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Toronto’s Maple Leaf Baseball Stadium

02 Nov

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Maple Leaf Stadium at Bathurst and Fleet Streets, photo from The City of Toronto Archives, F0124, fl0015, id0012.

The popularity of the Blue Jays baseball team is rivalled only by the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club, especially after the Jay’s success during the 2015 season. However, Toronto has always been an avid baseball town. The city opened its first official baseball stadium in 1886. Named The Toronto Baseball Grounds, it was located south of Queen Street East, between Broadview and the Don River. Constructed entirely of wood, at a cost of $7000, it was four storeys in height. The Toronto’s Maple Leaf team was part of the International League (minor league). The cost of admission to the games was 25 cents.

The last sporting event held in the park was in 1913, a football (soccer) match. The park was later known as Sunlight Park, named after the Sunlight Soap factory built by Lever Brothers in 1900-1901. After the stadium was demolished, the land was redeveloped for other commercial purposes. 

                        Map

The above map shows the area where The Toronto Baseball Grounds were located. The red arrow points to where the historic plaque is now located.

In 1897, the team relocated to a new wooden stadium at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands. The first ball flew across home plate in May of that year. Admission was now 50 cents, which included the return ferry fare across the bay. The stadium at Hanlan’s burnt twice, in 1903 and again in 1909. When it reopened in 1910, it was a concrete structure that contained 18,000 seats. The legendary Babe Ruth hit the first home run of his professional career in the stadium on September 5, 1914, the ball landing in Toronto Harbour. Attendance at games eventually dropped due to the inconvenience of travelling across the harbour, especially on stormy days during early autumn and spring. The Toronto team departed Hanlan’s Point for the mainland after the 1925 season. The map below shows the location of the Hanlan’s Point Stadium.

                                  Map

The new Maple Leaf Stadium was on Fleet Street, at the foot of Bathurst Street, on a site created by landfill. The team president, Lol Solman, who was also the owner of the team, arranged the financing of the stadium by raising $300,000. Its architects were Chapman and Oxley, who also designed the Princes’ Gates and the Government Building at the CNE, where Mediaeval Times is now located. Maple Leaf Stadium was a steel structure with solid concrete floors, containing 23,000 seats. By the time the structure was completed, the cost had risen to $750,000. It was soon nicknamed “The Fleet Street Flats.” The map below depicts the approximate location of the stadium.

Map of Bathurst St & Fleet St, Toronto, ON M5V 1A5

On opening day, Wednesday April 28, 1926, a prize was offered to the person whose estimate was the closest to the actual number of fans that attended. Mayor Thomas Foster was to unfurl the Union Jack and former Mayor Tommy Church was to throw the first pitch. However, it had rained the previous night and as there was no sunshine on the day of the game to dry the field, the game was cancelled. The field was too soggy.   

The game was played the next day, with 12,871 fans in attendance. The “Queen’s Own Rifles” were present to play “God Save the King.” Mayor Foster threw the first pitch to former Mayor Tommy Church. The game that had been cancelled on April 28th because of rain was held on May 1st, as part of a double-header.

During the 1950s, several times the attendance at Maple Leaf Stadium attracted more people than any of the major league stadiums of the day. In 1959, I attended an evening game and won a “Trans Canada Airline” shoulder-bag. This was prior to the airline changing its name to Air Canada.

Jack Cook Kent purchased the team in 1951. By this year, the stadium was in poor condition, as though it was owned by the Harbour Commission, its the upkeep was the financial responsibility of the team’s owner. Cook spent $57,000 renovating the stadium, and during the next few years, by employing many various promotional techniques and improving the team, the Maple Leafs prospered. However, attendance dropped during the early-1960s, and Cook sold the team in 1964, the price reputed to be a mere $50,000. The new owners struggled, but to no avail as fans were discontented with the minor league, preferring a major league team. The Maple Leafs were sold to an American investor in 1968, who moved the team to Louisville Kentucky, where they became the Louisville Colonels.    

Maple Leaf Stadium was now without a team and was demolished in 1968, the same year the team departed Toronto.

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Maple Leaf Stadium on March 5, 1929, three years after it opened. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1251, Item 0465.

f1244_it7297[1] after 1929

Aerial view of the stadium c. 1929. The Lakeshore Boulevard and Bathurst Street are visible. There was no Gardiner Expressway. The Tip Top Tailor Building is in the lower right-hand corner. Photo from Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244. Item 7297

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View of Maple Leaf Stadium from old Fort York in June 1934. This was the year that Fort York opened after being restored as Toronto’s centennial project. The building containing the Tip Top Tailor factory and showroom is to the left (east) of the stadium. It is now a condo. Photo Toronto Archives, Fonds 1251, Item 0602.

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Maple Leaf Stadium in 1937, photo Toronto Archives Fonds 1257, S 1057, Item 0950.

Fonds 1266, Item 7683

     Maple Leaf Stadium, City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 7683.

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View of stadium from the field. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, s. 1057, Item 0867.

site of demolished stadioum, 1960s

Site of the site in 1968, after the stadium was demolished. The airport on the Islands is visible in the background, and the Gardiner Expressway in the foreground. The Tip Top Tailor Building is prominent. Toronto Archives, Series 1465, Fl.0240, Item 0092.

I am grateful for the information for this post to torontoist. com, blogto.com,  and torontohistory.net

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/canadas-cultural-scenetorontos-architectural-heritage/

Recent publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 

 

 

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