It's hard for non-Canadians to understand just how beloved ice hockey is in Canada. Do you think football is popular in the USA? Soccer in Ireland? Cricket in India? Well, hockey is comparatively bigger than that in Canada.
As a boy growing up in Manitoba, one of our family's weekly habits in the winter was to spend Saturday night watching "Hockey Night in Canada". We all liked hockey and together made bowls of popcorn (this was in pre-microwave days) before curling up on the sofa to enjoy the game. There were some great players we all admired: Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Tim Horton, Henri Richard. This was when the NHL only had six teams, when in retrospect there was an innocent fun to the game. It didn't seem so much a big business venture back then.
Many of the games we watched those Saturday nights were broadcast from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, so when I visited that city for the first time in 20 years this past summer, I simply had to stop by and pay homage to old Maple Leaf Gardens. What a change! I was surprised to find Maple Leaf Gardens had transformed itself from a "cathedral" of ice hockey into a retail food outlet anchored by a rather nice Loblaws store that featuring great fresh food selections, deli and bakery (there's other stores and services on the upper level of the building, which I didn't see the point of visiting).
I do understand the business aspects of hockey and why the Maple Leafs moved their team to a new arena. And I'm glad the facade of the building was preserved, and that a quality food retailer provides a nice service to downtown's residents. But I have to admit the visit deflated a few of my childhood memories like balloons the day after a party.
Here then are some images of today's Maple Leaf Gardens....
(Note: just to let you know that as a connoisseur I had to sample several of these and the macaroons were excellent!)