3 min

Maple Leafs disco

Who wants hockey players in the 'hood anyway?

Credit: Xtra files

Yesterday, a public forum was held to discuss the future of Maple Leaf Gardens. The “grand old lady,” as it is sometimes called by those who yearn for a return to the Leafs’ glory days, has been in limbo for more than four years now.

Oh, there have been several offers for her, including a flirtation with Home Depot and even a serious courtship with Loblaws last fall. But it all fell apart when the grocer giant’s accountants decided that the cost of renovating the interior into a superstore while keeping the historic exterior intact wouldn’t allow for a healthy profit.

But I have to wonder whether or not the financial aspect was Loblaws’ only reason for backing out of the deal. Could the outcry from horrified fans have played some part in this change of heart? In the days that followed the announcement I noticed several calls to boycott the Canadian-owned corporation for daring to defile a shrine to our national game. The phrase, “Is nothing sacred?” seemed to reverberate across the land, showing up in countless letters to the editor and on Internet forums.

Regardless of the motivations, all bets are off and the massive concrete landmark is still in play.

Now, I know that the Church-Wellesley queers have had an uncomfortable relationship with the Gardens, but I think it’s time we took more of an interest in the situation. What do we want bordering the gaybourhood? And, more importantly, what don’t we want?

I had just barely started frequenting Church St when the Gardens hosted the Leafs for the last time on Feb 13, 1999, but I remember there being a subdued sense of relief at seeing the team go. The queers I talked to at that time were more than happy for the Leafs to move on down to the Air Canada Centre, taking with them all the tensions that came from mixing the imported hockey fans and the flamboyant gaiety of the resident population.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy hockey. Although I have yet to attend a game in person, my girlfriend and I watch it on TV (she’s a Calgary Flames fan). In fact, I’m watching game three of the Leafs-Senators series as I write this. But it is difficult to ignore the homophobic undercurrent in professional sport and in the National Hockey League in particular. No one is openly gay and no one takes kindly to the suggestion that there might be homoerotic undertones to all of that macho posturing.

Not that I think you’ll really need convincing on this point, but if you don’t believe me, try going to a Leafs’ game as a guy and say to the folks next to you, “Damn that Darcy Tucker makes a black eye look good. He can play forward for me any day.”

As for the Gardens, some experts maintain that historic buildings fare better when their secondary use is akin to their original purpose. In this case, that would mean moving another team into the arena – something the Maple Leaf Sports And Entertainment Limited won’t allow for fear of competition – or perhaps turning it into an official monument to hockey. The idea of moving Toronto’s existing Hockey Hall Of Fame into the Gardens is certainly one that’s popular with fans. It may even be something that was discussed at yesterday’s forum.

Tempting as it was, I didn’t go to the forum. I don’t know what the experts recommended. I don’t know what suggestions the concerned citizens and die-hard fans came up with. But I do have my own suggestion that I’d like to share.

So here it is. I don’t know how feasible it is, but I’d love to see Maple Leaf Gardens turned into a massive queer entertainment complex. Crazy, I know. But just take a minute to imagine it.

I’m picturing several levels of dancing, a concert venue and a glassed in martini bar overlooking the action. The facility would be the scene of a major circuit party at least once a year and would host other major queer events including Cher’s final final final I-swear-I’m-really-going-now farewell tour in 2010. The locker rooms would of course be turned into a sports-themed bathhouse. And naturally the whole thing would be managed by a not-for-profit corporation with all of the proceeds going to Pride and the 519 Community Centre.

And you thought that Harold Ballard was turning in his grave over the Loblaws proposition.

* Julia Garro is Xtra’s associate editor.