Conn Smythe’s vision was to build a spectacular, world-class facility for his newly acquired Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maple Leaf Gardens opened its doors in 1931 during the Great Depression.

In this exhibit we take a brief look at the mechanical systems and ice making equipment as they existed in 1993, over 60 years after Maple Leaf Gardens was built.

Maple Leaf Gardens – Mechanical Systems

Keeping the grand old building in first class shape

by Bruce W. Cole

Maple Leaf Gardens was a vision of Conn Smythe, the first owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was his dream to build a spectacular, world-class facility which would attract Toronto’s elite to watch the on-ice activities of his newly-purchased hockey team.

Thanks to Smythe’s determination, the Gardens was brought to reality in a relatively short time. The doors opened for business in November 1931, in the midst of the deepest depression this country has ever known.

During this period, money was very scarce. Although he was comfortable (thanks to his sand and gravel business), Smythe was far from being considered a rich man. Legend has it that he and his assistant Frank Selke tapped every individual and financial institution they could to raise the necessary cash to purchase the land from the T. Eaton Company and obtain building materials.

Although fund raising came up a little short, the Gardens was completed on schedule (in just five months) and on budget, thanks to Selke and Smythe, who convinced the union workers to take a percentage of their wages in Gardens stock.

Sixty two years later, the Gardens is still in remarkable shape; a tribute to the quality of the day’s workmanship. However, like all 62 year-olds, it is in need of periodic maintenance, and that chore falls to a full-time staff of 70, under the directorship of Wayne Gillespie, the Gardens’ building manager.

It was twenty years ago that Wayne, an electrician by trade, showed up at the Gardens for a ten day temporary assignment. He has yet to leave. “I was there to put in some new lighting contactors, and run some control wire back up to the electrical shop. When the work was done, they said I could stay for another week, then it was another week, then another and it just grew from there.”

Wayne is only the third building manager in the Gardens’ history. He replaced Don Mckenzie three years ago, when Don retired after 44 years on the job. The original building manager was the late Doug Morris, father of Maple Leaf Gardens’ PA announcer Paul Morris.

Building manager Wayne Gillespie has called the Gardens home for 20 years. Above, he chats with Tony Kirkpatrick of the ice crew.
The old and the new working side-by-side. Sixty HP Brine Pump #1 (right) was installed in 1984, while 25 HP Pump #2 hasn’t missed a day on the job since 1931.

PLUMBING GETTING TIRED

Perhaps consistency in the top job has benefited the Gardens, with each building manager setting up his own maintenance system, rarely straying from it.

However, after six decades, it is inevitable that something has to give. The biggest cause for concern at MLG in recent times has been the plumbing. “It’s just getting tired” said Wayne. “Some of it is original, some of it has been in service for 20, 30 even 40 years”.

In certain cases, the staff can make repairs and replacements. But Wayne explains it’s not always practical. “Let’s say you get a stack that comes down (he points to a spot on the Gardens’ roof) out in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got to scaffold it, get the pipework, and shutdown certain areas of the building. There are two games a week here, sometimes three. There just isn’t time for us to be running up and down the scaffolding. So we have to bring people in to do that”.

In recent times, those “people” have been from W.A. Stevenson Mechanical of Thornhill, Ontario. Although the Garden’s engineering staff does official inspections and diagnostics on a scheduled basis, Wayne says Stevenson stays on top of things. “They’ll tell us if there is something that needs to be updated, according to ever changing codes and city bylaws”.

Major problems have been kept to a minimum, thanks to the staff’s knack for anticipating and then jumping into a preventative maintenance mode.

John Low, Stevenson’s project manager for MLG, said that pressure problems throughout the building were being caused by serious corrosion in the ancient galvanized main headers. “It was so built up, the water only had a pinhole to squeeze through. We solved it by installing a copper system”.

Trying to hide pipes and vents wasn’t a big concern for Smythe and the building’s designers. The Gardens has loads of exposed workings, but Wayne sees this as a benefit: it’s much easier to get at things and get work done.

STAYING COOL

Maple Leaf Gardens is one of a few big buildings in existence that doesn’t have air conditioning, although it’s something that is currently being discussed.

Until then, the existing air circulation system will have to suffice. “Right now, it’s blowers and fans, supply and exhaust” explains Wayne. He points out the exhaust openings above the “NO SMOKING” signs on the massive corner pillars. “We have four of those, in the four corners. And the supply comes in underneath the end blues. There are four of those. Then we also have four flat-top supply and exhaust combinations. And we have four dome exhausts. What we really need is a dehumidification system”.

HYDRONIC HEATING

During chilly winter nights, warmth is what is required. The crowd provides some, and the rest comes from two gas-fired water tube boilers. MLG switched over from oil in the early 80’s. At one time, the Gardens was heated entirely by coal. In fact, the old coal chute is still visible in the mechanical room.

Some heat is also provided by the massive banks of television lights. These are serious eaters of hydro: the Gardens electric bill during the hockey season is close to $44,000 dollars a month. Off-season, it ranges between $9,000 and $12,000.

This Buda 75 KW generator, installed as original equipment in 1931, served as the building’s main up until recently. It now serves as a back-up, the bulk being carried by a 600 KW Mitsubishi.
Brent Wynn, one of 70 Gardens’ maintenance staff, grooms the south goal crease.

PRIDE IN ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Wayne admits that there is some prestige and status in working at the Gardens. He has had numerous offers to leave, with substantial pay increases. But to this point, he hasn’t been interested. “I’ve got 20 good years in this place … its almost half my life invested in it. I look at all the things we have done here … rewiring goal lights, running telephone wire to the penalty box. I look at it and feel a real sense of ownership and accomplishment”.

What drives Wayne and his staff is pride. He makes a point of telling them regularly that they are the best. They take their work seriously, and it shows.

Perhaps part of that comes from knowing that they are caring for a place that is held in special regards by millions of people. And while it may be privately owned, Maple Leaf Gardens belongs to hockey fans everywhere.

Reproduced by permission of Heating, Plumbing and Air Conditioning, February 1993.