This venerable arena owns the most incredible sports attendance record of any in the world: Since 1946 there hasn't been a single unsold seat in the house.
Built in 1931 during the depths of the Great Depression, Maple Leaf Gardens retains the same appeal it had during pre-expansion times, when the Leafs were the toast of the league.
"When I was growing up the Maple Leafs were a tremendous team," recalls Dave Lewis, the former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach. "They won Stanley Cups and had great players. It was a treat to go watch a game at the Gardens, and nothing inside the building has changed. It carries the same mystique. Our players get a thrill when they play in Toronto. Everybody loves to play there."
"It's a special place," said former General Manager and Coach of the Detroit Red Wings Bryan Murray, "Their team hasn't produced over the past few years, but they still have great fan support. Pictures of their great players from the past line the halls, and that's what hockey is all about - the tradition and sense of great history."
The man who built Maple Leaf Gardens also built the New York Rangers along with the Toronto Maple Leafs was one of the most colourful characters ever to grace the hockey world. A much-decorated and wounded veteran of both world wars, whose motto was "If you can't lick 'em in the alley you can't lick 'em on the ice," Conn Symthe always seemed to give one the sense he was guiding his own destiny. Perhaps the fact that his family allowed him to choose his own name when he was seven had something to do with that.
Smythe captained his University of Toronto varsity squad to the 1915 Ontario championships, then coached the University of Toronto Varsity seniors to the 1927 Allan Cup. He caught the eye of the New York Rangers management and agreed to rebuild the Rangers in exchange for $10,000.
The canny Smythe acquired Bill Cook, Frank Boucher, Ching Johnson, and 28 other players for only $32,000. Astonishingly, Rangers president Colonel Hammond listened to Symthe's jealous critics and fired him, shaving $2,500 off Smythe's original fee in the process. Rangers owner Tex Rickard heard about the injustice, restored Smythe's original fee and begged him to stay, but it was to late. Smythe returned to Toronto vowing to win the Stanley Cup in revenge. Smythe wagered his $10,000 on a football game and won, then bet his winnings on a Toronto-Ottawa hockey game and won again. Determined to buy the Toronto St. Pats, Smythe together with local worthies bought the team for $164,000, and, always an unblushing patriot, renamed them the Maple Leafs.
In 1931, Smythe, along with J.P. Bickell, used creative financing to build Maple Leaf Gardens - 100 yards from where Smythe was born - in an astonishing five months. In 1932, Conn's beloved Maple Leafs won their first of 11 Stanley Cups, thus making good Smythe's promise of revenge and establishing one of the NHL's most illustrious franchises.
While it's rather nondescript in appearance, Toronto's stadium is the last remaining building used from the days of the "Original Six" after the Canadiens, Bruins and Blackhawks all moved into their new buildings.
Toronto tourism officials are asked for directions to the Gardens more than any other site, and for good reason. The home of the Maple Leafs has changed little since it was built in 1931. Inside are pictures and other reminders of past moments in Leafs history. Maple Leaf Gardens is a special place for hockey fans because it houses so much tradition and history.
From the airport and Niagara Falls, take 427 south to QEW East. Take the Jarvis Street exit north to Carlton Street. The Gardens are on the left.
Maple Leaf Gardens history
* First regular-season game: Nov. 12, 1931, 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks
* First Stanley Cup finals game: April 9, 1932, 6-4 over the Rangers
* April 9, 1932: Led by Ace Bailey, King Clancy and Harvey "Busher" Jackson, the Maple Leafs win their first Stanley Cup by beating the Rangers 6-4.
* Feb. 7, 1976: Darryl Sitler sets an NHL record with 10 points in a game -- six goals and four assists -- leading the Leafs to an 11-4 victory over Boston.
* LAST game at Maple Leaf Gardens will be on February 13, 1999 vs the
Gardens put up for sale
Wednesday, September 8, 1999
By PIERRE LEBRUN -- Canadian Press -- TORONTO
Maple Leaf Gardens is up for sale, meaning the last of the Original Six arenas could soon become anything from condos to a shopping mall.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Air Canada Centre, says it is looking at the redevelopment or sale of the 68-year-old building.
"We're going to explore, develop or sell," Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said Wednesday. "All we know is that it can't exist in its present form."
Peddie said the Gardens will lose more than $1 million this year. Only about 40 events have been held since the Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre in February, mostly Toronto Rock lacrosse matches and St. Michael's Majors junior hockey games.
"Like the Air Canada Centre, Maple Leaf Gardens needs events in excess of 200 (a year)," said Robert Hunter, senior vice-president and general manager of the Air Canada Centre and the Gardens.
Putting a price tag on the Gardens isn't easy, however.
"Depending if it stays in existing use or it gets torn down to use for condos or retail use, it's tough to give any value to it," said Ray Wong, director of research at Royal LePage.
Toronto-based realtor CB Richard Ellis has been hired to oversee the potential sale or redevelopment.
The options are vast.
For beginners, city zoning where the Gardens lies provides for both residential or commercial development, which means anything from a shopping mall, a condominium complex or theatre.
The restrictions lie in the fact that the Gardens is designated as an heritage building, meaning the city of Toronto will go out of its way to try to preserve some of the distinctiveness of the Gardens.
"They'll have real trouble demolishing the building," said Blake Hutcheson, executive vice-president of CB Richard Ellis. "A significant portion of the building will be maintained."
The buyer could receive permission from city council to completely demolish the building, but it's very doubtful Toronto councillors would allow that given the Gardens' history.
In any case, Leafs president Ken Dryden doubts the new owners would even think of tearing it all down.
"If you remove the character that's there then you have a pile of earth," he said. "The features of Maple Leaf Gardens will remain because it's in the best interest of the buyer."
And Peddie noted, "ultimately we have the last say who we sell it to."
Still the days are numbered for a building that was built during the Great Depression and hosted such memorable events as a Beatles concert, a Muhammad Ali fight and the first-ever NBA game.
The Gardens tried not to follow the lead of Montreal, Boston and Chicago in selling quickly or demolishing the buildings they left.
"That was certainly the case in Montreal," said Dryden. "But we wanted to see if we could make Maple Leaf Gardens work. It has been a great home for 68 years. ... But a past cannot sustain the future."
Ironically, the Air Canada Centre is to blame.
"We are where we are today in part because of the success of the Air Canada Centre," Dryden said.
Concert promoters left the Gardens for the Air Canada Centre almost as soon as the Leafs did.
On December 15, 2002 SSchminky@aol.com wrote: Just wanted to offer a couple pieces of trivia garnered from a tour of Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of years ago....
Maple Leaf Gardens was one of the only venues Elvis played outside of the United States where he gave two incredible conerts on April 2, 1957. It is also the only venue where The Beatles did two shows on the same night (supposedly because the then owner of the arena sold two shows without the band's knowledge and the band consented). (Elvis also played at Empire Stadium in Vancouver and the Beatles also played Empire Stadium in 1964.)
Image of the Maple Leaf Gardens by Daniel Swan, Thanks Daniel
MAPLE LEAF GARDENS TO GET NEW LIFE - AS A GROCERY STORE
December 3, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures
Toronto, Ontario - The long-time home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Maple Leaf Gardens, will
find new life as a grocery store and student athletic center for Ryerson University. The building has
been largely unused since the Leafs moved into the Air Canada Centre more than 10 years ago.
The plan is to have a flagship Loblaw grocery store on the main floor, topped by two new floors
of athletic facilities. There will be volleyball and basketball courts, plus an ice rink, which will have
the same dimensions as the original.
One-third of the cost will come from Ryerson students, who agreed in a referendum last spring
to each contribute an extra $126 in annual fees for a new athletic centre. The federal government is
kicking in $20 million, with the rest of the $60 million cost to be raised in partnership with Loblaw
Companies and its founding family, the Westons.
Loblaw bought the stately art deco building from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in 2004,
after a bidding war with Home Depot. Hockey fans scorned the idea of a grocery store in the Leafs'
hallowed home, scrawling "Boycott Loblaw's" on the pale yellow bricks.
Financial concerns left the site dormant these past five years. There was the staggering cost of
renovating the building, and Loblaw was in fierce competition with retail rival Wal-Mart.
Partnership options were limited by an MLSE condition of sale that the Gardens couldn't host
events that would compete with those in the Air Canada Centre.
RYERSON UNIVERSITY SPORTS CONSIDERS MAPLE LEAF GARDENS
March 18, 2010
Copyright 2010 MediaVentures
Toronto, Ontario - Ryerson University Sports will be one of the main tenants for the remodeled
Maple Leaf Gardens when the venue reopens next year.
The venue, built in 1931, will also have ice rinks and a 70,000-square-foot supermarket.
Each partner will own its portion of the building - making the university and the private
business like partners on a new kind of team. (Ryerson's portion will mainly be for students, but there are plans to make it accessible to the community.)
Ottawa is contributing C$20 million to the project through its infrastructure stimulus fund, Ryerson will raise C$20 million from student fees, and the final C$20 million will be raised by Ryerson and Loblaw through a joint fund-raising campaign, including a C$5 million contribution from the grocery giant.
A basement will be dug below the original building for a new level of parking and a ground-floor supermarket and a second-floor Joe Fresh store will be built.
Meanwhile, Ryerson chose sports and entertainment facility leaders BBB Architects of Toronto to refashion the sporting part of the Gardens. BBB is working on a hundreds of millions renovation of Madison Square Garden in New York, where the ice rink is five floors above 8th Avenue.
BBB is developing a seating layout based on the concept of the lower bowl of the original Gardens. A degree of authenticity is planned in a variety of areas where possible. Some distinctive features are the "rail seats" immediately around the rink boards, and the gold "box seating" areas, which were defined by half walls around the perimeter.
The large lamp housings that were suspended above the original ice rink may be reused - with new, more efficient lamp technology - to illuminate the rink.
In addition, the ice can be taken out or covered up temporarily for basketball and volleyball games, exam writing, convocation ceremonies and other functions.
SMALLER, REMODELED MAPLE LEAF GARDENS TO REOPEN
December 22, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures
Toronto, Ontario - The Toronto Star says Maple Leaf Gardens will reopen under a new name
and with a new look.
The centerpiece of Ryerson University's new C$71.2 million athletic venue will be a full-sized, 2,600-seat arena situated directly below the distinctive white dome of the old barn, some 50 feet above the entrance off Carlton St.
The new playing surface, which is roughly the height of the old green seats, will not only be the highest skating rink in Toronto but also make Maple Leaf Gardens the only one of the Original Six NHL arenas to still have ice.
Four of the old buildings - in Boston, Chicago, Detroit and New York - have been demolished. The Montreal Forum has been converted into retail space.
“It brings back the Gardens to the city,” Ryerson president Sheldon Levy told a news conference detailing a new C$15 million donation to the project. “It'll be a wonderful place for the community for years to come.”
The new 220,000-square-foot Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre at the Gardens, named for the Toronto homebuilder who made the donation, will also feature a multi-purpose basketball and volleyball court, a student fitness center, studios and a high-performance gym. Those facilities will be on the second floor, below the arena - to be known as the Mattamy Home Ice after the benefactor's company - and above a large Loblaws grocery store.
Ottawa has provided up to C$20 million of the cost; Ryerson students voted another C$20 million through a C$126 annual fee. A joint fundraising campaign between the university and the grocery giant is committed to raising the remaining money, with Loblaws pledging C$5 million.