By Danielle Vanderbrink
Maple Leaf Gardens is a place where memories have been made for many — just not Ryerson.
Loblaw Companies Ltd. confirmed last week that, after years of uncertainty, the company will go ahead with plans to turn the hockey shrine into a grocery store. The move has crushed Ryerson’s hope of staking a claim in the Gardens as a potential rink for the hockey and figure skating teams, more classroom space, or even a residence.
“Given that there are so few types of facilities like that in downtown Toronto, and that it was so historic in nature, I thought it was just a sad day that Maple Leaf Gardens turned into a grocery store,” said Ryerson president Sheldon Levy. Levy said when he first came to Ryerson he took interest in the Gardens and met with Loblaws to discuss it, but the company was determined to go ahead with its plans.
Because of its close proximity with Ryerson, the university first considered buying the Gardens1999, when it was put up for sale after the Maple Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre.
At the time, it would have solved the classroom shortage caused by the double-cohort. It was also considered for student residences and a rink.
But in 2000, Ryerson announced that it couldn’t afford the facility. Ryerson’s Men’s hockey team once used the Garden’s arena five times a week to practice, but they also weren’t able to come up with the money needed to play games there.
In 2003, Loblaws was looking to sell the Gardens because of high maintenance needs, and interest again peaked within the university for a possible new business building but that also never materialized.
The building is a designated heritage site. The company plans on keeping the outside walls intact, as well as the lobby area where a museum will be displayed. The ice, however, is to be removed, which has stirred emotion in the community. John Sewell of the Friends of the Maple Leaf Gardens thinks it would be a ‘pity’ to see the ice removed. “I have no problem with a grocery store but I think that removing the ice would be wrong,” said Sewell. “The ice should be used for skating, women’s hockey, Ryerson hockey, kids. It should be a public rink.”
Ryerson Rams hockey coach, Graham Wise agrees. Wise would also like to see his team have somewhere closer to practice, rather than the nine kilometers they currently travel to the George Bell Arena. “If (the players) had a venue that was close and that they could walk to after class it would benefit them,” said Wise. “It would definitely be good for time management.”
As of now, Loblaws said they will go ahead with plans for this year. “Do I think it’s a great idea for the City of Toronto that it’s a shopping centre? Absolutely not,” said Levy.