MAC memories: a venue restored to greatness
TMU community members past and present reflect on the legacy of a campus gem
There was little hope left for Maple Leaf Gardens in the early 2000s, a building that had hosted big names like Muhammad Ali and housed the Toronto Maple Leafs during their 13 Stanley Cup wins.
The Leafs played their final game in the old barn, located at Carleton and Church Streets, in 1999. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) later relocated to the formerly named Air Canada Centre, now known as Scotiabank Arena.
According to CBC, Loblaw Companies Limited purchased The Gardens in 2003 and it was nearly developed into an entertainment complex that contained a movie theatre and retail shops.
In March 2009, a student referendum passed to approve a tuition hike of $126 in support of building a new athletic facility at the university. Ivan Joseph, who was the university’s athletic director at the time, said the school didn’t originally have Maple Leaf Gardens in mind.
Joseph said when the referendum was won, Galen Weston of Loblaws contacted the university’s president and vice chancellor at the time, Sheldon Levy. This formed a financial bond that helped make the dream a reality.
In December 2009, a $60 million partnership was announced between the university, Loblaws and the federal government.
“We did not want to build a gym, a weight room or a recreational centre,” said Joseph, who was the school’s athletic director from 2008-18. “We wanted it to be a community centre, a gathering place where people could come to hang out and congregate.”
Since its repurposing, the building, now called the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), has come to mean many things to many different people but what they all have in common is the passion for the university’s athletics community.
The MAC held its first game in September 2012, where the formerly named Ryerson Rams defeated the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks in a men’s hockey game by a score of 5-4 in overtime.
In 2008, then-TMU vice president academic and provost Alan Shepard and Levy approached Joseph about an opportunity to become the athletic director of the university.
“I had said no a whole bunch of times and they asked me why did I say no,” said Joseph. “And I said, ‘The things that you’re asking me to do, which is change the culture and build a winning program can’t be done because I’m gonna have to break a whole bunch of rules in order to make it happen.’”
“And [Levy] just said, ‘Tell me what stupid rules are keeping you from doing your job and I will help you break them down.’”
Ultimately, their alignment kept him around. Joseph said he knew Levy was someone he wanted to work for because he was outside the box and didn’t just do things a certain way because that’s how they were always done.
And after spending several years with the program, he says he has many fond memories. The fondest, however, came when the facility hosted an event to showcase the historical 1972 Summit Series. The iconic event was an eight-game series of hockey matchups between Canada and the Soviet Union.
“As I’m walking into the event, the vice president, marketing and communications turns to me and says ‘Oh by the way you have to give a 15-minute speech right now,’” said Joseph. “And I’m like ‘holy sugar sticks.’”
After initially being flustered, he walked into a closet in the nearest room and collected his thoughts.
The Toronto Raptors have superfan Nav Bhatia sitting courtside every game and at TMU, it’s hard to find anyone that loves the school’s sports teams more than Bryan Sancho.
He’s easy to spot up in the balcony, mostly because he’s always there. Decked out in shorts no matter the weather, he sports his signature long socks and is always rocking a pair of shades.
Sancho was enticed by the building because of the study spaces it provides, making The Lookout, the balcony area above the basketball court his “work office.” Being a second-year engineering student, he has a heavy workload and the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre can often be difficult to secure a quiet and comfortable space.
He described the MAC as a “hidden gem” not enough students know about.​
Not only has Sancho become a staple in the crowd but he has built relationships with a variety of student athletes across multiple sports. Alex King, who plays on the Bold men’s volleyball team, has a special handshake with Sancho that they always do when they see each other.
The athlete interactions are an integral part of his game-day experience. Aaron Hyman, a member of the Bold’s men’s hockey team, calls Sancho “the boss” when they see each other.
It was only within this past year that he became a fan of the school’s sports teams and his love for the Bold is continuing to grow.
“I became a fan when the women’s basketball team won the national championship last year,” said Sancho. “Since my classes have been online for most of my university tenure, I didn’t even know about our athletic teams. I’m trying to make up for the lost time.”
Robert Langridge is the operations manager for Oak View Group 360, the venue management company that looks after the MAC. He appreciates how accessible the MAC has become for everybody.
“The Mattamy Athletic Centre has been a long-time home of the Canadian Blind Hockey Association and having the opportunity to support and witness their skills competition and elite blind hockey series was incredible,” said Langridge.
Langridge recounted his memories of the school winning their first Ontario University Athletic (OUA) championship banners in the venue in 2016.
He remembers how the men’s basketball team was hosting the Carleton University Ravens at the MAC and at the same time, the women’s team was on the road taking on the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. Both squads had the chance to bring OUA championships to the MAC for the first time.
The men’s team got the job done, fighting back to beat the Ravens and Langridge remembers how when the final buzzer sounded, everyone rushed the court and the champagne showers ensued.
But what made it even more special was getting to celebrate another championship on the court that night, even if the women’s hoops team wasn’t actually in the building.
“I will never forget someone yelling ‘The women also won’ and away we went again, screaming and yelling all over again.”
The MAC remains one of the top facilities across the country and that was one of the reasons it was chosen to host the 2024 U Sports men’s hockey national championship next year. It’ll be the first time the school hosts the tournament but it has previously hosted three national championships.
And as the school embarks on a new chapter under the TMU Bold moniker, they’ll continue to be surrounded by the illustrious history of the building they call home.