The Hockey Hall of Fame/Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame was once located directly across from the main entrance of the Food Building at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The building faced south towards the former Exhibition Stadium & Grandstand, where the north portion of BMO Field stands today.
A Timeline of the Hockey Hall of Fame
In 1943, the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) agreed to establish a Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston, Ontario. This was mainly due to the efforts of Captain James Sutherland, a native of Kingston and former president of the CAHA, who believed that the birthplace of hockey was Kingston.
Plans began to finance the project, and while there was no physical building, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s first twelve members were inducted in 1945. A few from the inaugural class include Howie Morenz (player), Georges Vezina (player), Lord Frederick Stanley (builder) and Captain James Sutherland (builder).
Through the early years, hockey legends continued to be inducted; however, high costs put the Hall of Fame construction in Kingston out of reach.
In 1955, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame was founded, and it was opened during that year’s CNE at Stanley Barracks on Exhibition grounds. They invited the Hockey Hall of Fame to set up a trophy exhibit. The display drew tremendous attention and continued over the next couple of years during the annual fair, with space gradually expanding. In 1957, the Hall of Fame relocated to the Administration/Press Building.
Finding a Home at Exhibition Grounds
In 1958, the NHL and CAMA decided to withdraw their support of Kingston and make Exhibition grounds in Toronto the official site of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The NHL honoured the 31 players and nine builders who had already been inducted into the Kingston Hall of Fame.
Conn Smythe was a key figure in organizing the construction of the Hall. He began putting together the funding, securing the land with the city and supervising the construction of the $500,000 project.
In September 1960, hockey great and 1947 inductee Frederick “Cyclone” Taylor turned the sod at the ground-breaking ceremony. The architectural firm Allward and Gouinlock designed the Moderne style structure. The building was two storeys in height and featured an iconic entrance and mural, which have been preserved at Gate 5 of BMO Field.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Opens in Toronto
In August 1961, the Hockey Hall of Fame opened. Thousands attended the colourful ceremony that included speeches by officials and Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Pennants of the six hockey teams were raised on flagpoles in front of the Hall – George Armstong (captain) for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jean Béliveau (player but became captain later in the year) for the Montreal Canadiens, Doug Harvey (coach) the NY Rangers, Don McKenney (captain) for the Boston Bruins, Sid Abel (coach) for the Detroit Red Wings and Pierre Pilote (captain) for the Chicago Black Hawks raising their corresponding pennants.
Inside was a museum, theatre, and library of game lore and records, and while Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame did share the space, they eventually needed more. So, in 1967, a $400,000 wing was added to the east side of the building to further expand all sports except hockey.
By the mid-1980s, operating and maintenance costs on the building were multiplying. More space was also needed for the hockey shrine, so the search began for a new home. In June 1993, the Hockey Hall of Fame moved to its present-day location in the magnificent former Bank of Montreal building at Yonge St and Front St W.
Preservation of the Entrance
In 2006, the Halls of Fame building at Exhibition Place was torn down to make way for the soccer stadium; however, pieces of it have been preserved. This includes the iconic entrance featuring the “Face-Off” mural by Canadian artist Ronald Satok, the cast-in-place folded-plate concrete canopy, four granite columns, two-storey glazing and original glass doors. These heritage elements and pre-cast concrete panels have been reproduced at Gate 5 of BMO Field.
Granite from the former Hockey Hall of Fame building was also salvaged and used to make 18 heritage benches (14 around the perimeter of BMO Field and four at the Automotive Building). The benches were created by Toronto-based artist Stephen Cruise and feature etched drawings of historic buildings and events from the Canadian National Exhibition and Exhibition Place past.
Did You Know?
The first recorded hockey games were played in 1855 in Kingston and Halifax by members of the Royal Canadian Rifles Regiment, a unit stationed in both cities.
From 1955 until 1960, the Hockey Hall of Fame was located in Stanley Barracks, which was renamed in 1893 in honour of Governor General Lord Stanley. It was also Lord Stanley who donated the NHL’s most prized cup.
George Roper Gouinlock was one half of the team that designed the Hockey Hall of Fame at Exhibition grounds. His father, George Wallace Gouinlock, was the architect behind many buildings still in existence at Exhibition Place, including the Horticulture Building and Administration Building.
In 1958, even though plans fell through with the NHL and CAMA, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Kingston opened in 1965. Today known as the Original Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s located in Kingston’s Invista Centre.
In 2011, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame opened at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. The museum features galleries and interactive visitor experiences along with many artifacts and photos.