Clockwise from top left: George Armstrong with the Stanley Cup in 1963; Maple Leaf Gardens circa 1934, just three years after it first opened; The Beatles during one of their three shows at Maple Leaf Gardens between 1964 and 1966; George Chuvalo attempts to hit the elusive Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) circa 1966
It was Nov. 12, 1931, and before a crowd of 13,542 the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in their brand new home: Maple Leaf Gardens. Eighty-one years later, Carlton Street’s long-shuttered hockey cathedral has reopened to Canada’s sport as the Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens — part of Ryerson University.
It may not have quite the same allure, but it allows us to hearken back to some of the finer moments in the Gardens’ history.
In 1946, the Gardens played host to the very first game of the fledgling Basketball Association of America (which would become the NBA) between the hometown Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers.
Between 1964 and 1966, the Beatles played to screaming fans at Maple Leaf Gardens during each of their three North American tours — the only venue to host stops on all of the Fab Four’s visits.
On March 29, 1966, local boxing legend George Chuvalo took on the incomparable Muhammad Ali in the squared circle at the Gardens — his first of two fights versus Ali. Although Ali won the fight, Chuvalo earned a legion of fans by going the distance against the champ. This fight is also notable as a result of Ali’s comments regarding the Vietnam War that impacted the Gardens management and resulted in Conn Smythe resigning from the board of directors, ushering in the Harold Ballard era.
And, of course, on May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs, led by the likes of Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich, won yet another Stanley Cup championship in their building. Who knew it would be the team’s last in 45 years and counting?
The last professional event in Maple Leaf Gardens was the 2000 National Lacrosse League championship final.
So, although the name has changed, and groceries are now available at the Loblaws on the main level, maybe with the return of hockey to Carlton Street a little of that old-timey magic will rub off on the city’s beleaguered Buds.