Knob Hill Farms, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, and engineer of the merger of the two franchises into Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, first CEO of the Air Canada Centre, and member of the Order of Canada, passed away 10 years ago today at his home in Toronto.
A passionate representative of the city's immigrant community, Steve launched his first open-air fruit market in the east end in 1950. Driven by creativity and a spirit of innovation, he opened his first food terminal in 1962 and paved the way for big box superstores everywhere. Knob Hill Farms grew to be Canada's largest independent food retailer and Steve was awarded the industry's highest honour, The Golden Pencil, in 1980.
With his extensive business experience, Steve held positions on the Boards of many organizations, including the LCBO, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, The Ontario Jockey Club and Woodbine Sports and Entertainment, and served on the Economic Council of Canada.
Steve was also a key figure in Toronto sports history as well as a passionate fan. He assumed ownership of the Leafs in 1990 and, in his time as owner, created Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – MLSE – which dominates Canadian sports to this day. Steve also oversaw the purchase of the Raptors in 1996 and moved them to the Air Canada Centre, owning and managing the combined franchise until 2003.
Steve was the first, along with his partners, to bring pro soccer to Toronto, launching the Toronto City Soccer Club to play in the new Eastern Canada Professional Soccer League in 1961. For this and his many other contributions to soccer in Canada, Steve was inducted in 2005 into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame as a Builder.
Steve's Knob Hill Stables bred and trained thoroughbred horses, producing 85 stakes winners that raced throughout North America and Europe. In 1992 Steve became one of the few Canadians awarded the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association award for the top owner horse breeder in North America. In 2006 he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Beyond all these accomplishments, Steve was a humanitarian. He contributed to all Toronto hospitals – particularly Toronto East General Hospital – and many charities. His generosity – to organizations and individuals – was legendary. In 1992 his benevolent spirit was recognized by the Beth Shalom Brotherhood Humanitarian Award. Steve's charitable work continues to this day through the foundation he established with his wife, Sally.
Above all, Steve Stavro was the patriarch of a family that is profoundly proud of his achievements and his contributions to the City of Toronto. His boundless energy, deep love of family and friends and his appreciation for nature's beauty and a hard day's work are qualities that will live on in our memories and those of the many who knew him.
Steve, Dad, Dedo - you are dearly missed
and will be remembered always and with great love.
Your wife Sally, your brother Chris, and your daughters Connie, Elaine, Deborah, and Stephanie; your son-in-law Bill, your nine grandchildren and their spouses, and nine great-grandchildren.
Published in National Post on Apr. 23, 2016
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