Maple Leaf Gardens
Maple Leaf Gardens: Still Standing After All These Years
Now the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the corner of Church and Carlton streets in downtown Toronto, the famed Maple Leaf Gardens is the only NHL Original Six arena still standing. Home of the Maple Leafs from its construction in 1931 until 1999, the Gardens hosted 2,541 Maple Leafs regular-season and Stanley Cup playoff games, including their dynasty years in the 1940s and 1960s when they amassed nine of their 11 Stanley Cup championships. The Maple Leafs’ record at Maple Leaf Gardens:
- Regular season: 1,215-750-346-18
- Playoffs: 116-66-1-25
Maple Leaf Gardens History
NHL icon Conn Smythe was the driving force behind construction of Maple Leaf Gardens. Owner of the Toronto franchise since 1927, he wanted a state-of-the-art arena on par with those in the U.S. for his team. It wasn’t only a matter of national pride; the team’s home at the time, Arena Gardens, had a seating capacity of only 6,000, less than half that of Chicago Stadium and Madison Square Garden.
Despite being in the throes of the Great Depression, Smythe raised enough cash to get the Gardens built, in part by giving the construction workers stock in the team to cover 20 percent of their pay.
Maple Leaf Gardens opened in November 1931, where an over-capacity crowd of 12,473 seated and 1,000 standing fans were on hand to watch the Maple Leafs take on the Chicago Black Hawks. Chicago prevailed 2-1, but Toronto’s disappointment was short lived. On April 9, 1932, the Leafs beat the New York Rangers 6-4 at the Gardens to win the Stanley Cup in a three-game sweep.
Like most NHL arenas, Maple Leaf Gardens hosted many other types of events:
- In 1946-47, the stadium was home to the Toronto Huskies of the BAA (Basketball Association of America), a league founded in 1946 that became the NBA in 1949.
- The Toronto Marlboros of the OHL called the Gardens home from 1931 to 1989.
- Elvis Presley played concerts there in April 1957 — his only performances outside the U.S.
- The Beatles played at the Gardens on three occasions.
- Toronto’s Metropolitan Opera staged multiple productions at the Gardens in the 1950s.
By the late 1990s, Maple Leaf Gardens suffered from the same drawback as its predecessor, Arena Gardens — not enough seating. Over the decades, the Maple Leafs had become a roaring success with the city’s hockey fans, who remained famously loyal and enthusiastic despite the team’s ups and downs after their 1960s dynasty. In 1999, the Leafs moved to their new home, Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena), which had nearly 20,000 seating capacity for hockey.
Maple Leaf Gardens — Hockey Memories
- In 1967, the Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on home ice to win the Stanley Cup with a 4-2 series victory. It would be the last championship for Toronto to this day.
- In 1976, Darryl Sittler had a 10-point game against the Boston Bruins. With six goals and four assists, he led Toronto to an 11-4 win.
- Not to be outdone, Ian Turnbull scored five goals in a game against the Detroit Red Wings in 1977, which still stands as a record for an NHL defenseman.
- Loyal Maple Leafs fans: No unsold seats at the Gardens from 1946 until the team moved in 1999.
- In the last NHL game played at the Gardens, the Maple Leafs faced the same opponent as they did in their first game there, the Chicago Blackhawks. History repeated itself and the Leafs lost. Nevertheless …
- Maple Leafs fans had plenty of reasons to come out in droves over the years. Among the NHL superstars they saw lace up for the Leafs at the Gardens: Turk Broda, Johnny Bower, Hap Day, Red Kelly, Bill Barilko, Ace Bailey, King Clancy, Tim Horton, Ted Kennedy, Charlie Conacher, Doug Gilmour, Syl Apps, Dave Keon, Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuck, Frank Mahovlich, Bernie Parent, Jacques Plante and Dave Andreychuk.
Hats off to the civic leaders in Toronto for preserving this great hockey venue, one with a rich history that few arenas, if any, could match.
(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)