Curiouser and Curiouser...

My Adventures in blogging, digital and Public History

Saturday, February 24, 2007

From Penalties to Produce


What would Bill Barilko think? It seems that the new owners of Maple Leaf Gardens, Loblaw Cos. Ltd. (yes, the grocery store people), have plans to turn the hockey shrine into - you guessed it - a grocery store.

Of course, as one might expect, there has been a storm of controversy surrounding the proposal. Heritage properties or buildings with history are always a touchy subject when it comes to preservation, and especially in this case when the building under consideration was once the Mecca of the hockey world. But what should be done with something when it outlives the purpose for which it was built? And what if it is not a public building but owned by a private citizen or corporation? What effect does this have on history?

I am probably in the minority, but I think the owners of the Gardens should be able to use the building the way they see fit. After all, when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment sold the building, they did so under the condition that it could not be used as a hockey arena or sports venue. Essentially then, MLSE created a situation which would inevitably change the course of the building’s history. So, rather than have it sit empty, shouldn’t it take on a new persona and be the basis of a new history?

It would be illogical to suggest that converting a building like the Gardens is selling out to corporate interests and destroying a part of Toronto’s history. The argument really has no validity considering the building was originally created to make money. In fact, the seats were moved closer together to squeeze more patrons in. So far from destroying history, a corporation like Loblaws is merely continuing the tradition of capitalism.

Architecture critic Chris Hume, the first person you might think would be against the proposed change, supports it. Hume points out that the Gardens is not architecturally unique and calls the reno a “fitting end to this dismal, unhappy place.” He is referring to the various monetary and corruption scandals and in later years, child abuse scandals, which have tainted the confines of the arena.

I think Hume makes some valid points. The arena seems to have as many bad memories as good. Why not change the use completely and give the building a chance for a new history?

Yes, the building is iconic and was the site of many memories, but the building itself is not being torn down. It will still be there as part of the history and heritage. Even The Toronto Preservation Board gave the conditional okay for the re-adaptive reuse of building. So it seems the city has given its blessing for a new chapter in the history of Maple Leaf Gardens to be written.

I recently had the chance to hear Elizabeth P. Busby speak. As former head of art conservation at the ROM she has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the art, museum and history worlds. Someone asked what she thought of the new Michael Lee-Chin crystal at the ROM. She said that originally she was unsure but that she had grown to really like the design. She said it was “of our time”.

I think Elizabeth P. Busby has put it brilliantly. Buildings, like history, are reflections of their time. They change and morph and grow based on cultural attitudes and economics. History is not stagnant It is based on the ideas and feelings of the past and interpreted by those in the present. History is created by people.

Building and structures may encourage memories, but the stories attached to them remain long after a building has been torn down, or its original use long forgotten. If Maple Leaf Gardens becomes a grocery store it will just be part of the inevitable historical change, and its impact, the basis for discussion and debate among future historians.

43 Comments:

Blogger bryan andrachuk said...

Hey Kelly,

Great post! I agree with you that we cannot keep buildings as they were simply for sentimental reasons (and nothing is more sentimental, to my mind, than a Leafs fan). There are practical matters we have to deal with, especially when the practicality of a thing like Maple Leaf Gardens covers half a city block.

If people are worried about losing their past, why not lobby Loblaws to appropriately commemorate the building's past (which I am sure they will do anyway, to cash in on the marketability of having a store in one of the city's most cherished[?] buildings)?

I think I smell a public history project in there somewhere.

9:45 AM  
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6:48 AM  

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