Things to do in Toronto if you’re a sports fan!
Toronto is Canada’s sports capital. It’s the only Canadian city represented in the NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer, as well as the Canadian Football League (CFL). No matter the season, if you’d like to catch a game in Toronto, you’ll find one.
Yet when it comes to sport, Toronto offers more than just riveting matchups. It’s home to some of the most significant venues in North American sports history, and boasts some amusing stories for anyone interested in athletics. So in this blog, we’ve laid out the top things to do in Toronto if you do want to check out some special sports history.
Explore Toronto’s hockey past
Toronto is a mecca for hockey lovers. Home to the NHL’s second-most-successful team—the Maple Leafs—and the Hockey Hall of Fame, there are many things to do in Toronto to explore its history on the rink.
The city’s most famous arena was Maple Leaf Gardens, in operation from 1931 until 1999. When the Maple Leafs moved to Scotiabank Arena, the city thankfully decided not to demolish the Gardens (at 50 Carlton Street) but instead repurposed the building; today it’s a grocery store and home to Toronto Metropolitan University’s hockey club. For seventy years, the greatest players on ice played inside its walls, and it’s where the Leafs won all thirteen of their Stanley Cup Championships. The exterior looks the same as it did when it opened, and if you go inside and down Aisle 25, you’ll find a red dot where centre ice used to be. Look up at the pillars and you’ll see photos and descriptions of the most significant moments that took place at the Gardens. Feeling tired? Have a seat on an original Maple Leaf Gardens seat near the café.
Leave out the front entrance and head right towards Yonge Street, then go left on Yonge. A 25-minute walk will take you to the Hockey Hall of Fame, home to the largest collection of NHL memorabilia in the world. There’s a ton to see here, but the highlight is the Stanley Cup. Unlike the NBA, NFL, and NBA trophies that are made annually for the winning team in those leagues, there is only one Stanley Cup, so the one you see in the Hall of Fame is the same cup that’s been hoisted by all your favourite stars. (Well ok, there is one exact replica, updated every year and used by the NHL when the original isn’t available.) The players of every winning team each get a day with the Cup, so this trophy has been used for baptisms, gone on a rollercoaster ride at Universal Studios, been forgotten in airports, and been to many, many bars. Be sure to check out all the other attractions in the Hall of Fame as well!
Things to do in Toronto if you’re a baseball fan
To see Toronto’s most important baseball site, take the ferry to the Toronto Islands then rent a bike and head to Hanlan’s Point (ask for directions at the bike rental shop—it’s about a fifteen-minute ride). Back in the early 1900s there was no Maple Leafs hockey team, but there was a baseball team called the Toronto Maple Leafs that played in the International League, a minor league feeder for the MLB. On September 5th 1914 at Maple Leaf Park on Hanlan’s Point, the Leafs hosted the Providence Grays. Halfway through the game, a nineteen-year-old Grays player named Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate, connected with the pitch, and literally knocked it out of the park! It was the Bambino’s first-ever professional homerun.
The Grays trounced the Maple Leafs 9-0 that day, and soon Babe Ruth was on his way to the majors as one of the greatest ball players of all time. On Hanlan’s Point there’s a plaque commemorating his milestone moment in Toronto. His homerun ball flew into the waters of Lake Ontario and was never recovered, so if you feel like going for a swim, you might just find a very special baseball treasure!
Today Toronto’s ball club are called the Blue Jays and they play in the Rogers Centre, visible on the mainland across the water from the Toronto Islands. If you’d like to catch a game, a unique experience is to rent one of the hotel rooms in the Marriott attached to the stadium. This was the first hotel constructed inside a baseball stadium, and seventy rooms look out onto the field. Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar lived at the hotel when he played for the Jays from 1991 to ’95, as did Roger Clemens when he was Toronto’s pitcher in ’97 and ’98. Staying there offers an amazing view of the field, but be sure to stay clothed while the game is on because as some guests have failed to realise—while you can see out, fans can also see in!
Discover soccer sites in Toronto
You might not associate Canada with soccer, but it’s the most-played sport in the country and Toronto has always been front and centre. As far as historians can tell, the first game of soccer played in Canada took place here in 1876 between the Carlton Cricket Club and the Toronto Lacrosse Club. A year later, a group of Torontonians formed the world’s first national soccer association outside the British Isles, known as the Dominion Football Association.
Admittedly, there are no landmarks left from those early years, but Toronto is home to BMO Field, the site of Canada’s most recent soccer feat. In a match against Jamaica at BMO Field in March 2022, our men’s team qualified for the World Cup, routing the Jamaicans 4-0. It was the first time in over 35 years, and only the second time ever, that the Canadian men have made it into the world’s most important soccer competition. With temperatures below zero, almost 30,000 fans cheered on their team as they dominated from start to finish. While it might be a bit of a trip to get to BMO Field, you can watch highlights of the match here.
Learn about the CFL’s most successful team
Toronto is home to the most successful CFL team ever, the Toronto Argonauts. Founded in 1873, the Argos are also North America’s oldest pro football team, and heading to BMO Field for a game is one of the most popular things to do in Toronto during the summer.
If there are no games on while you’re in town, consider having a drink at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel, which has an amusing affiliation with our football club. Have you ever heard of John Candy? In the 1990s, he, along with a few other investors, purchased the Toronto club. While famous for acting, John Candy’s true passion was football, and during the CFL season he lived at the Four Seasons so he could be close to his beloved Argos. He treated the bar like his office, working there often with the marketing team on promotions to drive ticket sales.
They came up with many fun ideas: Candy showed up to games with actors like Martin Short and Jim Belushi, he signed autographs at every game, he acted like a goof with the mascots, and he filmed silly commercials encouraging people to buy tickets. After working until late into the night at the Four Seasons bar, Candy would be up in the mornings making the rounds of the local radio stations, promoting his team and encouraging Torontonians to check out a game. Thanks to all these initiatives and antics, the team established an entirely new generation of fans. Beyond their success at the ticket office, the team also found their footing on the field—in Candy’s first year as owner, they won the CFL championship Grey Cup.
Things to do in Toronto if you’re a basketball fan
If you’re a basketball aficionado, one of the best things to do in Toronto is to visit one of the most significant sites in NBA history…Maple Leaf Gardens! On November 1st 1946, a basketball team called the Toronto Huskies hosted the rival New York Knickerbockers at the Gardens in the first game of a brand-new league called the Basketball Association of America, or the BAA.
Back in the 1940s the owners of hockey arenas like Boston Garden, Madison Square Garden in New York, and Maple Leaf Gardens founded the BAA because they realised their buildings were often sitting empty, so they wanted to sell tickets to basketball games on nights their hockey teams weren’t in action. The BAA teams were quite mediocre, but because they were making way more money in ticket sales than other basketball leagues that were literally playing in community clubs or high school gyms, they could afford to attract the best players and soon bought up all the other leagues.
By 1949 the BAA had no more competition and decided to rebrand, renaming themselves the National Basketball Association, or the NBA. So in a twist of fate, North America’s most important basketball league exists thanks to hockey, and their inaugural game was at Maple Leaf Gardens. Today there are only two teams left from that first 1946 season of the BAA: The Boston Celtics and the New York Knickerbockers, though you may know them better by their abbreviated name, the New York Knicks.
Of all the things to do in Toronto, perhaps one of the most fun is trying to catch a glimpse of one of our sports stars. There are a few places around town where you can potentially spot a Raptor, but one of the most likely is at Real Sports across the street from Scotiabank Arena, owned by the same company that owns the team. Even if you don’t run in to Fred VanVleet or his teammates, Real Sports boasts 199 TVs and 125 beers on tap—making this a great place to hang out, have a cold one, and catch a game no matter your favourite sport!