Maple Leaf Gardens: The “Cathedral of Hockey”

Les Maple Leafs remportent la Coupe Stanley au Maple Leaf Gardens, 1967. © Library and Archives Canada/Centennial Commission fonds/e011195951

For the week of Monday, November 11, 2019.

On 12 November 1931, Maple Leaf Gardens officially opened. This indoor arena was built for the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club along a major streetcar line at the corner of Church and Carlton streets in downtown Toronto, Ontario. For decades, it was an important indoor venue for major sporting, cultural, and political events.

Prior to the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto’s National Hockey League team—known as the Toronto Arenas (1917-1919) before being renamed the St. Pats in 1919—played at Arena Gardens. By the late 1920s, the 7,000-seat arena, built for public recreation rather than spectator sports, could no longer accommodate the team’s growing fan base. Games attracted more than 8,500 fans, who crowded wooden benches or watched from standing areas.

In 1927, Conn Smythe, an investor in the St. Pats and a veteran of the First World War, renamed Toronto’s team the Maple Leafs in reference to the leaf-shaped badges worn by Canadian soldiers. Smythe and Frank Selke led the construction of a new stadium for the team between April and November 1931, when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. The Maple Leafs purchased the property from Eaton’s department store and financed the construction of Maple Leaf Gardens, in part, by replacing a portion of every workers’ pay with stock in the team. They created a state-of-the-art building with a simple aesthetic, utilizing Art Deco and Art Moderne styles of streamlined form and decorative geometrics.

Opening night at the Gardens in November 1931 was a sold-out game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks, which the Black Hawks won 2 to 1. Elevated tiers ensured that every seat provided unobstructed views of the action. The arena was outfitted with the latest technology, including radio broadcasting facilities used by famed announcer Foster Hewitt, whose play-by-play broadcasts brought the Leafs national attention. This arena was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs until 1999, when the property was converted into an athletic centre and commercial space. During that time, it also hosted many important events, including a speech by Winston Churchill in 1932, concerts by Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and an epic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Chuvalo in 1966.

Maple Leaf Gardens is a designated national historic site.

May is Asian Heritage Month. Learn more about Asian Canadian histories by exploring articles in our online archives about the Early Chinese Cemeteries in Victoria, British Columbia, Vietnamese immigration to Canada after 1978, and The Abbotsford Gur Sikh Temple.