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Philanthropist Peter Gilgan changed the game

Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper drops the puck at the unveiling of the ice rink at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in 2012.

Peter Gilgan

Peter Gilgan, chairman and CEO of Mattamy Asset Management and founder of Mattamy Homes, North America’s largest privately held homebuilder, is the father of eight children — four of whom (Benjamin, Markus, Caleb and Luke) we are proud to number among Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) alumni. 

It was Peter’s generosity that would make possible the revitalization of historic Maple Leaf Gardens as the Mattamy Athletic Centre. His actions were key in returning a cultural icon and landmark to Canadians, while providing a much-needed home for student athletes at TMU. 

Gilgan’s lead $15 million gift and innovative development expertise made possible this transformation of athletics at TMU. With it, the TMU community is proud to join the good company of St. Michael’s, SickKids and Trillium hospitals — and many others — who have the honour of calling Gilgan their benefactor. 

“The Gardens,” said Peter at the time, “holds such wonderful memories and historical significance for Toronto and Canada. I am delighted to play a part in the transformation of this iconic treasure that not only respects its rich heritage but also ensures the next generation will enjoy it all over again as a much needed community hub of sports, activity and fitness.”

TMU President at the time, Sheldon Levy, said “I know that two of Peter Gilgan's children are graduates of [TMU], two more are current students, and I’m very pleased that Peter has chosen to support [the university] in this way. Peter’s wonderful generosity will benefit [our] students, our community and our city for years to come.”

Opening its doors in 2012, the newly christened “Mattamy Athletic Centre” was an immediate game-changer for varsity-level sports, recreational fitness and community engagement. Named in recognition of Gilgan’s home building enterprise (which is in turn named for two of his children, Matt and Amy) — and fondly nicknamed “the MAC” — the new facility ushered in renewed pride and spirit amongst the Ryerson Rams, renamed the TMU Bold, varsity teams and student athletes. Not only did TMU hockey and athletics now have a home of their own, it was a magnificent and historic Toronto venue in their own downtown neighbourhood.  

Thanks to Gilgan and the partnership, the MAC was front-page news. It made ESPN’s list of Top 10 Most Historic North American Stadiums, and took TMU athletics facilities “from worst to first” in Ontario. Even competing hockey teams highly anticipated playing their away games on TMU’s Mattamy Home Ice. 

Gilgan’s confidence in TMU’s students has inspired them to aim high, both in athletics and academics. TMU is now recognized for its growing strength in sport-related education. The university launched a Bachelor Degree program in Sport Media in 2014 — the only program of its kind in North America — featuring the Sportsnet RTA Production Centre, a state-of-the-art broadcasting centre housed at the MAC. 

Since its opening, the Mattamy Athletic Centre has been a catalyst for thousands of hours of mentorship and community service performed by TMU Bold student athletes each year in programs for Grade 6-10 students in inner city schools and from across the Greater Toronto Area.

The Mattamy Athletic Centre has also been the venue of choice for major events such as the Grand Slam of Curling, World Ball Hockey Championship, Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic, PanAm Games basketball and ParapanAm Games wheelchair basketball, TEDx Conference, Ontario Liberal Party Convention, and much more. Thousands of hours of ice time have been booked by hockey leagues and for community skating events, and thousands of university and community users have swiped their access cards in the MAC Fitness Centre. 

Since 2018, the Mattamy Athletic Centre has also hosted graduates at 40 convocation ceremonies, and will continue to be a place of celebration for hundreds of thousands of students and their families and friends during the milestone moment of convocation. 

Then Prime Minister Stephen Harper drops the puck at the unveiling of the ice rink at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in 2012.

Becoming the Mattamy Athletic Centre

Maple Leaf Gardens, a “cathedral of hockey,” was built in 1931 and served as home to the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, who won 11 Stanley Cup championships on site. Located at the corner of Carlton and Church streets, the venue also played host to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and professional sports teams including the Toronto Raptors. 

After the Leafs left Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999, the arena remained largely neglected for more than a decade. Then, as part of an unprecedented campus expansion, TMU (then called Ryerson University) orchestrated a partnership that brought together students — who voted to approve a levy for additional athletic space — the Government of Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Peter Gilgan to breathe new life into the heritage property.

Loblaw Companies purchased the building, and TMU students and leadership saw the potential. But it was Gilgan, founder and owner of Mattamy Homes, who turned an unlikely partnership into a visionary opportunity. With his re-imagination of the space, Mattamy Home Ice opened on the third floor under the treasured original domed ceiling, and the university gained new home court advantage for basketball and volleyball.

Of the “Original Six” NHL hockey arenas, the Mattamy Athletic Centre is the only facility to retain a skating rink. Four of the original six rinks have been demolished (Boston, Chicago, Detroit and New York). The Montreal Forum was converted into shops, restaurants and a movie theatre.

Gilgan’s imagination and creativity, and joy in the journey, revitalized an iconic Toronto landmark and helped bring it back to life for us all. Not only does he build homes, but he builds communities, and the MAC is an extension of that. Gilgan’s generosity will continue to impact TMU and the wider community for generations to come.