Andrew goes shopping and takes us on a tour of Toronto’s historic Maple Leaf Gardens. They don’t play hockey there anymore. It escaped the wrecking ball, but is it as good as dead to many olde-time Leafs fans?
“Well look who it is. It’s a long story as to why I’ve been gone so long. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I can never go back to Mexico…
There have been wins and losses for my Blue-Shirted Hockey Heroes since last I checked in, injuries, reactivations… it’s been fairly decent truth me told. Hell, we even got Reimer back! Sure, we still lost to the B*****, but Reimer looked strong and not rusty. Unfortunately I think the team forgot to play amidst the rapturous joy they felt upon his return.Regardless, we’re still holding our own past the quarter-season mark. The wheels have yet to fall off, we’re still managing to score goals and *gasp* keep pucks out of the net. We still lead, are tied with or are in the top of the league in various categories… It’s a pretty damn good time to be a Leafs fan. Unless…..
Toronto has a very recognizable skyline. You can’t go anywhere near the city without seeing our giant, LED light adorned phallic CN Tower. Next to it is the SkyDome (technically now the Rogers Centre, but it will always and forever be SkyDome to me). There is the TD Tower, CIBC Tower, RBC Tower… our Financial district’s megalithic buildings that make up our downtown core. All of these can be seen, on a really clear day (and maybe with some ocular amplification), from across the Lake.
But there is one building that you couldn’t see. Nestled at the corner of Church and Carlton. A building, arguably, more important to the city than any of the others previously mentioned. It is where the Conn Smythe trophy got its inspiration, where memories were made, hockey history created… it was Maple Leaf Gardens.
I remember having the chance to go there once to see a game. But I also remember sneaking in once with my dad during a game, no tickets, I was no more than maybe 6, and just really wanted to see what it was like. We walked in and got about 10 feet past the door until security stopped us. I don’t remember what my dad said but he let us go. He let us take a peak at the game in action, let us walk around… and that’s where I got my first taste of real Leafs hockey. It lasted all of 15 minutes, but it made an indelible mark on me.
No, instead there was an 18 foot tall cheese wall and aisles upon aisles of groceries. Yes, this historic and culturally significant building has finally been reopened to the public as its new incarnation: A Loblaws grocery store, LCBO (gov’t run liquor stores in Ontario) and a clothing store.
I had a visceral reaction. My stomach sank. And I got a little angry. Yes, I knew it was coming. Yes, I knew MLSE had sold out to Loblaws (so Ryerson University couldn’t use it solely as a hockey rink, which is on the third floor of the building). I knew the building was going to be a travesty and offend the sensibilities of a generation of Leafs fans. But I wasn’t expecting to react as violently as I did.
What was worse was that down Aisle 25: International Foods the Loblaws folks have painted a red circle between the soy sauce and canned mushrooms. That’s centre ice. That’s where I made my beeline to. Where most people I saw did. Some went to see the sitting area at the front of the store with authentic MLG seats. Some went to see the blue maple leaf hanging above the escalator made of original seats. Some just came it to gawk. Some just to shop.
The store boasts some fairly interesting features: a fresh food hall, the aforementioned wall of cheese, tea emporium, a station where chocolate gets chisled off a giant block to order, big artisan bakery, sushi, omelette station and cooking school. All very cool, very appropriate features to have in a major city supermarket. But all that razzmatazz couldn’t remove the bad taste from my mouth that a building so sacred and so cherished could be turned into such a bastardized corporate symbol.
Yes, I know the Gardens got a better treatment than historical arenas of yore that met with a wrecking ball or bulldozer. But for a building so iconic (it’s on the freaking Conn Smythe trophy!) to become so…tainted is just not right.
If Ryerson University would have been allowed to make it into their fitness facility, the integrity of the arena would have been kept. The history could have been maintained. The purpose still there. The ghosts could have still roamed the halls. Instead, they are relegated to the top floor so MLSE could make a pocketful of money.
The whole arena could have been made an adjunct of the Hockey Hall of Fame. It could have been a wonderful relic to hold on to, for history and for future generations to appreciate. I am not anti-progress, though. I understand that if we kept every historical building we’d live in the shit. But such an icon to be gutted so some cheesy wares can be hocked?
I’ll have detractors to this idea. I’ll have supporters. But I cannot accept selling out history for profit. So is the way these days though, eh? The Air Canada Centre is a lovely arena. I have memories there too.
But there is nothing special about it. It’s a functional building, of stone, glass, metal…. It’s devoid of the magic.
The marquee outside even says Maple Leafs Gardens. But it certainly is not. The Carton Street Cashbox name can still hang around though. But for the completely wrong reason.
Follow Andrew on twitter and walk down memory lane together: @manbearpiglpu