Wednesday, February 23, 2011

# 19 ~ The Temple Building at Bay and Richmond streets, Then and Now

THEN : Contrary to popular belief, Queen Victoria was often amused.  Sadly, she never made it to Toronto, so there's no way to tell what she would have thought about seeing our bustling Victorian city in person.

January 22nd, 2011, marked the 110th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria.  For the most part, the anniversary went unobserved.  In one way, that's not particularly surprising; eleven decades is a long time to hold on to such an event, particularly since there isn't anyone left in Toronto who actually remembers hearing the news of her death.  In another way, though, it provides a bit of a contrast.  Queen Victoria has been the most commemorated British or Canadian monarch out of the whole lot, and here in Canada, there are more streets, schools, parks and various other landmarks named after Queen Victoria, than anywhere else in the world.  Torontonians had an obsession with her.  She came to the throne in the summer of 1837.  Toronto was still little more than a colonial backwater when, as a young woman of eighteen years old, she inherited the kingdom from her uncle, William IV.  We'd only been a city for three years, and six months after her accession, we threw that little debacle known as the Rebellion of 1837.  But at the time of her death nearly 65-years later, Toronto had passed through several growth spurts, and had become an "Imperial City".  We still considered ourselves "British", and Toronto was even nicknamed "The Queen City" in Victoria's honour.

There was a building craze in Toronto throughout Victoria's reign, especially after a great fire in 1849 destroyed a lot of our Georgian remnants.  From 1850 to 1900, we would keep building bigger and higher, racing to build skyscrapers that would compete with anything in America.   Size mattered, but style did, too, and we built our city with a kind of architectural flare that would make city planners boast that Toronto was like a "Paris by the lake".

There were so many Victorian contributions to Toronto's built heritage that I've decided to make "Victorian Toronto" a recurring theme here.  Some of the gems are still with us - "Old City Hall" (1899) is probably the foremost example, but there are many others - but sadly many of them are gone, too.  I will be adding articles on both the saved and the lost.  A half a century after Queen Victoria died, Toronto went through a demolition craze, and sadly, much has disappeared.  It culminated in the 1960s, when city planners wanted all of Toronto to look like Nathan Phillips Square - modern, concrete, and often brutal.

THEN : The Temple Building, built 1895 at the northwest corner of Richmond and Bay streets, and demolished in 1970.  The west wing of "Old" City Hall (1899) is visible in the background.

My very first choice for "Victorian Toronto" is the Temple Building, which was constructed in 1895 at the northwest corner of Bay and Richmond streets.  It is one of those Victorian pearls that's disappeared.  Demolished in 1970, it is one that is still in the memory of a certain generation of Torontonians, and it was one of the last of our grand Victorian buildings to die by demolition. 

The Temple Building was one of Toronto's earliest "skyscrapers".  It was home to the headquarters of the Independent Order of Foresters (sometimes abbreviated simply to "IOF", a benevolent and fraternal society that also helped to manage the financial interests of its members.  The building, located at the northwest corner of Richmond and Bay streets, was an iconic Toronto landmark that towered over downtown Toronto for seventy-five years.

THEN : An IOF postcard shows off the Temple Building, a landmark in Toronto from 1895 until 1970.

When the Temple Building went up in 1895, it was the tallest building in Toronto.  It originally soared to a then-dizzying height of nine storeys, and a tenth storey was added in 1901.  The "skyscraper" - any building over maybe five or six storeys - was a new innovation in Toronto.  We were trying to prove that we were neck-and-neck with any American city when it came to construction, and yet, it was customary to have a veteran American architect consult on such a project here in Toronto.  However, the Temple Building was to be an exclusively "Canadian" project.  The architect of the Temple Building was a Canadian named George W. Gouinlock, and he supervised every aspect of the building's construction.  The frames of Toronto's buildings had evolved since the 1790s, from wood, to stone or brick, to metal.  The Temple Building had a cast-iron frame; it was, in fact, one of the last cast-iron frame buildings in Toronto before steel took over.  Now, Toronto's modern skyscrapers are several dozen storeys of glass and steel, but it was iron that would hold up the weight of the Temple Building.  The brick and stone walls were sturdy, too, and were up to four feet thick.  The weight and texture of the walls helped to blend the Temple Building into the "Romanesque" type of architecture that is exemplified today in nearby buildings like "Old" City Hall, and the Confederation Life Building, located along Richmond Street East between Yonge and Victoria streets.

THEN : This panoramic photograph from 1904 shows the Temple Building towering over Toronto.

Unlike a lot of other Romanesque style buildings, the Temple Building was relatively simple on the outside, unadorned with a great deal of elaborate carving.  The beautiful detailing was on the inside, from the tiles on the floors to the hand-carved panels with their marble insets.  Ornate design would merge with sleek technology, and the Temple Building's elevator - one of the first electric carriages in Toronto, and said to be one of the city's fastest - would herald in the advances that came with the "skyscraper era" over the next century.  The Temple Building would hold the record of Toronto's tallest building for only a few years - the 1899 City Hall and the 1905 Trader's Bank Building were taller - but it was the Temple Building that ushered in a professional revitalization of Bay Street.  Photographs show that in the 1890s, Bay Street was "slummy" and undeveloped; today, it is Canada's financial nerve centre.  The transition started with the construction of the Temple Building.

THEN : An undated photograph shows a dinner held by the Masons in the Temple Building.  It's hard to imagine such an elegant affair being held in one of Toronto's modern glass and steel skyscrapers.

THEN : This photograph from 1920 shows Queen Street from the front of "Old" City Hall, with the Temple Building rising up in the central background.

THEN : Looking south down Bay Street from Queen Street in 1930.  Bay Street has finally become professionally developed, thanks in no small part to the construction of the Temple Building.

It all lasted until 1970, when the Temple Building was demolished to make way for a new 32-storey office tower that came with a construction price tag of $20-million.  The building stands at 390 Bay Street.  A firm known as Teperman and Sons, Ltd., oversaw the demolition of the Temple Building.  The name on their signs became synonymous with the architectural pillaging of Toronto.  The last tenants of the Temple Building left the premises at the end of June, 1970, and within six-months, it was gone. 

THEN : The 1970 demolition of the Temple Building.  The Teperman signs made the company synonymous with demolition in Toronto for several years.
THEN : The 1970 demolition of the Temple Building.

In July of 1970, the Globe and Mail ran an editorial on the demolition of the Temple Building.  It read, in part :

"Want to see a monument destroyed?  Go down to the corner of Bay and Richmond streets, and watch them make gravel of the Temple Building.  It won't go easily or prettily, because it wasn't built with destruction in mind.  It was intended to last like the pyramids. Will the be a headstone to mark where it stood?"

No doubt, that last question was a rhetorical one, but today, there is no commemorative plaque on the Temple Building's successor.

THEN : The Temple Building just prior to the demolition of 1970.

THEN : The Temple Building just prior to the demolition of 1970.

NOW : The site of the Temple Building today, showing the 32-storey, $20-million office tower that took its place.


  1. My first real job in Toronto back in the late 1980s was in 390 Bay!

  2. That's great that you have memories of the new building. My first office job was in a building off Toronto Street ... I sort of wish that they'd demolish that one.

  3. My great great grandfather, Edward Morphy, had a home at the corner of Bay and Richmond Streets. He came to Toronto in 1835. I thought later it was the site of the 1st Eaton's Department Store. He had 7 sons, some were jewelers and some were Barristers with huge, elaborate homes.
    You have a great site. Vivian Boulos, Newport Beach, California.

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