By Amit Shilton
Talking to Ryerson administration about Maple Leaf Gardens is like talking to a teenage girl about a secret crush. Just drop the name of the historic arena and they squirm anxiously in their seats, knowing smiles growing across their faces.
The biggest grin came from Ryerson’s biggest cat, Sheldon Levy. Standing with him in his office one night after a board meeting, Levy was playing his own version of SimCity. Looking out the picture window of his office in the sky, he raised his arm and point to different points in the city. Levy said construction on the Sears parking lot was starting to look less likely after talks about the site began to stall. Maybe we’ll put our new athletics centre on the site of a Toronto Community Housing building, maybe at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Hearing the historic arena was back on the discussion table — after talks were thought to be dead — sent us on a chase.
Ian Hamilton, director of campus planning and facilities, grinned knowingly when pressed about the Gardens. When asked about the prospect of partnering with Toronto Community Housing, Hamilton said he didn’t know a thing. If the man in charge of campus planning doesn’t know anything, it’s not happening.
If Ryerson does go ahead with the Toronto Community Housing project, athletic director Ivan Joseph said there wouldn’t be room for a new arena. Without a rink closer to campus, he warned the school might cut the hockey program.
Ryerson hockey coach Graham Wise is the top paid coach in athletics. Stephanie White, our women’s hockey coach, brings with her national credibility. Levy, who is able to recite the entire roster of the 1967 Maple Leafs, is a huge hockey fan. Under Levy’s watch, hockey should be safe from extinction.
Talk of the university owning the former Maple Leafs home was nothing new to the city’s politicians either. Toronto Centre MP Bob Rae said it would be a match made in heaven. George Smitherman, the riding’s MPP and strongly rumoured mayoral candidate, told us how he’d love to take his kids skating on the rink. His staff even sent us his picture posing in front of the Gardens.
When we got a hold of Loblaw, the current owners of Maple Leaf Gardens, the supermarket giant told us they still plan on putting a store in the building.
That doesn’t mean Ryerson is out of luck. Levy has a history of partnering with the private sector (see: our business building) and there’s plenty of room for both a supermarket and athletics centre. Plus, the school would need to form some kind of partnership if it were to have a chance at affording the cost.
On a walk around the arena, we ran into a worker who was laying a fresh sheet of ice. The ice was for the CBC’s new show Battle of the Blades, which will be filmed inside the Gardens.
Leaving Levy’s office that night, I reminded him what a dream it would be to watch the Rams light up the Gardens one more time. He shone that familiar smile one more time and chuckled.
“It’s never impossible,” he said.