This Leaside teenager brought Elvis to Toronto

Carol Vanderleck and Elvis, backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens, April 1957. Photo Toronto Telegram.
Carol Vanderleck and Elvis, backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens, April 1957. Photo Toronto Telegram.

Elvis Presley delivered only five performances outside the U.S. during his career. All five took place in Canada in 1957. The King did two shows in Toronto on April 2, two more in Ottawa on April 3 and one in Vancouver on August 31. In Toronto alone, more than 23,000 screaming, adoring fans packed Maple Leaf Gardens to see their idol – with over 100 police on hand to keep order. It was the biggest thing to hit Hogtown before the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967. And it was mainly due to the efforts of a young Leasider named Carol Vanderleck.

Elvis’ Toronto performance ad.
Elvis’ Toronto performance ad.

Born in Ottawa in 1943, Carol came to Leaside with her parents in 1946 and lived here for the next 20 years – first at 196 Airdrie and then at 91 McRae. She attended Bessborough P.S. and Leaside High, where she was an excellent student.

Carol Vanderleck’s Leaside High School report card, 1955-56.
Carol Vanderleck’s Leaside High School report card, 1955-56.

Like many teenagers of her era, Carol worshipped Elvis Presley and his music. In 1956, after watching his first film Love me Tender, she was determined to bring her hero to Toronto and launched a petition designed to make her dream a reality. Within three months she had obtained more than 2,400 signatures, which she then sent to Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Impressed by her effort, Parker phoned her personally to say that Elvis would indeed perform in Toronto in early April. As quoted in Brandon Yip’s Elvis Presley: “All Shook Up” in Canada, Carol recalled in 2000, “You can well imagine how exciting, if not overwhelming, this was to a star-struck, typical 14-year-old girl.”

The excitement, however, was just starting for Carol. The Toronto Telegram picked up the story, and on March 20 printed a front-page article, with Carol’s photo, crediting her with bringing Elvis to Toronto. This was quickly followed by an invitation to meet Elvis backstage after his press conference on the night of his performance. An Ontario shoe manufacturer named Robert Woolley had acquired the rights to make Elvis Presley ballet shoes, and he wanted Elvis to present a pair to Carol as part of an advertising campaign and photo op, as journalist June Callwood wrote in Chatelaine magazine. 

Carol was ecstatic. But as she later recalled, she remembered nothing of what Elvis said to her when he presented her with the shoes. (He apparently said, “Here you are, honey; wear these for me.”) She also remembered very little of the concert itself other than the screams of the audience and that Elvis wore a gold lamé suit during his performance. (As it turned out, this would be the last time Elvis ever wore the full gold suit on stage.)

What Carol did remember vividly was the way Elvis moved – not just on stage, but especially during his press conference, which he conducted while sitting on a table. As quoted in Brandon Yip’s book, she said: “He truly was like a big black panther, and his eyes sparkled and shone…. He was lithe and strong, and he was fast.”  

A few months later, after all the pandemonium had subsided, Carol’s experience was documented and analyzed in detail by June Callwood in Chatelaine.

Callwood’s piece strongly suggested that “Carol will outgrow Presley long before she outgrows her new tartan suit” – a reference to the outfit Carol wore when she met the King backstage.

But the writer was mistaken.

Like millions in Canada and around the world, Carol remained devoted to Elvis virtually her entire life. Thirty years after the Toronto performance, she still treasured the photos of Elvis giving her the shoes. And in 2000, she boasted that she had turned her 85-year-old father into an Elvis fan.

Carol Vanderleck died in 2011 and is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Following her death, her niece Sarah posted this touching online tribute: “I couldn’t ask for a more exotic, interesting, mysterious and intelligent aunt. Like Elvis, your legend will live on.”

Photos: COLOURIZED COVER AND ORIGINAL B/W PIC: YORK UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES, CLARA THOMAS ARCHIVES & SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, TORONTO TELEGRAM FONDS, ASC00834. AD: TORONTO TELEGRAM, MARCH 24, 1957. REPORT CARD: LEASIDE HERITAGE PRESERVATION SOCIETY.
About Ted DeWelles 36 Articles
Ted DeWelles is a retired public relations professional and community college professor. A Leaside resident for more than 20 years, Ted currently serves on the board of the Leaside Heritage Preservation Society. He loves reading, cycling and researching and writing about Leaside’s history.