In the course of one week Toronto has seen the widely publicized opening of a grocery store, the less publicized opening of another, and yesterday the renaming of a major live theatre. Two grocery stores and a new name on a theatre don't sound like much on a website that is typically more concerned with following concrete forms and steel beams as they rise ever higher into the air, but for every condo and office tower that has been added to Toronto's skyline over the past few years, these latest events punch something above their weight as it were, and can be seen as a tangible measure of our recent growth.

Loblaws, Maple Leaf Gardens, image by Craig White

Anyone who has visited the 85,000 square foot Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens over the last week knows something of what I mean: there is nothing in town that quite underlines how big-city Toronto has become more than this grocery store does. Toronto has seen a vast number of jewels added to its crown over the last decade - expansions of the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Gardiner Museum, renovations to Roy Thomson Hall, new jewels like the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the tiff Bell Lightbox, fantastic new parks on the Waterfront, more than a dozen major new University and College facilities, rebuilt and expanded hospitals, and a vast new airport terminal - but now it is, of all things, a grocery store that is astonishing us.

Restored Carlton Street façade of Maple Leaf Gardens, image by drum118

Loblaws' (and Ryerson's) makeover of this iconic building has been nothing short of masterful, and has involved several prominent firms.

Maple Leaf Gardens chairs sculpted into a maple leaf, Loblaws, image by Craig White

Turner Fleischer Architects has done a handsome job with the muscular structure, E.R.A. Architects has given us a beautifully restored exterior, particularly the Carlton Street marquee, and the heritage industrial steel windows, while also giving us an interesting peek at the original interior structure of Maple Leaf Gardens when entering, while Landini Associates of Sydney, Australia has done a brilliant job of the building's striking interiors including its bold graphics.

Loblaws, Maple Leaf Gardens, image by Craig White

Loblaws have done their part by significantly expanding the prepared meal options, adding eating areas, and introducing various huge counters covering deli, breads, sweets, convenience foods, the unmissable 18 foot wall of cheese, and more, all packaged beautifully, as if the store itself were a Presidents Choice product.

Loblaws, Maple Leaf Gardens, image by Craig White

Pillars recall past glories in Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens, image by Craig White

Leafs and Gardens history can be found adorning pillars throughout the grocery aisles, and the spot on the floor indicating the former location of centre ice has become a photo hot-spot. 

Centre-Ice at Loblaws, Maple Leaf Gardens, image by Craig White

At the same time, the Queen and Portland Loblaws, opened relatively quietly two days later, is a new Turner Fleischer building from the ground up, with Landini working its interiors- graphics- and branding-magic again. Smaller, while still a major store at 45,000 square feet, it also is a major addition to the Queen West area and the city's grocery scene as a whole.

Loblaws at Queen and Portland Streets, image by Craig White

"Grocery scene" sounds so mundane, but if a task that everyone performs on an regular basis can be made so much more stimulating, one only hopes that the expense that Loblaws has gone to here is repaid to an extent that a decision by Loblaws to go this route at their Lake Shore and Bathurst location is made certain. The on-again off-again line-ups to get in the Maple Leaf Gardens store over the last week attest to the drawing power of the scheme.

In the end, it's not just Loblaws that seems bigger-brighter-better for these two new stores, Toronto itself seems bigger-brighter-better too.

The marquee is unveiled at the renamed Ed Mirvish Theatre, image by Craig White

Another move making Toronto a bigger-brighter-better place is the decision by David Mirvish at the end of ten years of sponsorship of their theatre on Yonge Street by the Canon Corporation not to search out a new corporate sponsor for the venue, but to rename the theatre after David's father, Ed. Forgoing all of the money Mirvish could have made with a new sponsor, David is instead honouring his father, the man who put Toronto on the live theatre map and who drove so much tourism to this city. The move will allow theatre-goers to feel a part of the gesture every time they buy a ticket, and expression of thanks already brought out many of the stars who have played in Ed's theatres over the years both here in Toronto and in London, England. Those saluting Ed Mirvish's memory in music at the event included Molly Johnson, Louise Pitre, Michael Burgess, Camilla Scott, and pianists Ted Dyskstra and Richard Greenblatt.

There's no business like show business at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, image by Craig White

We are a bigger city this week than we were last week, and we have some great new ways to measure that.

Related Companies:  BBB Architects, ERA Architects, Landini Associates, LEA Consulting, Loblaw Companies, Ryerson University, Stadium Consultants International, Turner Fleischer Architects