Gardens magic not just for big names

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By Vanessa Greco

Sheila Wray Gregoire spent her teenage years behind a counter at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Gregoire, now a 39-year-old author, ran one of the concession stands on the arena’s green level in the late 80s.

While mention of the Gardens tends to conjure up images of high-profile hockey stars, Ryerson’s move into the building triggers memories for employees and audience members alike.

From the spot where she sold hotdogs and popcorn to hungry spectators, Gregoire witnessed everything from fist-fights to topless women doting over Ted Danson.

During a Depeche Mode concert, when a crowd of teenagers refused to stop rolling joints on her counter, a 16-year-old Gregoire was forced to jump over her booth to call security.

“That kind of thing never happened during hockey games,” she said.

“But whenever Detroit played, there’d be a fight,” said Gregoire. “We always had more cops on for Detroit games.”

As a child, John Sewell sat six rows behind the visitor’s bench at Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the Detroit Red Wings face off against the Leafs.

Sewell, a former Toronto mayor, said seeing a game at the Gardens was an annual tradition for him and his father.

“Even back in the 50s, hockey was a big thing,” he said. “You had to dress up, you had to wear a suit and a tie.”

Brent Small wore a Pickering Panthers jersey the first time he skated at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Small, a forward on the Ryerson mens hockey team, was eight years old and participating in a Timmy Tyke tournament at the time. The final game was held in the Gardens.

“As a die-hard Leafs fan, it was one of the biggest moments of my life,” he said, adding that the prospect of returning excites him. “As a hockey player it gives me that awful hope and ambition.”

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