This Week in History


Leafs Bid Farewell to Maple Leaf Gardens

For the week of Monday February 8, 2010

He shoots! He scores!”

Toronto Maple Leafs fans heard those famous words broadcast by Foster Hewitt from the rafters of Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto, Ontario, during the hockey team’s dynasty years in the 1940s. On February 13, 1999, the Leafs played their last game in the arena that was their home for 68 years. The game marked the end of an era; while playing at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs won 11 Stanley Cup championships and captured the imagination of Canadians nationwide.

The official program from the Toronto Maple Leafs' first game at Maple Leaf Gardens on 12 November 1931
Maple Leaf Gardens, at one point the largest arena in Canada, was constructed in 1931. With its Art Deco and Art Moderne streamlined style, it was the vision of Conn Smythe; who, due to his passion for the Leafs and for hockey, managed to raise enough support and funds for the $1.5 million building’s construction at the height of the Depression. Amazingly, construction of this state-of-the-art building, with a 13,000-seat capacity, was completed in just over five months.

A veteran of both World Wars, Smythe was the owner of the Leafs from 1927, when he purchased the Toronto St. Pats and renamed them the “Toronto Maple Leafs,” until 1961. 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 to date. Smythe decided to build 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.

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. Due to its size, the Gardens also hosted other sports, political, religious and cultural events ranging from Beatles concerts to Canada’s largest Communist Party rally in 1934.

After vacating Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs moved in to the Air Canada Centre. In 2004, Loblaws Properties Inc. purchased the Gardens with the intention of turning it into a supermarket, with construction set to begin in 2007; however, these plans were put on hold to explore other options in late 2009.

For its place in popular culture and importance 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.

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