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Friday, October 21, 2022

Maple Leaf Gardens seats - a little adventure

Above: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto

Above: Two seats from Maple Leaf Gardens

In the spring of 1991, long before the Internet was in general use, a Globe and Mail newspaper sports columnist ran a small blurb in his column telling readers that Maple Leaf Gardens had removed several hundred grey seats from the Gardens and that if you could get yourself down to the Gardens in the next day or two, you could purchase a genuine seat from the Gardens.

The background is that the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs (this was a year after bombastic former owner Harold Ballard had passed away), also the owners of Maple Leaf Gardens, had decided to install a number of new private boxes in the Gardens in the summer of 1991 and thus had to remove several hundred existing grey seats to make way for the new private boxes. The Leafs failed to make the playoffs that season, and given that the playoffs started April 3, 1991, the removal of the seats was almost certainly done some time in April or perhaps May 1991.

I was living in Aurora Ontario at the time and I read that blurb in the Globe and Mail early one spring morning. I almost immediately jumped in my car and drove to Maple Leaf Gardens. When I got to the Gardens an hour later, I walked straight into the building and made my way to the floor of the arena (the ice had been removed by this time) where the seats I had read about an hour earlier were scattered about the concrete ice surface of the Gardens. There was one person more or less in charge of the sale - he said that I could help myself to a maximum of four seats and that they were $10 apiece.

As you may know about almost all arena seats, the challenge is that in most cases each seat shares an armrest bracket with the neighbouring seat, so to get a complete seat you “lose” the seat next to it because without an armrest bracket, the adjacent seat is really just a seat back and a seat cushion but there is nothing to make those parts into an actual seat. So I had to make sure that I chose seats that had two armrests, one on each side. I chose my four seats, paid the Gardens employee $40, carried each seat one at a time to my car and was on my way within 30 minutes of having arrived.

Keep in mind that even though I had four complete seats, they were designed to be bolted into the upright concrete “row” of the building. Thus you couldn’t use the seats as a functioning piece of furniture to sit on until you came up with some way to make the seats stand on their own. So my four Gardens seats sat safely in my basement for the next eight years.

Turn the hands of time ahead three years, to the summer of 1994. In St. Louis Missouri, the owners of the famed St. Louis Arena (briefly known for a short while as the Checkerdome and home of the St. Louis Blues from 1967-1994) were closing the Arena and were having an auction of the contents. I contacted the auctioneer prior to the actual auction date and bought 3000 seats. Then with the help of two friends, we removed the seats from the arena a month later and stored them in a rented warehouse in St. Louis. For more on this adventure, please visit this blog posting from June 2012.

These 3000 St. Louis Arena seats had the same issue as my four Gardens seats – they were not able to stand on their own because they were designed to be bolted into the upright concrete “steps”. I worked with a local St. Louis metal working company to come up with a solution – a powder coated steel bracket that could bolt to the armrest bracket.

Over the next nine months, I did a series of radio commercials and newspaper ads in St. Louis and we sold 1500 “St. Louis Seats” – remember, even though I bought 3000 seats, because of the shared armrest, I could only “net” 1500 seats.

Turn the hands of time ahead a few years...

In 1999 the Leafs were moving out of Maple Leaf Gardens and into their new home at the Air Canada Centre. It occurred to me that it was time for me to do something with my four grey seats from Maple Leaf Gardens.

I worked with a metal working company in Markham, Ontario and using my St. Louis seat bracket as a template, we designed almost identical brackets for the Gardens seats. We then had the brackets powder coated a “Gardens” grey and added black plastic end caps, and we now had fully functioning, self-standing seats.

I did one more thing with my four Gardens seats. The armrests had an unattractive grey plastic armrest that was not pleasing to look at. I thus had a woodworker make wooden armrests the exact same shape and size as the plastic armrests but from high quality maple wood. Thus these seats have natural maple armrests and in my opinion, are much more attractive than would otherwise be the case.

Thanks for reading this post - just a fun little adventure I thought I should chronicle while most of the facts are still with me.

Stay well -