Arena Gardens - Mutual Street Arena - The Gardens 1913
Sir. Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame, formed the Toronto Arena Company. They purchased the site on Mutual Street, where the Caledonian Rink was located, and raised the funds to finance a building. To design the structure, the architect F. H. Herbert, from the firm of Ross and McFarland was hired. Herbert created a plain rectangular building with a symmetrical east facade with limited ornamentation. It was originally to be primarily an opera venue and special events space, but the plans were changed as the investors believed that it would be more profitable if it were combined with a Hockey arena. The total cost of the building was $500,000, and when it was completed, it was the largest auditorium in Canada. The ice rink was 230’ by 95’, surrounded by seats that accommodated almost 8000 persons. Its name was to be the Arena Gardens of Toronto.
It opened on October 7, 1912, but the equipment to produce ice for the rinks had not yet been installed. However, but this did not detract from the excitement of its inauguration. Opera and comedy were the themes on opening night. Centre stage was taken my Marie Dressler, Arturo Tibaldi, and Albert Spalding. Also present was a star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera—Alice Neilson, supported by a 62-man orchestra. In late November of the same year, the ice plant commenced operating, one of the first in Canada to manufacture ice artificially. It was able of producing 60 tons of ice every 24 hours, resulting in the extra ice being sold for kitchen ice-boxes across the city.
The Arena Gardens was the third rink in Canada to feature a mechanically-frozen or 'artificial' ice surface, and for eleven years was the only such facility in eastern Canada.
The first Hockey game (exhibition) in the arena was held in November of 1912, and the Toronto Arena Hockey Club was born. The team’s name was the Toronto Blue Shirts in 1912, its colours being blue and white. Many simply referred to it as the Torontos.
The Torontos played their first NHA league game on December 25, 1912 before 4,000 fans at Arena Gardens.
A second NHA Toronto team also played at the Arena Gardens in 1912 - The Tecumseh Hockey Club, also known as the Toronto Tecumsehs. They played their first game on December 28, 1912 against the Montreal Wanderers at the arena, the visiting Wanderers won 7-4 in front of 5,000 fans.
It was the premier site of ice Hockey in Toronto, being home to teams from the National Hockey Association (NHA), the National Hockey League (NHL), the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), the International Hockey League (IHL) and Intercollegiate Hockey games. It was the first home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who played at the arena under various names for their first 13.5 seasons.
In 1913, a huge rally was held in the arena for Sir Wilfrid Laurier, even though he had been defeated in the 1911 election.
In May of 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River. More passengers lost their lives in this tragedy than on the Titanic. It was Canada’s greatest maritime disaster. The funeral service for the victims that were members of The Salvation Army was held in the Arena Gardens, as it was the only building in the city able to accommodate the crowd of mourners. The funeral procession departed from the arena and proceeded north on Yonge Street to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, north of St. Clair Avenue.
In 1919, the name of the Hockey team playing in the arena was changed to the St. Patricks (St. Pats). On February 4, 1923, Norman Albert narrated the first radio broadcast of a Hockey game. The first radio broadcast of an NHL game, and the first broadcast of an ice hockey game by long-time broadcaster Foster Hewitt.
In 1921, a prohibition rally of 12,000 was accommodated in the Garden Arena. In 1925, the inaugural service of the newly formed United Church of Canada was held within it.
For the 1926-1927 season, the St. Patricks name was changed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1931, the Leaf franchise relocated to Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton and Church Streets. The Arena Gardens was renamed Mutual Street Arena, and the building at Carlton and Church became known simply as, “The Gardens.”