Reaction Roundup: what Toronto is saying about its new, hockey-themed grocery paradise (i.e., Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens)

Reaction Roundup: what Toronto is saying about its new, hockey-themed grocery paradise (i.e., Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens)

(Maple Leaf Gardens image: Kevin Naulls)

In the seven years since news broke that the Maple Leaf Gardens would be turning into a grocery store, it’s become something of a bad joke, a symbol of modernity callously stomping on the past. But after Wednesday’s grand opening of the Loblaws flagship store, Torontonians have suddenly opened up to the idea with surprising vigour. And there’s a lot to love, what with walls of cheese, cupcakes, tea and aging meat, as well as plenty of relics from the days of yore, like a giant leaf sculpture made out of the stadium’s original plastic chairs and a red dot in aisle 25 marking the former location of centre ice. Here’s some of what other Torontonians had to say:

• Hockey Hall of Famer and former Maple Leaf Dick Duff wandered the floor on opening day, signing autographs and posing for cheesy photos at the centre ice marker. “It’s a shame they couldn’t keep the Gardens as the home of the Leafs,” he told the Toronto Sun. “But I’m glad they’ve done something good with the building. In Montreal, they’ve almost forgotten the Forum.” The 75-year-old was largely satisfied with the nods to the team’s glory days, but joked to the National Post, “That Ace Bakery sign—it should really say Ace Bailey.” Zing!

• According to the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume, “Maple Leaf Gardens never looked so good, nor smelled so sweet.” He credits the store, along with new condo development and the National Ballet School expansion, with revitalizing a once-crummy Carlton Street. Apparently the effect was immediate: as soon as the doors opened, “Loblaws was already an urban fixture. That’s how long it took.” He also contributed some Humovision.

Marcus Gee at the Globe and Mail was also impressed: “The stunning new Loblaws brings life to the old hulk and a new urban buzz to its downtown neighbourhood,” he writes. Gee expects that the flagship store will prove that big chain operations can fit in and flourish in the city. With a university, a corporation and the government working together, he calls the Gardens rebirth “city building at its best.”

• To prevent the city from collapsing in fits of joy, The Grid’s Edward Keenan tweeted a link to a grumpy 2004 article in which he called it an insult to have “the repository of our dreams and past glories” transformed into “a place to buy toilet paper and dog food.”

• Like Keenan, Toronto historian Michael Bliss chastised Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for vetoing efforts to establish a hockey stadium that could rival the Air Canada Centre. “Surely Ryerson University and Loblaws have done a great thing for Toronto and Canada,” he wrote in a letter to the Post, “mostly against the wishes of the organization that also has failed repeatedly to give our community a quality hockey team.”

Stuart Ross—owner of the nearby Bulldog Cafécalled it “a spectacular store” in the Globe. “Their cheese wall is unbelievable,” he said. “The cupcakes—it seems like a 20-foot-long display case of bakery goods—that impressed me.” He claims he bought the very first item (pomegranate juice) at the new store, with the receipt signed by Galen Weston himself. Predictably, a number of gourmets on Chowhound complained about the quality of the food, but as apologist “freia” noted, quite reasonably, “Well, it IS a grocery store.”