Loblaws Maple Leaf Gardens

New Loblaws unveiled at Maple Leaf Gardens

The new Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens is, as one would expect, a pretty remarkable grocery store. Not only is it a huge retail space at 85,000 square feet, but its market-style features — things like self-serve seafood, the grand wall of cheese, and loads of prepared food options — are part of what the company calls its "theatre of food." As impressive as this is (and it is pretty impressive), none of it is particularly surprising. When Loblaws announced that it would be opening a store at the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you knew that it would be pulling out all the stops.

Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws

So it's a great grocery store, one that's being touted as a place to find lots of locally sourced products, but what about the adaptive re-use of the building? The big question on my mind when Galen Weston drew back the red curtain to reveal the new store was how much of the Gardens would be left?

Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws

As it turns out, not that much. But I already suspected as much when I got to look at photos of construction process. There are, however, plenty of gestures to the former history of the building. Along with the restoration of the building's exterior (which is still ongoing), upon entry, vistors are now greeted to a gigantic blue maple leaf statue that's assembled out of old seats from MLG. The font used to identify the main sections of the store harkens back to the one originally used within the arena. And, hey, they even made a point of marking out where centre ice used to be located — currently aisle 25 (unfortunately right beside the Spam).

Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws

Other touches like the mural behind the checkout counter, the food court tables and store pillars that tout MLG history, and the exposed brick wall that reveals the old escalator tracts are also clever reminders of the history that resides here. In other words, no complaints. When one thinks of the fate of other original six arenas — half of which were demolished (the Montreal Forum is now a shopping mall / AMC complex and Madison Square Garden was rebuilt on the same site) — it's difficult not to think that Toronto got this one right.

Maple Leaf Gardens Loblaws

And there's more Gardens left to be seen. There was only so and so much Loblaws could do to retain the history of the building after it was agreed that Ryerson would take possession of the upper portion of the structure for its new arena and athletic centre. Although not yet complete, that's where one gets a real sense of the cathedral-like qualities of the property and its hockey heritage.

For now it's mostly about the food, but that's not really a bad thing.

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For more about the new occupants of 60 Carlton (which includes an LCBO and Joe Fresh location), check out the dedicated Loblaws website.

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