Maple Leaf Gardens
Location 60 Carlton Street
Toronto, Ontario M5B 1L1
Broke ground 1931
Opened November 12, 1931
Closed 2002
Owner Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Construction cost $1.5 million Cdn.
Architect Ross and Macdonald
Tenants Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) (1931–1999)
Toronto Huskies (Basketball Association of America
Capacity Hockey: 16,307

Exterior signage as of 2006, with letters missing.

Maple Leaf Gardens is an indoor arena that was converted into a Loblaws[1] supermarket and Ryerson University athletic centre (Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre at the Gardens) in Toronto, on the northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street in Toronto's Garden District.

One of the temples of hockey, it was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League from 1931 to 1999. The Leafs won 11 Stanley Cups from 1932–1967 while playing at the Gardens. A Benefit All-Star Game was held at the Gardens in 1934 as a benefit for Leafs forward Ace Bailey, who suffered from a career-ending injury. The first annual National Hockey League All-Star Game was also held at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1947.

It was home to the Toronto Huskies (1946-1947) in their single season in the Basketball Association of America (a forerunner of the National Basketball Association), the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey League, the Toronto Toros of the World Hockey Association (1974-1976), the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League (1980-1982 indoor seasons), the Toronto Shooting Stars of the National Professional Soccer League (1996-1997), and the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League (1999-2000). The NBA's Buffalo Braves played 16 home games at the Gardens in three seasons from 1971–1975. The NBA's Toronto Raptors played some games at the Gardens from 1995–1999, mostly when SkyDome was unavailable.

It was also one of the few venues outside of the United States where Elvis Presley performed in concert and the only site to host The Beatles in all three of their North American tours. In 1972 Maple Leaf Gardens hosted game 2 of the famous Summit Series between Team Canada and the USSR. Team Canada won the game 4–1.


The Conn Smythe era: 1931–1960Edit


Ad for the shares in 1931

Maple Leaf Gardens during construction

Maple Leaf Gardens during construction

The Gardens was built by Leafs managing director Conn Smythe in a six-month period during 1931 at a cost of $1.5 million. The site was purchased from The T. Eaton Co. Ltd. for a price said to be $150,000 below market value. The building was designed by the architectural firm of Ross and Macdonald. W. A. Hewitt, sports editor of the Toronto Star, was hired as general manager to oversee all events other than professional hockey. His son, Foster Hewitt, was hired to run the radio broadcasts. Construction was partly funded through a public offering of 7% preferred shares in Maple Leaf Gardens Limited at $10 each (about $117 in 2006), with a free common share for each five preferred shares purchased. Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club Ltd. transferred ownership of the hockey team to the new corporation in return for shares in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.

416px-MLG 1931w

Opening night program

The contract to construct the building was awarded to Thomson Brothers Construction of Port Credit in Toronto Township. Thomson Bros bid just under $990,000 for the project, the lowest of ten tenders received, mainly due to the fact that amongst the Thomson Brothers' various enterprises they had much of the sub contract work covered, others could not compete in this manner That price did not include steel work, which was estimated at an additional $100,000. Construction began at midnight on June 2,1930. In what is to this day considered to be an unparalleled accomplishment the Gardens was built in under five months and two weeks.

The Gardens opened on November 12 1931, with the Maple Leafs losing 2–1 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Reported attendance on opening night was 13,542. The Leafs would go on to win their first Stanley Cup that season.

On November 1 1946, Maple Leaf Gardens was the site of the first game in the history of the Basketball Association of America (now known as the National Basketball Association, with the Toronto Huskies playing the New York Knicks. The Huskies played their last game at the Gardens on March 28 1947, and the franchise folded shortly thereafter.

Smythe became the majority owner of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. in 1947, following a power struggle between directors who supported him as president and those who wanted him replaced with Frank J. Selke. Toronto stock broker Percy Gardiner lent Smythe the money he needed to take control of the corporation. The loan was paid off in 1960.

Elvis Presley's shows at the Gardens on April 2 1957 were his first-ever concerts outside of the United States.


Proposed 1964 expansion that did not come off.

Smythe-Ballard-Bassett in partnership: 1961–1971Edit

In 1961, Smythe sold most of his shares to a three-person partnership formed by his son, Stafford Smythe, with Harold Ballard and John Bassett. The new ownership added 962 new seats to the Gardens in 1962 and added a private club, The Hot Stove Club, the following year. Even more seats were added in 1965 and new mezzanine galleries were constructed in 1966 and 1967. By 1968, seating capacity for hockey had grown to 16,307. This was achieved, in part, by making the seats narrower, so that—in the words of founder Conn Smythe—"only a young man could sit in them and only a fat old rich man could afford them." A large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was removed to make room for more seats. When asked why he removed the picture, Ballard replied, "She doesn't pay me, I pay her. Besides, what the hell position can a queen play?"

The Leafs were so popular that the team sold out every game from 1946–1999. It was often called the "Carlton Street Cashbox" in sports reporting. Advertising was sold and placed throughout the building.

The Beatles made a stop at Maple Leaf Gardens during each of their three North American tours: September 7 1964, August 17 1965, and August 17 1966. It was the only venue to host the group on each tour.

In March 1966, Conn Smythe resigned from the board of directors after a Muhammad Ali boxing match was scheduled for the Gardens. He found Ali's comments about the Vietnam War to be offensive and said that by accepting the fight, Gardens owners had "put cash ahead of class."

Ballard and the younger Smythe were accused in 1969 of stealing money from the corporation and avoiding income taxes by having Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. pay for many of their personal expenses. The controversy created a rift between the two and Bassett, which led to Smythe and Ballard being fired from their management positions in 1969, only to win back control the following year. In September 1971, Bassett sold his shares to Stafford Smythe and Ballard. Just six weeks later, Smythe died. His brother and son tried to keep the shares within the Smythe family, but in February 1972 all of Smythe's shares were purchased by Ballard, leaving him with majority ownership of the building and the Leafs.

Harold Ballard takes control: 1972–1990Edit

The Leafs continued to sell out every game through the Ballard era, even as the team's performance went into steep decline. The rink-side red seats turned to gold in 1974. In August 1979, to make room for private boxes, Ballard had his staff tear down the 48-year-old gondola from which Foster Hewitt regularly broadcast games across Canada and threw it into an incinerator. In an editorial, the Toronto Star called Ballard's actions the "barbaric destruction of one of Canada's great cultural monuments.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment: 1991–2003Edit

Ballard died in April 1990. The executors of his will were Steve Stavro, Don Giffin and Don Crump. In 1991, Stavro paid off a $20 million loan that had been made to Ballard in 1980 by Molson. In return, he was given an option to buy Gardens shares from Ballard's estate. Molson also agreed to sell its stake in Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. to Stavro. That deal closed in 1994, and shortly after Stavro bought Ballard's shares from the estate for $34 a share or $75 million. The purchase was the subject of a securities commission review and a lawsuit from Ballard's son Bill Ballard, but the deal stood and Stavro and his partners in MLG Ventures became the new owner of the Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens.

MLG Ventures took Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. private and the two corporations amalgamated, becoming Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. after its acquisition of the Toronto Raptors in 1998. Initially, the majority owner of MLSE, holding 51% of the company, was MLG Holdings, a corporation controlled by Stavro, with minority shareholders Larry Tannenbaum (25%) and Toronto-Dominion Bank (20%). The other 49% of MLSE was owned by Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. In 2003 Stavro sold his shares and MLG Holdings was dissolved, leaving Teachers' as majority owners of MLSE.

During the 1990s, MLSE considered a number of sites for a new, modern arena to replace Maple Leaf Gardens, including the southeast corner of Bay and Dundas Streets near the Toronto Eaton Centre (the site of the new Ryerson University School of Business). By this time, Maple Leaf Gardens was considered too small and lacking in revenue-generating luxury boxes.

The Leafs had no plans to occupy the Air Canada Centre, then under construction by the owners of the Toronto Raptors, and it appeared for a time as though the stalemate between the two sports franchises would result in two new arenas being constructed in Toronto – one for hockey, one for basketball. When MLSE acquired the Toronto Raptors, however, the Air Canada Centre, which was still under construction, was quickly retrofitted to accommodate both hockey and basketball.

The Raptors played their final game at the Gardens on February 9 1999. A few days later, on February 13 1999, the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a 67-year tradition when they played their last game at Maple Leaf Gardens, suffering a 6–2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Former Leaf Doug Gilmour scored a fluke goal in that game and notorious tough guy Bob Probert scored the final NHL goal in MLG history during the third period. During the emotional post-game ceremony, legendary Canadian singer Anne Murray performed The Maple Leaf Forever, clad in a Leafs jersey.

The Gardens was the home arena for the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League for the 1999 and 2000 seasons. The Rock won the Champion's Cup in both seasons, making them the building's last championship team. They held training camp at the Gardens in 2001 and then moved to the ACC.

Loblaw and Ryerson (2004–present)Edit

MLSE refused to sell Maple Leaf Gardens to anyone who proposed to use it as an arena in competition with the Air Canada Centre. Among these turned down was Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Toronto St. Michael's Majors OHL hockey team. Various redevelopment schemes were proposed, most notably an entertainment complex containing retail shops and cinemas (similar to the redevelopment of the Montreal Forum), but these plans were abandoned when it was discovered that the tiered arena seating was holding up the exterior walls of the building, acting as a form of interior flying buttress. If the bowl of seating were removed, therefore, the exterior walls would lose most of their support.

Loblaw Companies, Canada's largest food retailer, purchased the Gardens in 2004. They were planning to convert the interior to accommodate a Real Canadian Superstore and parking. Immediately, there was criticism that the conversion of the building to retail uses diminished its heritage value, and that Maple Leaf Gardens should continue to serve as an arena in accordance with its rich history and traditions. Others, however, noted that the structure had been deteriorating for a number of years, and that its ongoing use for minor league sports and events would not generate sufficient income to secure the building's preservation and restoration. Furthermore, the active re-use of the building would allow it to remain open to the public for years to come.

As of July 24, 2009, no significant work on-site had occurred, other than some structural testing done prior to the sale to Loblaws and the addition of a light-controlled crosswalk to provide access to a door installed on the Carlton Street façade. All plans for construction were put on hold until an unspecified time due to the financial state of Loblaws.

On September 8, 2009, Matt Damon hosted a concert in support of the charity ONEXONE. It was the first concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in 8 years. The arena was used on May 8, 2009 for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association's convention tradeshow.

On September 16, 2009, Loblaws announced it had entered into discussions with Ryerson University regarding the possible future joint use of the arena. In 2009 the arena was used for Battle of the Blades'. a new TV show pairing former NHL stars with world-class figure skating champions in a figure skating competition.

After, construction began to convert the arena into a Loblaws grocery store and Ryerson University athletic centre. After many delays including finding a creek running though the basement and a time capsule the new Loblaws store opened on November 30, 2011. It is Loblaws' new flagship store.[1]

Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre at the GardensEdit

A new home for Ryerson RamsEdit

On November 30, 2009, the federal government had agreed to contribute $20 million as part of the $60 million project to renovate the arena into a Loblaws grocery store and a new athletic facility for Ryerson University which includes a fitness centre, studios, high-performance courts, and an NHL sized ice hockey rink seating 2,796 guests. The ice rink will notably become the new home for Ryerson Rams hockey team. The renovation is expected to be completed in 2012.

On November 29, 2011, Ryerson University announced that it had named its new athletic centre the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre at the Gardens, in honour of a $15 million contribution by a local land developer towards the renovation. The ice rink will be called the Mattamy Home Ice, after the name of Gilgan's company.[2]

Maple Leaf Gardens

Recognition Edit

Maple Leaf Gardens was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007 because it was:

The arena was also designated under the Ontario Heritage Act by the City of Toronto in 1991.[3]

Opening NightEdit


  1. Flavelle, Dana. "Maple Leaf Gardens: From shrine to supermarket", The Star, November 25, 2011. 
  2. Bradshaw, James. "Maple Leaf Gardens gets a makeover – and a new name", 29 November 2011. Retrieved on 29 November 2011. Archived from the original on 1 December 2011. 
  3. City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties

Preceded by
Mutual Street Arena
Home of the
Toronto Maple Leafs

1931 – 1999
Succeeded by
Air Canada Centre
Preceded by

first game
Chicago Stadium
Detroit Olympia
Chicago Stadium
Montreal Forum
Host of the
NHL All-Star Game

Succeeded by

Chicago Stadium
Detroit Olympia
Detroit Olympia
Montreal Forum
Montreal Forum
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