Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Update: Maple Leaf Gardens

Recently, I received a photo from Michael Forbes who works in the Ryerson Public Affairs office.

Now known as the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, the above photo shows work crews putting down the top layer of cement on the ice rink. Situated on the top floor of the redeveloped structure, the rink is 100-feet below the historic dome and 50-feet above street level.

A first impression? It is amazing, though on a smaller scale, how the Mattamy resembles the "old" Maple Leaf Gardens. It all meshes together - the seating configuration and most important the dome.

How many of us can recall attending our first event at the Gardens and looking upward in awe at the massive amount of steel before our eyes. Straining our necks until they could bend no further, with the wonderful hanging lights coming into view. Then, there was Foster Hewitt's gondola. Our eyes would dart in all directions until it came into focus.

The location of the gondola is a delightful story Foster Hewitt enjoyed telling throughout his life.

At the request of Conn Smythe, Hewitt was involved in the process from the start. He knew he had only one crack at nailing the perfect location and distance for his new broadcasting home.

In the summer of 1931, while construction was ongoing, Hewitt went on a field trip with builder Allan Thomson (Thomson Brothers). Their destination was the Eaton's building on Albert Street, located in the downtown core of Toronto. Both Thomson and Hewitt went from floor to floor, stopping at windows to observe the view.

Writing in his book about Foster Hewitt, Scott Young picks up the story.

By the end of the afternoon the decision had been made. From the fifth floor, Foster could pick out a woman with tight shoes and a man with some distinguishing mark, such as pencils in his pocket or an unbuttoned jacket, could lose them in a crowd and pick them out again without difficulty. The fifth floor of the building was fifty-six feet above the street. Foster decided that his broadcast booth would be fifty-six feet above the ice surface.

As a result of the current transformation, we will now be closer to the space that seemed so, so far away.

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