June 7, 2006
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 ishttp://friendsofmapleleafgardens.ca .
1. June 8 Community Council meeting
The Toronto South Community Council will be meeting to discuss the Loblaws’ proposal for Maple Leaf Gardens at 4:00 p.m., Tuesday June 8. It meets in Committee Room 2, Second Floor, City Hall, and is open to the public. The Council encourages people to make presentations to it and, while you can simply show up at the meeting, ask to be heard and probably will be heard, the secretary has asked for notification by noon on Monday, June 7. Presentations are limited to five minutes. (For contact details, see below.)
It is critical that as many people as possible write letters to the Community Council to express their concerns, and that as many people as possible show up in person to speak. The Community Council must be made aware that many people care about preserving the Gardens.
2. The argument for the Gardens
The Community Council must take into account the bigger picture of the importance of Maple Leaf Gardens as a hockey rink.
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The Preservation Board did not really have that as an option when it considered Loblaws application a month ago. It was asked to assess Loblaws application – the only formal proposal for the building – to use the Gardens as a grocery store. The proposal met many of the criteria important to the Preservation Board, such as keeping the outside structure of the building which Loblaws enhanced by proposing to commemorate the history of the building in some way. But the Board couldn’t see how it could grapple with the most important issue, that of maintaining the use of the building.
Community Council has the opportunity to do what the Preservation Board couldn’t do – find a way to keep the Gardens in use as a hockey rink. Before the city decides to give up on Maple Leaf Gardens and accept second best, it should give the Gardens another 3 months in which it and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and the citizens of Toronto look for the best solution.
Maple Leaf Gardens as a hockey rink is the single most identifiable aspect of the City of Toronto to the rest of the world. It is unequalled in its power to connect to people all over the world, across Canada, across the GTA and across the city itself. If you were branding Toronto, the first thing you would mention is Maple Leaf Gardens.
Toronto South Community Council must stand up and declare it wants to explore how to keep the Gardens as a hockey rink – for the sake of the city and for the sake of our community. For example, it should check out Mr. Melnyk’s offer and satisfy itself that everything possible has been done to give it a chance.
Remember that City Council’s decision in 1990 to designate the building is first and foremost because of its use and legendary status as a hockey rink.
Retaining the Gardens as a rink also responds to the needs of downtown neighbourhoods. The downtown is desperate for more ice, and there is a paucity of covered ice rinks to which kids and other teams can have access. There are already many grocery stores downtown where people can shop. Another one is always nice, but a grocery store can never strengthen the community like keeping Maple Leaf Gardens as a hockey rink will.
3. The technical problem
Unfortunately, the Ontario Heritage Act makes it clear that if a decision is not made on an application with 90 days, then it is deemed to be approved. In this case, the 90 days starts to run from April 22. This means that the community council cannot simply defer the matter for a month or two to explore alternatives – that would mean the Loblaws application would be approved by default. The only effective way to seriously explore better uses of Maple Leaf Gardens is to refuse the Loblaws’ application at this time. The Community Council must reject the Loblaws application in order to be able to look at better options. If after a few months it can’t find better options, it can always ask Loblaws to make the same application again.
4. Writing letters to the Community Council
Please write to the members of the Toronto South Community Council for its meeting on June 8, 2004. Letters should be addressed to: Frances Pritchard, Secretary, Toronto South Community Council, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org , Tel: 416-392 7033
Two simple argument to make are:
a) The 1990 decision by City Council to designate Maple Leaf Gardens says the first reason the building is important is because of what happened inside. It says:
“Maple Leaf Gardens since its construction in 193l has been the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, where radio coverage of Hockey Night In Canada began and was broadcast by Foster Hewitt for almost 50 years. As well it has been the arena for a variety of events and public gatherings, including the protect rallies of the Depression, skating carnivals, the circus, the opera, concerts and numerous sports events.”
The Loblaws’ current proposal does not continue this heritage – it replaces it with a food store. If we spend more time, surely we can do better.
b) The Toronto South Community Council must make a decision on the Loblaws application within 90 days to prevent it being approved by default. It should reject the Loblaws’ proposal and agree to look for uses that respect and continue the heritage of Maple Leaf Gardens as a hockey rink. If the Toronto South Community Council takes a leadership role, there is some possibility it can happen. This magnificent structure can be protected so that the memories and dreams are not wiped out but are continued.
5. A Statement in Support of the Gardens by Dan Diamond I am a Friend of Maple Leaf Gardens. I have made my living writing, editing and publishing books about hockey for more than 20 years. The core of my business is hockey’s statistical bible, an annual called the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, but I feel particularly fortunate to have had the chance to edit a commemorative book called Maple Leaf Gardens, Memories and Dreams that was issued to mark the closing of the arena in 1999.
This book was more than a trip down memory lane, in that it attempted to explore the significant role the building played in Toronto’s cityscape and Canada’s psyche. The Gardens was home to six-day bicycle races, track meets, rodeos, religious revivals and political conventions. It hosted the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Metropolitan Opera, cavalcades of various nationalities’ pop stars and the Beatles. The phrase “Elvis has left the building” was coined in the Gardens.
Nationally and internationally, it was Foster Hewitt, hockey’s grand master of the Gondola, who made the building come alive to hundreds of thousands of listeners who never got a chance to see it, much less watch a game from inside it, in their lives.
An article written in 1998 states, “Toronto tourism officials are asked for direction to the Gardens more than to any other site, and with good reason: the home of the Maple Leafs has changed little since it was first built in 1931.”
And that is why the opportunity we have today — to see Maple Leaf Gardens re-commissioned as a special place devoted to growing all aspects of the game of hockey — soars beyond a debate over local land use. We’re talking about the best kind of heritage preservation – not a static museum, but a vibrant working space that earns its keep by contributing mightily to the community, the GTA and Canada.
The game of hockey has plenty of flaws, but in its purest form, it offers us a noble metaphor of courage, skill and teamwork. These are the same qualities that were required to realize the landmark achievements in heritage preservation and citizen activism in modern Toronto. Plans for Old City Hall would have left only the clock tower in an open square at Bay and Queen; the Spadina Expressway was actually being built when citizens made their stand, and the bridge to the Island Airport precipitated a sea change at City Hall that will be studied in political science classes for generations.
In every case, and in many smaller ones over the years as well, enough people made their feelings known to influence politicians and developers.
In this same way, the people of Toronto – working together – can contribute to a re-vitalization of Maple Leaf Gardens, complete with a community rink, Sports Hall of Fame and centre for hockey excellence and diversity.
Four of the Original Six NHL arenas are gone. The grand Montreal Forum is a disappointing multiplex cinema and arcade. Only Maple Leaf Gardens is still standing, still viable and, with all of our help right now, is ready to resume its role as one of Toronto and Canada’s most significant buildings.
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