When it was impossible to buy beer at a Leafs game

Management at Maple Leaf Gardens hoped to be able to sell beer in time for the start of the 1992-93 hockey season. But there were some hurdles to get over first.

'We've become the exception rather than the rule here in Toronto'

Beer is coming to Maple Leaf Gardens... eventually

31 years ago
Duration 2:04
Management at the home of the Leafs say it's time to join the rest of the major sports leagues in North America.

It was time for beer to come to Maple Leaf Gardens.

In September 1992, management at the venerable hockey arena was ready for its primary tenant, the Toronto Maple Leafs, to join the ranks of virtually all other professional sports teams.

"Beer has become an accepted thing at sporting events in North America and ... most places in the world," said a spokesman for the venue. "We've become the exception rather than the rule here in Toronto."

He didn't view the availability of beer during games as a problem. 

"I don't think people having one or two beers is going to create a dramatic rowdiness here."

SkyDome had beer

Beer was available at SkyDome, and Maple Leaf Gardens wanted the Leafs to join the ranks of sports teams offering suds to fans. (CBLT Newshour/CBC Archives)

According to the Toronto Star, the building's management had identified beer sales as a new revenue stream that would boost the bottom line by $2 million to $3 million per year.

Team President Cliff Fletcher told the newspaper that fans were unlikely to swallow a hike in ticket prices, making beer an attractive alternative.

"We're the last of the dry buildings in North America," he later told the CBC.

Until June that year, an Ontario law restricted sales of beer at sports stadiums.

But the Toronto Blue Jays had been free to sell beer at games since 1982, first at Exhibition Stadium and later at SkyDome, which had opened three years earlier and enjoyed a special exception from the provincial legislature.

City council had a say 

Selling beer at Maple Leaf Gardens needs approval by city

31 years ago
Duration 1:36
Residents living near the arena object to the potential for problems if beer becomes available.

SkyDome was far from any residential area at the time, but the same did not apply to the Gardens.

And that was the basis of "community concern" that was the topic of a Toronto city council meeting on Sept. 25, 1992.

"There must be a few places in Canada, and in Toronto, where parents can take their kids and not have liquor sold," said Coun. Kay Gardner.

Some people living near the Gardens were leery of the impact beer sales would have on people leaving the game.

"If you add alcohol, it will only lead to greater rowdyism and noise, which will no doubt have an adverse effect on the neighbourhood," said Ian Stuart of the local residents' association.

Beer still not near

Toronto city councillor Kay Gardner said she didn't want Maple Leaf Gardens to become a "drinking palace." (CBLT Newshour/CBC Archives)

Gardens management assured councillors it would take steps to mitigate any problems, such as cutting off sales for the third period and hiring four off-duty police officers to assist with crowd control.

"That satisfied the committee, which voted 6-1 in favour of the plan," said reporter John Northcott.

But the full city council still had to approve the plan, as did the provincial liquor board.

"The Gardens management is optimistic they'll be able to serve beer there sometime in October," said Northcott.

The first beer at a Toronto Maple Leafs game was poured on Jan. 30, 1993.