Description of Historic Place
Maple Leaf Gardens National Historic Site of Canada, located at the intersection of Carlton and Church streets in downtown Toronto, was originally a state-of-the-art yellow-brick indoor arena built to house the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. Constructed with a post-and-beam rectangular concrete frame and slab floor, its simple aesthetic draws on Art Deco and Art Moderne styles of streamlined form and decorative geometrics. Its stone-faced brick façades rise 27 metres in height, with its verticality emphasized by simple geometric shapes carved into the stone. Its clear-span rectangular domed roof extends the building’s height an additional 19 metres above street level. Functional requirements, rather than attention to architectural details, resulted in a solidly built arena enjoyed by spectators for 68 years. Official recognition refers to the building and its site at the time of designation.
Maple Leaf Gardens was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2006 because:
- one of the most renowned "shrines" in the history of hockey and home to the Toronto Maple Leafs for sixty-eight years, it was associated with many of professional hockey's legendary players and with many of the game's most exciting and exhilarating moments;
- the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country's foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera at a time when no other indoor location in Toronto could accommodate such large numbers; and,
- the Gardens holds a special place in the country's popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.
Maple Leaf Gardens, built in 1931 as a large-capacity arena for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, has maintained its iconic status as Canada’s “cathedral of hockey,” despite the departure of the Maple Leafs to a new arena. The Gardens was built by workers paid in company stock, providing an incentive for a quick delivery. Breaking ground in April, the arena was complete only eight months later. The inaugural game between the Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks played to a full house of 13, 233 spectators. With the Leafs capturing the Stanley Cup the following year, they quickly became the league’s foremost team during the pre-expansion period. The Leafs won 6 Stanley Cups between 1941 and 1951, dominating the game. The team’s association with the arena made it a revered hockey shrine, both through domestic competition between its home team and their arch rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, and also internationally, through Team Canada’s 1972 Summit Series victory over the Soviet Union.
The arena was more than a shrine to hockey. It was Canada’s largest indoor venue for cultural, political and religious events for many decades, drawing huge crowds to numerous and memorable moments in Canada’s cultural history. Besides hockey, both professional and amateur, the Gardens also hosted many sporting events, including the famous 1966 boxing match in which Canadian George Chuvalo lost a brutal 15 round decision to Muhammed Ali. While sporting events packed the house throughout the 1930s, the arena soon began hosting other types of events, such as speeches, including Sir Winston Churchill’s 1932 speech on the need to strengthen the British Empire, orchestras, concerts, including two sold out Beatles shows at the height of Beatlemania in 1964, religious gatherings, and political gatherings and rallies, including the country’s largest communist rally, led by Tim Buck, who had recently been released from the Kingston Penitentiary. These early events at the Gardens reflect the social life of Canada and its cultural diversity. More than a hockey arena, it was also a place for popular culture in Canada to evolve.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2006.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location at the prominent intersection of Church Street and Carleton Street;
- its setting in downtown Toronto, along a major streetcar line and subway line;
- its rectangular, 46 metre-high massing and scale, evidence of its capacity to host national sporting events, spectacles and gatherings;
- the integrity of its exterior stone-faced yellow-brick façade, punctuated by Art Deco and Art Moderne features, as illustrated in the symmetrical façades, the varied form on the elevations, the dome with crowning lantern, surface setbacks at top of corners, regular fenestration arrangement and metal sash, the stone banding at the second, sixth and roof levels, stone window spandrels, trim around entrances and former shop fronts, the flagpoles at the roofline, and the simple brickwork patterns with corbelled stringcourses at the corners, around the windows, and on the first floor;
- surviving original fittings, fixtures, fabric, and design components which relate to use by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the period from 1931 to 1999, including original box seats and scoreboard;
- the integrity of its clear-span truss roof structure;
- its continued association with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who now play at the Air Canada Centre, as evidenced by “Maple Leaf Gardens” block lettering on the blue Carlton Street marquee, as well as the blue maple leaf insignia on the white roof.