Maple Leaf Gardens & the Maple Leafs
50 Carlton Street
Opened November 12, 1931
Architects: Ross and Macdonald
Toronto’s Original “Shrine to Hockey”
Notorious hockey owner, Harold Ballard, lived in the owner’s suite built into Maple Leaf Garden’s top northeast corner.
Talk with any long-time Torontonian and they’ll have a story
about Maple Leaf Gardens. At one point in their life they
attended a hockey game there, perhaps high up in the greys
where all the shouting and celebrations happened. Or they were
at one of the 3 historic Beatles concerts held there in 1964, ‘65
World War 2 veterans recall how rallies were held in the huge
arena to encourage enlistment in the 1940s and the support
Victory Bonds; some may have attended Winston Churchill’s
speech there in 1932. Others watched the Ice Capades or
being there for the boxing match between the legendary
Muhammad Ali versus George Chuvalo.
Blending both Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture, the
imposing building at the corner of Carlton and Church Street
still reminds Torontonians of its “glory days”. Its beginnings,
however, can be traced back to one man in particular who was
determined to give the newly named Toronto Maple Leafs a
proper hockey arena.
Maple Leafs and State-of-the-art Ice Palace
Businessman, sports enthusiast and military hero, Conn
Smythe, loved hockey. He played and then coached as a young
man. When he made his fortune in the gravel business during
the 1920s, Smythe bought the Toronto hockey team, the St.
Pats and renamed them the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The NHL was new at the time (formed 1917) and some of the
other teams had new arenas with modern amenities. Smythe
had a vision to create a state-of-the-art ice palace for his Maple
Leafs hockey team in downtown Toronto.
Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the Original Six NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs
have won the Stanley Cup 13 times; 11 as the Maple Leafs, one
as the Arenas, and one as the St. Patricks. The team has been one
of the most successful in professional sports both financially
and in terms of its loyal fan base – Leafs Nation. Home games
played at the Air Canada Centre are usually sold out.
An Engineering Miracle
Three steam-powered shovels
excavated the site and two
concrete mixing plants on
location provided the building
material – 13,500 cubic yards
of concrete! The Gardens
also was made from 13,000
tonnes of steel, 13,500 and 1.5
million bricks and tiles. It was
completed in five months and
twelve days, often referred to
as a “miracle of engineering”.
For all its size and glory,
Maple Leaf Gardens always
just resembled an oversized
local hockey arena – and
that’s why people loved it!
Opening Night Loss
and Stanley Cup Win
On opening night, November 12, the Toronto Maple Leafs
played the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a sold out crowd,
with the best seats costing $2.75. Although the Leaf’s lost that
night, they did win the Stanley Cup that year.
From the moment Maple Leaf Gardens opened, its annual
schedule of events included much more than just hockey
games and sporting events. For decades, Maple Leaf Gardens
remained the largest indoor venue in Toronto. There were
countless orchestras, jazz bands and dances in the 1930s and
1940s. Through the 1950s and 60s, opera, ballet and circus
performances filled the arena. Elvis Presley played his first
concert outside of the USA at the Gardens, followed by every
major rock group. Political rallies and religious gatherings took
place there, including evangelist Bill Graham.
One of the most
recognized and talked
about features in the
Gardens was “the
gondola”, a small booth
suspended bout 20 meters
above the ice intended
for radio broadcasting.
When first constructed,
the gondola could only
be reached by a catwalk
that had no guardrails
and an almost vertical
ladder to descend to the
End of an Era
Into the 1990s, the building began to show its age, the Leafs’
final game in the Gardens on February 13, 1999 was lost to
the Chicago Blackhawks as it had been on opening night. The
adaptive reuse of Maple Leaf Gardens, completed in 2012 by
Ryerson University and Loblaws, altered the arena’s interior
but respected the historic character of the building’s exterior.
Today, the home of the Maple Leafs is at the Air Canada Centre,
built for both Maple Leafs hockey and Raptors Basketball. The
first Maple Leafs home game took place on February 20, 1999,
versus the Montreal Canadiens (and the Leafs won).