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Where in Toronto: Maple Leaf Gardens as a Grocery Store

photo by Rasheed Clarke

I hate starting off a story with “when I was a kid…”
It makes me feel old. Ah well. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens so I could cheer on my favourite Leaf, Felix Potvin. We always rode the subway downtown from our home in Etobicoke because my dad hates paying for parking. College station was a lively place on game nights as fans rushed off the trains, up the stairs and down Carlton Street to what used to be
a national hockey hub.

The Buds moved from the Gardens to the Air Canada Centre in 1999, and it’s taken more than a decade for their former home to find another permanent tenant. Or, more accurately, two new tenants.

The first is Loblaws, the grocery store chain that two weeks ago opened its latest Toronto location inside the southwest wing of Maple Leaf Gardens. In the company’s words, this store represents “food’s greatest stage.” A lofty statement, but there are some novelties that set the place apart from other grocers: a sushi bar, omelette bar, a sizable patisserie, and a really tall glass case of cheese.

Earlier this week I made my first visit to the new Loblaws. What struck me was not the cheese wheels or sushi rolls, but the mural of Leaf legends overlooking several rows of seating in what has been dubbed “Bill Barilko’s Blow,” a café area named after the Leafs’ four-time Stanley Cup winner. I expected more. More memorabilia, more blue and white, more signifiers that this was once home one of hockey’s storied franchises. Maybe I expected too much; it is a supermarket after all, and I’d be more shocked if I couldn’t get a box of Cheerios, which of course I can.

photo by Rasheed Clarke

The Gardens’ second tenant is Ryerson University, and thanks to this institution of higher learning, there will be hockey in building once again (along with a few other sports). The Ryerson Rams teams will play their home games in the new Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre at the Gardens, which includes a 2,600-seat rink and a 1,000-seat multipurpose court.

Ryerson’s renovations inside the Gardens are part of the school’s ongoing efforts to increase its footprint. A few blocks south of the arena, Ryerson is building a new student centre on the land once occupied by former music giant Sam the Record Man. Head a block south and west from there and you’ll find the Ted Rogers School of Management, another fairly recent Ryerson addition.

Surrounded by shops, restaurants and offices in its downtown location, Ryerson faces a challenge whenever it seeks to expand, and the best solution at this point seems to be the creation of satellite buildings like the new athletic centre and the school of management. Still it can make for a slightly disjointed campus. Or maybe that’s just the University of Toronto alumnus in me talking. If Ryerson’s plans produce more able-bodied and able-minded kids , I can’t be against it.

Geez, I’m calling them “kids.” I really must be old.

Rasheed Clarke

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