There’s life in the old guy yet.
I’m referring to Maple Leaf Gardens.
When the Air Canada Centre was opened in early 1999, the Maple Leafs were moved there and the Gardens was locked down. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment didn’t want competition with the ACC, so purchasers for the Gardens were told the place couldn’t continue as an ice rink.
In 2004, Loblaws agreed to buy the Gardens for $13 million to make it a giant grocery store. This is probably the most well-known and loved building in Canada, called by one author “the cathedral of Canadian hockey in its golden age.” The mayor and city council were asked to ensure an ice rink would continue, but the politicians almost unanimously sided with Loblaws.
But no one has been able to figure out how to economically renovate the structure for a grocery store, and the building has sat vacant and locked tight on Carlton Street for 10 years. People say it could become the centre for women’s hockey in Eastern Canada, a hockey rink for Ryerson University, and a city rink for people who live downtown — while at the same time incorporating a Loblaws and other shops.
But the company has been unwilling to talk.
Except now there’s a breakthrough. Starting early next month, CBC Television will be filming a seven-week special called Battle of the Blades, which will take place on Maple Leaf Gardens ice.
The program apparently pairs hockey players and figure skaters. There will be a live studio audience — although it will be at a remote location, not in the Gardens since most of the seats have been removed.
But the ice is still there, and the building will again spring to some kind of life. Maybe Loblaws can help see the Gardens reborn for its original use — an ice rink.
The Maple Leafs have gone for good to the ACC, but there are others who could make good use of the place as an ice rink.
It would be dynamite if Maple Leaf Gardens once again became a public venue.