Shopping at Maple Leaf Gardens

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Feb. 6) – From the outside, the new Maple Leaf Gardens is almost identical to the building that served as home of the Leafs from 1931 to 1999. On the inside – at least, pertaining to that which is open to the public – the Gardens looks nothing like it did during its National Hockey League heyday.

A joint-venture between the Loblaw Company and Ryerson University has taken shape, nearly 13 years after the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks played the final NHL game in the arena (Feb. 13, 1999). The southeast entrance to the building, on the famed corner of Church and Carlton Streets, opens to a magnificent, all-purpose shopping centre; calling it a grocery store – ala the Loblaw’s genre – does the facility grave injustice.

As a person that spends much time south of the border each year, I can tell you this is the equivalent of an American shopping colossus. Brand protectionism that limits our consumer variety isn’t nearly as evident in the new Gardens’ outlet, which encompasses what was previously the ice surface, and seating area on the east side of the building. It can also be accessed via the main entrance off Carlton St. – where hockey fans were once greeted by a giant clock and box-office windows to either side. Where the west seats used to be is now a multi-level parking garage for Loblaw’s customers – its ramp off Carlton St. at the opposite end of the facility. Soon to open above Loblaw’s will be a down-sized hockey arena – at the level of the old green seats – and a full athletic facility owned by Ryerson, which is located on Church St., several blocks south of the Gardens.

On Sunday, I drove down to the arena in which I spent so much of my youth – and an earlier portion of my career – watching the Maple Leafs. The photographs below provide a perspective on the new/old building: 

EXCEPT FOR THE LOBLAW’S BANNER ABOVE THE SOUTHEAST CORNER, THE GARDENS LOOKS EXACTLY AS IT DID WHILE SERVING AS HOME OF THE MAPLE LEAFS BETWEEN 1931 AND 1999 – THESE IMAGES (ABOVE AND TWO BELOW) TAKEN FROM THE FAMED INTERSECTION OF CHURCH AND CARLTON. IMAGE BELOW IS THE SOUTHEAST PORTION OF THE BUILDING AS IT APPEARED WHEN CONSTRUCTION OF LOBLAW’S BEGAN TWO YEARS AGO.

AMONG THE NHL’S PRE-EXPANSION (OR INCORRECTLY-NAMED ORIGINAL SIX) ARENAS – AS DEPICTED IN AN ARTIST’S RENDITION BELOW – ONLY THE GARDENS AND MONTREAL FORUM (AT FAR RIGHT) REMAIN STANDING (THE LATTER CONVERTED INTO AN ENORMOUS 16-THEATRE MOVIE COMPLEX). THE PREVIOUS EDITION OF MADISON SQUARE GARDEN; THE DETROIT OLYMPIA, CHICAGO STADIUM AND BOSTON GARDEN HAVE ALL BEEN DEMOLISHED.

THE CORNER LOBLAW’S ENTRANCE TO THE GARDENS (ABOVE) AND THE UBIQUITOUS STREET-CAR LINES THAT HAVE LONG SERVED CARLTON ST. IN FRONT OF THE BUILDING.

AMONG THE NIFTY ELEMENTS OF THE NEW BUILDING IS A RE-CONSTRUCTION OF THE GARDENS’ MASTHEAD (ABOVE AND BELOW) OVER THE MAIN ENTRANCE ON CARLTON ST. THE ORIGINAL WAS BLOWN APART BY A WIND-STORM IN THE LATE-’70s AND REPLACED WITH A VISUAL ABOMINATION. THE SIDES OF THE MASTHEAD AT EITHER END (BELOW) WOULD GREET HOCKEY FANS APPROACHING THE ARENA WITH GAME-TIME AND OPPONENT THAT EVENING… IF, FOR EXAMPLE, THE CANADIENS WERE IN TOWN, IT WOULD READ:

8 O’CLOCK

MONTREAL

GARDENS SEAT-MAP (ABOVE), INCLUDING COLORS AND DIRECTION.

STREET-CARS (ABOVE) STILL PASS THE GARDENS MAIN ENTRANCE IN BOTH DIRECTIONS, AS THEY DID IN THE 1960s (BELOW), WHEN A HUGE PARKING LOT SAT ACROSS CARLTON ST. DIRECTLY OPPOSITE THE BUILDING, AND THE ODEON CARLTON THEATRE NEXT DOOR SHOWED ALL THE HOTTEST MOVIES.

PASSING BENEATH THE GARDENS MASTHEAD (ABOVE) INTO THE MAIN ENTRANCE (BELOW), WHICH NOW REQUIRES A RIGHT TURN INTO LOBLAW’S.

UPON ENTERING THE SHOPPING CENTRE – ON ONE’S IMMEDIATE RIGHT – IS AN HISTORICAL COMMEMORATION OF THE GARDENS (ABOVE). TO THE LEFT (BELOW):  AISLES AND AISLES OF GOODIES WHERE THE LEGENDARY ICE SURFACE ONCE RESTED.

ARTIST’S CONCEPTION (ABOVE) OF HOW THE NEW HOCKEY RINK AT THE GARDENS WILL APPEAR, ONCE IT IS OPENED ON BEHALF OF RYERSON UNIVERSITY. IT WILL BE MUCH-CLOSER TO THE CEILING THAN THE ORIGINAL ICE SURFACE.

MY CHILDREN – SHANE AND LAUREN – PHOTOGRAPH THE RED DOT THAT INDICATES WHERE CENTRE-ICE WAS LOCATED IN MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. HOPEFULLY, LOBLAW’S WILL SEE FIT TO DECORATE THE SPOT A BIT MORE LAVISHLY – PERHAPS WITH A MINIATURE RECREATION OF THE FAMED CIRCLED EMBLEM (BELOW) – SIMILAR TO WHAT DESIGNERS HAVE DONE WHERE CENTRE-ICE USED TO BE IN THE OLD MONTREAL FORUM (TWO BELOW).

ON THE INSIDE-EAST WALL OF THE GARDENS (ABOVE AND BELOW) – NEXT TO AN ESCALATOR LEADING SHOPPERS TO THE SECOND LEVEL OF LOBLAW’S – HANGS A COLLAGE OF OLD SEATS FROM THE ARENA, THOUGH THE PAINTED ITEMS DO NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT THE BLUE TINT OF THE END-MEZANNINE SECTIONS… THEY WERE MORE OF A GREENISH-BLUE, SIMILAR TO THE COLOR OF LETTERING IN THIS PHOTO-CAPTION.

WINDOWS THAT OVERLOOKED CHURCH STREET ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE GARDENS ARE STILL IN EVIDENCE (ABOVE AND BELOW) AT THE TOP OF THE ESCALATOR. THIS WAS ESSENTIALLY THE VIEW FROM THE LEAFS EXECUTIVE OFFICES, AND THE PORTION OF THE BUILDING THAT HAROLD BALLARD CONVERTED TO AN APARTMENT; THE LEAFS OWNER LIVED AT THE GARDENS THROUGH THE FINAL DECADE OF HIS LIFE IN THE ’80s.

HAROLD BALLARD

SUPPORT-COLUMNS IN THE SHOPPING CENTRE REFLECT FAMOUS EVENTS IN GARDENS HISTORY, SUCH AS THOSE DEPICTED ABOVE AND BELOW.

BALLARD WOULD BE PROUD OF THE ENORMOUS VARIETY OF SWEET-TREATS IN HIS OLD BUILDING (ABOVE AND BELOW); HE FAMOUSLY IGNORED HIS DIABETIC CONDITION WHILE INDULGING IN CAKES, CANDY AND ICE CREAM.

AT LEFT OF THE BUILDING’S MAIN ENTRANCE IS A MURAL (ABOVE) DEDICATED TO THE LEAFS DYNASTY OF THE LATE-1940s AND EARLY-’50s, WHEN THE CLUB WON FOUR STANLEY CUP TITLES IN FIVE YEARS (1947-48-49-51) – THE LATTER, ON BILL BARILKO’S FAMOUS AND LEGENDARY OVERTIME GOAL AT THE GARDENS AGAINST MONTREAL.

BENEATH THE MURAL IS A ROW OF ACTUAL RED AND GOLD SEATS FROM THE GARDENS AS THEY APPEARED WHEN LEAFS PLAYED THEIR FINAL GAME IN THE BUILDING – AGAINST CHICAGO – ON FEB. 13, 1999. GOLDS WERE SEATS CLOSEST TO THE ICE; REDS WERE BEHIND THE GOLDS ALONG EACH SIDE, AND BEHIND EACH NET IN THE FIRST LEVEL, AS BELOW.

 

PARKING-GARAGE (ABOVE) FOR THE NEW LOBLAW’S STORE, AT FAR WEST END OF CARLTON ST. SIDE… WHAT USED TO BE THE CLOSEST ENTRANCE TO THE GARDENS WHEN WALKING EAST-BOUND FROM THE COLLEGE ST. SUBWAY STATION.

THESE BRICKS (ABOVE AND BELOW) HAVE BEEN IN PLACE FOR NEARLY 81 YEARS, AS THE GARDENS WAS QUICKLY ERECTED DURING THE TEETH OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION IN 1931.

LEAFS IN ACTION AT GARDENS

vs. MONTREAL (ABOVE AND BELOW) IN 1967 STANLEY CUP FINAL.

vs. MINNESOTA NORTH STARS

vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS

vs. OAKLAND SEALS (PAT QUINN)

vs. NHL ALL-STARS IN 1968 (BOBBY ORR NO. 5)

vs. BOSTON BRUINS (BOBBY ORR)

vs. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (DARRYL SITTLER)

VIEW FROM THE REAR OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS (ABOVE AND BELOW) – THE WOOD ST. SIDE, RUNNING PARALLEL TO CARLTON BETWEEN CHURCH AND YONGE. WHITE-PAINTED GARAGE (ABOVE) WAS THE OLD AUTOMOBILE-RAMP ENTRANCE, WHERE BALLARD WOULD PARK HIS LINCOLN CONTINENTAL WITH THE LICENCE-PLATE MLG 1… AND WHERE THE FAMOUS MUSICAL ACTS (INCLUDING THE BEATLES) WOULD BE WISKED IN AND OUT OF THE BUILDING. A NEW ENTRANCE AT THE REAR OF LOBLAW’S (BELOW) HAS BEEN INCORPORATED.

THE EAST (OR CHURCH ST.) FACADE OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS (ABOVE).

VIEW (ABOVE) OF THE NEWLY-PAINTED DOME AT THE GARDENS FROM TWO BLOCKS SOUTH, ON CHURCH ST. THE DOME WAS ORIGINALLY A TAR-COLOR (BELOW) BEFORE THE LEAFS EMBLEM WAS PAINTED ON A WHITE BACKGROUND (TWO BELOW) IN THE EARLY-’80s.

Email: howardlberger@gmail.com

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