Maple Leaf Gardens reopened to public

Hundreds of people line up to get into the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto, which has been converted into a multi-use building with a shopping centre.
Maple Leaf Gardens was home to the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs for almost seven decades before the team moved to the Air Canada Centre in 1999. (Canadian Press)

Hundreds of people lined up to get into the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto, though the crowd was made primarily of foodies instead of hockey aficionados.

The retail centre in the renovated building, which includes a Loblaws store, a Joe Fresh clothing outlet and LCBO, opened at 8 a.m. ET Wednesday.

William Patton was first in line, having spent a chilly night waiting in the cold.

"Well I'd like to see what they've done inside of course, naturally," he told CBC News. "Who wouldn't?"

CBC reporter Colin Butler said one of the only throwbacks to the arena's past was a sculpture of a maple leaf made from some old blue seats.

"The exterior remains much the same but inside, that's what's different," he said.

That didn't stop hundreds from attending.

Butler said the lineup to get into the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs stretched almost from Carlton and Church streets to Yonge Street, a distance of some 300 metres.

Hockey rink will open in spring

However, the rink will eventually be home to a hockey team again.

Ryerson University is constructing an athletic centre that will feature a rink and a 2,600-seat arena, scheduled to open in the spring. The school's hockey team, the Ryerson Rams, will call the building home.

The Gardens closed in 1999, when the National Hockey League's Maple Leafs moved to the Air Canada Centre. The team had used the arena for almost 70 years. It was also a popular concert venue.

The revamp of the building, however, has been a drawn out, years-long process fraught with controversy and complications as Ryerson, Loblaws and Torontonians debated about how the space would be used.

While the arena is slated for a grand opening in May, the bleachers are still just concrete slabs with wooden railings and worktables are still strewn above in the stands. But there are glimpses — the floodlights on the ceiling and cables at centre ice that will support the scoreboard — of what the complex will look like when crowded with students.

With files from The Canadian Press