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What sports stadiums used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / July 13, 2011

Toronto Sports Stadiums HistoricDespite the technological advancement of Toronto's biggest pro sports facilities — the Rogers Centre and the Air Canada Centre — there remains something to be said for what it was like to watch a game at the ballparks and arenas of the previous era. I hate to get wistful just for the sake of it, but modern stadiums tend to lack the unique character of their predecessors.

Case in point: there will never be as good a place to watch a hockey game as from the seats in the red balcony section at Maple Leaf Gardens, which seemed to place the viewer almost on top of the goaltender. Interestingly, those seats didn't exist when the building was first completed in 1931 but were added during one of the many renovations undertaken in the 1950s and 60s to increase seating capacity.

Nowadays, professional hockey arenas are all designed around the bowl concept, which leads to a certain homogeneity across the league. The same can't be said for baseball stadiums, which tend to be more varied, but be that as it may, the Rogers Centre isn't exactly the most intimate place to watch a game. I'll thus indulge in a little bit of longing for the "good old days," even though I wasn't around to take in a game at Maple Leaf Stadium, which looks like it was a prototypical urban ballpark.

Here's a look back at Toronto's stadiums and arenas of yore.

Sunlight Park

2011712-sunlight-park-1183.jpgToronto's first baseball stadium, 1893

Hanlan's Point Stadium

2011713-hanlan's-point-stadium-f1244_it0200b.jpgLacrosse in 1910

Varsity Stadium

2011713-varsity-stadium-1906-10-f1244_it0528.jpgBloor Street and Bedford,1906

2011713-varsity-stadium-1920s-f1244_it10097.jpgVarsity, 1920

Varsity Arena

The TTC hockey team, 1927

Christie Pits or Riverdale Park

2011713-chiristie-pits-hockey-1912-f1244_it0476.jpgPro hockey outdoors, 1912

2011713-boxing-christie-pits-1915-f1244_it0971b.jpgBoxing match, 1915

Mutual Street Arena

2011713-Sir_Wilfrid_Laurier's_reception_at_Liberal_meeting,_Arena_Gardens1913.jpgLiberal Party meeting, 1913 (via the Wikimedia Commons)

Mutual Street ArenaArena interior, 1920s

Civic Arena / The Coliseum

2011713-livestock-arena-1921-s0372_ss0001_it0470.jpgUnder construction 1921

2011713-cne-arena-1922-s0372_ss0001_it0489.jpgInterior, 1922

2011713-cne-arena-1922-s0372_ss0001_it0491.jpgInterior, 1922

2011713-cne-livestock-arena-1922-s0372_ss0001_it0486.jpgInterior, 1922

Maple Leaf Stadium

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-1929-f1231_it0465.jpgExterior, 1929

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-1937-f1257_s1057_it0850.jpgGame action, 1937

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-context-f1231_it0602.jpgFrom Fort York

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-before-1980-f1257_s1057_it0868b.jpgFrom the bleachers (date unspecified)

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-before-1980-f1257_s1057_it0857.jpgCrowds (date unspecified)

2011713-maple-leaf-stadium-1970s-80s-f0124_fl0015_id0012.jpgJust prior to demolition

Maple Leaf Gardens

2011713-mlg-1934-f1244_it3185.jpgA gem on Carlton in 1934

2011713-mlg-ice-show-1930s-40s-f1257_s1057_it6634.jpgIce Show, late 1930s

2011713-circus-mlg-1940s-f1257_s1057_it7346.jpgThe Circus, 1940s

2011713-basketball-mlg-1940-70-f1257_s1057_it7523.jpgBasketball, (ca. 1950s)

2011713-mlg-johnny-bower-f1257_s1057_it7529.jpgHockey game, Johnny Bower in goal

2011713-mlg-balconeys-1955-f1257_s1057_it7439.jpgRenovations, 1955

2011713-new-escalators-1955-mlg-f1257_s1057_it7446.jpgNew escalators! 1955

2011713-mlg-sittler-mod-1970s-f1257_s1057_it4251.jpgDaryl Sittler, 1970s

CNE / Exhibition Stadium

2011713-es-harry-jerome-1950-70-f1257_s1057_it3222.jpgHarry Jerome, 1950

2011713-miss-toronto-1951-es-f1257_s1057_it1696.jpgMiss Toronto contest, 1951

2011713-qe2-es-1959-f1257_s1057_it4989.jpgQueen Elizabeth II, 1959

2011713-es-1959-don-campbell-f1257_s1057_it2458.jpgExterior, 1959

2011713-exhibition-stadium-postcard.jpg1980s (postcard)

2011713-Exhibition-Stadium-seating-plan.jpgSeating Plan

SkyDome / Roger's Centre

2011713-skydome-plans-s1465_fl0072_id0003.jpgPlans, 1980s

SkyDome Toronto 1990sThe SkyDome in all its early glory (postcard)


Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted.



Brian / July 13, 2011 at 03:35 pm

What's the source of the first picture with Sunlight Park identified?
mike in parkdale / July 13, 2011 at 03:36 pm
ah.... back when Toronto teams could win something.

sorry, let me put the 'damaged Toronto sports fan' aside for a minute -- great piece Derek.
Harald / July 13, 2011 at 03:51 pm
971B does look a lot more like Riverdale Park than like Christie Pits...
Happy feet / July 13, 2011 at 04:10 pm
The first NBA game was held at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1946. The New York Knickerbockers beat the Toronto Huskies 68 to 66. Half a century later, the Raptors dutifully continued that losing tradition.
Happy feet replying to a comment from Happy feet / July 13, 2011 at 04:13 pm
Here's a video clip of that first NBA game, complete with jaunty music -
Justin / July 13, 2011 at 04:16 pm
Great piece, I wish we still had a place like Maple Leaf Stadium. I am not at all a fan of the Skydome.
AG / July 13, 2011 at 04:22 pm
Love the Exhibition stadium seating map. That brought back memories. I remember fondly the days of getting $2 general admission tickets from Dominion and then lining up with my dad and when they opened the gate, running to the first come first served seats. That was good times for sure! I also think I may have bought that postcard back in the day. haha.
Rick / July 13, 2011 at 04:32 pm
Maple Leaf Stadium looks like a great place to watch a game.
Torontology / July 13, 2011 at 04:48 pm
The worst thing about modern stadiums is that they are named after products and companies. Actually, that complaint carries over to many things and not just stadiums.
Poopdawg replying to a comment from Justin / July 13, 2011 at 04:57 pm
Pfft! Skydome is awesome. Sitting in that thing is like being in a vision of the future from the past. I'd go there more often if I didn't think baseball was so boring.
the lemur replying to a comment from Harald / July 13, 2011 at 05:01 pm
And #476 doesn't look right for Christie Pits, the way those houses are in the background.
C / July 13, 2011 at 05:20 pm
Wow....Toronto used to be so cool, and actually have a bit of character. What happened?
Aeudet / July 13, 2011 at 05:56 pm
What's on the site of Maple Leaf Stadium now?
jason / July 13, 2011 at 06:27 pm
Great post.

You guys should do one on the many old urban racetracks that have long since been demolished.
Jeremy / July 13, 2011 at 06:29 pm
Fantastic piece, Derek!

Those pictures of Maple Leaf stadium make it similar to Fenway Park in Boston. It's old, sure, but the feeling you get going to an older stadium to watch a game is an awesome one. Would have loved to have been able to watch a game there.
Craig replying to a comment from Aeudet / July 13, 2011 at 08:00 pm
Apartment buildings and a gas station. It's at the Bathurst and Lakeshore (based on picture with the Tip Top Tailors sign in it, which is still there)
Greg / July 13, 2011 at 09:19 pm
How did we ever let Maple Leaf stadium get demolished!?
Badbhoy / July 13, 2011 at 11:10 pm
Pretty sure the seats over the net in the Gardens were the blue section were they not?
Torontonian / July 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm
I was hoping to see some photos of the old
Mutual Street arena, later reincarnated as
the Terrace. I believe it was where the
Maple Leafs played before the opening of
Maple Leaf Gardens.
Wanker / July 13, 2011 at 11:36 pm
Are there any pictures of Stanley Park stadium?
Ashley Watson / July 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm
Beautiful and entertaining piece, Derek! My only gripe is the naming of modern stadiums after the corporations.
posd / July 14, 2011 at 12:50 am
We seriously need a new baseball stadium or the Rogers Centre should at least be retrofitted to become something resembling a ballpark. (The Argos should play in Lamport, Varsity, or Centennial Park.) The Rogers Centre is terribly outdated, way too big for baseball in Toronto, and just flat out ugly.
Ed / July 14, 2011 at 02:53 am
i have a very fond memory of Maple Leaf Stadium...My dad had taken me to a game there when i was about 5 or 6 years old...a player had fouled a ball straight back over my dads head and it hit one of the beams and landed right back into his hands...he always talked about that day we would get together and i never grew tired of hearing
John / July 14, 2011 at 07:49 am
I don't know what you are talking about. There are lots of new parks in the states where going to a ballball game is like going to a church. San Fransico, Cincinnati,Pittsburgh, Baltimore etc. Skydome was just built before that trend, though people liked it when it was built. We could tear it down and make a nice old timey one. I would be infavour of that. But then I'm sure people on this site would bemoan the waist of money on a sport facility.

And they were named after rich people and corporations even in the old dayzzz, ie: Wrigley.
nippleholic / July 14, 2011 at 09:13 am
I doubt the people complaining about Skydome would venture to a new "retro" ballpark (without a roof) during frigid April.

Wasn't that why Skydome was built in the first place?
John replying to a comment from nippleholic / July 14, 2011 at 11:28 am
to Nippleholic

Maybe, but it rains in San Fran and no one seems to care. Chicago and Green Bay play half the football season in snow and no one seems to care.

I'm fine with Skydone, first level seats are a little cramped but whatever. Retrackable domes were state of the art and hot stuff when it was built, now everyone dumps on it. I guess I do too. Maybe a cool refit! like the ROM (hahah)
Fantomex replying to a comment from Poopdawg / July 14, 2011 at 11:50 am
Agreed. I'd like to see Torontonians and Canadians look towards <i>the future</i> and not the past.
Fantomex replying to a comment from nippleholic / July 14, 2011 at 11:51 am
Same here. I'd doubt that they'd also do anything in those places in April.
IG / July 14, 2011 at 01:38 pm
I was hoping to see some pics of Diamond Park. Where the Totonto Maple Leafs (baseball) used to play from ~ 1901-1908.
Used to be located just south of the former Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Woman (now the location of Lamptort Stadium). From what I've been able to dig up, Diamond Park was located on the south-east corner of Fraser Ave & Liberty (which is now a building formerly built by E.W. Gillet Co.).
joe / December 18, 2011 at 07:05 pm
Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run at Hanlan's Point stadium.
Ted K / January 22, 2012 at 12:32 pm
No way that baseball action picture is for 1937. The player at bat seems to be a black so making it 1947 or later. The first black to play in the International League was Jackie Robinson in 1946 for Montreal.
David / January 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm
Christie Pits or Riverdale Park? Having lived near Riverdale Park, one is definitely Christie Pits - the older apartment buildings on Broadview and the larger houses date from that era; the houses on Christie were smaller. The other with houses perched on a cliff MAY be Riverdale Park - Montcrest Blvd. is the park's northern perimeter; that rink is now occupied by its swimming pool. Grew up in T.O., just as the old baseball Leafs were fading, too bad because I've heard great stories about them. The track shots at Varsity remind me of "Chariots of Fire".
Ara replying to a comment from Torontology / March 12, 2012 at 07:45 am
Actually Toronto's very first baseball diamond build for the international League and the Torontos later called the Toronto Maple Leafs was called Sunlight Park named after the Lever Brothers Sunlight soap factory. Sponsorship was corps have been and will always be involved in sport.
jim / June 24, 2012 at 06:28 pm
was born june 1953 at sackville and shuter sts, until age 3 or 4, then moved to dundas and regent streets, right behind st barts church, (near cop shop and firehall), then moved into south regent low rental housing, at 565 dundas st. east.lived ther till i was about 15 or 16, . we then moved to columbine ave. east end toronto,my dad died when i was 17, i loved growing up in that city as a kid, summers were great, maple leaf stadium ( sneaking in, being caught, and told to be good or else, by security)cruising the exhibition grounds by bicycle before it opened in august, life was great then.
Anybody relate to this out there? I miss those days,
Thanks for reading this
barry slater replying to a comment from Brian / July 18, 2012 at 09:42 pm
this is from a birds eye view of the entire city of toronto 1893 chromolithograph in three parts signed "Barclay Clark & Co/ Lithographers toronto" Toronto Public Library 916-2-1 to 3 T18147
barry slater replying to a comment from Ara / July 18, 2012 at 09:58 pm
1886 when built first purpose stadium for baseball prototype wooden structure copied in new york's hilltop park, first home of the yankee's, called the toronto baseball grounds. replaced william cawthra's jarvis street lacross grounds as home of the torontos who had played in the canadian baseball league then moved up to the new york state league which changed it's name to accomodate the two new teams from the other side of the lake, toronto and hamilton.
barry slater replying to a comment from jim / July 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm
hey jim still sneaking in running the indycar track before it's shut to traffic zooom oh behave
also biked past st. barts today and realized the old regents park ball yard was gone and the swimming pool empty and fenced
Brian Rouse replying to a comment from jim / August 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm
Hey Jim !
I was born in 46 and grew up in that area. (north regent)
Fond memories.
jim replying to a comment from Greg / August 8, 2012 at 04:26 pm
You wouldn,t happen to know my bro (john)or sister (sharon) would ya? I, my Dad, my siblings all went to Park Public school in south regent, myself, brother, and sister, all attened central technical high school, any chance you might have too?
Many memories, and life lessons.
Jim Ellis
David Patterson / November 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm
Yes...that early seating plan of Exhibition stadium. I remember always trying to get section 7 tickets, almost as good as section 9 and you save five bucks!!
Brasco replying to a comment from Badbhoy / December 19, 2012 at 01:48 pm
It was reds above the shot clocks and then blues above that.
Koolgreen / February 16, 2013 at 08:25 am
Good stuff man....any simular links
Matt / February 16, 2013 at 08:49 am
This page has a few more notes, including some of the names of the first black ballplayers for the Maple Leafs / April 16, 2013 at 06:17 pm
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Jim McPherson / October 8, 2013 at 09:08 pm
I was born in 1936. Grew up with Maple Gardens and Maple Leaf stadium. The pictures are very nostalgic. The stadium was not too good. The outfield seats were divided from the infield seats by a barbed wire fence like a prison. There was a big screen behind home plate and the fans would make a big WHOOP when a foul ball went up there and rolled back doen. A big foul would hit the roof and sound like a drum.

Oh well... at least the gardens survives :-)
Alex replying to a comment from Aeudet / November 24, 2013 at 07:54 pm
Public housing and Condos.
Jen / February 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm
Those Red seats you were talking about at Maple Leaf Gardens? I sat in those seats with my father for my first (and last) hockey game at the Gardens. We were behind Cujo for a Toronto vs. Ottawa game (which the Leafs won, by the way).

My father used to tell me stories of Maple Leaf Stadium, and it's a shame it was lost in the name of progress. I love these pots on Toronto's history; they make me wish things were the way they were then.
Ruth Treloar / February 3, 2014 at 12:06 am
Of the ones that were either Christie Pits or Riverdale, the first was Christie, the second Riverdale.
ken / March 23, 2015 at 11:53 am
great photos,excellant comments. I remember my first game at MLG in the 60s, we sat in the reds; I was asked "do you have a tie'? WHY? now I know' sit in reds wear a tie,everyone was wearing a tie.times have certainly changed.
My second home in summer was Maple Leaf Stadium 64-67, still have programs and some stuff. wish they would rename the Blue Jays to Maple Leafs..The nickname Maple Leafs is synominus with baseball dating back to tnhe 1880's. Our haockey team adopted the name in 31; at least the Jays can wear the old leaf uniform on nostagia night once. just my thoughts.
oh yea Detroit Tigers were up for sale once 1920.s or so anfd Toronto was considered and don't forget we could have had the San Francisco Giants before the Jays.Oh yes don't forget, fot those nostagia fans the 'Stone ' Sign in right field. those where all good memories
Robert / August 21, 2015 at 09:30 am
Am I correct in thinking prior to being the Maple Leafs, the team was the Toronto St. Pats (Patrick's) when they played at Mutual St Arena?
I believe this was a childhood fact that may have been nonsense all these years.
Robert / August 21, 2015 at 09:33 am
Does anyone remember Millen Stadium at the South-west corner of Broadview and Danforth?
Great softball venue and seating for a few hundred.
Bumpy replying to a comment from mike in parkdale / October 19, 2015 at 09:11 pm
Guess you've never heard of the Toronto Argonauts.. a Parkdale thing, I think not.. Argos fans in Parkdale..
barry slater replying to a comment from Robert / January 14, 2016 at 01:54 pm
Yes, the Leafs were named by Conn Smyth after he bought the St Pats from Charles Querrie & friends. They had been called the Arenas after the building in which they played, the first artificial ice surface east of Winnipeg, the Garden Arena 1911, on the site of the Caledonian Club. Before that they were called the Blueshirts
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