Maple Leaf Gardens is a former indoor arena located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League between 1931 and 1999. The Maple Leafs won 11 Stanley Cup championships between 1932 and 1967 while playing at Maple Leaf Gardens. The arena was also home to the Toronto Huskies of the Basketball Association of America, which was a precursor to the current National Basketball Association. Maple Leaf Gardens has been home to a number of hockey, lacrosse, and basketball teams, most notably the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey League, the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League, and temporarily the Toronto Raptors of the NBA.
The Conn Smythe Era (1931-1960)Edit
Maple Leaf Gardens was built by Maple Leafs managing director Conn Smythe during a six-month period in 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. 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, with a free common share for each five preferred shares purchased. 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.
The contract to construct the building was awarded to Thomson Brothers Construction of Port Credit in Toronto Township. 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. Other viable bids could not compete in this manner. That price did not include steel work, which was estimated at an additional $100,000. Construction began at midnight on June 1, 1931. Construction was completely finished in under five months and two weeks, an accomplishment that is still heralded to this day.
The Gardens opened on November 12, 1931, with the Maple Leafs losing 2–1 to the Chicago Blawkhawks. Reported attendance on opening night was 13,542. 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. The event 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, Maple Leaf Gardens was a thriving centre for professional wrestling for decades. Local hero Whipper Billy Watson became the city's top wrestling attraction in the 1940s and 1950s.
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, and featured 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, 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.
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.
The Gardens were also home to a historical musical concert, as Elvis Presley's shows at the Gardens on April 2, 1957 were his first-ever concerts outside of the United States.
The Smythe-Ballard-Bassett Era (1961-1971)Edit
In 1961, Smythe sold most of his shares to a three-person partnership formed by his son, Stafford Smythe, along 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. This was achieved, in part, by making the seats narrower, so that, according to 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 also removed to make room for more seats.
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.
The Beatles made a stop at Maple Leaf Gardens during each of their three North American tours in 1964, 1965, and 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."
Ballard and the younger Smythe were accused in 1969 of stealing money from the corporation, as well as avoiding income taxes by having Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. pay for many of their personal expenses. 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.
The Harold Ballard Era (1972–1990)Edit
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. 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.
Concert Promotions International was founded in 1973 by Ballard's son Bill Ballard, along 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 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. 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 bycontacting the new owners of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1993, and going public in February 1997. His story of abuses beginning in 1975, which 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. Three days later, Kruze committed suicide. 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. 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. In 2002, former Gardens security guard Dennis Morin was found guilty of sexual assault, indecent assault and gross indecency for incidents involving teenage boys. Allegations were also made against other Gardens employees, including Ballard. 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.
The Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Era (1991–2003)Edit
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. 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 Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens.
MLG Ventures took Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. private and the two corporations amalgamated, 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 Maple 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 and 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 Gardens 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 Ownership (2004–present)Edit
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 the exterior walls would lose most of their support.
Loblaw Companies, Canada's largest food retailer, purchased the Gardens in 2004. They are planning to convert the interior to accommodate a Real Canadian Superstore and parking. There has been some 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 November 21, 2007, no work on-site has occurred, other than some structural testing done prior to the sale to Loblaws. All plans for construction have been put on hold until at least 2008 due to the financial state of Loblaws.
On Monday, 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. Maple Leaf Gardens was last open to the public on October 4, 2008 as a part of Toronto's Nuit Blanche contemporary art celebration.