Bulletin No. 1

September 4, 2007

Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens is a group dedicated to help protect the interior and exterior character of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, a building which has played a significant role in the collective memory of many Canadians. Our web site is http://friendsofmapleleafgardens.ca .

In this issue:
1. A serious threat to the Gardens future
2. Goals of Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens
3. Structure of our group
4. Report on April 14 public forum on The Future of the Gardens
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. A serious threat to the Gardens future
On April 15, the day after the successful public meeting on the future of the Gardens, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment announced it was completing an arrangement to sell the Gardens to Loblaws for a food store.

This represents a serious threat to the integrity and character of the Gardens. Plans are not yet available, so it is unclear exactly what is proposed, although it seems unlikely that Loblaws will create a store which preserves the hockey rink and allows it to be used for hockey, or maintains the interior volume of the interior. Apparently a contract between Loblaws and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will not be signed until sometime in June.

Our Committee is in its formative stages, following the April 14 meeting, but we will devise a strategy as quickly as possible and let everyone know about it when it is prepared. In all likelihood, the strategy will in the early stages be directed at getting information from the two companies and trying to get them to engage in public discussion; and it will then involve city councilors, since the structure is designated as of architectural and cultural importance. That designation gives council some leverage, even if it only permits council to stop alterations for a six month period.

In the interim, we suggest the following:

If you are attending a Leaf Game, be sure to bring in a banner under you coat saying ‘Save the Gardens’ or whatever, and unfurl it so it is picked up by television cameras.

Write letters to the editor about the importance of saving the Gardens – there are lots of good ideas found in the minutes of the April 14 meeting in this Bulletin.

Contact the mayor and councilors to let them know your opinions. Email addresses and phone numbers can be found at http://www.toronto.ca and click on ‘Mayor’ and ‘Council.’
2. Goals of Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens
The April 14 public meeting was the kick off for the group Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens. When it was clear there was significant interest in protecting the Gardens, those of us who organized the meeting (the April 14 date was set in mid-March, long before the play-off schedule was determined) then met to decide on the goals for the group and the structure. We agreed to the following purposes of our group:

To protect the skin, the roof, the gondolas, the rink and the unobstructed interior volume of Maple Leaf Gardens.

To create as much public support as possible for the protection of these elements of the Gardens.

To create public support for proposals which recognize these goals.

To strenuously oppose any proposed uses which interfere with the elements listed above.

To pressure Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment into public acknowledgement of the need to protect all aspects of the building.

Our preferred primary use of Maple Leaf Gardens is as a place for hockey and other sports.
3. Structure of our group
We agreed we should have a steering group which is broadly based and includes a number of different interests and skills. It should consist of no more than 15 or 16 people. (Members of the group will be published in the next Bulletin.) Activities of the members of the steering group should be characterized as supportive and collaborative of each other, infused with as much consultation as possible about important decisions.

We should seek to attract a large number of members of the public to be registered with us electronically, and should communicate with them regularly by an electronic Bulletin. Currently we have approximately 120 names on the subscription list. We should sponsor periodic public meetings for discussion and political action.

4. Report on April 14 public forum on The Future of the Gardens
Report on the public meeting held on Wednesday, April 14, 2004, 7:30 p.m. at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Toronto

Moderator: Phyllis Lambert, CC, OAL, FRAIC, founding director and chair of the Board of Trustees, Canadian Centre for Architecture. Speakers:

Lisa Rochon, architecture columnist and critic for the Globe and Mail, and author of an upcoming book on the significance of modern Canadian architecture, to be published by Key Porter Books in the Fall 2005.

Christopher Hume, architectural critic and urban affairs commentator for the Toronto Star.

Michael Hollett, publisher of the Toronto weekly NOW Magazine, and an avid amateur hockey player.

Senator Frank Mahovlich has had a long and successful career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. He was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1998.

Jack Diamond, Toronto architect with the firm Diamond and Schmitt. He is the designer of the Four Seasons Opera Centre, now under construction at Queen Street and University Avenue.
About 200 people were in attendance – a larger number given that the fourth play-off game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators was being played at the same time.

Moderator Phyllis Lambert began by saying that wisdom comes from people who live in cities and who care about cities, not from bureaucrats. The question is how we keep the memories of who we are as Canadians, memories that are tied up in buildings. The Montreal Forum is eviscerated by its current uses and the other four original hockey palaces have been demolished.

The architects of the Gardens, the Montreal firm of Ross and Macdonald, were very careful to make sure that they designed facilities in the building with which woman were comfortable and so they would be encouraged to go to the Gardens, as indeed they did. (The same architectural firm also designed the Royal York Hotel and Eaton College Street.) There are no huge spaces like the Gardens left in Toronto and the purpose of the meeting is for people to come up with good ideas of how we can use and keep it.

Lisa Rochon began by noting that the Gardens, a cathedral of hockey, is a magnificent container of collective memory, as all important architecture is. The memory is about the sounds of the Gardens – the slap shots against the boards, Foster Hewitt’s voice reaching into homes across the country; it is about crowds on the sidewalk around the Gardens where there was no space for personal body language; it is about the smell of hotdogs; and the rivalry between the Leafs and the Canadiens.

How much is this building and these memories worth to Toronto and to Canada? Ken Dryden and architect Frank Gehry looked closely at the Gardens in 2000 and three developers produced some ideas, but nothing happened with the site. We must retain the extraordinary roof, and probably keep the ice. The building is difficult to convert because it has no windows.

No one could stand the pain of seeing the building hurt; it would be better to demolish it than have that happen. There probably is not much public money available for restoration – the federal government gives only $10 million a year for renovations of buildings across the whole country.

Here are three ideas on which one could move forward: First, the status quo would be to keep the Gardens as a hockey and concert venue. Second, it could be a new institution of some kind, such as a skills centre for hockey and other sports. Third, the building could become a major cultural institution like the Tate Modern in London, with an extraordinary sculpture gallery hung from the roof. (If the Art Gallery of Ontario is not interested in this idea someone else should be brought in to look at it.)

Frank Mahovlich began by thanking people for caring about the building. Connie Smythe got money to build the Gardens from J.P. Bickell, who also happened to build the arena in Schumacher in Northern Ontario where Frank grew up and first played. Bickell also gave money to build the Toronto General Hospital where Frank recuperated from hockey injuries.

We must keep the memory of Foster Hewitt and Connie Smythe. It was the railways and Foster Hewitt which have held the country together.

Frank recalled playing in the Detroit Olympia where he scored his first goal, an egg-shaped red brick building which has been demolished . He scored his first hat trick in Chicago Stadium which had an ice surface 5-10 feet wider than other rinks. It too is demolished. He was unclear as to what use could be put to the building and wondered whether affordable housing would be a possibility.

Christopher Hume began by saying that personally he never much liked the building but he believes it has played a large part in the city’s history and deserves respect. The problem is that the current owners do not want to use it as a rink and given the weak heritage legislation in Ontario, the owners can do what they want unless there is a significant expression of outrage, as there was about plans to demolish Old City Hall and Union Station. What is needed is a palpable anger so that owners realize they have a public obligation to retain the structure.

At the moment the best scenario seems to be a Loblaws. There are worse fates for a building that to be a supermarket.

Michael Hollett began with his personal memories of the Gardens: sitting in the Greens with his eyes stinging from cigarette smoke; being terrified at the urine troughs. As an adult, when he had tickets close to the ice, he could smell the players, and he attended many good concerts there. At the last hockey game in the Gardens he stayed at the very end, climbed onto the Zamboni and was finally chased out of the Gardens by security guards, which he thought was an appropriate way to leave. He also remembers the sad story of Martin Kruze who was molested in the Gardens (and after exposing his own story, took his own life.) We must do right to the boys who were done wrong there – and that is by keeping it as a hockey rink, not like the Montreal Forum which is now like a glorified mall.

We need hockey ice downtown. Eugene Melnyk made an offer to buy the building for use as a hockey rink and that’s the best plan. Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment are being greedy by not allowing this plan to happen. It is an example – and he asked to be excused for using the words – of `monopoly capitalism’ gone mad. The Air Canada Centre has lots of bookings. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owes Toronto a lot and has much to atone for. We have to force Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to allow the Gardens to continue as a hockey rink.

Jack Diamond said the country needs mythology to have a sense of itself, and buildings play a large role in that . We must realize the role of sports in our culture which is attractive to people because of two principles – rules must be obeyed, and merit means a lot. These principles are important for many people who feel they have been treated unfairly by society. The adherence to rules and the reward of merit makes sport very attractive.

In Toronto we do not have many large gathering spaces, places that hold 20,000 people. We must retain this interior space and we can do it by stressing both continuity and change. It could become a headquarters for the Cirque de Soleil which already has venues in three other cities. It could continue as a hockey rink and a centre for amateur sports. It might become a central library. We should consider putting in glass on the roof.

Phyllis Lambert stated that the key issue here seems to be to keep the structure in the public realm and to define the most important aspects of this building.

About two dozen people from the audience put forward their ideas and views in the public discussion portion of the meeting. Some suggested that the site should be used for affordable housing, others suggested there were other sites for affordable housing and that it as not a question of either/or, but both. Some talked of converting it to public market space, a business centre, a museum, or a gallery. Some thought it should be sports related, maybe bringing in Ryerson University, the University or Toronto and York University, and using it as a training facility. There was a suggestion it should be a national museum for hockey, or an opera house.

The key thing people seemed to agree on is the importance of the interior of the structure, and that saving Maple Leaf Gardens is mostly concerned about the extraordinary interior space and the activities that could happen in it.

The meeting concluded at 9.30 pm.

5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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