ABOVE: The new Leaside Gardens hockey arena is ready to open. Mark McAllister reports.
TORONTO – Leaside will soon open its new city-built, community-operated hockey arena.
The grand opening of the new Leaside Gardens is set for October 6 where organizers will hold an open-house and barbeque for residents to unveil two-rink arena.
The original Leaside Gardens was opened in 1951 and served as one of the rinks Prime Minister Stephen Harper played hockey when he lived in Toronto.
According to Ray White, the Chairman of the board for the Leaside Memorial Gardens, the community started first began the process of getting a new arena in 1993. Since then, local politicians – including Premier Kathleen Wynne whose riding encompasses the arena – have shown their support for the expansion.
“The real key to this fundraising effort was a dedicated family in Leaside,” White said. “They wanted to remain anonymous and they kick-started this project with a $1 million donation.
But just a short distance away, south of Lawrence Avenue on Don Mills Road, finding a new home for their arena has not been easy.
Several locations have been suggested for the site of the new arena including an eight acre plot of land near Highway 401 and Don Mills road, near the Don Valley Parkway and York Mills Road and the area surrounding the Ontario Science Centre. But none of the sites have been approved.
The Don Mills Civitan Club (DMCC), the group spearheading the plan for a new arena, has launched a website to build support for its rink. The DMCC said its new preferred location is just a few blocks from the original location at the corner of the Donway East and Lawrence Avenue East.
In Leaside, a large anonymous donation – along with support from local politicians- helped the community secure the land needed to expand their aging arena.
Without the donation, White said, the community wouldn’t be opening a new arena.
Through a financing deal with the city, the community was able to borrow $7 million and fundraise an additional $3.5 million for its construction.
Councillor John Parker, who sits on the arena’s board of management, helped get the deal with the city done and suggested it was a ‘good investment’ for the city.
“I arranged for the city to acquire essentially the vacant land next door to the rink so we had property to build on,” he said. “Property values in Leaside seem to be heading in one direction so an investment in land in Leaside is money well spent for the city of Toronto.”
And for White, a new arena can only help the community expand.
“An ice rink is a draw because it is such a scarce commodity in our city. This is the first publicly funded arena in Toronto in over 40 years,” he said.
– With files from Mark McAllister
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