Maple Leaf Gardens
Toronto, Canada

Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto c. 1930s
Photo courtesy Daniels and The Eric Arthur Gallery

Conn Smythe, after being paid $10,000 for rebuilding the New York Rangers hockey team and then fired, went on to buy the Toronto St. Pats hockey team for $164,000 and renamed them the Maple Leafs. In 1931 during the Great Depression, Symthe, along with J.P. Bickell, persuaded large Toronto businesses such as Eaton's (department store) and Sun Life Assurance, to invest in building Maple Leaf Gardens. Eaton's sold the plot of land on which the Gardens now stands, 100 yards from where Smythe was born, to Smythe's group for $350,000.1

Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto c. 1930s
Photo courtesy Torontoist

On April 1st, 1931, demolition began at the corner of Church and Carlton streets. Over 1,200 laborers were employed on the project. The 350ft by 282ft thirteen story building at 60 Carlton St. with an initial seating of 13,542, was completed in less than 6 months at a cost of $1.5 million (Canadian).  Construction costs were minimized as a result of agreements made with labor unions to provide the workers with Gardens' stock in place of a portion (20%) of their regular earnings. Material cost 20 to 30% less than the pre-depression period due to extremely low demand.2

Maple Leaf Gardens ca. 1940s
Postcard Photo courtesy Gasoline Alley Antiques

The Gardens also included a six-lane bowling alley, a billiards room and a gymnasium. The bowling alley runs almost the length of the East Greens under the seats. Part of the original construction plans it was thought the sport was ready to take off. Some tournaments were run, but like the billiards room and the gymnasium, the areas were transformed over the years into carpenter and electrician workshops and storage areas. Legend has it that Smythe brought in two cats to the new Gardens, to have the run of the building to keep it mouse free and also that he hired two painters whose job it was to cover even the slightest crack or chip so the building always looked brand new.3

Opening Night in Maple Leaf Gardens - 1931
Postcard photo courtesy Classic Auctions

Opening night was November 12, 1931 and the Maple Leafs lost their first regular season game 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks. Seat prices ranged from $.95 to $2.95. On April 9, 1932, the Maple Leafs won their first Stanley Cup by beating the New York Rangers 6-4, the team that Smythe had rebuilt.2

1931/1932 Toronto Maple Leafs Team photo
Photo courtesy

On March 3, 1932,Winston Churchill addressed a crowd of 6,000 at Maple Leaf Gardens, fighting the feeble sound system with an hour long speech.  He spoke of the need for unity and strength in both the Empire and the United States and warned of trouble in Germany if its massive reparations bill from World War 1 was not eased. After dispensing with the microphone, The Telegram reported "he was heard extraordinarily well in all parts of the arena."3

Inspecting new enlistees at Maple Leaf Gardens, ca. 1939
Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario

Many activities were held at the Gardens over the years such as: track and field, speed skating, boxing, wrestling, political meetings, church services and the Metropolitan Opera. During World War II the building  was used extensively as a military parade ground and training base.3

Training at the Gardens during WWII
Photo City of Toronto Archives courtesy Lance Hornby

Seating capacity was steadily increased to 15,646 after various renovations over the years and the Gardens held the most incredible sports attendance record of any in the world.  From 1946 to 1990 there wasn't an unsold seat in the arena during a Maple Leafs Game.

Toronto ad for first NBA game 1946

The Gardens was also the site of the NBA league’s very first basketball game on November 1, 1946, when the Toronto Huskies lost to the New York Knickerbockers, 68-66.  If you were taller than the tallest Husky, Than Nostrand at 6’8”, you got in free! The contest drew 7,090, a good crowd considering that virtually every youngster in Canada grew up playing hockey and basketball was hardly a well-known sport at the time.4

Maple Leaf Gardens ca. 1950s
Photo courtesy eBay

Boxing never failed to draw a crowd to the Gardens. When the Gardens was being built, boxing was envisioned as the major sports revenue stream after hockey and that was true until wrestling took hold. The Gardens "Friday Night Fights" were a popular attraction up to the mid 1950s. Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, Floyd Patterson, and eventually Muhammed Ali, all fought there.3

The first Rock concert was held at the Gardens on April 30, 1956 when Bill Haley and The Comets performed. On April 2, 1957 Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ made their first appearance outside of the country in Canada with two shows at Maple Leaf Gardens following a performance in Buffalo the night before.  It was part of a ten city tour that had started in Chicago on March 28. It was also the first tour that featured his gold leaf suit the Colonel had Nudie Cohen of Hollywood make. It was inspired by the gold cutaway Liberace wore in Las Vegas.  The first performance in Toronto would be the last time that Elvis wore the complete suit.  In later shows he would wear only the jacket and at times the shoes.

Nudie Cohen and Elvis

Peter Guralnick, in Last Train To Memphis, wrote that while in Canada, Oscar Davis finally made his move. Playing on the split that had clearly grown up between Elvis and his musicians, Davis, who was still doing all the advance work for his onetime protégé but dreamt of a day when he could once again operate on his own, approached first Scotty and Bill, then D.J., and then the Jordanaires, about having him represent them. They were not tied to the Colonel, he argued, but they were clearly being exploited — and he could just about guarantee them that the boy would not risk losing his entire musical troupe over a matter of a few dollars. His importunings did not fall on deaf ears. Scotty and Bill were more than ready to make the leap, and in the end D.J. was, too: Presley was making millions, and they were still on $200-a-week pay when they were working, $100-a-week retainer when they were not. In the end the Jordanaires were the lone holdouts, but without them there was simply not enough leverage. "He offered us a better deal than what the Colonel had offered us," said Gordon Stoker, "but I think we more or less didn’t trust him. He was beautifully dressed, and he didn't have the bull that the Colonel had, but he was a con artist, too. A beautiful con artist, immaculately dressed, always sharp as a tack- but that's the reason we didn't fall for it."

The front page of the Toronto Daily Star - April 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Shirley (Harris) Deasley

Both Alan Hanson in "Elvis '57, the Final Fifties Tours" and Bill E. Burk in "Elvis in Canada" wrote that the Toronto Telegram reported that a Canadian fan club leader named Carol Vanderleck was largely responsible for Elvis' appearance in Toronto after sending him a petition with 2,443 signatures she personally collected requesting his performance.  Alan also wrote that, (A couple of weeks later the Daily Star ran a photo of another Elvis fan, Shirley Harris, who also claimed “major responsibility” for Presley’s coming to Toronto. She said that on a disc jockeys show she asked Elvis fans to call her if they wanted to see him in Toronto. She got 2,000 replies.) Colonel Parker said that the 45,000 Christmas cards Elvis received from the Toronto area in 1956 was another factor that convinced him to book the star in Canada.5

Gene Smith, Elvis and George Klein backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Elvis and George Klein backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Elvis backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Elvis and CHUM DJ Josh King backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens  - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

As the afternoon hours wore away, the first wave of fans advanced on Maple Leaf Gardens two hours before show time. Entrances to the arena became clogged as traffic slowed on Carlton and Church streets. By the time the opening acts began, the crowd numbered 9,350, over 5,000 short of capacity.5 The opening acts on this tour consisted of dancer Frankie Trent, tenor Frankie Connors, comedian Rex Marlowe, Pat Kelly and of course, the Jordanaires.  Connors had performed on tour with them the previous year in Florida.

CHUM DJ Josh King introducing Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens  - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

Scotty, Elvis and Bill at Maple Lef Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Bill E. Burk's "Elvis in Canada"

One review the following day in the Daily Star read, 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 crowd was the largest Presley has ever faced in a personal appearance. "I think Toronto audiences are terrific," Col. Parker said.6

Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo 1 © John Sebert, 2 courtesy web

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.6

Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy web

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.6

Jordanaires and Elvis at Maple Lef Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy FECC

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.6

Elvis himself didn’t notice anything different about Toronto teenagers. "Teenagers are the same everywhere," was his only comment. But although Toronto teenagers may have been quieter and better behaved than teenagers elsewhere, they managed to disappoint anyone who came to hear Elvis sing.6

Elvis and Hoyt Hawkins at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy FECC

From the time Elvis, dressed in his all-gold suit, walked on stage and smiled until he gave his last bump nearly an hour later, nearly every teenager in the place screeched at the top of his lungs. Despite a good public address system Elvis managed to get across only the occasional note that the audience could hear. However, this didn’t seem to matter to most of those present.6

Every time Elvis reached out his arm in one direction or turned to smile in another, all the crowd in that section would screech with ecstasy. One girl got out of her seat and ran down the aisle. Col. Parker and a few policemen pulled her away as she tried to clamber onstage and touch Elvis.6

Elvis playing Scotty's Gibson L5
Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's "Long Lonely Highway"

About one-third of those present had flash cameras and each time Elvis made a slight turn that side of the auditorium would light up as hundreds of flashbulbs went off. The show’s manager told the crowd they could take as many pictures as they liked and no one needed further invitation.6

When Presley made his first appearance on stage the lights were dimmed. But so many flash cameras went off at once that one could see clearly even in the grays. Throughout the show flash after flash went off. About the only thing comparable to this seen in the Gardens is the matchlight demonstration at a rodeo when everyone present is asked to light a match in memory of cowboys who have gone to the last round-up.6

Elvis playing Scotty's Gibson L5 at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's "Long Lonely Highway"

Clean-up men trundled away several boxes full of flashbulbs between the first and second shows. The noise, too, was deafening from start to finish. During the first show when Josh King, local disc jockey, first announced Elvis was coming, the audience hollered for about 30 straight seconds.6

At this point, an attendant rushed up on stage and quieted the crowd. "Elvis isn’t coming yet," he said. "Elvis doesn't think you're making enough noise." Somewhat surprised, the crowd seemed determined to prove that their lungs were capable of even louder noises. They thereupon screeched for a full two minutes. Apparently the word got around between shows for the second show audience needed no second invitation. They screamed for the full hour that Elvis was on stage.6

Elvis, with Altec Model 21 B/Type M11 Condenser "coke bottle mic",
 at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Although television cameras cut Elvis off at the waist when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show Presley himself appears to have no qualms about making gyrations when he’s doing a live show. He cuddles the mike as he sings, tilting it at weird angles and dragging it along behind him, and he wanders back and forth across the stage. At the start of the first performance last night he grabbed the mike with such eagerness it came off in his hand.6

He picks up his guitar and twangs at it once or twice and then discards it again. After two or three numbers, when he warms up, he takes it and throws it away. There was a delay for several minutes last night when it was announced that Elvis had broken a guitar string. Since he never actually plays the instrument there appeared to be little reason for delay.6

 The Jordanaires and Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy Bill E. Burk's "Elvis in Canada"

The much publicized pelvis was plainly in action, too. Elvis rocks his hips back and forth. He shakes his knees and wobbles his legs and bumps like a fan dancer. He throws out one arm and then the other; and sometimes he even gets down on his knees and leans forward at the audience. At times he even balances on both toes with his knees forward, hips wiggling and chest thrown out. The position appears physically impossible to hold; but Elvis manages to stay that way for 15 or 20 seconds.6

 at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy Bill E. Burk's "Elvis in Canada"

Each time he reached an arm out in any direction, all the teenagers in that section of the crowd would jump up and throw their arms out, screaming at him. "He’s fantabulous," said one teenager. Twenty-three thousand others apparently agree.6

 at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Presley’s own part of the show, which lasted nearly an hour, included nearly every hit recording he has ever done. He started with "Heartbreak Hotel," rolled into "Long, Tall Sally," "Don’t Be Cruel" (his favorite) and kept on with tunes like "Love Me" and his latest release, "That’s When Your Heartaches Begin." He even stole a book from rival Fats Domino by singing the popular rhythm and blues number, "Blueberry Hill."  Others included "Too Much" and "Butterfly."6

Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Although the crowd didn’t seem to appreciate most of the acts that took up the first part of the Presley show, even booing Irish tenor Frankie Connors, Elvis is actually backed by a good rock-and-roll-type show. The Jordanaires, who back Presley in his "Peace In The Valley" record and also backed Sonny James' popular "Young Love," received second top billing. The quartet, the only other number to get a really good audience reaction, consists of Hugh Jarrett, Gordon Stoker, Neil Matthews and Hoyt Hawkins. They sang hit tunes, "Party Doll," "Young Love," and their record not yet released in Canada, "Walk Away." They also provide musical background for Elvis’ gyrations on stage.6

 at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's "Talking Elvis"

Other numbers on the show include Frankie Trent, who tap dances rock-and-roll; Pat Kelly, an attractive blonde who hustles on and off stopping long enough to sing "I Dreamed;" Jimmy James, who plays the banjo; and comic Rex Marlowe. Marlowe, who does an imitation of a lady doffing a girdle ("That’s how they invented rock-and-roll") also appeared to draw few laughs from the crowd.6

 Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (1st show) - Apr 2, 1957

Photo courtesy web

A noticeable absence from the evening’s performance was Presley’s popular "Blue Suede Shoes." "I have five pair of blue suede shoes at home but I never wear them," said Elvis. "That kind of thing gets worn out after a while," he admitted.6

Elvis and Gene Smith backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Ken Moore, Elvis and Gene Smith backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Elvis and fans backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

In addition to the police and his own entourage, sometimes referred to as bodyguards, Bill E. Burk said Elvis had the famous Canadian professional wrestler, "Whipper" Billy Watson, as his Toronto bodyguard. Over his 30-year professional wrestling career and some 6,300 bouts, Watson thrilled audiences with his arsenal of wrestling holds and moves, including the move that gave him his nickname. His natural talent combined with his public popularity resulted in several Canadian and World Heavyweight title reigns, as well as one of the most successful – and respected – careers in the history of the sport.7

Elvis, "Whipper" Billy Watson, and wrestling promoter Frank Tunney - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy FECC

Elvis and his Toronto bodyguard, wrestler "Whipper" Billy Watson - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Bill E. Burk's "Elvis in Canada"

Carol Vanderleck, for her efforts, got to attend the first performance and meet with Elvis backstage after the show. "I don’t even remember what he said," Vanderleck would recall in an interview a decade after Elvis' death in 1977. "I was so overwhelmed, all I could tell a radio reporter (later) was, 'He talked with an accent!'"8

Elvis and Shirley (Harris) Deasley - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley Harris

Shirley (Harris) Deasley got to attend the second performance and meet with Elvis between shows. Shirley said it's a pleasure to share black-and-white photos that I took of Elvis during the second concert. As you can see, Elvis wore black pants during the second show. I had the honour of meeting Elvis and spending almost an hour with him between his two shows. You will notice in the picture of me with him that he is wearing his gold pants and shoes. He did mention to me how hot the gold jacket and pants were and that's why he had changed into to a red velour jacket with a black collar.

famed ballerina Mia Slavenska and Elvis backstage - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Jim Curtin's "Candids of the King"

Another reviewer in the Star who attended the second performance wrote, This review is being written after covering the Elvis Presley show in Maple Leaf Gardens. In fact, it is a full half hour since his grand finale with "Hound Dog" and I have gulped down three cups of strong black coffee. But I still haven't got my hearing back.9

famed ballerina Mia Slavenska and Elvis backstage - Apr. 2, 1957
Bob Ellis Royal Studio Photo source unknown

My ears are roaring with the protracted roar of those 15,000 youngsters who were so worked up. I expected at any time a gang of hysterical young girls would charge through the police guard surrounding the stage and in all aisles rush up and smother their-ever-lovin’ Elvis.9

Toronto Metropolitan Police control fans at Maple Leaf Gardens - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

Some did break away individually from their seats and go tearing down to the stage, squealing with ecstasy his name and arms outstretched. But the police and Gardens ushering staff both out in full force, restrained them.9

The Jordanaires at Maple Leaf Gardens (2nd show) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley Deasley

I’ve heard it said that the lurchin' urchin, Elvis the Pelvis, hasn’t any kind of singing voice and I was anxious to hear if there was anything in the tumor. Frankly, after 16 of his rock' n' roll ballads, delivered with a ferocious intensity and maneuvers known in the burlesque business as "all-out grinds and bumps," I still have no way of knowing. I just didn't hear one note or one word he sang.9

CHUM DJ Josh King introducing Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley (Harris) Deasley

Even his liver-lips introduction to each song was inaudible. And when he did vocalize, all you heard over the public address system and the tumult was a thin kind of sound that in no way expressed the immense gusto of his all-too-obvious body manipulations, which are the notorious Pelvis choreography — if such a fancy term could be applied in his case.9

Elvis fans at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

He came on wearing gold bespangled jacket, black trousers and black shirt open at the throat at which hung a glittering gold locket to give him, no doubt, that primitive he-man touch. His built-up shoes were gold and spangled too.9

DJ, Elvis, and Bill at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley (Harris) Deasley

When Liberace, the low-geared Presley, came to the same arena and appeared in resplendent costumes that made middle-aged woman shout with delight, he didn't look nearly so much like a three-ring circus or an overdone Christmas tree as did friend Elvis last evening.9

Elvis fans at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

It goes without saying he has all the appeal of one-part dynamite and one-part chain-lightning to the adolescent girls; but to one like myself who is neither a girl nor adolescent, I could only feel he was strikingly devoid of talent.9

Scotty, DJ, Elvis, and Bill at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley (Harris) Deasley

One rock 'n' roll ballad sounded just like the other, and the basic theme and appeal were sex, which Elvis lays on with the subtlety of a bulldozer in mating season, you might say.  He is Mr. Overstatement himself. He has to knock himself and his audience out at every beat.9

Scotty, DJ, Bill and Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Elvis Album

He had his male quartet singing with him, as Johnny Ray did, as a background, but they were drowned completely. As Elvis rocked and rolled his fine gold-and-black frame about the large Gardens stage, he would sometimes walk over to the quartet, and the converging beams of the overhead spotlights would pick off the four fellows singing into their microphone on one side. But they might just as well have gone backstage, dressed and left because they weren't heard. But then, they should console themselves with the fact that Elvis was only barely audible.9

Scotty, DJ, Bill and Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy James V. Roy added Oct. 4. 2013

closeup of Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

There was an hour show before Elvis came on followed by a 20-minute intermission; and I don't know when I've ever felt so sorry for performers as I did during the warm-up before Elvis came on. The youngsters just wanted Elvis, and nobody else!9

Scotty, DJ, Elvis, Bill and the Jordanaires at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo © courtesy Shirley (Harris) Deasley

The 20-minute intermission before he came on was almost as colorful as the pre-Elvis entertainment. Girls were got up in the most bizarre costumes. One wore blue slacks with Presley crests bearing his face, sewn on the spots where normally you expect to see hip-pockets. One girl wore a leather windbreaker with "Go Elvis!" printed on the front and back. "I love Elvis" pins were as common as flies at a summer picnic.9

Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens (Eve) - Apr. 2, 1957
Photo courtesy Sheila Roth

At intermission, one enterprising vendor was shouting out: "Get your Elvis ice cream here! " The fellow with the concession on opera glasses in the main passageway inside the front doors told me he had sold hundreds — at 75 cents apiece.9

Oh, and by the way, just now I’m beginning to get my hearing back.9

Click to hear CBC Radio reporter Bill Beatty's April 2, 1957 broadcast
courtesy CBC Digital Archives


Shouts and Screams Drown Out Presley
Toronto, April 3 - (BUP)
Elvis Presley came to town last night and 30,000 teenager swooned, shouted and screamed.
Although Presley sang with accompanying wiggles for two performances at Maple Leaf Gardens, his voice was hardly heard. Instead, there was a steady din of screams and enthusiastic groans from his audience which drowned out the bespangled performers favorite renditions: Hound Dog, Don't Be cruel and Heartbreak Hotel.
The 22-year-old former truck driver was rated real cool on the platform which was ringed by 40 police and Gardens attendants to thwart a possible rush at the end of his program.
He sat cross-legged on a table for a news conference and admitted he suffers from stage fright before every performance until he starts his first song.
The six-foot-two Presley said that although he regretted never doing better at school than leaning "nuff to write mah own name", he enjoyed his present life.
His appearance her for two nightly shows resulted in one of the largest police escorts provided in Toronto for a visitor.
Ninety-five policemen were detailed off to the Gardens to protect the singer and throw out anybody who got out of his seat and started to wander.
Although leading hotels were plagued all day by questioners as to Presley's whereabouts, he remained in hiding until his appearance at the Gardens for his interview with reporters, half an hour before his first show.
Two women fans were ejected late in the second performance when they tried to break through policemen and attendants to reach the sideburned rock 'n' roll singer on the stage.
When each 45 minute performance was over, fans left quietly.

Ottawa Journal article added July 26, 2009, courtesy Ottawa Public Library

Of this tour Guralnick further wrote, it grossed more than $300,000 with a commensurate sale of programs and souvenirs. It generated coverage, controversy, and cash, and from nearly every point of view could not fail to be accounted a success, but if anything was needed to confirm the Colonel's growing conviction that this was a phenomenon that had orbited out of control ("All those sweet little girls out there, they're fucking animals he had told Hal Kanter), this tour served to do it. It was just too damn out of control- and it was becoming increasingly impossible even to do the show. They performed in Ottawa the following afternoon and night and then visited Canada only one more time, at the end of August in Vancouver, where the show was cut short as the fans rushed closer to the stage.

The Gardens would later also host other acts rock acts like Fats Domino, Pat Boone and Frankie Avalon and naturally, the Beatles.3

The Beatles interviewed at Maple Leaf Gardens - Sep. 7, 1964

The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens - Sept 7, 1964
Photo courtesy Marco Lucci

The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens - Sept 7, 1964
Photo courtesy Marco Lucci

The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens - Sept 7, 1964
Photo courtesy Marco Lucci

The Beatles Performance at Maple Leaf Gardens - Sep. 7, 1964

Poster for final Beatles appearance in Toronto
Poster courtesy Capitol6000

The Beatles performed at the Maple Leaf Gardens on all three of their North American tours.  First on September 7, 1964, and then exactly a year apart on August 17 in 1965 and 1966.  Several of the Beatles would later perform there individually, George Harrison and then Paul McCartney with Wings.

George Harrison in concert at Maple Leaf Gardens - Dec. 6, 1974
Photo © courtesy Bobbb

Maple Leaf Gardens - 1973
Photo © Robert Jones

In January of 1973 Neil Young became the first homegrown singer to sell out the Gardens. Through the 70s, 80s and 90s the Gardens would host many acts including Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Queen, Elton John, The Who, The Clash, U2, Madonna, Paul Simon, Bryan Adams, Prince, Neal Diamond, Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton and Oasis, among many others.3

Stan 'The Man' Stasiak and Billy Graham at Maple Leaf Gardens - Nov 20, 1977
Photo by Norm Betts, Toronto Sun files courtesy Slam Wrestling

Wrestling also became popular in the Gardens in the 60s and 70s and by the late 70s three wrestling organizations were on the scene, the NWA, WWF and AWA.3

Darryl Sittler's record-setting game remains intact over 30 years later

On February 7, 1976, Maple Leaf's Darryl Sitler, set an NHL record that has held to this day by scoring 10 points in a game, six goals and four assists, leading the Leafs to an 11-4 victory against the Boston Bruins.

A Maple Leafs Game at Maple Leaf Gardens
Photo © Elzer Studio

In all, the Maple Leafs won 11 of their 13 total Stanley Cups at the Gardens. The last Leafs game there was played Feb 13, 1999 against the Chicago Blackhawks.  It ended as it had started 68 years earlier, in 1931, with the Leafs losing to the Blackhawks.  The Maple Leafs moved to the new Air Canada Centre.

Maple Leaf Gardens - 1999
Photo © Chris Beach courtesy OHL Arena and Travel Guide

Concert promoters left the Gardens for the Air Canada Centre almost as soon as the Leafs did. By September of 1999, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Air Canada Centre hired Toronto-based realtor CB Richard Ellis to oversee the potential sale or redevelopment of the Gardens.

Movie poster for Cinderella Man
courtesy web

Only about 40 events have been held at the Gardens since the Maple Leafs moved, mostly Toronto Rock lacrosse matches and St. Michael's Majors junior hockey games. Both Cher and the Rolling Stones used it for preparation for concert tours, the Stones for their winter 2002-03 tour. The building was also used in the films Cinderella Man and Death to Smoochy.  In July of 2004 the Gardens was finally sold to Loblaws Cos. Ltd., a supermarket chain that operates 1,000 stores across Canada under a variety of names, including No Frills, Fortinos, Loblaws, Real Canadian SuperStore, and in Quebec, Maxi and Provigo.

The Maple Leaf Gardens in 2004
Photo © Kevin Jordan courtesy OHL Arena and Travel Guide

Since 2005, negotiations were underway for a deal with the grocery store chain to allow Ryerson University’s hockey team to use the rink for its games, but with an estimated rental cost of $4,000 to $5,000 per game, the deal proved too expensive. Members of the group Friends of Maple Leaf Gardens had been fighting to preserve the hockey rink since the last game was played at the Gardens.10

The Maple Leaf Gardens in 2007
Photo: Nick Patch/Special to The Ryersonian

Nearly three years after the purchase, in February of 2007 Loblaws announced that it was ready to begin redeveloping the Gardens.  Loblaw's share price had fallen 35 per cent in the past two years as its efforts to compete with lower-cost rivals, such as Wal-Mart Canada Corp., hit some major stumbling blocks. The grocer has been opening larger stores that also carry non-food merchandise while closing less-efficient warehouses and opening new ones.11

Loblaws' plan for the Gardens is to keep the entire building intact but partially gut and transform it into 150,000 sq. ft. of retail space. Renovations will include a two-story supermarket, a parking garage and a hockey museum located in the southeast corner of the building hoping attract hockey fans from around the world.10

Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens
Star File Photo © by Graig Abel

By November of 2007, the projected 22 month construction summer start date had come and gone, and nothing had changed.  Loblaw's customer relations said the plans for the Gardens store are complete. Construction is to start within a year and completion will be "soon."12

page added August 29, 2008  (pictures from Sheila Roth added May 28, 2011)

Elvis at Maple Leaf Gardens advertisement courtesy Bill E. Burk's "Elvis in Canada"

1 courtesy of National Hockey League Arenas
2 Maple Leaf Gardens,
excerpt from The Story of Maple Leaf Gardens by Lance Hornby
4 excerpt from The First Game, by Sam Goldaper for
5 excerpt from "Elvis '57, the Final Fifties Tours" by Alan Hanson
6 23,000 See Elvis Late Show 15,000 His Largest Ever, Toronto Star, Apr 3, 1957 courtesy Ger Rijff's "Long Lonely Highway"
7 excerpt from History by the minute: Whipper Billy Watson
8 excerpt from Elvis in Canada by Bill E. Burk
9 MUSIC (?) REVIEW, All Too Plainly Visible Elvis Is Barely Audible, by Hugh Thomson, Toronto Daily Star: Apr 3, 1957 courtesy Ger Rijff's "Long Lonely Highway"
10 excerpt from Levy 'sad' over Gardens Plan by Sarah Regan, The Ryersonian, Feb 6, 2007
11 according to Loblaw unveils Gardens plan, by Dana Flavelle, The Star - Feb 22, 2007
12 according to the Torontoist, November 21, 2007

In April of 2007, the Canadian Chapter of the "Love For Elvis Fan Club" ran a short article in which they interviewed a local fan that attended the first show in Toronto.  The fan is the mother of Andy Dumas who directed the documentary 'Fit for a King', and he was kind enough to share the article with us for posting.


~ By: Ronda Marson ~

Let's step back in time for a moment to 1957.... It would mark Elvis' only performances outside the U.S. for the rest of his entire career. The chosen venue - Canada! He would visit three Canadian cities: Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

There were many hands behind the scene to get Presley to play Canada. One very important catalyst was Carol Vanderleck, a then resident of Leaside, ON. She gathered signatures on a petition asking - no pleading - for Elvis to come to Toronto. In the end she had compiled over 2,000 signatures and sent them off to Hollywood in care of Colonel Tom Parker. Did they react? A phone call was placed from the far off land of the stars to Carol. It was the Colonel calling himself to let her know that not only was Elvis going to perform in Toronto, but that she had a personal invitation to come backstage to meet him. Carol's efforts had paid off in a BIG WAY! Her reaction to meeting Presley as documented in an interview she gave in 1977 following his death: "I don't even remember what he said I was so overwhelmed!"

Elvis met with the Canadian Press corps prior to his Canadian debut. He arrived dressed in gold tasselled shoes (part of the Gold Lame outfit), a silver silk shirt, and a red jacket. His southern charm and sweet laughter won over everyone in the room. There always seems to be strange questions during press conferences, and this was to be no exception. However, Elvis handled all the questions brilliantly with his quick wit and keen sense of humour. When asked by a reporter "Have you ever thought of becoming a doctor, lawyer or psychiatrist?" Presley replied, laughing "I haven't thought of becoming a Psychiatrist, but I have thought about going to a few."

During his concert on April 3rd in Ottawa only 37 of the 259 Members of Parliament (our Government) showed up for the night session in the House Of Commons. Those "missing in action" were attending Presley's concert!

Evelyn Dumas was fortunate enough to attend the first show Elvis performed in Toronto on April 2, 1957 at Maple Leaf Gardens. I feel even more fortunate that I was able to sit with her and hear her reminisce about that very day.

Evelyn grew up in Saskatchewan and moved to Ontario while in her twenties. She was working for a couple who owned a store in the Toronto area whose daughters happened to be BIG fans of Elvis Presley. Their mother purchased tickets once the Toronto show was announced, and luckily there was an extra ticket when their father decided that he didn't care to go. Evelyn saw the opportunity and didn't let it pass her by! "Oh take me, I'd love to go," she exclaimed - and go she did. The tickets were for the first performance at 6 PM. The seats? FRONT ROW!!! Can you imagine sitting front row and seeing every facial expression accompanied by Elvis' sweet crooked grin that would always cross his face in reaction to the adulation of his adoring fans?!?!

"When I finally went to bed that night after the concert I was so excited I could hardly sleep," Dumas smiles. You can see the far away look in her eyes at this revelation, and detect the sweet memories of this exciting time in her life. She admits it remains one of the highlights of her entire life.

"Do you have any pictures?" I ask excitedly, still trying to comprehend how close she was sitting to witness Elvis in all his uninhibited glory - in the
days when he was raw, fresh, and well...somethin'

"No I never thought to bring a camera," she sighs, the sense of disappointment after all these years still apparent. "I did dress up though, just in case there was a chance of meeting him," she laughs.

Sadly that was not meant to be, but the memories she took away that night are a treasure she'll always have.

"I was just in heaven. He was so full of energy, and such a handsome beast. He made living "alive" - we needed him. He changed music, in fact he changed everything. We had no one else at the time to really get excited about, but our whole generation changed after Elvis. Although I was never one to do it - he walked on that stage, pointed his finger, began singing - and I screamed, just as loud as the rest of the girls in the audience that night! I was spellbound," Dumas says, so many memories flooding back. And it's sharing memories like these that helps to carry on Elvis' legacy for future generations. It's in remembering the little details. During the interview Evelyn reminisces about seeing "little gold flecks all over the stage" - little fragments from his Gold Lame suit. It would be the last time Elvis would ever wear the entire Gold Lame suit - times after that he would wear only the Jacket with regular dress pants. It would also be the only time that Evelyn would ever see Elvis perform live. However, during the interview one can sense that what she took away with her that night is still vividly embedded in the recesses of our consciousness where we keep only the sweetest, most treasured memories - to draw upon when needed.

"That night when Elvis was standing only a few feet from me and singing I kept thinking I can't believe I'm here, I can't believe this is real. He just drew you to him, and you couldn't help but like him. I wish he was still here," she smiles.

Me too, Evelyn - ME TOO!

Ronda Marson
President, Canadian Chapter
Love For Elvis Fan Club

article © Ronda Marson, courtesy Andy Dumas

article added August 30, 2008

TORONTO DAILY STAR:  Wednesday, April 3, 1957


Elvis Presley made an earth shattering statement last night. He hinted he considered himself a jazz singer. This reporter, after cornering the rock 'n' roll king alone for a few minutes, just about flipped when Elvis explained matter-of-factly that he not only liked jazz but actually thought tunes like "Heartbreak Hotel." and "Houn‘ Dog" represented some sort of jazz.

"I don't actually know too much about it." he admitted with an apologetic grin. "but I am pretty sure my songs are part. of jazz."

Still trying to digest this revelation. I hurried over to cigar-chewing Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' shrewd business manager, to get his views.

"Are you kidding?" he growled. "Jazz singer . . . hah!" He pointed his finger at me: “He is not a jazz singer—he is a full-house singer." And one of the colonel‘s aides added his own thoughts on the matter: "Yeah—who the heck is interested in jazz? It's dead."

But there were a number of people in the audience last night who think the opposite is true.

Dave Caplan, president of the Toronto Town Jazz club, who went to the show "out of curiosity," predicted the death of rock 'n' roll in the near future. "And Elvis will speed it along," he added.

Dave, who went to the Gardens with a group of musicians, said: "If Elvis thinks he sings jazz he insults not only every genuine jazz singer but millions of jazz fans all over the world."
"What a horrible experience," he exclaimed. "I came to find out what all the noise about Presley is about; and that's just what it all amounted to-—a lot of noise," he added.

However. In all fairness it must be pointed out that Elvis seems to look at jazz with respect and even awe.

"To play jazz you must he a very, very good musician," he said.


The TELEGRAM:  Wednesday, April 3, 1957


Spellbound Presley fans, some wearing Ivy League caps, are completely carried away as they howl, wave and clap. According to one girl, "His magnetic charm spreads out and we're nowhere. such sex appeal."
Photo by Ron Laytner

Now They've all been Elvisized

Elvis Presley vibrated last night and started a humming in 24,000 people's minds.

Here's what some thought after:

Metro Chairman Gardiner: "It's pretty hard to diagnose that one. It is the most mysterious thing I've ever seen . . . to see thousands of teen-agers worked up to such a high pitch of frenzy.  I can't understand it. It is a most remarkable case of mass hysteria. But it doesn't seem to do any harm."

Marcia Toshack, 14, Roden Commercial Student: "He's so different. Everybody's asleep and then he comes in. His magnetic spreads out and we're nowhere. He's out idol."

Jan Kulick, 16, bank teller: "Such sex appeal."

Arlene Rodnick, 15, Central commerce student: "I guess he's to us what Marilyn Monroe is to a man."

Refreshment booth server: "They were screaming when Rudy Vallee was here. They're still screaming."

In the line-up a brother to his little sister: "I'm freezing."

The pony-tailed sister: "I'm excited."

Sister's girl friend: "I'm Elvisized."

A grandmother, 53, who telephoned The Telegram: "Thanks for the afternoon Elvis story. I got curious and decided to go. I've never been out alone in my life, but something made me go: Those teen-agers behaved so beautifully.

"I don't think Elvis gets a break from people. They all say he's so bad but I think people with delinquent children are just trying to get excuses for their behavior and they pick on every fad."

Mia Slavenka, famed ballerina now appearing at the Royal York's Imperial Room, met Presley and watched his show with her husband and 10-year-old daughter.

"Mr. Presley has a very definite form of dance rhythm," she said. "This may well be what creates the hysteria."

Her husband was reminded of the hypnotic attraction which Hitler held for the German masses. As with Hitler, he pointed out, the singer could not get through more than a word or phrase before hysterical screams drowned him out.

Joe Schulman, taxi driver: "I didn't see him. If I had a daughter, she would not have gone inside the Gardens door. I'm a real Presley fan. I'd like to fan him with a brick."


'Mind Men' Not Scared By Elvis

Ho hum.

That sums up the reaction of Toronto psychiatrists to the younger set's squealings and swoonings over Elvis Presley at Maple Leaf Gardens last night.

The men of the mind have no mind to get worked up over the way the teens get worked up over Elvis, if you follow us.

Dr. J. D. M. Griffin of the Canadian Mental Health Association, with two teen-agers of his own who "don't like Elvis Presley particularly and didn't want to go see him," said: "I'm not sure if its any different from when that your-time-is-my-time fellow -- you know, Rudy Vallee was the rage. And when there was Frank Sinatra. It's been going on for years.

"The only difference is that now there's a tremendous build-up by the mass-media--radio, TV, the press."

Dr. Griffin sees no lasting harm to teens who go seemingly crazy over Elvis--and if his own teens had wanted to take in the Garden's show, they'd have had the green light from their father.

Dr. Angus Hood, director of the Toronto Health Clinic, has a teen-age son "who went with his friends from Lawrence Park Collegiate and was more amused than anything else. I think he has an Elvis Presley record but I haven't heard it for a couple of months."


Dr. Hood said of the goings-on at Maple Leaf Gardens, "When you get a big group together, you get the same mob reaction you've had for centuries. Hysteria spreads from one to another. Not so long ago they were tearing the clothes off Sinatra.

"In any large crowd you'll have some kids with disturbances that will continue, but most will turn into sensible citizens. If kids are interested in school and sports, they're not going to be all caught up in Elvis Presley."

Prof. K. S. Bernhardt, of the Psychology Department, University of Toronto, also advanced the mass hysteria theory. He commented: "The kids go to squeal. It's partly to blow off steam, and partly to be in the swim of things, to mix metaphors."

Prof. Bernhardt has a son 21 for whom Elvis Presley "hardly exists--he's past the age." But the psychologist has talked to a number of teens about Elvis and finds that "You either are a fan or you are not a fan -- I don't quite know why."

added Sept 6, 2008
articles courtesy Ger Rijff

We wish to express our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Shirley Deasley.

At home, with her family in her heart and at her side, Shirley Deasley passed away in gracious peace. After a 10 month courageous battle with cancer Shirley left our world to join so many others she has loved and lost. Shirley will be dearly missed by her three sons: Craig, Bryan and Grant and their spouses: Meredith, Aleisha, and Karyn. Shirley adored her five grandchildren: Danielle, Taylor, Cole, Paige and William. Her smile and zest for life will live on in them. Predeceased by her husband of 40 years, Harry, she leaves behind many memories shared with her sister Marlene Bunting, her brother Ray and Shirley's best friend and sister-in-law Mary Harris. Shirley was a devoted mother of 3 and the adopted mother' of many. Friends of her boys were always made welcome at her home. Her joys and passions were simple but pure family, friends and a good laugh. Taking pleasure in life's small joys and treasuring each moment. She was a kind and loving woman who touched all those she knew. Her passion for a challenging project started in her teen years as she was instrumental in getting Elvis to appear in Toronto in 1957 his only appearance in Toronto - and continued until her final days as she learned Spanish and navigation / charting in anticipation of a 3 month trip through South America with her Captain John.

courtesy The Toronto Star

September 18, 2008


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