Fate of Toronto hockey shrine remains unclear

It has stood at the corner of Carlton and Church streets since 1931 and until 1999 it was the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After Maple Leaf Gardens was sold by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in 2003 its future as a hockey shrine came into question. This question was only magnified when its new owner, Loblaw’s, decided to change its use as a hockey rink and instead put in a new Real Canadian Superstore.

Now a heritage lobby group worries that any future plans may not include the preservation of the last standing original six building.

“Loblaw’s has plans to open one of its stores in the building,” executive director of Heritage Toronto Peggy Mooney said. “Our obvious preference would be that Loblaw’s honour the history of this site in any of their future plans.”

In early 2007 the city of Toronto approved minor interior demolition of the arena. Loblaw’s original plan was to have two levels of parking and then have the superstore above, but the company scrapped the plan in November, 2007, citing a poor financial situation.

Loblaw’s plans to restart demolition and renovation of the building in spring 2008, with a grand opening date of summer 2009.

When the sale originally took place MLSE offered to sell the property but only to a party who would not use the building to directly compete with the Air Canada Centre.

This prevented the only other serious bidder, owner of the Ottawa Senators and the St. Michael’s Majors, Eugene Melnyk, from purchasing the arena. While Melnyk agreed to not host concerts, he did plan to use it as the new arena for the OHL’s Majors. Loblaw’s offered no competition for MLSE.

Another potential use was pitched by former Toronto mayor John Sewell, who wanted to use the building as an arena, but for the Ryerson University hockey team, whose campus is located close to the Gardens.

“I don’t have any new information about what Loblaw’s wants to do with it,” Sewell said. “Loblaw’s sponsored a design in 2004 but hasn’t disclosed its actual plans.”

While Loblaw’s has been tight lipped about the future of Maple Leaf Gardens and the preservation of this historic building is no longer the responsibility of the city, there is still the appetite to maintain its history.”

“The heritage conservation principles that Heritage Toronto has adopted dictate that we prefer that Loblaw’s protect the heritage in any planning and design context.” Mooney said.

The Gardens will no longer be used for skating of any kind as the rink itself was the first to go, but Loblaw’s has suggested it would maintain the front lobby and convert it into a Toronto Maple Leafs museum. Yet with no official plan on the record this could well change.