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Maple Leaf Gardens: Last of Original Six arenas

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I spent the afternoon at the renovated Maple Leaf Gardens.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Maple Leaf Gardens, Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, The Montreal Forum, Chicago Stadium, and The Detroit Olympia.

These arenas housed the teams known as "The Original Six." They are hallowed halls that are spoken about in tones that always acknowledge their history. Their fates are deemed travesties, as teams moved onto new arenas that have all the modern (at the time anyways in some cases) toys and bells and whistles that every team wanted, and that could serve multiple uses -- as their owners wanted.

What happened to these old buildings once they were of no use? Boston Garden, Madison Square Garden, and Chicago Stadium were all torn down for parking lots. The site of MSG was built on and now a skyscraper sits in on the spot where Tex's Rangers first took to the ice. The Detroit Olympia was demolished and a National Guard Armory sits on the site. The Montreal Forum is now the Pepsi Forum, the hollowed-out building remains but inside is a movie theatre, shops, and other entertainment space.

Maple Leaf Gardens wasn't acted upon quite as fast. Instead, it was seemingly abandoned. When people would venture in for a peak or to write about it, they would find papers strewn about, and items left behind on moving day. In 2004 Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk made a bid to purchase the arena. MLSE did not want anyone to operate the building as a competitor to the Air Canada Centre. [Note: Normally I'd complain about this, but MLSE denying Melnyk led to him moving the Majors to Mississauga in 2007, and the Mississauga IceDogs moving to Niagara. Thanks MLSE!]

For the next few years, Loblaws and Home Depot were in and out of discussions for use of the space. In 2009 Ryerson university entered the picture. The downtown school came to an agreement with Loblaws to place its athletics facilities above the Loblaws space on the ground floor, including an NHL sized ice surface.

On November 30th, 2011, the doors opened for the first time in a decade as the Loblaws grocery store opened up, an urban grocery experience, with a DJ, sushi bar, and plenty of types of cheese.

On September 9th, 2012, the first hockey game in 13 years took place under the signature white bubble that made up the Gardens' roof. The Ryerson Rams won the game 5-4 and hockey has been played there ever since.

There's a row of seats that sits high above the escalators facing into the lobby and posters on the wall describe past events that occured in the arena. The space is sparse, white walls/floors, aside from the few decorations.

Walking around the rink on Saturday I read all the posters Ryerson installed telling you about the history of the building. Some, of NBA exhibition games from the 70s that tried to lure a franchise to Toronto. Hundreds of concerts. Harold Ballard selling tickets to a non-existent Beatles show, forcing the group to perform a second time while in Toronto was a good story shared there. The phrase "Elvis has left the building" was first uttered inside the Maple Leaf Gardens walls.

One display I found really interesting was a time capsule that Conn Smythe hid in the cornerstone of the building that was accidentally found when reconstruction efforts were underway -- its contents are on display in the concourse. Others mementos included an NHL rulebook, newspapers from 1931, and a white elephant, possibly a symbol of how MLG was perceived at the time.

When I told people I was going to play hockey at MLG I got a lot of "Oh, at the grocery store?" comments. Yes, it's a grocery store. Yes, it's an LCBO. But look above. It's a CIS hockey house. It's a community skating and shinny centre (free for Ryerson students/alumni/staff). It was home to Pan-Am basketball, the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Game, and anything else you want if you're willing to front the rental fees.

Maple Leaf Gardens is one of two Original Six rinks that still stand and display artifacts from its time, but it is the only one still being used for hockey.