Monday, August 15, 2011

# 26 ~ The Queen's Hotel, Then and Now

If you ask any Toronto resident to name a luxury hotel that has operated on Front Street from time out of mind, they will name the Royal York.  Opened in 1929, the hotel is one of the stately landmarks of Toronto's hospitality industry.  The Four Seasons and the Park Hyatt both grace the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor Street, and the Ritz-Carlton has recently opened up near Toronto's King Street West entertainment district.  However, the Royal York has a certain iconic quality when it comes to comfortable, pampered hospitality.  However, the Royal York is only the most recent hotel incarnation to stand on the same location.

The first hotel at Front and York streets was Sword's Hotel, opened in 1856, and named for the owner Patrick Sword.  The hotel opened up in a row of four fashionable town houses, which had been constructed as far back as 1838.  The strip of Front Street west of Yonge had become fashionable in the 1830s, as a suburban residential district.  It may be hard to believe now, but prominent gentlemen from the Town of York had constructed homes along this strip to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, which at that time stretched along both Front and King streets, running about five blocks east of Church Street.  The prominent Baldwin family, as well as Reverend John Strachan, Toronto's first Anglican Bishop, both had palatial mansions nearby.  They were ideally placed, as the north side of Front Street would have afforded a wonderful view of Toronto's harbour.

THEN : The home of Reverend John Strachan, along with that of William Warren Baldwin (below) were some of the suburban villas that stood in the area where Sword's Hotel was opened.  Built in 1818, it stood for eighty years.  In it's heyday, the grandeur of "the Bishop's Palace" outshone even the nearby residence of the Lieutenant-Governor.  By 1888, it had fallen on hard times, and was serving as the Palace Boarding House.  It was demolished about a decade later, circa 1898.

THEN : The home of William Warren Baldwin, shown here about 1866.  It stood near Front and Bay Streets, from 1835 to 1889, and Baldwin himself was most likely the architect.

These town houses from 1838 were first remodelled in 1844, to serve as the home of Knox College, which had just been established.  The college remained for a dozen years, until 1856, when it was transplanted to a then remote area north of the city, up at Elmsley Villa, near the intersection of modern-day Bay and Grosvenor streets.  It was then that Sword bought up the property and converted them into his hotel.  The old homes were greatly restored and renovated, and adapted for the needs of Sword's hotel.

THEN : The hotel facade, before expansion.

THEN : An early lithograph advertising Sword's Hotel.

The hotel was conveniently located close to provincial legislature, which then stood on the north side of Front Street, between Wellington and John streets.  Sword had intended that his hotel would cater to the needs of the nearby parliament buildings, and that people in town on government business would form the basis of his clientele.  Patrick Sword remained in operation until 1859, when the capital was moved to Quebec.  He then sold his hotel to one B.J.B. Riley, and the property was dubbed the Revere House.  So it remained for only three years, when it was sold again to Captain Thomas Dick in 1862.  The new owner renamed it again, calling it the Queen's Hotel.

THEN : These Parliament buildings on Front Street were constructed in 1832, and were the third for the province (not counting itinerant stops in various other locations).  Patrick Sword, the proprietor of Sword's Hotel, had opened up his establishment close to the Legislative Assembly in order to secure their business.
Over the next few decades, the Queen's Hotel earned a fashionable reputation.  Located right across from Union Station, it was perfectly situated to welcome tourists, politicians and business leaders.  Noteworthy guests at the Queen's Hotel included Queen Victoria's eldest son, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII),  Sir John A. MacDonald, and the only president of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis.  The hotel held 210 rooms, 17 private parlours, a restaurant and a private garden.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel, about 1908.
The Queen's Hotel would last for just over sixty years.  By the dawn of the twentieth century, the hotel's luxury began to fade.  The Queen's Hotel soon found it had competition in the form of two new hotels that had opened in the area.  The King Edward Hotel opened on King Street, just east of Yonge Street, in 1904.  Then, in 1909 Frederick Mossop opened a hotel called the Hotel Mossop just up the street, on Yonge Street between Front and King streets.  Both hotels still exist today; the Hotel Mossop was renamed as the Hotel Victoria in the 1920s.  But the end was in sight for the Queen's Hotel.  After several years of construction, Toronto's third and present Union Station was due to open at the end of the 1920s.  The Canadian Pacific Railway was looking to build a grand, modern hotel, and the site of the Queen's Hotel offered an excellent location.  By then, the hotel had an air of slightly run down gentility ~ a rather threadbare refinement, hoisted up on the grandeur of previous years.  The Canadian Pacific Railway bought the Queen's Hotel in February of 1927 for $1-million, and announced that it would close half a year later, in September of 1927.

The closing of the hotel was a sentimental affair, with many long time, regular hotel guests coming back to pay their respects and visit one more time.  The last guest to check out of the hotel was a frequent, long term resident named Charles Bland.  Many guests toasted the memories of the hotel in a farewell dinner, which was closed with the orchestra striking up a round of "Auld Lang Syne". 

The Queen's Hotel was demolished and replaced with great speed.  The newly constructed Royal York opened on the same location less than two years after the old hotel was demolished.  When it opened more than eighty years ago now, the Royal York boasted the height of modern comfort, with ten elevators, a radio and private bath in each of the 1,048 rooms, a telephone switchboard that required 35 operators, and the largest pipe organ in Canada.  An addition to the Royal York would come later, in 1956 and 1957, which would increase the number of rooms to 1,600, making it the largest hotel in the Commonwealth at the time.  Even when it opened, the profile of the Royal York towered over the skyline and dominated the view of the city from the harbour. 

All the record breaking prestige of the Royal York did nothing to quiet those who remembered the glory days of the old Queen's Hotel.  They lamented the loss, and questioned why we needed a new, modern Royal York to replace the steeped comfort and luxury of the Queen's Hotel.  Today, the Fairmont Royal York is an icon for stately, historic comfort in downtown Toronto.  It's hard to imagine that more than eighty years ago now, it was the "new kid on the block" that had to struggle to prove itself worthy of the legacy left behind by the old Queen's Hotel.

THEN : In April of 1904, an extensive fire devastated Toronto.  After it was extinguished, the total damage amounted to $10,000,000 (in 1904 dollars).  Five-thousand workers lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently.  This photograph was taken from the roof of the Queen's Hotel immediately after the fire.

THEN : Looking west down Front Street from Front Street, following the Great Toronto Fire of 1904.  The cause of the fire was never identified.
THEN : Looking east along Front Street from York Street, 1908.

THEN : Hard times arrived for the Queen's Hotel with the dawn of the twentieth century.  In this photograph from 1906, the hotel looks across Front Street at a barren lot, that would eventually become today's Union Station.  The elegant panorama of the harbour was moving further and further south.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel from the future location of today's Union Station, 1912.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel from the future location of today's Union Station, 1912.
THEN : The Queen's Hotel in 1919.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel in 1915.

THEN : Looking south, through the front garden of the Queen's Hotel to the newly constructed Union Station, about 1927.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel sits across from a newly opened Union Station, just prior to the hotel being closed in 1927 and subsequently demolished.

THEN : Drawing Room, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : Writing Room, Queen's Hotel, 1910.

THEN : Centre Hall, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : Bedroom, Queen's Hotel, about 1910.

THEN : Sun Room, Queen's Hotel, 1911.

THEN : This black walnut buffet was carved by noted furniture manufacturer Jacques and Hay, in 1876.  When displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, it won first place.  Photograph from 1911.

THEN : The Queen's Hotel bakery in 1907.

THEN : Closing down the Queen's Hotel in 1927, and removing the furnishings.

NOW : The landmark Fairmont Royal York Hotel, an icon of comfort in modern Toronto, on the site of the old Queen's Hotel.



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  3. Checking out the Queen's Hotel after watching Murdock Mysteries tonight. Thought the Queens Hotel was just an invention for the series.. apparently that's not the case.
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  5. $10,000,000 in 1914 would be $208,644,067.80 according to the bank of Canada inflation calculator. It only goes back to 1914 so 1904 would probably be another 33% inflation so around $278,000,000 in 2013 dollars!

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