Time in a Capsule at Maple Leaf Gardens
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Time in a Capsule at Maple Leaf Gardens

The contents of a copper box buried 80 years ago are unveiled at Ryerson University.

The copper box housing the time capsule. Photo courtesy of Ryerson University.

September 21, 1931: the headlines on all four of Toronto’s daily newspapers reported Great Britain’s suspension of the gold standard. As readers flipped through the pages that day, copies of each paper were being placed in a time capsule incorporated into a new arena rapidly being built on Carlton Street.

Eighty years later, construction workers uncovered the time capsule under a ceremonial stone by the front doors of Maple Leaf Gardens, during the building’s conversion to a Loblaws store. The copper box was quickly removed by Loblaws officials for content review. The items inside were publicly unveiled today during a press conference at Ryerson University this morning.

Front page of one of the newspapers found in the time capsule, the September 21, 1931 edition of the Mail and Empire. Photo courtesy Ryerson University.

Besides newspapers, the items included professional and amateur hockey rulebooks, a municipal handbook, a mini Red Ensign flag, a letter to Gardens directors, and a stock prospectus. Ryerson history professor Arne Kislenko suggested that the lack of more NHL memorabilia and inclusion of amateur rulebooks suggested the still-shaky ground pro hockey stood on 1931, when Conn Smythe built the Gardens: the NHL was only in its 15th season when the arena opened, and a stable lineup of franchises had yet to materialize.

A small, hand-carved ivory elephant found in the time capsule. Photo by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.

Every time capsule needs a mystery item—something whose inclusion puzzles the people who find it decades later. In the MLG time capsule that mystery is provided by a pendant-sized ivory elephant, whose significance has officially stumped Ryerson officials. Kislenko hinted he had a theory, but was under a gag order not to reveal it. The public was invited to submit their thoughts on what the white elephant might mean (there’s a box for suggestions), as well as ideas for what they would include in a new time capsule to be placed in the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre under construction at the Gardens. Suggestions may also be submitted via Ryerson’s Facebook page or by tweeting @RyersonNews.

Several members of the Smythe family were on hand including Conn’s son, former Maple Leafs physician Dr. Hugh Smythe. Though he wasn’t among the official speakers, Smythe, wearing a blue tie dotted with small maple leaves, attracted an ever-increasing number of reporters away from the official photo op. When asked about the white elephant, Smythe told of a family acquaintance who had been a fellow POW with Conn in Germany during the First World War and later escaped to China, where he exported curios. This acquaintance often sent the Smythe family gifts, including small ivory white elephants.

Smythe also had good things to say about the changes made to the landmark his father built. “It was always a people place, meant for crowds,” he noted.

Those crowds will be able to see the time capsule until 5 p.m. this afternoon at the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre (southeast corner of Church and Gould streets). After the viewing, the items will be placed in storage until a permanent display is created.

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