Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Return to Glory

While walking downtown on a sunny fall afternoon, I was mysteriously pulled to the left at the corner of Yonge and Carlton Street. As I slowly drifted along Carlton, I wondered how many times I made this trip to one of Canada's most famous structures - The cash box on Carlton, 60 Carlton Street, MLG - Maple Leaf Gardens, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs (1931-1999).

This original Six building made news last December (2009) with the announcement that a joint renovation project was being undertaken by Loblaw Co. Ltd. and Ryerson University. The interior is being completely gutted, but hockey will return. A rink is being installed on the top floor which will serve as the new home for the Ryerson Rams. Another bonus for hockey fans will be a museum dedicated to Maple Leaf Gardens and Toronto Maple Leafs memorabilia.

My stroll along Carlton Street took me past some long standing buildings on the north side. In Particular, the Toronto Hydro Building and the Odeon Theatre which has gone through several transformations as a movie house. The City Directory for 1933 reveals that Canadian Dairies was situated at 8 Carlton, with the next entry being "Toronto Hydro Under Construction".

Current address of Toronto Hydro on Carlton

Plaque honouring JJ Wright, Electrical Inventor

A review of the City Directory for 1934 provides some valuable background as to the "lay of the land" concerning Maple Leaf Gardens in the early years.

#42 Olympia Recreation Club
#44 Maple Leaf Gardens side entrance
#46 Vacant
#50 Happy Day Pharmacy Ltd. Drugs
#60 Maple Leaf Gardens main entrance
#62 Love & Bennett Sporting GDS
#66 Vacant

#438 United Cigar Store
#440-444 Maple Leaf Gardens
#446 Connor JJ Beauty Parlour Supplies
#448-456 Vacant (5) Opportunity Shop Junior League Used Clothing
#460-464 Maple Leaf Gardens side entrance
#466 Vacant

Of note, the Happy Day Pharmacy was operated by then Leaf defenceman and captain Hap Day. The Love & Bennett Sporting Goods Store provided the Leafs with hockey sticks, and their stamp can often be seen in vintage photos taken during that era. Also, United Cigar Store right at the corner of Church and Carlton, is visible in many of the early photographs.

As I approached Maple Leaf Gardens, something made me stop dead in my tracks. It hits you as hard as a Bobby Baun bodycheck. The degree of construction going on around the hockey palace that Conn Smythe and friends built has not been this immense since 1931.

Corner of Church and Carlton 1931
Corner of Church and Carlton 2010

Marquee view
Cornerstone blocked by construction material
Notice of construction signage
 A majority of the exterior on Carlton and Church is enclosed behind scaffolding. A layer of green mesh surrounds the scaffolding. The only view of substance concerning the architectural attributes long associated with MLG, comes at the main entrance. The rich blend of Art Deco (vertical windows) and Art Moderne (horizontal designs) styles is front and centre. The yellow bricks give the exterior a very distinguished look. The artificial stone trim which appears in three different locations. The marquee with silver lettering against a blue background spelling out "Maple Leaf Gardens".

It was a very strange feeling to see the building in this state. The section along Church Street could fool the naked eye. A quick glance gives the impression that you are not looking at the Gardens. All you see is scaffolding.

The second reaction had a nostalgic feel to it. Is this how things looked in 1931 during the construction period? My imagination ran rampant as visions of the photographs taken by the architectural firm throughout the summer and fall of 1931 filled my head. I recalled seeing recent images of the interior when seats were removed. The process of of taking a step backwards and revealing the concrete fittings prior to the original seats being installed in '31. For these reasons alone, I was so happy I made the detour along Carlton Street. My memories of the Gardens as home of the Blue & White tucked safely away in my memory vault. Also, though in an altered condition, pleased that the building would survive and have a future.

Here is an interesting fact relating to the north-west (Maple Leaf Gardens) and south-west (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) corner of Church and Carlton.

Bank of Commerce Building

Corner of Church and Carlton. Looking north along Church St.

The bank is first listed in the 1931 City Directory at 436 Church Street. Maple Leaf Gardens first appears in the 1932 Directory. For 79 years these two neighbours have stood tall and remained intact. How many intersections framed by commercial (not government) properties in downtown Toronto can match or beat this record of of continued coexistence?

Hopefully, with new life being put into 60 Carlton Street, the same can be said for many generations to come.

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