They may not be young anymore, but that doesn’t stop them from coming out to play.
And after over a third of a century of existence, there’s not much about darts that the founding members and current executive committee of the Bloor Street Dart League (BSDL) haven’t seen, heard, or done before.
The league has weathered the cultural ups and downs of the past three-and-a-half decades, surviving the changing of Ontario smoking laws, the closing of beloved venues, and the waning popularity of a sport once treasured in this city.
Now, 36 years later, they still come together on Tuesday nights to have a couple of pints and play darts.
It all started back in the early 1970s, at a bar in the west end of downtown Toronto called the Dovercourt.
“It was one of the big bars that you don’t see too often anymore,” recalls Wayne Morrison, president of the BSDL. “Back then a few buddies of mine and the bouncer would play for beers, and we decided to make teams.
“Word got around and other people heard we were doing it. We ended up having two or three nights a week where we would have teams playing for beer. It was ridiculous, because if you were really doing well, you couldn’t drink all the beer you were winning.”
As time went on and interest grew, the decision was made to turn from a simple bar league to something much bigger. From these humble beginnings, the BSDL was born.
This was at a time when darts themselves were gaining popularity in Canada due to a massive cultural exportation from the United Kingdom.
“The British invasion at that time was really connected to darts,” remembers Morrison. “It became very trendy to hit the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Richmond, those British-type bars that always had a dartboard.
“It was something the young people were doing, and it didn’t stop there. People would speak with phony British accents, even pretend they were British.”
Over the following years, the league bloomed to a membership of 26 teams, each with an average of 15 players. The executive committee sought to find more bars to play in, larger venues for year-end banquets, and bigger prizes to encourage all levels of competition.
It was the heyday of darts in Toronto.
The years since have seen a shift in the other direction. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, the popularity of the sport in the country slowly began to decline, and Toronto was no exception. Season by season, teams began to leave the league.
“We never figured it out,” said former president Harold Kemp. “Personally, I’ve always considered it to be that as the economy goes up and down, so does discretionary spending. People don’t have money to go out to the pubs during the week to play.”
It’s one of a number of factors that has played a significant role in the demise of darts in the city.
“It seems to me like young people today don’t really hang out in places like this,” said Morrison, gesturing around to the empty legion. “Even bars. In the old days there were a lot of big bars, and they were big.
Now everybody has got a liquor license, they’ve knocked the bigger places out. Cafes are the big thing today, right?”
Kemp agrees, and offers his own explanation as to why the transition of darts to smaller venues hasn’t happened.
“You can’t put a dartboard successfully up in a cafe environment,” says the former League President. “Some of them just plain don’t work, there’s not enough room.
“Our particular league format today is a minimum of seven and a maximum 12 players per team. Add a few friends, maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend, and you have to seat over 30 people.
“If the place is small and it’s already crowded, where are you going to put them?”
More recently, new smoking laws implemented in Ontario in 2006 have also had their impact on the BSDL, as smoking was very much a part of both the social scene and dart culture in bars up until that point.
The downward trend in league membership has continued to the tune of a record-low 11 teams last season, but has not compromised the quality of play.
“The level of competition is good, there a range of serious and beginner players,” said Kemp. “We’re not the best league, we’re not the worst league.
“We’re not a bar league. If you want to come out and have some fun, have a few beers, and learn how to play and get better, than then this is the place to be.”
The current membership of the league certainly promotes fair and fun play. Several teams are comprised entirely of family members, while others feature old friends who have played together for decades.
According to veteran player Pat Gallagher, it’s these group dynamics that really set the league apart.
“Sure, we have our competitiveness, we always have,” said Gallagher. “But to us, it’s more about the social environment.
“I can’t believe I’ve been playing 15 years,” he continued. “My friends called me up one day, asked ‘hey you want to play some darts, drink some beers?’. I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’. Next thing you know, I’m on a team!”