Canadian Heavyweight champion, George Chuvalo, fighting World Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali, Maple Leaf Gardens, 1966. Image: Canadian Press
George Chuvalo poses for a portrait as part of commemoration events for the 1966 Muhammad Ali versus George Chuvalo boxing match. Toronto, March 11, 2016. Image: Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press
George Chuvalo Neighbourhood Centre, 50 Sousa Mendes Street, Toronto, March 20, 2021.
A Boxing Legend
Born and raised
The George Chuvalo Neighbourhood Centre is a more recent addition to the Junction Triangle neighbourhood and is named after one of its most notable residents. Chuvalo rose to fame as a highly successful heavyweight boxer, ranking in the world’s top ten for most of his twenty-one year pro boxing career. But before all of that, he was a working-class kid growing up in the west Toronto Junction neighbourhood.
Born in 1937, Chuvalo grew up in his family home just west of the Junction Triangle on Hook Avenue. His parents, both of whom were Croatian immigrants to Toronto, worked in slaughterhouses in the area. While George attended school at St. Rita Catholic School, north of Edwin Street, his mom was hard at work just a few blocks to the east at Royce Dupont Chicken Packers.
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Rising the ranks
George discovered boxing while a student at nearby Humberside Collegiate Institute, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the best amateur boxers in Toronto. He became Canada’s amateur heavyweight champion in 1955, and, after turning professional, became Canada’s heavyweight champion at age 19 . He quickly rose through the ranks of professional boxing, fighting some incredibly tough competition, including Muhammad Ali in 1966. Ali himself declared Chuvalo “the toughest guy I ever fought.”
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In 1979, George retired as the undefeated Canadian heavyweight champion, and became an advocate for drug prevention for Canadian youth. He lost three sons and a wife to substance abuse, but overcame these tragedies to become a tireless community advocate. He was made a member of the Order of Canada for his work in 1998 and a life-size statue of him can be found today in his family’s ancestral home of Ljubuški, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The George Chuvalo Community Centre, which opened in 2019 in the Junction Triangle neighbourhood, provides services for youth and children, including special services for LGBTQ2S+ youth. As George’s son Mitch said at the Centre’s opening in 2019, its mission is a credit to his father’s work, and a fitting tribute to a Canadian icon and Junction Triangle hero.