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Official Review by Robbie Raskin, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Originally constructed in 1931, Maple Leaf Gardens' illustrious history spans many decades as well as many sports and events. Famously home to the NHL's Maple Leafs, it also hosted the first game of the Basketball Association of America, the NBA's predecessor. In 1946 the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knickerbockers. For a detailed look into the integral role the Gardens played in basketball's history, consult our November 2012 magazine issue.
The Huskies did not prove to be an enormous success and the Gardens were without a regular basketball tenant until the Toronto Raptors moved to Toronto and played six games here between 1997 and 1999 when SkyDome (now MLB Rogers Centre) was unavailable. After the Leafs, Raptors, and the National Lacrosse League's Rock moved to the new Air Canada Centre, the Gardens sat mostly vacant.
It was not until 2009 when supermarket chain Loblaws reached an agreement with Ryerson University, which has their campus just down the street, to renovate the Gardens with a flagship supermarket downstairs, as well as athletics and recreation centres for the Ryerson Rams interuniversity teams. Now the Gardens are open once again and the best of the illustrious history has been preserved along with tasteful modern additions. Torontonians once again have a cathedral to be proud of and the games go on once more under the dome as they have for decades.
The basketball facility is known as Coca-Cola Court and is located on the second level of the remade facility and provides one of Canada's best university sport experiences.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The basketball fan's food and drink option is the Rams Café which sells a variety of interesting, light, and healthy options and has a licensed seating area so alcohol can be consumed there. Those looking for arena staples like burgers, hot dogs, or poutine won't find it here though. Those in the know head downstairs to the Loblaws supermarket which has all kinds of food including a sushi bar, patisserie, tea bar, cheese wall, bakery, and even a gigantic chocolate 'iceberg' weighing over 250 pounds! Technically the market is not within the arena, but it is an absolutely incredible place to get your gameday meal.
Entering the second-floor concourse, fans are presented with music being played by a DJ who cycles through various genres. Also in the concourse are students from the Ryerson Student Union selling noisemakers and banners. All throughout the building are huge photographs and montages of historic events at the Gardens as well as historic displays in cases. The historic theme continues with beautiful heritage recreations of details like the antique window panes, original brick walls, and seats from the old Maple Leaf Gardens bowl. The exterior facade has been restored to beauty again and tasteful additions like night-lighting, billowing Canadian flags, and a recreation of the 1930's-era marquee mix with tasteful Loblaw's and Ryerson University signage that manages to be unobtrusive on the art deco facade.
Ryerson University prides itself on its downtown location and although the arena is a block or two north of the campus proper, it is certainly within the urban fabric. The arena is just west of eclectic Yonge Street and is within a ten-minute walk of vibrant Dundas Square and the massive Eaton Centre shopping mall.
The neighbourhood is very safe as with most of downtown Toronto, and walking around at night after a game should not be a problem.
Although Ryerson's student body consists mainly of commuters the support for the basketball team is not bad and most of the seats in the Coca-Cola Court were filled. When crosstown rivals University of Toronto or York come in to play there can be exciting cheering battles as rival fans divide themselves into sections around the stands.
The best way to get to the game is by subway and College Station is just down the street from the Gardens, at Yonge. The Carlton streetcar runs by the front doors and brings passengers in from the east and west.
The concourses are spacious and do not become too crowded during the game. As for washrooms, there is a set of washrooms just outside the court and they are entirely touch-free. Also, and almost worthy of an extra point, is the handsoap which smells very vividly of watermelon and is a must try! Seriously.
Tickets are $12 for those who are not university students, but Ryerson students get in free. $12 is on the high side of pricing for Canadian university basketball, but the arena experience is way above any other in the country and the investment is well worth it. Concessions are priced about average as are souvenirs and apparel.
Considering that the arena was a significant investment for the growing university, and seeing as the facility is worth a look even without the game being played, $12 is suddenly quite a deal.
Being downtown, $12 for an evening of entertainment is cheaper than most events you could spend your money on in the neighbourhood.
One extra point for the sensitive heritage restoration and attention to detail.
One extra point for the pricey modern accents to the facility paid for by Ryerson.
One extra point for the Mattamy AC Interactive Android and iPhone app which allows the user to see video corresponding to the many historical photos throughout the facility.
One big extra for the fact that basketball is being played again in the same building that hosted the first professional basketball game.
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35 Elm St
Toronto, ON M5G 1H1
4 Irwin Ave
Toronto, ON M4Y 1K9
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