The doors to our newest Atelier Munro House have finally opened in Toronto. To celebrate this exciting new chapter, we’re getting to know the city through the eyes of a true native, Mark Giordano. Even though hockey has taken him away over the years, the NHL veteran never lost touch with the place we both now can call home.
With most of his career taking place in Calgary, it was quite unlikely Mark would ever play professionally in the city where it all began. But sometimes life takes an interesting turn. Now he’s back, having developed as a well-rounded athlete and human being. He will finally be able to play with his family and oldest friends nearby, with the chance to fulfil his dream of winning the Stanley Cup – something the entire city has been anticipating for decades since their last win in 1967.
For our introduction to the Queen City , Mark has taken us by the hand to show us his Toronto and the things he holds dear. Together, we created a made-to-measure wardrobe that serves different aspects of his life in hockey and beyond the rink – from pre-game attire and an ensemble for celebrations to clothes for hanging out with his kids and a look designed in honor of his foundation Team Giordano.
Before we get to chatting about our new shared home, have you been involved with clothing much before?
Not that much, to be honest. Over the years in my career, I had some suits made for me by various people, but not on this level, for sure. I am a pretty casual guy in my day-to-day lifestyle, but I have always enjoyed looking good because it makes me feel good. I feel like looking good, can lift a person up. I like to approach fashion in that way. I love a classic look. Especially when going to home games: in my eyes it helps the mental state when you just look sharp in every way before you need to perform. My dad was really into fashion in his younger years. He took that culture of dressing with him from Naples. They used to call him Gino Vannelli, like the rock star, because he looked like him and dressed pretty much the same.
To start our journey through your Toronto: where exactly did it all begin?
I was born and raised in North York, Toronto. I stayed in the city until I was around 17 years old. Both of my parents were born in Italy, in Naples and outside of Rome. They both came over to Toronto when they were young. First moving to College Street, which at the time was a very Italian neighborhood, and after that they moved to North York. To this day, they still live in the house where I grew up. It’s where I first started playing hockey when I was five years old. I was actually introduced to it by a guy who’s still my best friend to this day: Mike Virelli. He played hockey and his family introduced it to mine. We both started in the House League, and I haven’t quit playing it since.
When did hockey become more serious for you?
When I was thirteen, I had to choose between baseball and hockey. At that point, I played hockey both in and outside of school in a Minor League competition. I also played competitive baseball outside of school, while I was growing up. I chose hockey and I put all my focus on the sport. I ended up choosing Chaminade College School for their hockey program, as it was among the best in the city. The way sports are integrated in the school system is something we almost take for granted in North America, but to have those options as a kid can have such a positive impact. It did for me, obviously.
It was very fascinating to visit Chaminade College School and see this part of your life. How do you look back at those formative years?
I remember how nervous I was when I joined as a freshman! Looking back, those were some of the best years of my life. We had so much fun. Both the academic part and the sports part were great. After losing my initial nerves, it just became so comfortable to go there. I have so many incredible memories hanging out with my buddies, having fun, joking around. I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of them. When we see each other, it still feels pretty much the same.
You were part of the Chaminade College School hockey team that won the 2000 Championship. Was that also the moment when the idea of going pro became real?
No, not really. Winning that championship was a great bonding experience and an amazing moment. But, I didn’t grow up in an environment with a lot of examples that had gone that route before me. Basically, I was just having so much fun in those high school years, that I didn’t want it to end. Playing hockey for as long as I could was all that was on my mind. After I finished high school, I was scouted to play for the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League, which also offered university courses with an online program. So, we would play on the rink in the morning, have online classes after, and return to the rink in the afternoon. That’s when I realized there really was a chance for me to go pro.
That was also the first time you moved away from Toronto?
Yes, the first time I moved away from Toronto and my family, for that matter. I stayed with another great family in Owen Sound that took care of me. I remember how afraid I was to move away from everything I had known and loved for my whole life. Owen Sound is a very small town, especially compared to Toronto. So, that was an adjustment. But eventually it was very cool to live there. It taught me a different way of life (being part of a much smaller community) and made me experience a different part of Ontario, even Canada as a whole.
And you wouldn’t be back for some years. It seems to mark the start of a lot of travel and very hard work for you.
Indeed, as my time at Owen Sound Attack came to an end, I knew what I needed to do both on and off the ice to become a better hockey player – and I put in the work. I even fractured my wrist during the last months of the season, but I knew if I didn’t play, my chances for the NHL would have diminished. So, I played about twelve weeks with a brace: I needed to continuously be on the ice and grow as a player.
Still, when the season came to an end, it was unclear where my future would lie. So, I prepared to go to university in Toronto. And just as I was about to start, I got a phone call from the Calgary Flames asking me to join their rookie camp. The moment that call ended, I knew it was my chance and I had to shoot my shot. And I ended up getting a contract. That’s how my pro career eventually started. I still had a long way to go to make it onto the Flames roster, but at least I was in ‘the system’.
I was sent out to Minor League teams. I played in Lowell, Massachusetts, which was basically my first experience living on my own and my first taste of pro hockey. The next year I had to move to Omaha, Nebraska. That was a very good season for me and after that year I made it onto the Calgary Flames roster for my first year in the NHL. At the end of that season my contract ran out, and my agent called and told me that I had a pretty good offer from a team in Moscow. At first, I dismissed it, but as summer moved along and a new deal with the Flames became more and more unlikely, I reconsidered it. It would offer me the chance to play weekly, the financial situation was good, and despite it being quite scary, the adventure also started appealing more. It still cost me a lot of sleepless nights, but eventually I decided to do it. I even convinced my now wife, then girlfriend, to join me on the journey. We took the adventure on together. I felt such a sense of accomplishment after that season.
Did being away from Canada teach you something particular?
I got to know a whole different culture. It was extraordinary to see how a completely different country operates. And even the hockey was quite great. I had a very good experience on the ice. Living there gave me a new perspective. What we have as a country here in Canada. But also on a personal level, being so far away from my family. I really missed them. It helped doing it together with Lauren, but this was a different time, before Skype and FaceTime. It felt way more isolated. I only was able to go back to Toronto a few times during that period. We pretty much only had each other over there. That shared experience is something we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.
After that year abroad, you decided to come back to Canada to play for the Calgary Flames?
Yeah, they had already called me during the season telling me that they wanted to re-sign me, and we decided I would return to Calgary after that one year in Moscow. Coming back almost felt like a fresh start. Both in the NHL and at the Flames. Which obviously turned out well – I stayed there for a long time! When I came back, I was a better player because of all the experience I had gained in Russia. I started playing for Team Canada during the World Cup in that period too. It’s funny, as we’re speaking, I realize that it was so many experiences in a relatively short period of time, but while you’re in it, it all goes by very quickly.
You were there for thirteen years. Did Calgary become home to you?
Comparing Toronto and Calgary is quite difficult. The community in Toronto I grew up in is very close. The people in our neighborhood all knew each other and were looking out for each other. I also experienced this kind of atmosphere in Calgary. It’s a close-knit city. People are friendly and care about each other. They care about the city too. Basically, half of my life, most of my adult life, I was in Calgary and so it feels really close to my heart. Having all those memories there. It became a second home, for sure. Both of my children were born there too, so that also plays a big role in how it feels to be there. Before coming back to the Maple Leafs, I could see us living there for the rest of our lives.
In saying that, we still used to come back to Toronto most of the off- seasons to be with our family. Coming from Italian culture, family is such an important part of our life, and we were always keen to spend as much time with them as possible.
You also celebrated some of your biggest successes on the ice during those years in Calgary.
Definitely. If you would have told me at the very beginning of my career that one day I would win the Norris Trophy, I wouldn’t have believed you. To be crowned the best defenseman in the league was a very special moment for me. But I take just as much pride in being awarded the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award and the Foundation Award for the NHL. I think my awareness of what I could do with my profile as a hockey player grew parallel to my growth on the ice. Basically, I just cherish everything I was able to build up as a human being in Calgary. I can go there anytime and be with a great group of friends. To have been able to build those relationships is just as valuable to me as any ‘success’ on the ice. Hockey is going away soon, so these other things are even more important. To have that figured out while I’m still playing feels like a major accomplishment too. It allows me to really enjoy playing while I can, without losing touch with what’s most important
You also did incredible work with your foundation Team Giordano. How did that start?
At some point, I became a dad and the captain of the Flames. Both experiences made me want to give something back to the community. My wife and I had been talking about it already for a while, and when Jack was born, it felt like the right time to set a great example for him too. We visited the schoolboard of Calgary and asked them for input, and they came back with a concrete plan we really liked. We established we wanted to focus on helping individual schools that were facing problems. Not just by making money or a one- dimensional program – we wanted to actively learn about their needs and be involved in offering unique solutions. So not just offer books or build gyms or something, we really wanted to help with the school’s specific needs to make the lives of the individual students better or easier. What’s the point of just building a new gym if they really need something else, right?
After we started the initiative, a lot of different people in Calgary stepped up and helped us as well. In return we tried to be as present within Team Giordano as possible: have pizza, do assemblies. I really wanted to meet as many children as possible too. Being actively involved has taught us a lot. That was also a sad part about leaving Calgary: leaving all that behind. Now, we’re really working hard to get something off the ground in Toronto as soon as we can.
If you are able help others, you should feel obligated to help. That’s what I’ve learned in life. It took me a while to figure that out, which is totally fine, but I’m very happy and proud of where it has taken me.
And now you’ve returned to the place where it all started. What’s left of the Toronto you grew up in?
My wife says the same thing: the moment we get off a plane to come home and drive into the city over the 401, there’s always that feeling of excitement. It’s a buzz in the city. It’s just a great place to live. It’s also the feeling of coming back to family and all my friends I’ve known since growing up. It just feels like home. At the end of the day, it is our home. Calgary felt like home too, but coming back to Toronto always gave us that sense of: ‘This is where we’re from.’
When the trade to the Maple Leafs finally happened, I received about 500 text messages. We were over the moon. Beyond hockey, which is exciting for me, our kids now get to see their grandparents and other family every day. At this age, to be part of this team and close to our family at the same time – it feels like the best of both worlds.
We loved seeing the place where you celebrated your homecoming: Italian restaurant NODO. It’s relatively new, but connects back to the Toronto that you grew up in too.
Yes! I’ve known the owner Charlie for a long time. It’s another funny story: he goes to the same coffee shop that my dad goes to every morning. They both have an espresso there. We know each other through mutual friends and the restaurant. We were introduced because we have the exact same last name – even though we’re not family. I just love his restaurants for a homemade-style Italian meal. If there’s anything to celebrate, we are at one of their restaurants. We’ve been doing that for years.
Your return to Toronto is certainly something to celebrate. You have really earned that trade and what a massive achievement in your career.
It’s been an honor to be shown around the city by you while we’re both building our homes here – you with your family and the Toronto Maple Leafs, us with our staff and newly opened store in Yorkville.
Coming back home to Toronto really feels like a full circle moment, getting to experience the last years of my career with our family and friends beside us. Returning to everything we know, and all these new things to discover in the years to come. We can’t wait to see where this next adventure takes us.
Get inspired by Mark’s homecoming collection, curated for all aspects of his life in Toronto.