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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part IV: Toronto: Public Buildings


It is a singular anomaly that in a city of the size and importance of Toronto, the chief city of the county and of the Province, the three buildings which might have been expected to present an appearance commensurate with the dignity of the several bodies of which they are the material representatives, should be the least attractive and least imposing of all the public edifices which grace its streets. Yet such is the fact. The Parliament Buildings, the County Building and Court House, and the City Hall; representing, respectively, the Provincial, the County, and the City Governments, are, each and every one, structures of uninviting exterior—to use no stronger word—and totally inadequate to fulfil the purposes for which they were intended.

The Parliament Buildings occupy the block formed by Front, Simcoe, Wellington, and John Streets. They consist of a range of squat red-brick buildings, forming three sides of a quadrangle, and stand in a large open space, one-half of which appears to have been converted into a market garden. Any description of their architectural features is out of the question, for they have none. The question of erecting a more suitable structure has for some years past been mooted, but the scheme has not assumed any tangible form, which is the more to be regretted, inasmuch as within the building, which offers no security against fire, are stored the valuable library of the Ontario Legislature and the title-deeds of all lands held from the Crown, the loss of which would be irreparable. The buildings were erected in 1830, a vote of seven thousand pounds having been made for this purpose in 1826.

To the north of the Parliament Buildings stands Government House, the grounds surrounding which are tastefully laid out and extend north wards to King Street. The building itself is of red brick with white stone facings, and stands out in strong contrast with the massive gray walls of St. Andrew's Church oh the opposite side of Simcoe Street. The present structure was erected in 1869 on the site of the old Government House.

The Custom House, on the south-west corner of Front and Yonge streets, is one of the most ornate specimens of architecture which the city possesses. It is built in the Renaissance style, of white pressed brick, with white stone facades, the basement being constructed of Georgetown stone. The decorative work is exceedingly elaborate and intricate, without, how ever, being bewildering. The main entrance on Front Street consists of an enclosed porch, over the cornice of which is a balustrade from which rise columns with richly carved caps and moulded bases. A rich block cornice—each bracket of which presents a different design in carved foliage —separates the ground floor from the first story, and a plainer cornice separates the latter from the second. Below the windows of the ground floor are panels filled with carved heads of animals, while on the keystones are similarly carved heads representing Commerce, Agriculture, etc., and heads of eminent men of the fifteenth century. The coats-of-arms of the' principal seaports throughout the world are carved on the transoms of the windows, and on the windows of the second story appear medallion heads of famous navigators of the Middle Ages. The building was completed in 1876, its construction having occupied two years. Hon. James Patton, Q.C., LL.D, is the present Collector of Customs.

The General Post-office is, as regards architectural beauty and elaborate detail, only second to the Custom House. It stands on an admirably-selected site on the north side of Adelaide Street Past, facing Toronto—a position that could scarcely be improved upon, as the imposing appearance of the edifice is much enhanced by the many rich buildings which line the approach to it. The facade is in the Italian style, faced with wrought Ohio stone, and is fifty-six feet high to the eaves. It consists of a central break, relieved with coupled columns and pilasters, with foliated caps and moulded bases and cornices. On each side of the central break is a recessed bay, and beyond, at each angle, a tower, with mansard roof and cast-iron cresting. The main cornice is surmounted by a handsome clock, with moulded frame, flanked by carved .trusses. Immediately behind this rises the central dome, thirty-six feet high, giving an entire height of ninety feet to the building. The doors and windows have richly foliated imposts, and carved heads for keystones. The frontage of the main building is seventy-five feet and its depth sixty-six feet, continued back to Lombard Street, a distance of one hundred and eight feet, by a one-story building used as a sorting and mailing-room. Mr. T. C. Patteson is Postmaster. The General Post-office has four branch offices—in the eastern, western, and northern portions of the city, and at Parkdale, respectively.

"he Provincial Lunatic Asylum, with .ts huge dome, is one of the most striking features of the city when viewed from a distance. It is a massive building of gray brick, situated in the midst of spacious grounds on the south side of Queen Street West, about three miles from the City Hall. It consists of a main building nearly six hundred feet in length, flanked at each end by a wing extending two hundred and forty feet to the south. The front elevation consists of a centre building, five stories high and surmounted by a dome, and two side-wings, which, like the rear wings, are four stories high. The maintenance of the institution entails a yearly outlay of between eighty and ninety thousand dollars, which is met by an annual parliamentary grant of a tax of one penny per pound on the ratable property of each municipality. Nearly one hundred officials are employed in the building, the Medical Superintendent being Dr. Daniel Clark, who succeeded Dr. John Workman, the well-known Canadian alienist. The Provincial Asylum has, under the management of Dr. Clark and his predecessor, acquired a reputation which is continental.

Few of the public institutions in Toronto have undergone such a marked transformation within the last decade as the General Hospital.

Ten years ago the Toronto Hospital was anything but a credit to the city; to-day, thanks to efficient management and increased resources, it bears a reputation second to none in the Dominion. The building, or rather buildings, for it consists of no less than five, exclusive of laundry, mortuary, and other adjuncts, stands amid spacious grounds which occupy the entire quadrangle formed by Gerrard, Sumach, Spruce and Sackville Streets, and on an elevation of over eighty feet above the level of the Bay. The main building is constructed of white brick with stone dressings, and is three stories high, with mansard roof and a central tower one hundred feet high, and smaller towers at each angle of the front elevation. It is used for the accommodation of ordinary medical and surgical cases, and contains some seventeen or eighteen public wards, besides a number of private wards for patients who can afford to pay for treatment and attendance. The operating theatre forms an L in the centre and behind, and is flanked on either side by a wing. Connected with the main building by bridges on each side are the Fever Hospital and the Mercer Eye and Ear Infirmary, the former on the west, and the latter, which also contains the apartments of the Medical Superintendent, on the east. In the north west angle of the grounds is the Burnside Lying-in Hospital, which is supported by voluntary contributions, by the fees of students in attendance, and by a yearly Government grant of $400. This building, as well as the Eye and Ear and Fever Hospitals, is of the same style and material as the main building. Between the Lying-in Hospital and the main buildings a structure has recently been erected which serves as a resort during the day for convalescent patients, and immediately to the east of this are the mortuary, laundry, etc. The main buildings are one hundred and seventy feet in length by one hundred and twenty in depth. The wards are roomy and well ventilated—the latter having been a subject to which special attention was paid in the construction of the edifice. The entire institution is under the charge of Dr. Charles O'Reilly, Medical Superintendent, assisted by a matron and a staff of four assistant house surgeons, the latter selected from the graduating classes of each year in the two principal medical schools.

Osgoode Hall, the headquarters of the Superior Courts of Ontario, is perhaps the greatest architectural triumph ever achieved in the city of Toronto. Its stately facade excites general admiration among visitors to the Provincial capital, and this admiration is increased by the admirable appointments and tasteful decorations of the interior. If Toronto possessed no other monument of the architect's art, Osgoode Hall alone would repay the visit of the lover of the beautiful. Mr. W. G. Storm, after whose designs "the Hall" was bmlt, will leave behind him m this magnificent structure an enduring memorial of his name and skill, and one of which his fellow-citizens are justly proud. Osgoode Hall stands 011 the north side of Queen Street West, at the head of York Street, on a plot of ground some six acres in extent—now beautifully laid out as garden and lawn—which was donated to the Toronto Law Society by Sir John Robinson, father of the present Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, and at whose suggestion the proposed edifice was named after the Hon. William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. The first building erected was >a modest structure of brick occupying the site of the present east wing. It was completed in 1832. In 1845 F1® west wing was built, and subsequently the two isolated edifices were connected by an intermediate range of buildings, which were surmounted by a dome. From 1857 to 1859 the central structure underwent a modification, the dome was removed, and the present handsome facade of cut stone was added. The general style of the facade is Ionic, with some Renaissance modifications. Fortunately the building stands well back from the street, so that none of its imposing characteristics are lost. Of late years considerable additions have been made in the rear, so that the actual structure almost extends to the northern limit of the grounds. The interior is no less remarkable than the exterior, containing some fine tesselated stone work in the atrium and vestibules. " he Hall," as it is called by the members of the legal profession, is the property of the Law Society of Upper Canada. The grounds are surrounded by a handsome open iron railing—a plan that might be adopted with advant age in the case of several other public buildings. Notably do the grounds of Government House and Trinity College, both hedged in by unsightly board fences, suffer by comparison with others which are more liberally displayed.

From Osgoode Hall to the Court House is from the sublime to the ridiculous—from one of the most magnificent buildings in the capital to one of the meanest and most poverty-stricken. It is a shabby-looking edifice, Roman n style, faced with Ohio stone, and stands on the south side of Adelaide Street East, between Toronto and Church Streets. It contains the Assize, County and Division Court-rooms and the County Council chamber, with the offices of the various officials attached to each. Happily the present building will not long continue to disgrace the county at least, as it is proposed to erect a new and more appropriate edifice on Queen Street West.

The jails and reformatories of the city are four in number, viz., the Central Prison, a gloomy gray stone building on the west side of Strachan Avenue; the Toronto Jail, situated on an eminence on the north side of the extension of Gerrard Street, beyond the Don ; the Industrial Refuge for Girls, on the south side of King Street, near Dufferin Street; and the Mercer Reformatory, standing to the north-west of the Exhibition Grounds, also on King Street, near Dufferin Street. Of the two last mentioned institutions the former is intended for the reclamation and industrial training of girls committed under the penal laws of Ontario ; the latter for the reception and reformation of girls and women sentenced to a term of imprisonment therein by the police magistrate, and more especially fur fallen women.

The Free Library building is a plain, unpretentious structure on the north-east corner of Adelaide and Church Streets. It was formerly occupied by the Toronto Mechanics' Institute, the committee of which made over their building and library to the Free Library Board upon the passage of the Public Library, by-law by the citizens. The building has been entirely remodelled internally and was formally re-opened, under the new auspices, on the 6th March, 1884. Branches of the library have also been opened in the northern and western portions of the city. In this connection a few facts relating to the reception and growth of the organization which gave place to the Free Library, may not be considered to be out of place. J he Toronto Mechanics' Institute was established in January, 1831, at a meeting of influential citizens called by Mr. James Leslie, now of Eglinton. During its early days the meetings of its members were held in the "Masonic Lodge" rooms on Market (now Colborne) Street. Here a library and museum were formed, lectures delivered, and evening classes held for the improvement of its members. In 1838 a suite of rooms in the Market Buildings—now the St. Lawrence Hall—were obtained from the city corporation for the accommodation of the Institute. Six years later a move was made to rooms above the store, No. 12 Wellington Buildings, just east of the Wesleyan Book-room, and the winter lectures were held in the County Court Room. During the year 1846, a second move was made—this time to entirely new quarters in the second story of the lire-hall, just erected (on the site of the present police court), an extension of the original plan of the building having been made 011 purpose to accommodate the Institute, the latter paying the difference between the original estimate and the actual cost of the extended building. In 1853 the site of the present Free Library was purchased, and an appeal made to the citizens for assistance to enable the association to erect a suitable building. The result of the appeal was so gratifying that operations were commenced during the same year. During the year 1855 the Provincial Government leased the unfinished budding for four years for departmental purposes, and the revenue derived from this and other sources was sufficient to enable the Institute to discharge its liabilities. On the expiry of the Government's lease some necessary alterations were made in the building and it was finally taken possession of by the Institute i« 1861. During the following winter a more complete system of evening-class instruction was inaugurated, and these classes were carried on with marked success until the winter of 1879-80, when they were discontinued in consequence of the establishment, by the Public School Board, of similar evening classes. In 1871 the Institute building was purchased by the Ontario Government for the purposes of a School of Technology, the Institute being, however, allowed to retain, free of rent, the use of their library, reading and boardrooms. On the removal of the School of Technology to the new building m the Park, the Church Street property was re-sold by the Government to the Institute, in whose hands it then remained until handed over, as already stated, to the Free Library Board.

The Canadian Institute, a literary and scientific society of a high class—the only one in Ontario in fact worthy the name—have the^r headquarters ui a handsome red brick building, with white stone facings, on the north side of Richmond Street east, a little to the west of Church Street, flie edifice, which is in the Parisian Renaissance style, contains a museum, lecture and reading rooms and a well stocked library. The Institute was established in 1849 "for the purpose of promoting the physical sciences, for encouraging and advancing the industrial arts and manufactures, for effecting the formation of a provincial museum, and for the purpose of facilitating the acquirement and the dissemination of knowledge connected with the surveying, engineering and architectural professions." The Society meets every Saturday during the season, and meetings of other scientific associations, such as the Toronto Medical Society, the Entomological Society, etc., are also periodically held in its rooms.

The Young Men's Christian Association have their headquarters in Shaftesbury Hall, a convenient and tasteful building on the eastern corner of Queen Street West, and James Street. It contains a large and a smaller hall for public meetings and lectures, besides parlours for the use of members of the Association, and a free reading-room and employment bureau.

The Drill Shed is a plain but massive structure at the foot and on the west side of Jarvis Street. It is the headquarters of the city regiments of militia.

The Industrial Association Exhibition Buildings are pretty well-known to most people in the County of York, to say nothing of the thousands from other parts of the Province who have attended the yearly exhibitions held there since their oper mg by Lord Duffern in 1878. The buildings, with their annexes, occupy a tract of land of some sixty acres in extent on the lakeshore, at the foot of Dufferin Street, and on the site of the old Fort Rouille, the exact spot occupied by which is now marked by a monument, whose foundation-stone was laid during the Semi-Centennial Celebration. The main building is a "crystal palace," constructed of glass and iron upon a solid brick foundation. In addition there are special structures for the machinery, agricultural, dairy, dower and fruit, carriage, stove, and other departments, as well as extensive pens and stalls for cattle, sheep, and pigs, and a well-laid race track and cattle ring. The whole of these buildings were erected in the comparatively brief period of ninety days. The grounds are tastefully laid out and carefully kept, and are within easy access of the city, while the railway conveys visitors from abroad to their very gates. So far the 'buildings and grounds have cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The buildings were erected in 1878 in consequence of a pledge given by the Toronto deputation to the annual meeting of the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario in 1877 to the effect that if the Provincial Exhibition for the following year were promised to Toronto, that city would provide suitable accommodation therefor. The pledge was accepted and the promise made, much to the disgust of the Guelph deputation, who were desirous of securing the Exhibition for their own city. Put here a new difficulty met the Toronto Council—they were unable to obtain a suitable site for the proposed buildings. Finally, after much loss of time, the present site, a portion of the Ordnance lands, was secured from the Dominion Government, and after considerable further difficulty and delay, owing to the opposition of a portion of the citizens, the buildings were put up and the grounds laid out in time for the exhibition. At the following meeting of the Agricultural and Arts Association, however, it. was decided to hold the next annual exhibition at Ottawa. Thereupon the Toronto committee, under the leadership of Alderman Withrow, finding themselves left with an expensive set of buildings lying idle on their hands, set to work with a will, and in a short time a new organization was formed, composed of representatives of a number of societies and bodies, both local and Provincial, and received incorporation under the name of the Industrial Exhibition Association, under whose auspices yearly exhibitions have since been held in Toronto, with the most gratifying and with ever increasing success.

Before quitting the subject of the miscellaneous public buildings of Toronto, a few words may be said in reference to the Grand Opera House, which is situated on the south side of Adelaide Street, nearly midway between Yonge and Pay Streets. It is a hue four storied building, with a facade in the Parisian Renaissance style, and extends backwards nearly half the distance to King Street. Its erection was undertaken in 1872 by a joint-stock company, and its management entrusted to Mrs. Morrison, a lady as well known n the social as in the theatrical circles of the city. Unfortunately the venture did not prove a success, and the theatre passed under the hammer, being purchased by Mr. Alex. Manning, who engaged Mr. A. Pitou, of New York, to manage it. On Nov. 29th, 1879, disaster in a new shape overtook the theatre, which was destroyed by fire. The proprietor, however, nothing daunted by his ill-fortune, at once commenced re-building, and m ten weeks the present structure was opened by the late Miss Adelaide Neilson. Since then the Grand Opera House seems to have enjoyed unbroken prosperity under the management of Mr. O. B. Sheppard.


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