Maple Leafs fan unloads memorabilia to Canadian Museum of History for $2M

Superfan Mike Wilson sold most of his 1,700 collectibles— including hockey photos, trophies, and original contracts— for just under $2 million.
Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson sold most of his basement museum of Leafs memorabilia to the Canadian Museum of History. Photo by Brian B. Bettencourt.

Mike Wilson, a Leafs superfan whose basement was filled with more than 1,700 collectibles, has sold most of his massive collection to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.

Most of the memorabilia, which includes hockey photos, paintings, personal letters, trophies, and original contracts, was sold to the national museum for just under $2 million.

Until last month, Wilson’s full collection was stored in his 1,000 square-foot basement. But he and his spouse, Debra Thuet, both knew that once the kids moved out and the couple retired, there would come a day when they would leave their house and downsize.

“I was never going to store it,” Wilson said of the collection. “So we kind of had to move the collection first, before we make any other moves about retirement.”

The couple began chatting with a number of different organizations about four years ago: the Leafs themselves, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and several real estate agents, among others.

Neither of them initially thought of the Canadian Museum of History as a possibility, until one of their curators visited their house several years ago to ask about borrowing a few pieces of the collection for a hockey-related exhibit (called “Hockey: More Than Just A Game”).

As the curator walked around their basement, she asked what the couple planned to do with the collection when they moved. Wilson explained that he and Thuet had been asking themselves that very question.

“And she said: What about us?” Wilson said.

Mike with memorabilia

Mike Wilson's collection of memorabilia is said to rival that of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Photo by Carlos Osorio.

“I said: ‘You guys?’ And Debbie said: ‘You guys?’ And she said: ‘Well, we could do this stuff.”

The museum invited Wilson and Thuet to Ottawa for a tour and discussion a few days later. Wilson said they didn’t just ask to buy the collection — the curators also offered to let Wilson retain curatorial control, naming rights, and an emphasis on preserving and displaying his collection’s history.

“They offered me, pretty much, everything I wanted,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the “collector gene” took hold of him when he was about 7 years old. His dad’s cousin gave him one of defenceman Carl Brewer’s sticks that had been signed by the entire team. Other items followed — cards, Leafs-related clippings from Star Weekly, and other memorabilia.

The last of the sold collection left the couple’s house a month ago.

“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. “So it’s been a pretty emotional ride for me.”

Goalie equipment
Ed Belfour's goalie equipment from his time with team Canada and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Photo by Brian B. Bettencourt.

Wilson still owns about 500 items, for the time being. He said that appraisers found it difficult to value the price of the one-of-a-kind items he has, especially contracts. His collection includes those for Tim Horton and George Armstrong.

“If we couldn’t agree on a price, we kept them,” Wilson said.

His biggest concern, he said, wasn’t money. It was the chance for his collection to still be on display to the public and for him to retain some curatorial control.

“The first day Deb and I sat down with them in Ottawa at lunch, they wanted me as a part of it. And that was the biggest thing,” Wilson said.

This story originally appeared in Metro Ottawa.