Maple Leaf Gardens time capsule offers peek at 1931

A time capsule buried at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931 and revealed on Thursday contains an NHL rule book, a municipal code, financial information on the team and a tiny carved ivory elephant of mysterious origin.

Conn Smythe's son has theory of mysterious ivory elephant's origin

A time capsule buried at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931 and revealed on Thursday contains an NHL rule book, a municipal code, financial information on the team and a tiny carved ivory elephant of mysterious origin.

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The capsule, contained in a weathered copper box, was discovered last fall by workers as the building was being remodelled to house a Loblaws grocery store and an athletic centre for Ryerson University.

Maple Leaf Gardens, built by Conn Smythe in 1931, was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs until 1999 when the team moved to the Air Canada Centre.

Contents of the capsule include:

  • A four-page typewritten letter from the directors of Maple Leaf Gardens.
  • Four-page stock prospectus for Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
  • 1930-31 NHL rule book.
  • 1931 rule book for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.
  • 1930 Ontario Hockey Association rule book.
  • 1931 Toronto Municipal Handbook.
  • A red ensign flag.
  • A small ivory elephant with fragments of a blue ribbon.

There are also editions of four newspapers from Sept. 21, 1931, including:

  • The Globe.
  • The Mail and Empire.
  • The Toronto Daily Star.
  • The Evening Telegram.

The capsule was contained in a handmade copper box measuring 30 centimetres by 20 cm by 20 cm. The inner lid is hand-engraved: "M.B. Campbel 124 Lindsay Ave 9/21/31."

Of all the objects in the box, it was the elephant pendant that spurred the most speculation. About the size of a loonie, the pendant did not appear to fit with the rest of the items.

CBC's John Lancaster, who broke the story about the time capsule's existence in October, interviewed Conn Smythe's son Hugh about the elephant pendant.

Now 84, Hugh said the elephant was likely a gift from a lifelong friend his father met during the First World War. The Russian man established an import-export business after the war and the two men stayed in touch.

"He sent a lot of beautiful ivory carvings to my father as gifts," Hugh Smythe recalled on Thursday.

Lancaster said the existence of the capsule was not known to members of the family.

"[Conn Smythe] didn’t tell a soul that this time capsule existed," Lancaster reported. "It was only discovered by fluke when the workers pulled a stone from a wall at Maple Leaf Gardens."

Team's finances revealed

While the time capsule's contents may be a bit of a letdown for hardcore Leafs fans, the documents inside illustrate how much the finances of professional hockey have changed since 1931.

The Maple Leaf Gardens stock prospectus revealed Thursday reports that hockey gate revenues for the 1929-30 season were just over $186,000 and expected to be "close to $200,000" for the following year. The Leafs now collect an estimated $2 million in gate revenue per game.

The contents of the time capsule are set to go on display at Ryerson University.

With files from The Canadian Press