The Inside Agenda Blog

Maple Leaf Gardens is Alive Again

by Steve Paikin Wednesday December 7, 2011

As a kid growing up in Hamilton and having a mad passion for the hockey team an hour down the Queen Elizabeth Way, Maple Leaf Gardens was one of the most significant buildings I ever spent time in.

I was fortunate that my parents had access to tickets and wanted to keep my brother and me off the streets on Saturday nights. So we found ourselves going to a lot of Leaf games through the 1960s and on. As Leaf fans, we suffered through a lot of lean years.

But we were also there to see Team Canada beat the Soviets 4-1 in game two of the 1972 Summit Series. We were there in 1976 when Darryl Sittler scored 10 points in one game against the Bruins. We were there in 1993 when Doug Gilmour scored his iconic wraparound goal against Curtis Joseph to beat the Blues in overtime. We were also there in 1993 when Wayne Gretzky, with the Kings, scored from behind the net to eliminate the Leafs and prevent a much anticipated Leafs-Canadiens Stanley Cup Final.

And we were there on February 13, 1999 when the Leafs played their final game at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was a sad night and a lousy game to boot.

Since then, all of us who love The Gardens have been waiting to see some leadership bring the place back to life. And boy have we waited. For more than a decade, nothing's happened.

But now, finally it has, and the results are simply spectacular.

Canada's largest supermarket chain, Loblaw, has established a new grocery store on what used to be the ice surface of The Gardens, and it's a delight to see the old canopy proclaim "Maple Leaf Gardens" is back, and the Carlton Street Cashbox buzzing with life again.

There's a big red dot on the floor where centre ice used to be.

It took a long time, but apparently, Ryerson University, the city, the federal government, MLSE, and Loblaw finally managed to come to an agreement on funding and use of the building. It's only a grocery store today, but in the spring, Ryerson's hockey and basketball teams will be able to use The Gardens for their home games, once the finishing touches are put on a new rink and court.

And there are numerous nice touches on the supermarket floor to remind people of the vast history of the place, in particular, the posters on the columns denoting major events.

There's also a colourful artistic collage that greets you as you enter the building.

And you can cool your heels with a cup of coffee while sitting in some of the original Gardens seats.

Home builder Peter Gilgan has also given the university $15 million to help move along the athletic facilities. His name will also be on the place. And thankfully, the stupidity of a lawsuit between the company that owns the Leafs and Ryerson appears to be settled.

Welcome back Maple Leaf Gardens. It's good to see you alive again.

Follow Steve Paikin on Twitter.