UrbanToronto has partnered with Heritage Toronto to capture a moment in Toronto's past. On a weekly basis, we highlight historic photos of the city's people, places and events, and tell the stories behind them.
With hockey season in full swing, it’s interesting to take a look back at an indoor Toronto arena that remains sacred in the hearts and minds of Canadians, Maple Leaf Gardens.
Located at the corner of Church and Carlton Streets, the Gardens was designed by Ross and MacDonald in association with Jack Ryrie and MacKenzie Waters. It was a state-of-the-art construction reflecting the aesthetics of the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles. The Gardens became overnight, the largest arena in the country.
The Gardens opened on November 12, 1931 as the new arena for the Toronto Maple Leafs, formed in 1917. The first game was held between the Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leafs lost that night but the team went on to great success, winning numerous Stanley Cups in front of adoring fans at Maple Leaf Gardens, then the largest arena in the country.
Beyond hockey, the Gardens came to be used for a multitude of sporting, social and political events. They were home to election rallies by the likes of Prime Ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Pierre Trudeau. Performers including Duke Ellington, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles performed to excited crowds who packed the arena. Among the famous sports stars who passed through the Gardens was Muhammed Ali who fought against George Chuvalo in 1966.
By the 1990’s, Maple Leaf Gardens was under the ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd and a new site was considered to host this legendary hockey team. After several locations were considered, it was decided that the Leafs would use the new Air Canada Centre that was being built primarily as the new home of the Toronto Raptors.
The final Leafs game at the Gardens was on February 13th, 1999. The Gardens is now under redevelopment to become a multi-use facility. It is designated as an Historic Site of Canada and is also recognized for its historical value under the provincial government.
Many thanks to both Gary Switzer of MOD Developments and Maya Bilbao for putting together the photos and research.