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Maple Leaf Gardens
Maple Leaf Gardens, east side.JPG
Location 60 Carlton Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1L1
Coordinates 43°39′44″N 79°22′49″W / 43.66222°N 79.38028°W / 43.66222; -79.38028Coordinates: 43°39′44″N 79°22′49″W / 43.66222°N 79.38028°W / 43.66222; -79.38028
Broke ground 1931
Opened November 12, 1931
Closed 2002
Owner Loblaw Companies Ltd.
Construction cost $1.5 million
Architect Ross and Macdonald
Capacity Ice hockey: 13,542 (1931), 14,504 (1962), 16,307 (1968), 16,385 (1979), 15,775 (1991), 15,746 (1993), 15,728 (1995)
Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) (1931–1999)
Toronto Huskies (BAA) (1946–1947)
Toronto Marlboros (OHL) (1931–1989)
Toronto Toros (WHA) (1974–1976)
Toronto Blizzard (NASL) (1980–1982 indoor)
Toronto Shooting Stars (NPSL) (1996–1997)
Toronto St. Michael's Majors (OHL) (1997-2000)
Toronto Rock (NLL) (1999–2000)

Maple Leaf Gardens is an indoor arena in Toronto, on the northwest corner of Carlton Street and Church Street in Toronto's Garden District. It still stands, as of 2009, but has seen little use in the past decade.

One of the temples of hockey, it was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League from 1931–1999. 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 four seasons from 1971–1975. The NBA's Toronto Raptors played five 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: 1931–1960

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Toronto Maple Leafs opening night program at MLG, November 12, 1931

The contract to construct the building was awarded to Thomson Brothers Construction of Port Credit in Toronto Township.[3] 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, and others could not compete in this manner.[4] That price did not include steel work, which was estimated at an additional $100,000. Construction began at midnight on June 1, 1931.[5] In what is to this day considered to be an unparallelled 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.[6] The Leafs would go on to win their first Stanley Cup that season.

The first professional wrestling show at the Gardens was held on November 19, 1931 and attracted 15,800 people to see world champion Jim Londos in the main event. The show was promoted by Jack Corcoran, who passed the reins to Frank Tunney in 1939. Under Tunney, Toronto and the Gardens was for decades a thriving centre for professional wrestling. Local hero Whipper Billy Watson became the city's top wrestling attraction in the 1940s and 1950s. The last WWE-promoted event to be held at Maple Leaf Gardens was on September 17, 1995.

Boxing was also a regular offering at the Gardens for many years. The first world title bout in the building was on September 19, 1932, with bantamweight champion Panama Al Brown knocking out challenger Emile Pladner in the first round.

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 NBA), with the Toronto Huskies playing the New York Knickerbockers. The Huskies played their last game at the Gardens on March 28, 1947, and the franchise folded shortly thereafter. In the 1946-47 NHL season, Maple Leaf Gardens was the first arena in the NHL to have Plexiglas inserted in the end zones of the rink. [7]

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.[8]

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

Smythe-Ballard-Bassett in partnership: 1961–1971

Maple Leaf Gardens, 2006

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.[9] 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?"[10]

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.

On November 8, 1963: Maple Leaf Gardens would be the first arena in the NHL to have separate penalty boxes. [11] 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."[12]

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.[13] 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: 1972–1990

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.[14] 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.[15] In an editorial, the Toronto Star called Ballard's actions the "barbaric destruction of one of Canada's great cultural monuments."[16]

Concert Promotions International was founded in 1973 by Ballard's son Bill Ballard with Michael Cohl and David Wolinksy and brought many big-name musical acts to the Gardens. Superband ABBA ended their first and last North American tour at Maple Leaf Gardens in October 1979; the same week Bob Marley performed his second concert (after 1978) at the Gardens. The Who performed what was supposed to be their last concert in December 1982 at this venue and was filmed for the concert film The Who Rocks America (1982). The video for The Reflex by Duran Duran was shot at Maple Leaf Gardens in March 1984. Also in 1984, the Canadian rock trio Rush recorded a live video for their Grace Under Pressure tour at Maple Leaf Gardens.

In 1997, allegations began to emerge that some employees of the Gardens had sexually abused young boys in the 1970s and 1980s. Martin Kruze was the first victim to come forward—contacting the new owners of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1993, and going public in February 1997. His story of abuses beginning in 1975 prompted dozens of other victims to come forward. In October 1997, Gordon Stuckless pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 24 boys dating back to 1969 and was sentenced to a jail term of two years less a day.[17] Three days later, Kruze committed suicide.[18] An appeals court later increased Stuckless's sentence to five years. He was paroled in 2001. In 1999, former usher John Paul Roby was convicted of sexually molesting 26 boys and one girl.[19] He was subsequently declared a dangerous offender and could have been kept in prison for the rest of his life. Roby died in Kingston Penitentiary from an apparent heart attack in 2001.[20] In 2002, former Gardens security guard Dennis Morin was found guilty of sexual assault, indecent assault and gross indecency for incidents involving teenage boys.[21] Allegations—unproven in court—were also made against other Gardens employees, including Ballard.[22] Several civil suits were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. In January 2006, the Ontario government filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., seeking repayment of the medical costs to the province of treating the sex abuse victims.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment: 1991–2003

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.[23] 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.

Exterior signage as of 2006, with letters missing.

MLG Ventures took Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. private and the two corporations amalgamated.[24] 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. Maple Leaf Gardens has been mostly dormant since then.

Loblaws and future plans: 2004–present

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 diminishes 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, note that the structure has 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, 2008, 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. As of November 9, 2009, the arena is being used for Battle of the Blades. The new TV show has former NHL stars paired with world-class figure skating champions in a figure skating competition. The show began on October 4, 2009, and airs live from the Gardens. There is a studio audience of 3,000 that sits in either some of the original remaining seats, in new bleachers or on pads where seats have been removed. There are 14 nights of competition.

On November 30, 2009, the federal government had agreed to contribute 20 million as part of the 60 million to renovate the arena into a Loblaws grocery store and a new athletic facility for Ryerson University which includes a volleyball, basketball court and an Ice hockey rink. The ice rink will notably become the new home for Ryerson Rams hockey team. The renovation is expected to be completed in 2011.

Television appearance

Maple Leaf Gardens was stripped of some of its outdoor signage for production of an episode of Canadian-produced Flashpoint. The arena was named "The Godwin Coliseum" in the episode titled Behind the Blue Line that originally aired on November 20, 2009.[25]

Other teams

A list of other teams using Maple Leaf Gardens as their home:

See also


  1. ^ Maple Leaf Gardens, Limited - Prospectus, summary published in The Globe, March 5, 1931
  2. ^ Maple Leaf Gardens, Limited - Prospectus, summary published in The Globe, March 5, 1931
  3. ^ "Maple Leaf Gardens contract goes to local firm," The Globe, May 30, 1931
  4. ^ "New arena work to start on Sunday at midnight," Toronto Star, May 30, 1931
  5. ^ "New arena work to start on Saturday at midnight," Toronto Star, May 30, 1931
  6. ^ "Over thirteen thousand attend opening game," Mike Rodden, The Globe, November 13, 1931
  7. ^ Hockey’s Book of Firsts, p.66, James Duplacey, JG Press, ISBN 978-1-57215-037-9
  8. ^ Centre Ice: The Smythe Family, the Gardens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club, Thomas Stafford Smythe with Kevin Shea, Fenn Publishing Co., 2000
  9. ^ Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years Of History, Stan Obodiac, Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd., 1981
  10. ^ Ballard: A Portrait of Canada's Most Controversial Sports Figure, William Houston, Summerhill Press, 1984, p. 60.
  11. ^ Hockey’s Book of Firsts, p.72, James Duplacey, JG Press, ISBN 978-1-57215-037-9
  12. ^ "'Cash rated over class' Conn quits," Ken McKee, Toronto Star, March 8, 1966
  13. ^ "Staff Smythe and Harold Ballard charged with income tax evasions," Ron Lowman, Toronto Star, July 9, 1969
  14. ^ Maple Leaf Gardens: Fifty Years Of History, Stan Obodiac, Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd., 1981
  15. ^ "Oh no! Ballard's trashed Hewitt's gondola," Rick Boulton, Toronto Star, September 20, 1979
  16. ^ Editorial, Toronto Star, September 23, 1979
  17. ^ "Sex abuser jailed less than 2 years," Toronto Star, October 28, 1997, p. A1.
  18. ^ "Kruze jumps to death from bridge: He was first victim to tell of his abuse in Stuckless sex scandal," Hamilton Spectator, October 31, 1997, p. C1.
  19. ^ "Roby has been jailed long enough, lawyer says; Ex-Gardens usher convicted on 35 of 57 sex charges," Nick Pron and Peter Edwards, Toronto Star, May 10, 1999, p. 1.
  20. ^ "Gardens molester dies in prison," Nick Pron, Toronto Star, November 9, 2001, p. B1.
  21. ^ "'Justice' in Gardens sex case: Maple Leaf Gardens guard assaulted youths; Third sex crime conviction of a rink worker," Tracy Huffman, Toronto Star, December 13, 2002, p. B4.
  22. ^ "Ballard named in new abuse charges," Nicolaas van Rijn, Toronto Star, October 18, 2002, p. A3.
  23. ^ Date-by-date story of Gardens takeover fight," Hamilton Spectator, November 11, 1994, p. C15
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^

External links

Preceded by
Mutual Street Arena
Home of the
Toronto Maple Leafs

1931 – 1999
Succeeded by
Air Canada Centre
Preceded by
Copps Coliseum
Home of the
Toronto Rock

1999 – 2000
Succeeded by
Air Canada Centre
Preceded by
first arena
Home of the
Toronto Huskies

1946 – 1947
Succeeded by
last arena
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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