Marlie


Toronto Marlboros

St. Michael's Majors

Arena Name: Maple Leaf Gardens
Capacity: 15,847
Built: 1931
Last NHL game: 1999
Last Majors game: 2000
Address: 60 Carlton St., Toronto, Ont., M5B 1L1
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
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OHL
Maple Leaf Gardens
Maple Leaf Gardens
What was the Arena Like?
Maple Leaf Gardens was once called the most important religious building in English Canada. This may seem an exaggeration, but it shows the status of hockey in Canada. Every year it was the Leafs in their Gardens versus the Habs in their Forum. Two solitudes, two arenas, one game.

That's all gone now. The Leafs left in 1999 for the spiffy but boring Air Canada Centre. However, two of their tenants remained for another season: the Toronto Rock lacrosse team and the Majors.

For Majors games the arena was almost always nearly empty, which suited me fine as I could go exploring, but did little for the Majors' fortunes. Upon entering Maple Leaf Gardens from the main entrance on Carlton St., you immediately saw a Leafs historical mural in front of you. The lobby tended to fill up fast on game day until they rolled up the grates and let people come in. Your tickets were either on the East or the West sides, and there was no easy way to get between East and West without leaving the building. Two corridors, two sides. Once into the main hallway there was memorabilia everywhere - pictures all over the walls and banners featuring Leaf greats of the past. There was always a new Ford on display as well, given Ford's status as the Leafs' primary automotive sponsor. Whenever I made the trip I always checked to see if it was still there, and it always was. If you were a normal human being and not a millionaire, your seats would be high up in the building, which meant a ride on the first escalators ever installed in Canada. The Gardens' lowest level was the golds, followed by the reds, greens, and greys. The blues hung on the walls in the ends. Seats were pathetically tiny and leg-room was nonexistant. Each section had its own concourse, although the Blues shared with the reds and the Greys and Greens had to share as well, leading to phenomenal bottlenecks. Only the reds and golds were sold for Majors games.

At Leafs games the Gardens filled up quickly. The scoreboard was an older LCD model. Banners hung from the ceiling featuring all the great Leafs of the past (except Dave Keon, who refuses to be so honoured) and all the Cup banners. The ceiling was gigantically high up. Long-time arena announcer Paul Morris was the grand old man of Carlton St., who always was the calm voice of the Leafs. He's retired now, another sad loss to Toronto hockey fans.

When a Leafs game began, the place never rocked like some other old buildings. It was a lot louder than the ACC, but Leaf fans have a history of being quiet. Perhaps it's the Protestant, old-Toronto ethic, but the Leafs always played in front of a fanatically loyal although strangely subdued crowd. One of the two Leafs games I went to at the Gardens was on St. Patrick's Day, which is a long-time special holiday in Leaf Nation. At the St. Patty's Day celebrations pop music was completely dispensed with and the Leafs' organist played Irish songs like "The Wild Rover" and "Danny Boy". Classic.

There were two OHL teams to play at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Catholic Majors were originally founded in 1906 but ceased operations in 1961, while the Protestant Toronto Marlboros played until being moved to Hamilton in 1989, and then Guelph in 1990 to become the Storm. The Marlies also played games at the North York Centennial Centre and the Markham Centennial Centre in the mid 1970's, as well as playing half of their 1975-76 home schedule in Brantford.

In addition to two Leafs games (1993 against the Flyers and 1996 against Vancouver), I also saw two Majors games at the Gardens: one in 1999 against the Generals, and one in 2000 against the Otters. I would have liked to come see the Knights play there, but it wasn't to be. Besides, I never really cared who won Otters-Majors anyway, I only was there to see MLG again and to explore the old building.

The Majors were kicked out in 2000 when the Grand Old Lady of Carlton Street closed for good. A little piece of every Leafs fan died with the building.
Arena History
Maple Leaf Gardens was the last of the "Original Six" arenas to go up, built in seven months during the Depression to replace Mutual St. Arena. Leafs' owner Conn Smythe wanted a building that would be the place where well-bred people would go out, and for the first few decades there was actually a dress code at the arena. All this contributed to the Leafs' reputation for gentility, a reputation that persists today in spite of three decades of mismanagement.

The Gardens played host to everything and anything. Elvis Presley played here, the only concert he ever played outside the USA. The Beatles and the Stones both visited. The Gardens saw political conventions, religious revivals, boxing, cycling, circuses, and the Queen. The first ever NBA game was played there in 1948 as the visiting New York Knicks played the Toronto Huskies.

And hockey. The Leafs won 11 of their 13 Stanley Cups there. Leafs greats like Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich, Tim Horton, George Armstrong, Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Turk Broda, Ace Bailey, King Clancy, Busher Jackson, and Darryl Sittler wore the blue and white there.

In the 1990s, as the arena boom got going, the last 4 of the original six arenas were replaced within 5 years. The Chicago Stadium was closed in 1994, the Boston Garden in 1995, the Montreal Forum in 1996, and finally Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999. A gala closing ceremony marked the end of an era in hockey.

How To Get There

Maple Leaf Gardens is located at the corner of Church and Carlton Sts. in the north end of downtown Toronto.

From the 401: Get off at the Yonge St. exit. Go south until you reach Carlton St. (The street is called Carlton on the East side of Yonge and College St. on the West). Turn left. Maple Leaf Gardens is one block east of Yonge on the left.

From the Gardiner Expressway: Get off at the Yonge St. exit and go up Yonge until you hit Carlton St. Turn right. Maple Leaf Gardens is on your left.
Inside Maple Leaf Gardens
Maple Leaf Gardens
What's it Used For Today?
Maple Leaf Gardens today mostly sits locked up and empty. Most of the seats and all of the memorabilia has been sold to collectors or moved to the ACC. The Rolling Stones rehearsed their winter 2002-03 tour inside, and the building is often used during film shoots. There was also a public art exhibition inside the arena over the winter of 2008. In addition, the CBC is filming a figure skating reality show in the building over the winter of 2009-10, the first time in nearly a decade that the Gardens has had ice.

The building today is owned outright by the grocery chain Loblaws, Inc. They have been intending for the better part of a decade to transform it into a grocery store, but engineering difficulties and corporate incompetence have left the arena still empty. Ryerson University has also announced that it wants to work with Loblaws to provide a home for their varsity hockey teams. At this time, it remains to be seen what the final fate of hockey's greatest cathedral will be.

Feedback

If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.


 


Copyright Kevin Jordan 2002-05.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: April 29, 2005