Conn Smythe decided he needed a new arena to attract a higher class of clientele to the games of his Toronto Maple Leafs. “We need a place where…everything is new and clean," he said, "a place that people can be proud to take their wives or girlfriends to.”
When Smythe asked a local businessman to invest in his arena, the man replied “Don’t you know there’s a depression on?” After construction bids were tendered, the Gardens found itself $250,000 short of financing even with the lowest offer. The way out? Maple Leafs business manager Frank Selke went down to a trades council meeting on Church Street and persuaded the unions that any labourers who worked on the Gardens would receive 20% of their pay in Gardens stock instead of cash.
Maple Leaf Gardens officially opened on November 12, 1931. When the 48th Highlanders and Royal Grenadiers band played “Happy Days are Here Again,” Smythe felt that “the scene was pretty much as I had imagined it in my rosiest dreams.” Maple Leaf Gardens was to be the home of the Leafs for the next 67 years.
As well as hosting hockey, Maple Leaf Gardens also staged wrestling, boxing (including a Muhammad Ali fight in 1966) and concerts. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Luciano Pavarotti and The Beatles all played at the Gardens. Today, the Gardens have been renovated to house Ryerson University's athletic centre and an elaborate Loblaws grocery store. The renovation included the building of an ice rink on the third floor, just below the original Gardens' ceiling.
By James Marsh