By SILVIA PIKAL
The year was 1966.
The place was Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
And the fight was between George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali.
While Ali won the world title, Chuvalo become a legend — he was still on his feet when the bell ended their fight after 15 rounds.
That bell now lives in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, but for decades it lay forgotten in a basement.
“There’s so much history attached to it,” says Helena Deng, manager of exhibits and collections for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. “This is the same bell that rang 15 times when Chuvalo and Ali fought. No one has ever stood that long against Ali.”
Frank Shillolo was the official bell man for the Ontario Athletics Commission. During a fight night in 1980, Shillolo noticed a crack in the bell and took it home to find someone to repair it.
“By the time he found someone, Maple Leaf Gardens had gotten another bell, so it becomes one of those things where someone goes, ‘This is a piece of garbage’ and it sits in a basement.”
Many years later, Frank’s son Michael Shillolo asked if the Sports Hall wanted the bell for their collection, and they jumped at the chance.
At a celebration in Toronto honouring 2014 inductees to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Deng says Chuvalo, who at the time was 77 years old, proved he’s still fight ready.
“Someone decided to ding it when George was standing right beside it — and automatically the fists came up. George is conditioned — when that bell goes, he’s ready.”
Deng says artifacts aren’t artifacts until you have a story attached to them, and many stories are lost in history, with the artifact seeming to be just another piece of junk sitting in someone’s garage.
“So much is lost to time. When we do have those stories, it makes it really special. There’s so many stories that can be told if only the objects actually had a voice. If this little bell could say, ‘This is what I witnessed.’”
Liked this story? Read the full feature in the May/June issue of Where Calgary and uncover the secrets behind five museum artifacts.