Monday, December 12, 2011

Maple Leaf Gardens: A Mysterious Disappearance

Last week, I met a friend at the Loblaws store in Maple Leaf Gardens for a beverage prior to proceeding to a function held downtown.

While waiting outside, I walked around the building to observe any changes since the opening last month. From a construction point-of-view, most of the work is now restricted to the Wood Street side.

As the above photo reveals, interior construction is now in progress on the third floor. Scaffolding and debris removal equipment extend to the upper level just east of the delivery bay. The space is being renovated to house the hockey rink and athletic facility for Ryerson University.

Making my rounds, something didn't look right as I walked along Carlton Street. I had more time to digest the exterior alterations, as my last visit focused on the Loblaws opening and the brilliant retro marquee. After pacing back and forth several times in front of 60 Carlton, I came to the conclusion my eyes were not deceiving me. The object of my search was nowhere to be found. Then, questions started filtering through my thought process. Where did it go? Was it damaged? What would the motive be to abandon or cover-up such an important part of history?

Anytime I strolled past Maple Leaf Gardens, I would take the time to glance down and look at the lower portion of the building at one particular spot. The approximate location was a short distance away from the intersection of Church and Carlton. During my visit last week, I discovered the cornerstone had vanished quicker than a Charlie Conacher blast off the right wing.

The unveiling of the cornerstone took place on the afternoon of September 21, 1931. The list of hockey people attending the dedication was impressive. In addition to J.P. Bickell, Conn Smythe and the rest of the Gardens Board of Directors, the National Hockey League was represented by president Frank Calder. On hand were executives from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and the Ontario Hockey Association. Also, local hockey organizations attended the festivities. The ceremonial honours went to Lieutenant-Governor W.D. Ross.

Speaking to the Lieutenant-Governor, Bickell told those assembled that Maple Leaf Gardens "might be regarded as a civic institution rather than a commercial venture, because its object is to foster and promote the healthy recreation of the people of this British and sport-loving city."

Bickell's wish for the use and heritage of the building certainly has survived the ravages of time. Sure, the Gardens has been referred to as the Cash Box on Carlton Street during the Harold Ballard era, but no building in the city of Toronto has been so loved by its citizens. For that matter, the entire Nation. Many visiting Toronto would make the hockey palace their first stop when heading out to explore their surroundings. Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Foster Hewitt, it became a Canadian Institution.

As the long crowds waiting outside for the opening of Loblaws would indicate, the Gardens hasn't lost its luster to be a major attraction. Taking into account the words spoken by J.P. Bickell, the building will be experiencing the best of two worlds, commercial and civic, once the renovations have been completed. The retail outlets being the commercial aspect of the new venture and Ryerson being the civic side. Although it will no longer house an NHL squad, there is little doubt many of the curious will converge on the site to view the Ryerson Rams performing under the original domed roof. If Loblaws is a major draw, one can only imagine the impact and demand for tickets to sit and once again watch hockey action in this iconic structure.

As for the present status of the cornerstone, one can only hope it hasn't fallen victim to a construction mishap or neglect. It was alarming to see the area in question encased in cement, but this casing could have been put in place to protect the cornerstone during the construction phase. Also, there could be a concerted effort to keep it out of public view and out of the reach of vandals. If this is so, it doesn't make much sense. For 80-years it has been in place and visible to all who desired to inspect it.

Early in the process, the cornerstone was boxed in by wooden planks to shelter it from work being conducted. As same was completed, the cornerstone reappeared, however, is once again hidden from view. The above noted photo of the cornerstone was taken on January 3, 2011.

The photo below, showing the spot in question guarded from the elements, was shot on September 25, 2010.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. The cornerstone will be presented in a prominent spot in the new Ryerson rink on top of MLG when it opens in spring 2012.

    Daniel .. Toronto, Canada


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