EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hello Canada, Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens to be restored

"Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States, this is Foster Hewitt from the gondola in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The first period is over and the Leafs are behind  6-0, but the score is no indication of the play..."

This was the voice we heard on CBC radio every Saturday night in every city, village and town across Canada and into the United States too as Foster Hewitt brought us the Toronto Maple Leafs' games from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. No matter how far the Leafs were behind their opponents when Hewitt came on the air, the score was never any indication of the play and hope springing eternal and with Foster's help, and our cheers as we huddled by the radio, the Leafs would emerge victorious.

Sadly in those days some in my village of Chapleau, in northern Ontario, some cheered for the Montreal Canadiens, and one for the Detroit Red Wings, but mostly we were for the Leafs.

Michael McMullen, my cousin, recalled when  he lived in Chapleau. "Most of us who spent time in Northern Ontario identify MLG with Foster Hewitt and his broadcast of Leaf games on CBC. As you will remember, radio was great for the imagination. I remember when the CBC installed a repeater station somewhere near Chapleau in the early 50s and we could receive the CBC during the day and evening.

"Bee Hive corn syrup had 8x10 B/W pictures of the Leaf players available in the 40s and 50s. I remember listening to games and imagining the players that I had with Foster Hewitt's play by play. The Leafs and MLG were synonymous. As an aside, when I first saw Foster or a picture of him, he wasn't at all like I had imagined. "

To actually visit Maple Leaf Gardens and attend a game was a dream fulfilled I was very fortunate to have family in Toronto and my mother (Muriel E. (Hunt) Morris) and I would often go to Toronto for Christmas vacation and I would get to see the Leafs play. Sometimes we would stay at the Royal York Hotel another venerable Toronto landmark. Shopping at Eaton's and Simpson's now both gone was mandatory. Later Michael and I would go to games getting there on the "red rocket."

Michael recalled his first visit to the Gardens:  "It felt like a shrine and an honour to be where the greatest players in the world played. I always felt that it was a great place."

Indeed it was a great place to be. Going there was an experience with the hockey game the main attraction. You would likely see some of the retired Leaf  greats chatting with fans and signing autographs -- Ted Kennedy, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, King Clancy, George Armstrong and Johnny Bower, among others. You might even see Conn Smythe, the owner of the team who had built the Gardens in 1931 in about six months. George Armstrong came to speak to our class at Chapleau Public School when I was in Grade 7, and the Maple Leafs fastball team played in Chapleau one year and I recall getting their autographs at the Boston Cafe.

In their opening season there the Leafs lost their first home game 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks but went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Leafs have won 11 Stanley Cups, the last one in 1967.

For a long time, notably in the 50s, the Toronto Marlboros and the St. Michael Majors, Junior A teams, played a doubleheader on Sunday afternoons at MLG. It was a great time to see the up and coming Leaf prospects. Many of these players were the backbone for the Leaf-winning teams of the 60s,  Michael recalled.

MLG also hosted the first NHL All Star game in 1947, and on April 2, 1957 Elvis Presley made his first concert appearance outside the United States. The Beatles appeared there on each of their three visits to North America. One of the most popular events at the Gardens after the Leafs was professional wrestling with  local hero Whipper Billy Watson as the star attraction.

Michael added: "I had the opportunity to play hockey at MLG. The first time was a real thrill and then it was just like any other ice surface, but the place was still unique." He also remembered  taking his son Bruce to his first game at MLG in the 1970s. Nothing had really changed in 25 years, but it was still a magical place (ticket prices had gone up significantly though)."

In 1999, the Leafs left the magical place on the northwest corner of Carlton and Church streets for the Air Canada Centre. MLG has been little used in the past 10 years.

However, on December 2, 2009, a $60-million partnership between Loblaws, Ryerson University and the federal government was announced to restore MLG. It will become a multi-function facility with a Loblaws supermarket on the ground level and an athletic centre including rink above for Ryerson University students.

"We're bringing Maple Leaf Gardens back to life," said Sheldon Levy, Ryerson president.

When the restoration is completed, scheduled for 2011, listen carefully when you are in MLG. You are sure to hear a voice from above saying, "Hello Canada and hockey fans in the United States, and from around the world, welcome back to the Gardens."

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE