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Goodbye Maple Leaf Gardens

For the week of Monday, September 7, 2015

On September 8, 1999, the Maple Leaf Gardens arena in Toronto, Ontario, was put up for sale. The building represented ice-hockey and its sale marked the end of an era for hockey fans.

The official program from the Toronto Maple Leafs' first game at Maple Leaf Gardens on 12 November 1931
© The Canadian Encyclopedia, Public domain

Maple Leaf Gardens, at one point the largest arena in Canada, was built in 1931 by Conn Smythe, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team from 1927 to 1961. At the height of the Depression, Smythe raised $1.5 million for a new arena with 13,000 seats. Just over five months later, construction was completed on this Art Deco and Art Moderne building.

Smythe purchased the Toronto St. Pats hockey team in 1927 and renamed it the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs won their first Stanley Cup in 1931 and continued to dominate the National Hockey League from 1944 to 1951, and again from 1961 to 1967 when they won their last Cup. Smythe built the Gardens in order to increase ticket sales, thus allowing him to acquire better players for the team. Some of these Canadian hockey legends include Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, Red Kelly, and Frank Clancy.

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Maple Leaf Gardens
© Parks Canada / Andrew Waldron

Although integral to the building’s identity, hockey was not the only event that took place in the Gardens. It hosted other sports, and political, religious, and cultural events, ranging from Canada’s largest Communist Party rally in 1934 to Beatles concerts.

On February 13, 1999, the Leafs played their last game in the arena, their home for 68 years. The game marked the end of an era that had seen the Leafs win 11 Stanley Cup championships and inspired Canadians nationwide. After vacating Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre.

Today, the Maple Leaf Gardens is a multipurpose facility. The lower floors are converted into a Loblaws supermarket. The other levels are an athletic centre for Toronto's Ryerson University.

For its place in popular culture and in hockey history, Maple Leaf Gardens was designated a National Historic Site in 2006. Remarkably, it is the only arena used by one of the “Original Six” NHL teams that remains intact.

2015 is the Year of Sports! To read more about sporting venues and organizations, see Hockey at the Forum and Canada’s Oldest Sports Organization in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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