Toronto Maple Leafs: Back to the Old School, Cashbox Memories


The Toronto Maple Leafs long history has seen many memorable players and moments through the years. While players and games hold a place in the heart of fans for a lifetime, there is also a special place held for the place where many of those memories were brought to life.

Maple Leaf Gardens was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs and more beginning in 1931 with a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Over 67 years later the Leafs left the Garden ice a final time on February 13, 1999 losing once more to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Maple Leaf Gardens was Conn Smythe’s baby. Understanding the popularity his team was gaining, he saw that the 8,000 capacity at Arena Gardens was not going to cut it. Purchasing land at the corner of Carlton and Church Street, Smythe was able to get financial backing through shares of stock in the Maple Leaf Gardens Limited.

Construction was completed in 1931 on what was the largest arena in Canada at the time. With a seating capacity of nearly 12,500 and additional standing room taking the capacity to 14,550, a hockey cathedral was born. The Toronto Maple Leafs would give the Gardens a proper welcome by bringing home the Stanley Cup that season on home ice over the New York Rangers.

Another 10 Stanley Cups would find their way home to the Gardens by 1967. As Leafs fans are well aware of, post 1967 has not been kind to the Maple Leaf legacy, but the cashbox at Carlton would still provide the setting for some incredible players and performances.

Over the years, the Maple Leaf Gardens was the home to legends such as Ace Bailey, Syl Apps, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, Bjore Salming, Mats Sundin and many, many others who suited up in blue and white. The list of memories created in the building is even longer.

Maple Leaf Gardens was also the home to Foster Hewitt and his Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts. From the “Gondola”, Hewitt brought the action on the ice alive for fans listening on the radio. Eventually those broadcasts would grow into the world of television.

Sadly, the “Gondola” was removed by Harold Ballard in 1979 during one of several updates to the arena to make way for private boxes. At its max capacity the Gardens held a little over 16,000 fans in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Gardens would go on to house a rebirth of sorts for the Maple Leafs, as the team rose to be successful in the 1990’s coming up short a few times in their bid to make it back to the Stanley Cup finals.

After seeing the Maple Leafs move on to the Air Canada Centre in 1999, the Gardens spent time in limbo as MLSE looked for what they deemed as a suitable buyer. Maple Leaf Gardens is now known as the Mattamy Athletic Centre. It has an ice rink with seating capacity short of 3,000, multipurpose basketball and volleyball courts along with a gym and other items.

Outside the Toronto Maple Leafs, the arena housed some of the biggest names and events in the world. Concerts by Elvis, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra to name a few. Events like Wrestlemania, Muhammad Ali – George Chuvalo heavyweight title fight, and of course game two of the 1972 Summit Series. No stage or person was too big for the Gardens.

In 2007 Maple Leaf Gardens was recognized as a National Historic Site of Canada. This move should be no surprise as history was made there in many ways.

Next: Toronto Maple Leafs: Back to the Old School: Happy Birthday Bull

The Gardens was more than an arena. For those who entered its doors, listened to Hewitt’s play by play, or watched on the television from afar, the Gardens was a cathedral of hockey, a holy shrine of blue and white. It was the house of dreams for hockey hopefuls and the box of memories for Maple Leaf fans. As time continues to slip on, may her memories continue to live on.