Friday, August 5, 2011

# 23 ~ The Architectural Legacy of Frederick William Cumberland, Then And Now

THEN : Frederick William Cumberland, 10 April 1821 to 5 August 1881.

130 years ago today, Frederick William Cumberland died in Toronto.  He was sixty years old.  While his name may not mean anything to most Torontonians, he has left a built, visual legacy scattered all across the city.  He was not only a prolific architect, but an engineer and provincial political figure as well.

Cumberland was born in London, England, the capital city of the blossoming British Empire on April 10, 1821.  As a youngster, he was taken along with his parents when they relocated to Dublin.  His mother died in Ireland, and at some point in the 1830s, the remaining family returned to London.  Young Frederick William studied at King's College and took on an apprenticeship as a civil engineer.  By 1843, Cumberland was working for the British Admiralty in that grand institution's engineering works.  His marriage to Wilmot Mary Bramley in 1845 led to a major change for Cumberland.  His wife's sisters had married quite prominently into the Ridout family, here in Toronto, so Cumberland and his new bride moved here as well, arriving in Toronto in 1847.

He began work in Toronto as a surveyor and civil engineer, and over the next several decades would go on to work with other prominent municipal architects to construct several landmark Toronto buildings.  During the 1850s, Cumberland became a leading figure in railway management.  In 1853, the first steam powered passenger train made its way through Toronto, and the rest was history.  It was no doubt one of the most significant technological, transportation related milestones in Toronto's history, and those, like Cumberland, with the means to do so became railway barons.  Specifically, Cumberland helped to lead the Ontario, Simcoe and Huron Railroad Company, which would later become the Northern Railway Company.  After Cumberland's death, the Northern Railway Company was acquired by the Grand Trunk Railway, and eventually paved the way for the Canadian National (CN) Railway.

Cumberland was also involved in a number of other business and community interests.  He served as a director for a lumber transport company, several banks, and a member of the Toronto Board of Education as well as the University of Toronto.  He helped to raise a battalion of Toronto militia during the 1860s.  His career was no doubt assisted by the fact that he prospered as a Freemason, becoming Deputy Grand Master for the Toronto area.

However, it was railway money that helped foster Cumberland's political success.  Cumberland, like so many other prosperous railway men, used profit from the railway to gain political support.  He represented Algoma as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1867 until 1874, and as a Member of Canadian Parliament in 1871 and 1872.  He was definitely a man of conservative affiliation, and served in office as a member of the Conservative Party.

Cumberland's lasting legacy in Toronto stems, of course, from his work as an architect.  Even if his name is not well known, his buildings are.  Shortly after he arrived here in 1847, he was appointed as chief engineer for the County of York, and in 1850, a young Thomas Ridout became his junior architectural partner.  Ridout, of course, was connect to Cumberland by marriage, and although Cumberland was thoroughly qualified for his engineering and architectural posts, his family connections with the Ridouts no doubt provided him with good opportunities.  Later, Cumberland would become partners with yet another prominent Toronto architect, W.G. Storm.  Together, they formed one of the most important architectural firms in Toronto in the nineteenth-century.  Many of the plans and drawings put together by Cumberland and Storm can be found in the Horwood Collection of the Ontario Archives, and in the University of Toronto Archives.

The City of Toronto had been born by incorporation out of the old Town of York back in 1834, just over a dozen years before Cumberland's arrival.  In 1849, just two years after Cumberland's arrival, a great fire would purge the city of a large portion of its buildings.  In the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1849, Toronto would rebuild, and transform from a colonial Georgian town to a great Victorian city.  By the time of Cumberland's death in 1881, Toronto was well on the way to becoming an Imperial City, with architecture befitting a grand and very "British" capital.  Here are some of the Toronto landmarks that Cumberland was responsible for throughout his career.

1850 : Saint James Cathedral, King Street East at Church Street
The Anglican church became the first established church in the Town of York almost as soon as the town was established.  They got their first church building at the northeast corner of King and Church streets in 1807.  It was a simple building, constructed of wood with the help of local soldiers.  The church would be built and rebuilt throughout the next several decades.  In 1849, the great fire that swept through the city, destroying the church building that had been constructed only ten years before, in 1839.  Cumberland went to work, and the current church building that we know today opened for Divine Service in 1853.  The front portico and spire of today's cathedral weren't added until 1875, and the next year, the people of Toronto donated the clock that now tolls out the hours over Toronto's Old Town district.  The spire is the tallest church spire in Canada and served for several years as a guiding landmark to ships arriving in Toronto's harbour.

THEN : The Cathedral Church of Saint James in 1867.  Cumberland was responsible for the construction of the main body of the church in the first years of the 1850s, but the spire and a few other elements were added later, in the 1870s.

THEN : The Cathedral Church of Saint James about 1890, with completed spire.

THEN : The Cathedral Church of Saint James, about 1890.
NOW : The Cathedral Church of Saint James today.

1851 : Toronto's Seventh Post Office, Toronto Street
Toronto's Seventh Post Office, also known as the Toronto Street Post Office, was built between 1851 and 1853.  The building was executed in a Greek Revival style that some claim was meant to be reminiscent of the Temple of Minerva, in Athens.  The building served as a post office until 1873, and remained in use as a government building until 1937.  After being purchased by the Bank of Canada, it changed hands a number of times, eventually slipping into use as private office space.  It's most infamous use of late was as the central office for Conrad Black's Angus Corporation.  At the back of the building, a small parking lot faces Victoria Street.  On this side of the building, one can still see the security cameras that captured images of Conrad Black removing boxes of documents from the office.

THEN : The Toronto Street Post Office in 1867.

THEN : The Toronto Street Post Office in 1920.

THEN : A more contemporary photograph of the Toronto Street Post Office in 1977.  By then, as now, it had been handed down into private hands.

THEN : Conrad Black is caught on film, removing documents from within his offices at the old Toronto Street Post Office building.

1851 : York County Courthouse, Adelaide Street East
Located at 57 Adelaide Street East, just east of Toronto Street, this courthouse is right around the corner from Cumberland's Toronto Street Post Office.  The buildings were constructed simultaneously, and like the post office, the courthouse was constructed in a Greek Revival style to blend in with the local neighbourhood.  For a time, the courthouse served as home to the Arts and Letters Club, which eventually resettled on Elm Street, near Yonge Street.  Over the last several years, several restaurants have operated in the old Adelaide Street East courthouse.  The Courthouse Market and Grill closed in 2007.  Since then, a southern Italian trattoria called "Terroni" has opened on the main level, while the upstairs is home to a jazz night club.

NOW : The Adelaide Street Courthouse, also known as the York County Courthouse, today.

1851 : Toronto Normal School, Gould Street
A "normal school" is a term for an early teacher's college.  The Toronto Normal School, built at Church and Gould Streets, on the site of the central campus of today's Ryerson University, was the original ancestor of a number of Toronto institutions.  The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ontario College of Art and Design, and the Ontario Agricultural College all had their origins in the old Toronto Normal School.  The campus of the Toronto Normal School, once known as St. James Square, has been nicknamed "the cradle of Ontario's educational system".  The old Toronto Normal School was largely demolished by 1963, but a portion of the old building's facade still remains on the campus of Ryerson University.

THEN : The original Toronto Normal School, "the cradle of Ontario's educational system".

NOW : What remains of the Normal School on the grounds of Ryerson University today.

1853 : Magnetic Observatory, University of Toronto
Originally known as the "Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory", and then re branded as the Stewart Observatory, the building was originally constructed to research the cause of changes in magnetic declination.  The Toronto observatory was part of a worldwide research project, and it was here at the observatory on the grounds of the University of Toronto that sunspots were proven to be responsible for changes in the Earth's magnetic field.  From 1853, the observatory was Canada's foremost weather station, and tracked the "official" time for half a century.  This observatory is Canada's oldest national surviving scientific institution, and is held by many to have housed the origins of Canada's astronomical accomplishments.  Sadly, with the light pollution now found in central Toronto, it has not operated as an observatory for decades, but instead houses student council activities at the University.  It's domed roof has often been the target of pranks carried out by local engineering students.  The dome has been painted to resemble an engineering helmet, a jack-o-lantern and even the head of R2 D2.

NOW : The observatory today.  Note the jack-o-lantern on the dome.

1856 : University College
University College is, in many ways, the nucleus of the modern collegiate University of Toronto.  It was created in 1853, with the determination that it would be free of religious instruction or influence.  This was in contrast to early contemporary colleges, which were founded with the patronage and influence of Christian denominations.  The lack of religious life at University College led it to be dubbed "the godless college" by some critics, most notably, John Strachan, who would go on to found Trinity College in protest of the secular education at the University of Toronto.  Along with Annesley Hall, at the University of Victoria College, University College is one of two buildings in Toronto to be designated a National Historic Site.  "UC" is home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Toronto, which you can discover if you ever find yourself on a Ghost Tour of the University of Toronto campus (

THEN : Construction of University College in the 1850s.

THEN : Stonemasons and works stand in front of their work, and take a break from the construction of University College in the 1850s.

NOW : University College today.

1857 : "Pendarves", the Cumberland family home located on St. George Street
One of the benefits of being a prominent, well connected architect is the ability to design your own home.  Cumberland constructed "Pendarves", at 33 St. George Street, near College Street.  The house was built over two years, between 1857 and 1859.  It is of no particular architectural style and be rather blandly categorized as "mid-Victorian".  The grounds originally extended south of College Street, before the estate was absorbed into the University of Toronto in bits and pieces.  Originally, the interior of the house was well suited for entertaining on a large scale.  This made it an ideal location for a viceregal residence, and it served as the residence of the lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 1912 until 1915.  Fortunately, it survives, and like most old historic homes in the area, has been absorbed into the University of Toronto, where it serves as a centre for international students. 

THEN : "Pendarves", about 1911.

NOW : 33 St George Street today.
NOW : "Cumberland House" is home to the University of Toronto's International Student Centre.

1860 : Chapel of St. James-the-Less, Saint James Cemetery, Parliament Street at Bloor Street
The Anglican cemetery of Saint James was laid out from the southeast corner of Parliament and Bloor streets in 1844, by another noted Toronto architect, John Howard (who is often associated with High Park and his home within it, known as Colborne Lodge).  Cumberland was in charge of the construction of this cemetery's chapel, dedicated to Saint James-the-Less, and built between 1860 and 1861.  Many prominent Torontonians are buried within the grounds of the cemetery - names like Scadding, Gooderham, Gzowski, Hubbard and Brown are just a few - but William Frederick Cumberland was himself laid to rest in the cemetery, following his death 130 years ago now, on August 5, 1881.

NOW : The chapel of Saint James-the-Less, today.


  1. I love the Cumberland family home! UT Swing frequently has dances there in the summer, and the patio is so lovely.

  2. Cumberland Harbour

  3. What is the story regarding the beautiful green roofs for that time Love your site. Lauri