If you’re Canadian you know the famous and very historic Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs for over 60 some on years BUT did you know that outside of hockey the Gardens played a role in bringing top musical acts, ice shows, operas and rally’s to the public of Toronto (to name a few)?

1930s Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: BlogTO

Lets take a look at the vintage non hockey history of Maple Leaf Gardens pre 1970s.

Let’s Begin with…..ELVIS!

Elvis Presley played the Gardens in April of 1957 and it should be noted that this performance was among only five he ever performed outside of the U.S.

Elvis Presley in Toronto 1950s at Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: Flickr-Greg’s Southern Ontario

This is a letter signed by his fans that say “Presented to Elvis Presley, April 2 1957 on your personal appearance in the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens. We would like to convey our greatest & warmest wishes for your continued success & happiness.”

A Description of the Evening:

Crowds estimated at 8,000 and 15,000 persons jammed Maple Leaf Gardens last night as Elvis Presley gave his first and second Canadian shows. Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, said the second-show crowd was the largest Presley has ever faced in a personal appearance. I think Toronto audiences are terrific,’ Col. Parker said.

But if the Toronto audience was the largest Elvis has ever faced, to all reports it was also one of the quietest and best-behaved audiences ever to watch Elvis in action. Members of the troupe said the whooping and hollering and shenanigans just didn’t compare to what they had seen in other cities. However, they gave part of the credit for this to the 90 special constables on duty and to the alert Gardens’ staff. Whenever a youngster bounced up in his seat a policeman would reach over and plunk him down again. This sometimes gave the Gardens the appearance of a large jack-in-the-box, but it seemed to have the desired effect. Two women fans were ejected late in the second performance when they tried to break through 20 policemen and as many Maple Leaf Gardens’ attendants to reach the stage. Frankie Trent, who leads off the Presley show with a tap dance routine said he had heard a lot more heckling than was usual in most towns.’But the kids didn’t screech and run around as much as they did in other places,’ he said (Source).

Elvis on Stage.

Elvis Presley 1957 Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: Elvis Collectors

The Ice Capades

Having an Ice Show at a place where there is Ice kind of makes sense. Here are the Ice Capades of 1955  as I don’t know what but those ARE giant ice cream cones in background. How cute!

Maple Leaf Gardens ice show performers 1950s
Source: Flickr-Toronto History

Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades rehearsing Peter Pan with journalist.

1950s Ice Capades Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: Flickr-Toronto History

Wartime rallies were also held at the Gardens for enlisting as well as supporting Victory Bonds (source).

1940s Wartime Rally at Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: Wikipedia Commons

U.S. Radio stars Fibber McGee and Molly at Victory Loan rally-October 30th, 1945.

American radio stars Fibber McGee and Molly perform during a Victory Loans Rally in 1945.
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Need to hold a meeting? Why not at the Gardens, like the Red Cross did in 1945.

Girls skating at Red Cross meeting, Maple Leaf Gardens 1945
Source: Flickr-Toronto History

The Metropolitan Opera was also noted for performing at the Gardens. Here is an image of a adorable little girl getting ready for her performance.

Metropolitan Opera performers in dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens 1950s
Source: Flickr-Toronto History

Back to the concerts-In what was deemed the arena’s first rock ‘n’ roll show, Bill Haley and his Comets headlined a 12-act bill on April 30, 1956, that also included Bo Diddley, LaVern Baker, Big Joe Turner, the Drifters, the Platters, and Frankie Lymon (Source).

Bill Haley and the Comets Performing.

Bill Haley and the Comets, 1956 Maple Leaf Gardens
Note: I would NEVER be sitting down at that concert like the crowd in the front. Dancing all the way!

The Isley Brothers in the “The Biggest Show Of Stars-1960”.

The Isley Brothers perform at 1960’s “The Biggest Show Of Stars Maple Leaf Gardens
Source: Flickr-Toronto History

And now for the..BEATLES!

The Beatles performed in Toronto a total of three times before calling it quits, each time at the legendary Maple Leaf Gardens. First, on September 7, 1964, and then a year apart on August 17 in ’65 and ’66 (one of their final concerts) (source).

Here are fans outside Maple Leaf Gardens (August 17th), as the press conference takes place.

Beatles at maple leaf Gardens
Source: Zoomer Radio

This photo below is pretty cool as it was a garage sale find by the current owner who purchased an old photo album and found the ticket inside. What a find! (source). Can you believe that it only cost $5.00 to go see the Beatles in ’65.. $5.00!! Yooza!

Beatles Ticket Stub, August 17, 1965 in Toronto
Source: Flickr-Tanja-Tiziana

The Beatles performing at the Gardens on August 17th, 1965.

Beatles at maple leaf Gardensn 1965
Source: Zoomer Radio

What happened to the Gardens?

The Maple Leaf Gardens of today is a multipurpose facility, with a Grocery store occupying retail space on the lower floors and an athletic centre for Toronto’s Ryerson University, known as Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens, occupying another level.


Maple Leaf Gardens was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2007 because it was:

one of the most renowned “shrines” in the history of hockey… the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country’s foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera… the Gardens holds a special place in the country’s popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.

—Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2006 (Source).


Question: Do you have an arena in your home town or surrounding city that has amazing vintage history like this?

Liz 🙂

8 comments on “The (Non Hockey) History of Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens-Pre 1970s”

  1. I love the mental image I have of those policemen pushing enthusiastic youngsters back down in to their seats!! How hilarious. “Enjoy yourself, kids, but not too much!”

    Love the reindeer (maybe?) and giant ice cream cones too. Classic. How good are insane stage sets?

    • the image of “up and down” “up and down” makes me giggle every time! lol 🙂

      Possibly reindeer, or possibly reindeer/rabbits?? hahaha I don’t know. Insane stage sets for the win!

  2. Awesome post!!! This truly is one of the most iconic Canadian event centers of all-time. I kick myself for never actually getting a chance to go inside it (best I can recall, and I do think I would remember if I had) when we lived in the GTA. Something else to add to the list of what to do there when I eventually make it back for a visit one day.

    Thank you very much for another top-notch slice of Canadian history, dear gal!

    ♥ Jessica

    • So glad you enjoyed it Jessica! I have to say that they did a really good job of preserving many of the things that made the Gardens wonderful and if you do get to visit you will still be stepping back into time with a side of avocados lol!

  3. Sounds like a fascinating place. I would have loved to have seen Elvis and The Beatles. I think the Ice Capades are dressed as reindeer, I think they might be wearing jingle bell harnesses. No idea how that fits with giant ice cream cones though! Bet it was a good show!

    • I think your right about the Reindeer. I was calling them Reindeer/bunnies lol!

      Elvis would of been an amazing show and to see the Beatles for $5..wow! Different times, different times.

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