History of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto
One of the most storied and historic buildings in the city of Toronto, Maple Leaf Gardens was built to host ice hockey games. In recent years, it has since been rebuilt to serve other functions. Today, it is a multi-purpose facility with retail space on the lower floors, and an athletic center. It is an icon and it is consider one of the cathedrals of professional hockey.
The Early Years
Maple Leaf Gardens officially opened in November of 1931, with the hometown Maple Leafs losing to the Chicago Black Hawks in a close game. Later that month, the facility hosted its first wrestling match, with the world champion Jim Londos as the headliner of the main event. It attracted over 15,000 people.
In 1946, the Maple Leaf Gardens played host to the first game, of what later became the National Basketball Association (NBA). In that contest, the hometown Toronto Huskies played the Knickerbockers of New York City. The franchise folded the next year, and it would be decades more before an NBA franchise returned to the city.
The Maple Leaf Gardens was also a leader in hockey safety, as it was the first arena to have plexiglass installed in the ends of the rink behind the goals. A land mark concert took place on April 2, 1957, when Elvis Presley played one of his first concerts outside of the United States here.
1960’s – 1970’s
In 1961, the Maple Leaf Gardens were sold to a three person partnership. They added close to 1,000 seats to the facility and a private club. Even more seats were added over the decade, and this was done by making all of the seats more narrow. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was even removed to make room for more seats.
And these moves payed off in a big way, as every game from 1946 to 1999 was sold out. Adding to the profitability was the fact the Beatles made a stop here in all three of their North American tours, in 1964, 1965, and 1966.
Sellout crowds for ice hockey continued, even though the team went through a long decline in this period. It continued to be a popular venue for wrestling, with sellout crowds for championship matches. It also continued to be a popular venue for some world-class music acts, as the decade of the 70’s saw appearances by ABBA, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springstein and the E Street Band.
In 1984, the Maple Leaf Garden was the location where the live part of Duran Duran’s The Reflex music video was filmed. In 1988, it played host to the legendary Amnesty International Human Rights Now Benefit Concert. Among those playing on the bill included Sting, Tracy Chapman, and Peter Gabriel.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs left the building in 1999 for a newer facility, it is still a popular venue to this day for concerts, and it has athletic facilities for Ryerson University, including an NHL-size ice rink that can seat close to 3,000 guests for games.
It continues to this day to be a popular tourist stop for visitors to the city even though it is now a common destination for grocery shoppers due to its transformation into a market.