Bulletin No. 6

May 8, 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 .

In this issue:

1. The fate of the Gardens is decided

2. Unsuccessful attempts to retain the ice

3. Architectural Display

4. Closing Note

1. The fate of the Gardens is decided

It was known that Toronto City Council would make a decision on July 22 on Loblaws’ application to turn Maple Leaf Gardens into a grocery store.

Before that meeting occurred we had heard reports that Toronto Mayor David Miller was interested in keeping ice in the Gardens and we decided to encourage that interest as much as possible. At the same time it was realized that the earlier interest shown by Eugene Melnyk, Toronto businessman and owner of the Ottawa Senators, was without much substance and that he was not interested in making a firm offer.

One of our members wrote to Mayor Miller in mid-July saying, “We know there are solid arguments from the corporate owners and from Loblaws as to why [the grocery store] is the best option. However, we are hoping that you may want to take time to review the situation and satisfy yourself that the proposal meets your aspirations for the city. It seems to us for one of the important icons in Canada, the proposal does not meet the standards of civic pride of a great city and a great country.”

Another member of our group, Dan Diamond, wrote a piece for the June 16, 2004 op-ed page of the Toronto Star, saying “You can dress up a supermarket and liquor store all you want, but there is no way anyone would claim the resulting development as either passionate, visionary or even remotely good enough. A continued role for hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens demands better, in the form of open-minded innovative big-picture thinking by all concerned…”

Diamond’s article continued, “Recommissioning Maple Leaf Gardens as a special place devoted to growing all aspects of the game of hockey is 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 Greater Toronto Area and Canada.”

These pleas for action had some impact: the Mayor asked to amend the approval by adding a request that Loblaws consider retaining an ice rink. That amendment carried and the Loblaws approval then carried overwhelmingly with only one councillor, Joe Mihevc in opposition.

2. Unsuccessful attempts to retain the ice

Two different kinds of initiatives were made after the Council meeting trying to get Loblaws to seriously consider retaining the ice as requested by Council. Dan Diamond met with one of the Mayor’s assistants, Cara O’Hagan, to show how the Loblaws store and an ice rink could happily co-exist. Dan proposed that the Loblaws store be built on the bottom two floors of Maple Leaf Gardens and that a new ice surface and 5000 seats be located over the second level of the store, under the dome. This can be done because of advances in rink construction and ice-making technologies that do not involve such heavy loads and thus can easily be put on the top of two levels of grocery store. As Dan stated, “The new rink sitting on the top of this configuration would take advantage of the vast vaulted ceiling of the Gardens despite being located higher up in the building. This new rink would have the memorable feel of the older Gardens. A modern interpretation of the old SporTimer four-sided clock would contribute to the sense of scale. In no way would this rink be any sort of generic arena that just happens to be located at Church and Carlton. ”

A full copy of Dan Diamond’s proposal to combine a Loblaws store and an ice rink can be seen at the end of this newsletter.

On behalf of the Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens, Dan asked the Mayor’s office to help undertake an engineering feasibility study to investigate this kind of proposal, at a cost of less than $10,000. The Mayor’s office was not willing to pay for this study. The Mayor’s office also reported to us that he followed up with calls to Loblaws and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but was told that retaining a rink was not feasible. We are unaware of any further efforts on the mayor’s part.

The second initiative was through former Mayor David Crombie. Crombie has been retained by Loblaws to recommend what Loblaws should do by way of commemorating the Gardens through photographs or whatever once it has been transformed to a grocery store. Diamond met with Crombie and his assistant, Jeff Evanson. They promised to share the proposal to incorporate the rink with Loblaws personnel, though they did not hold out much hope that it would be positively received. We have heard nothing further.

Accordingly the Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens find that we have reached a dead end in respect to trying to retain the important aspects of this iconic building. We are very discouraged that city officials care so little about this important structure and the life it has played in Toronto and Canada.

3. Architectural display

The Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design, University of Toronto, is currently holding an exhibit entitled “From Hockey Heaven to Superstore”. (One sponsor of the exhibit is Loblaws.) The display is almost entirely related to architectural matters, with only a brief survey of hockey and other events that occurred in the building. Most interesting are renderings of other recent proposals for the Gardens. All of these, save for the `successful’ Loblaws proposal, proposed retaining a sheet of ice. The display continues until December 14, Monday to Friday 9 am – 5 pm, Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm, at the Faculty of Architecture Landscape and Design, College and Huron Streets, Toronto.

4. Closing note

Given the inability of Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens to have a useful impact on retaining an ice rink in the Gardens, we expect not to produce another bulletin unless there is a substantial change in the Loblaws proposal or other aspects of the approval already given.

Thank you for your interest in the Gardens. It was a real pity that more could not be done to ensure that hockey uses continue in this building.

– end –


A Continuing Rink in Maple Leaf Gardens

July 9, 2004

Proposed by Dan Diamond

Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens believe that plans to redevelop Maple Leaf Gardens would be enhanced by retaining a skating rink that is designed to evoke the character of the original arena. A rink at MLG is a valuable asset to Toronto on many fronts: heritage and preservation, culture, recreation, public health, tourism and neighbourhood enhancement.

Where things stand

Council has approved the proposed redevelopment plan submitted by Loblaws and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which includes a heritage easement on the skin of the structure. Council also asked Loblaws to consider retaining an ice rink.

An inquiry by the Mayor to both companies about retaining the rink was originally rebuffed apparently because they said a rink had been studied but rejected as being economically unfeasible.

Interior demolition is scheduled to begin in September

A Community Rink at Maple Leaf Gardens that addresses the Requirements of the Loblaws/MLSE Redevelopment

Advances in rink construction and ice-making technologies open up new possibilities.

This proposal demonstrates one way to retain a rink in MLG that complements Loblaws’ planned retail development. It demonstrates that options exist outside of those previously considered and rejected by Loblaws and MLSE.

These earlier rejected proposals left the ice-pad in its present position at street level and retained as many as 10,000 seats. Parking, store access, a desire to maximize retail space and construction expense were cited reasons. Other business rivalries and a desire to not create a competing venue were also in play.

Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens proposes a rink on a different scale. The example proposed here consists of 4,000 to 5,000 seats and 12 to 16 private boxes. This is the ideal seating capacity for elite amateur, junior, women’s college, school and youth hockey tournaments. This size of arena does not exist in the GTA and there is no arena, regardless of capacity, with the cachet and central location of MLG.

It is possible to situate this rink on top of the proposed Loblaws development. (The Loblaws proposal consists of one level of parking below grade, one level of parking at grade, a two- level supermarket above that and various retail amenities. ) The new rink sitting on top of this configuration and would take advantage of the vast vaulted ceiling of MLG. Despite being located higher up in the building, this new rink would have the unmistakable feel of the old Gardens. A modern interpretation of the old SporTimer four-sided clock would contribute to the sense of scale. In no way would this rink be any sort of generic arena that just happens to be located at Church and Carlton.

Loblaws’ proposal presumes a complete gutting of the building and a renewal of all structural components. This suits our plan as the new rink would take advantage of the latest technical innovations in ice-making and arena construction as it is, for all intents, a new facility erected inside the shell of MLG.

To be determined are the additional costs to engineer sufficient strength into the structure to support this application. An engineering feasibility study would provide this answer.

Special uses for the new rink at MLG

In addition to community, school and adult recreational rentals, we are continuing to investigate the following:

1) Junior hockey, either a Tier 1 Ontario Hockey League team like the St. Mike’s Majors, or Tier II provincial or Metro league clubs that could play weekend double and triple headers similar to those played in the old Gardens.

2) Women’s Hockey — this is the fastest growing aspect of hockey in Canada. Hockey Canada, the national governing body for the amateur game, is based in Calgary, but has always sought a high-profile presence in Toronto. The new rink at MLG could be the home base for the World and Olympic champion Canadian national women’s team and for other aspects of women’s and girls hockey as well.

3) The Hockey Lab — A need exists for a facility that would enable modifications to the game of hockey to be tried out in a real-time setting. People talk about a wider rink, bigger nets and changing the blue lines. Under Hockey Canada’s auspices, and perhaps with the support of the hockey equipment industry, the new rink at MLG could be designed to be quickly and easily reconfigured to allow new ideas to be tried out and Canadian hockey to progress.

4) Junior Lacrosse — the Toronto Rock began play in MLG in the building’s last season as an operating arena and are the number one recent success story in Toronto pro sports. Part of the Rock’s initial success was that they represented a last opportunity for sports fans to see a game in MLG as Leaf tickets were unavailable to most. The games were exciting, so the fans kept coming. Now that lacrosse has a significant fan base in Toronto, a similar breakthrough could occur with junior lacrosse played in an intimate and heritage-rich new arena. The GTA and surrounding region are a world hot-spot for box lacrosse and the junior game stands ready to move into an upgraded facility.

Benefits to Loblaws

Linking the rink and store would be of great benefit to Loblaws and would increase the profile of the rink as a community centre and civic asset.

Here are some ideas on how this might work:

The Loblaws on St. Clair and Bathurst has a mezzanine floor. On that floor is their cafe with tables and a space that they use for cooking classes and demonstrations. I think the store on Queen’s Quay has the same setup as well.

Loblaws at MLG could use this same walk-up mezzanine to take shoppers to a cafe that overlooks a gem of a retro-rink built beneath the vaulted ceiling of MLG.

Displays depicting Toronto sports history (or the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame) in this area would further supplement the heritage experience.

Additional access from the rink to the store could facilitate shopping or snack-buying by parents as their kids play or by ticket-buying fans of junior or women’s league games either pre-game, post-game or between periods.

Additionally, Loblaws could operate the concessions at the rink, purveying President’s Choice products from hot dogs to pizza slices to vegi-burgers to coffee. Every sale promotes Loblaw’s name and their house brand(s).

On weekends or holidays or at other appropriate times, the rink can be used for supervised public skating à la Nathan Phillips Square. Learn-to-skate classes could be offered for youngsters. Parents can shop as their kids enjoy their time on the rink. It makes the rink a drawing card for the store. Adults who remember MLG will want to skate on the rink as well. A weekly skating party that required participants to make a donation to the Daily Bread Food Bank or similar program would generate good publicity, build store traffic and make a valuable contribution to the designated charities.

All these events would be interwoven with various kinds of hockey use including league games, school programs, community use and adult recreational rentals.