The Leaside Memorial Community Gardens will be celebrating its 65th anniversary this season. Although the Gardens first opened its doors in 1951, it wasn’t until October 6, 1952 that it hosted its first hockey game. The significant legacy that the Gardens has left, and continues to carve out for itself, whether through its part in crafting championship teams, forming and solidifying friendships, or connecting and uniting the Leaside community, could not have been predicted at that first puck drop. However, that legacy is undeniable now.
When the ice was first flooded and benched seating freshly painted more than six decades ago, the facility stood on a plot of land donated by the Lea family, from whom Leaside bears its name. The building was named in honour of World War II veterans; outside the arena stands a commemorative plaque that reads: “In memory of the men of the Town of Leaside who gave their lives for their country in the second World War – 1939-1945.”
The local rink saw some big-name talent play under its rafters, including Terry Caffery, Tom Edur, Dave and Paul Gardner, Peter Mahovlich Jr., Mike McEwen, Brad Selwood, and Bill Stewart. As the years passed, that plot of land developed. Now, 65 years later, one would be hard pressed not to find something to do at 1073 Millwood Drive. The site is currently home to two rinks which are in constant demand, the William Lea Room, a public swimming pool, and the separately owned and operated Leaside Curling Club.
Although the Gardens has changed a lot over time, some things have remained constants within its walls: the dedication and determination of the athletes who train, play, perform, and better themselves; and the community of Leaside rooting for them every step of the way. The brand of coffee provided at the snack bar may be different now from the one served back in 1952, but the parent sipping it with a gloved hand from a Styrofoam cup early in the morning has always been there. The Zamboni driver may no longer be Peter Mahovlich Sr., but he ensures the ice is as fresh as ever for the next group of skaters anxiously awaiting their call time at the gates. Sponsors on rink boards have certainly changed, but all have the same goal – to keep ice sports an activity available to the whole community. And most notably, the athletes of all ages and abilities who walk through the front doors have most definitely changed over 65 years, but their willingness and determination to give all they have on that ice for an hour or so have remained constant and are the reason for the Gardens’ history and future.
The Com-munity Relations Committee of the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens Board is planning a celebratory event to commemorate the first hockey game played at the Gardens 65 years ago. This will take place in the William Lea Room at the beginning of this year’s hockey season. Stay tuned for more details.
Colleen Atkinson writes on behalf of the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens.