Today Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America but when the town was officially incorporated in 1834 it was scarcely the fourth most important Canadian city with Montreal, Quebec and Halifax all chugging ahead of it through the Industrial Revolution. The settlement had been founded on the shores of Lake Ontario as an important stop in a water link to western Canada and south to the Gulf of Mexico. It was called York but by the 1830s it was so undeveloped as to be widely known as “Muddy York.”

The first thing that had to be done was to jettison the name which could have referred to any of a dozen other Yorks on the provincial map, let alone New York City. First mayor William Lyon Mackenzie then set about paving and building. Land along the waterfront was filled in and the railroads arrived in the 1850s as Toronto grew into the hub of the Golden Horseshoe on the western shore of Lake Ontario.

Immigration played a significant role in Toronto’s growth from the beginning. Half of the population lays claim to a minority group and while English prevailed as the dominant language there evolved over 200 distinct ethic origins speaking more than 160 different languages.

In 1904 most of the downtown area burned after a fire broke out on Wellington Street West in the elevator shaft of E & S Currie Limited’s neck wear factory. Before the wind-whipped conflagration could be contained more than 100 buildings were destroyed. Toronto, then a city of 200,000 residents, barely flinched. The buildings came back quickly, bigger and better than ever.

The lust for building has led to controversy over the years. Toronto has never been shy with the wrecking ball, causing consternation to lovers of heritage buildings. And the proliferation of Canada’s tallest buildings has led to head-shaking among some in the depths of the urban canyons. To explore this civic tug-of-war of old and new, lost and saved we will begin our walking tour at one of Toronto’s prime battlegrounds in the preservation wars...

Nathan Phillips Square
100 Queen Street West

This square is named for Nathan Phillips who first entered municipal politics in 1926 at the age of 34. For good or ill, Phillips was a zealous supporter of sacrificing heritage structures in order to modernize the city when he became mayor of Toronto in 1955. One of his marquee projects was the creation of an avant-garde city hall which was started in 1961 from the drawing table of Finnish architect Viljo Revell. Revell and landscape architect Richard Strong were responsible for creating the city’s largest public square here. Both were completed in 1965, three years after Phillips left office. The square features a reflecting pool that doubles as a skating rink in the winter, an elevated walkway to access City Hall and an abstract sculpture by British sculptor Henry Moore called The Archer. The illuminated Toronto Sign was installed for the 2015 Pan American Games and its 228 million colour combinations became such a local hit that it became a permanent fixture of the Toronto streetscape. 


Old City Hall
60 Queen Street West at northeast corner of Bay Street

The burly Richardsonian Romanesque style was all the rage for important government buildings across North America in the 1890s. And Toronto built one of the largest and most impressive. Construction began in 1889 on plans drawn by Edward Ames Lennox, one of the go-to Victorian architects in Toronto and the leading cheerleader for the style created by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The Toronto City Hall displayed all of the hallmarks in such buildings - multi-colored stone, massive arched entrances, round-top windows often grouped in threes, turrets, front-facing gables and a monumental clock tower. This was the city’s third city hall and it required ten years to build. Red sandstone was hauled from the Credit River valley, gray stone came from Orangeville and brown stone was shipped from the Beaumont Quarries of New Brunswick. The final price tag was $2.5 million at a time when a good working wage was about one dollar a day. The Cenotaph in front of the Queen Street entrance honours Torontonians who lost their lives in the wars of the 20th century. Even a building this size could not keep up with a growing Toronto and it was replaced by the Modernist update across Bay Street in the 1960s. Public protest saved the grand 19th century souvenir from the wrecking ball and it picked up duty as a courthouse.   

Toronto Eaton Centre
220 Yonge Street at northwest corner of Queen Street West

Timothy Eaton sailed from Ireland as a 20-year old in 1854 to join family members in southern Ontario. After clerking in a local store he opened a bakery in Kirkton which failed in short order. He was soon back in business with a dry goods store in St. Marys. In 1869 he came to Toronto, buying a dry goods business on Yonge Street. In 1884 Eaton pioneered mail order catalogues in Canada and by the end of the century the company occupied most of the land between Yonge, Queen, Bay and Dundas streets with a flagship store and factories. The country’s largest department chain laid plans for this modern office and shopping complex replacement in the 1960s. Eaton’s went bankrupt in 1999 but the centre is still considered one of Toronto’s most popular tourist attractions. The skywalk across Queen Street was nicknamed the “cattle crossing” because so many shoppers shuttled between Eaton’s and...

Simpson’s/Hudson’s Bay
160 Yonge Street at southwest corner of Queen Street West

Scotsman Robert Simpson opened his first dry goods store in Newmarket at the age of 24 in 1858. He was in Toronto by 1872 and on this block in 1881. Simpson believed grand architecture was his best advertising and as the business expanded in the 1890s he retained Edmund Burke to design a dream retail palace. Burke married a Richardsonian Romanesque entrance to the orderly window organization of the Chicago style. It was one of Canada’s earliest steel buildings but unfortunately was not fireproofed and it burned to its skeleton frame in 1895. The store was rebuilt to Burke’s design the next year and expansions kept coming, most notably an Art Deco addition in 1929. The Arcadian Court restaurant within, graced by vaulted arches and Byzantine domes, was hailed as one of the city’s architectural wonders. In the 1960s as Simpson’s reached Bay Street a 33-storey-office tower was raised. Hudson’s Bay acquired Simpson’s in 1978 and the nameplate was retired in 1991. In 2014, Canada’s first Saks Fifth Avenue store moved into the east end of the retail complex.

Bank of Montreal
173 Yonge Street at northeast corner of Queen Street

For a quarter century between 1897 and 1923 Frank Darling and John Pearson were leading Beaux Arts architects in Toronto. For this branch of the Bank of Montreal in 1910 they tapped the Italian Renaissance style, using terra cotta tiles to clad the ornate facade. When its banking days were done the handsome facade was preserved while the interior was gutted for a subway entrance. Later a glass-and-steel tower rose inside the century-old skin. 


Confederation Life Building
157 Yonge Street at northeast corner of Richmond Street

John Kay Macdonald started the Confederation Life Insurance Company in 1871 and by 1889 he had sold enough policies to bankroll one of Toronto’s grandest 19th century office complexes. The company only had about twenty employees but Macdonald wanted to project promise and importance. He staged an international design competition for his new headquarters, to be judged by Montreal architect J.W. Hopkins. There was local pressure to select a Canadian firm and the winners were Knox, Elliot and Jarvis. Wilm Knox and John Elliot had started the firm just a year earlier after working together in the celebrated Chicago firm of Burnham and Root but they hailed from Toronto. The winning design blended Richardsonian Romanesque and French Renaissance elements. There were decorative pinnacles and a central tower and stone tracery when construction was finished in 1892. In the intervening years the towers were lopped off and a fire gutted the roof and top floor in 1981. When the embers died away the building was restored to approximate its original appearance.


Sterling Tower
372 Bay Street at southwest corner of Richmond Street

This 330-foot high Art Deco tower enjoyed a brief one-year run as Toronto’s sky king when it was completed in 1928. The firm of Alfred Hirschfelder Chapman and James Morrow Oxley drew up the plans that included Toronto’s first setbacks in the upper reaches. Henry Falk was the money man, an entrepreneur from New York. Falk, however, was not altogether on board with the Art Deco emphasis on verticality culminating in an eye-catching crown that could often not be seen from the street. The next year he started work on the Victory Building at 80 Richmond Street that he intended to be the highest all-concrete structure in the British Empire, sans setbacks. The Great Depression scuttled his ambitions and the Victory Building stood as a ghost tower on the Toronto skyline for eight years. 

Atlas Building
350 Bay Street at southwest corner of Temperance Street

The Commercial Lands and Building Company raised this 13-story office tower in 1927 as a speculative venture. Stephen Burwell Coon and his son, Burwell Ranscier Coon, contributed the Colonial Revival design - they were leaders of the classical revival style in the city in the 1920s.

Northern Ontario Building
330 Bay Street at northwest corner of Adelaide Street

This is one of the early high-rises from the prolific pairing of Chapman and Oxley. The Neoclassical 16-storey tower was integrated into the mid-block addition in the 1980s.

Canada Permanent Trust Building
320 Bay Street at southwest corner of Adelaide Street

Henry Sproatt and Ernest Rolph created one of Toronto’s best Art Deco buildings with this 18-floor tower, constructed between 1928 and 1930. The exterior took a star turn in the 1990s television series Traders about a Toronto-based investment house.

Toronto Trust and Guarantee Building/Bank of Montreal
302 Bay Street

This Neoclassical building began life in 1917, designed by William F. Sparling and Samuel G. Curry. The facade’s full-height fluted Corinthian pillars and pilasters set the tone for the later skyscrapers on this block. This building picked up its own new rooftop of seven storeys in 1929.

The National Club
303 Bay Street

The National Club was founded in 1874 with 24 members beholden to Canada First, a movement seeking to “promote a sense of national purpose and to lay the intellectual foundations for Canadian nationality.” The club first met on Bay Street in a building that was home to the original Toronto Stock Exchange. The movement petered out in the 1880s but the club survived as a business and social club. Both retailers Timothy Eaton and Robert Simpson were members. Work was started on this clubhouse in 1906, with a $90,000 budget. Samuel George Curry created the Neo-Georgian design with bowfront windows. The four-storey heritage building continues to hold its footprint among the neighboring skyscrapers and still does duty as a clubhouse. 


Scotia Plaza
King Street West at northeast corner of Bay Street

Joseph Cawthra, an immigrant from Yorkshire, England, opened what is considered the first drug store in Toronto in 1806. He made a fortune selling medical supplies to the British during the War of 1812. His son William inherited the business and built an elegant Greek Revival mansion on this corner in 1851. After he died the temple-like structure did duty as a Molson Bank branch and an insurance headquarters. After the Bank of Nova Scotia bought the property one of Toronto’s greatest 19th century residences was razed and the cornerstone for a 27-storey Beaux Arts tower was laid. The Scotiabank presence on this corner now counts several buildings, including the 902-foot Scotia Plaza Tower that is the third tallest building in Canada.

Canadian Bank of Commerce
25 King Street West

Few buildings stamped Toronto as a major North American city like the Canadian Bank of Commerce building when it was completed in 1929. This was originally the land of the Methodist church in York days but Toronto knew this block as the home of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. In 1927 the bank called on the leading Canadian architectural firm of Darling and Pearson to create a statement headquarters. And since the goal was to mimic the modernizing skyline of Manhattan, New York’s foremost bank architects, York & Sawyer, were added to the team as well. The Art Deco confection, with Romanesque Revival details, reached 34 storeys and was the tallest building in the British Empire; it remained the tallest building in Toronto until the 1960s. On the 32nd floor was an observation gallery lorded over by massive carved stone heads symbolizing Courage, Observation, Foresight and Enterprise. 

Royal Bank of Canada
20 King Street West

This is the first, and newer, of two buildings associated with Canada’s largest bank. The International-style, 12-storey mid-block structure is from 1964.

Royal Bank of Canada
2 King Street East at northeast corner of Yonge Street

The torch for the honour of “Toronto’s tallest building” was passed rapidly along Yonge Street in the early 20th century and landed here in 1915. Montreal’s go-to architectural firm, Ross and Macdonald, designed the 20-storey Neoclassical ornament that rises above a grand base of Corinthian columns. The tower is a splendid souvenir of the early days of skyscraper building when high-rises were designed to resemble a classical column with ornate lower floors (the base), unadorned central floors (the shaft) and a decorative cornice above distinguished upper floors (the crown). 

Canadian Pacific Railway Building
69 Yonge Street at southeast corner of King Street

This is the building that was surpassed by the Royal Bank for the title of the city’s tallest building, the 18-storey Toronto digs of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was raised in 1913 and is another creation of Frank Darling and John Pearson who clad the structure in elegant terra cotta. The tiles, however, could not stand up to harsh Canadian winters and in 1929 they were painstakingly replaced over 18 months with high-quality Indiana limestone. 

Trader’s Bank Building
67 Yonge Street

Not everyone in Toronto was enamored with the prospect of dim, sunshine-challenged urban canyons that skyscrapers brought to the Toronto streetscape. This building was the first to push through the 12-storey barrier and reach over 180 feet. John Carrere and Thomas Hastings of New York City, leading proponents of classical revival architecture, provided the plans for the Trader’s Bank headquarters in 1905. City officials promised that there would be strict enforcement of a 200-foot height limit and this skyscraper remained the tallest building in Toronto until the Canadian Pacific Railway building nosed above it in 1913. After that the sky became the limit in Toronto.

Dominion Bank Building
1 King Street West at southwest corner of Yonge Street

Here is another traditional high-rise from Frank Darling and John Pearson, created in 1914 for the Dominion Bank. Those 12 Renaissance Revival storeys formed the core of the existing building, which picked up 39 more floors in 2006.  

Hotel Mossop/Hotel Victoria
56 Yonge Street

Frederick Mossop’s early working life was as a hotel clerk but he was able to front enough money to purchase this property after the Great Fire of 1904 and finance the construction of the city’s first fireproof building. Mossop brought in esteemed architect J.P. Haynes for his eight-storey hotel and the first guests arrived in 1909. The final tab was $250,000. The enterprise was successful and tycoon E.P. Taylor, creator of Canadian Breweries and a noted breeder of thoroughbred horses, provided an infusion of cash. But the hotel foundered after the passing of the Ontario Temperance Act passed in 1916 and eventually closed in 1927. George and Matthew Elliot refurbished and revived the hotel, reopening the property as the Hotel Victoria.

Bank of British North America
49 Yonge Street at northeast corner of Wellington Street

The Bank of British North America was brought into being by act of Royal Charter in 1836 and lasted until a merger with the Bank of Montreal in 1918. Its first Toronto branch opened on this site in 1845 in a building designed by John George Howard who was the first professional architect in the city. Howard was also Toronto’s official surveyor at the time. Henry Langley, who would become the first chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Toronto, arrived in 1875 to convert the original building into the style du jour - French Second Empire. In addition to additional ornamentation a mansard roof with iron cresting was tacked onto the bank. The original entrance was on the long side of the building on Wellington Street but was moved to the newly important Yonge Street with a Neoclassical frame in 1903.

Brookfield Place
46 Yonge Street at southwest corner of Wellington Street

This corner of Yonge Street retains the human-scale architecture of the mid-19th century with buildings spared by the Great Fire of 1904. At the corner the Argyle Hotel was erected in 1844 and picked up a makeover in 1895 to become a Standard Bank branch. Next door on Yonge Street are warehouses from the early 1850s, built for John Hagerty and William Cawthra. Down Wellington Street West is the William Hey and John Dixon warehouse store from 1855 and an Italianate store for Charles Moore and Company. In the 1990s the facades were saved and most of the block turned into a postmodern office complex known as Brookfield Place.


Gooderham Building
49 Wellington Street East at Front Street East

This short detour from the downtown financial district is to see one of Toronto’s most iconic structures, the Gooderham Building. Before you reach that vantage point, however, look to your right to the back wall and a work of trompe l’oeil by Alberta artist Derek Michael Besant. It is called The Flatiron Mural because as you will shortly see the Gooderham Building was constructed on a narrow wedge of land caused by the vagaries of the Toronto street grid along Front Street. The Coffin Block Building was the first structure to squeeze in here, during the 1830s. About that time Englishman William Gooderham was adding a distillery to his wind-powered flour mill in town. His son George bought this property in 1891 and poured $18,000 into redeveloping it as an office. Architect David Roberts, Jr. designed a classic five-story “flatiron building,” so-called for its resemblance to a laundry iron. The building did duty as distillery headquarters until 1952 and was sold out of the family in 1957.


Beardmore Building
47 Front Street East

Cast iron enjoyed a brief heyday as a building material in the middle of the 1800s. It was inexpensive, could be assembled quickly and could be molded into ornate forms. This block of cast iron facades is a rare souvenir from those times in Toronto. The Toronto harbour was filled in beginning in 1856 and this was the waterfront district, filled with similar warehouses. Walter Strickland, who was just beginning a storied architectural career in the early 1870s, designed these structures. Benjamin Homer Dixon, whose family had extensive holdings in Holland before he came to North America to assume his father’s position as Consul of the Netherlands in Boston in 1849, was the owner. The cast iron was fabricated at the St. Lawrence Foundry.

St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts
27 Front Street East

Housing a pair of auditoriums, the 498-seat Jane Mallett Theatre and the 876-seat Bluma Appel Theatre, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts was Toronto’s official project to celebrate the 1967 Canadian Centennial.  

Hockey Hall of Fame
30 Yonge Street at northwest corner of Front Street

The Bank of Montreal was Canada’s first bank and came to Toronto at this location in 1845. After beginning in humble quarters it was ready for a statement building in 1885 and the bank turned to Frank Darling, a 36-year old architect who had once been a bank teller himself, and Samuel George Curry. Darling sketched out a two-storey high banking hall that was the largest in Canada. The Neoclassical jewel boasts pediments on both the Yonge Street and Front Street elevations. The bank moved on after 100 years and the property was repurposed for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.

Dominion Public Building
1 Front Street West

There were seven previous Customs Houses in Toronto before this building lurched into existence beginning in 1913. The land had been cleared of warehouses by the Great Fire of 1904. But the previous French Second Empire government building was not taken down until 1919 and construction did not begin until 1929. Thomas W. Fuller, newly appointed Chief Dominion Architect, drew up the initial plans for a Neoclassical showpiece to complement Union Station down the street. The final five-storey product, completed in 1935 and called the Dominion Building, boasts a central Ionic portico above a curving, rusticated base.

Gowans Kent Building
22 Front Street West

This was one of the last works created from the pen of Donald Norman MacVicar, a versatile architect operating out of Montreal. This eight-storey Beaux Arts-influenced building was commissioned in 1923 as a showroom and factory for Cassidy’s Ltd., a supplier of chinaware. Four additional stories were tacked onto the back of the building in the 1980s; it too became a part of the Brookfield Place.

TD Canada Trust Tower
161 Bay Street at northeast corner of Front Street West

An anchor of Brookfield Place, this 856-foot tower with upper-storey setbacks and a retro-era spire is the fifth highest office building in Toronto. A block-long glass galleria adjoining the lobby is the work of celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. 

Union Station
65 Front Street East

This is the largest and most awe-inspiring railway passenger station ever built in Canada. It took a host of architects to give birth to the Beaux Arts masterpiece: G.A. Ross and R. H. Macdonald, the Montreal masters; Hugh Jones of the Canadian Pacific Railway; and hometown designer John M. Lyle. Its genesis began with the Great Fire of 1904 that destroyed blocks of the Toronto waterfront. Construction began in 1914 but the project was hamstrung by delays, including materials shortages due to World War I and the bankruptcy of the Grand Trunk Railway. When it was completed in 1921 the trains still did not roll for another six years due to wrangling over necessary access linkage. The exterior walls of Union Station were constructed with Indiana and Queenston limestone and each of the 22 Ionic columns stands 40 feet high and weighs 75 tons. The Great Hall inside boasts a coffered vault ceiling of interlocking arched Guastavino tiles. Destinations of the railroad across the country are carved in stone on the north and south walls below the cornice.

Fairmont Royal York
100 Front Street

The first passenger train in Upper Canada left Toronto on May 16, 1853, across from the Queen’s Hotel. The Queen’s Hotel would come to be known as “one of the largest and most comfortable hotels in the Dominion of Canada.” In 1927 the Queen’s was demolished by the Canadian Pacific Railway with the intention of constructing the biggest hotel in the British Commonwealth. The Montreal firm of Ross and Macdonald won the commission and $16 million later Toronto’s tallest building was ready. There were 1.048 rooms on the 28 floors; more than 500 more would be added in the 1950s. Underground passageways take guests to Union Station.

Canadian National Tower
301 Front Street West

Looming over the Front Street streetscape is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. The communications tower was built by the Canadian National Railway in 1976 as a way to send microwave signals across the ever-growing Toronto skyline. When it was built, the CN Tower was the world’s tallest free-standing structure at 1,815 feet; it would not be surpassed until 2010. The American Society of Civil Engineers named the CN Tower as one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World.


Prudential House
55 York Street

Harold Solomon Kaplan and Abraham Sprachman were architects known for designing movie houses - they did more than 69 across Canada. Here they added a splash of Art Deco to the Toronto streetscape in 1929.

Toronto Club
107 Wellington Street at southeast corner of York Street

The Toronto Club was founded in 1837 and is considered Canada’s oldest private club. This clubhouse dates to 1888 and is an early creation of Frank Darling who designed it in conjunction with Samuel Curry. The original leaned heavily on Romanesque Revival influences but Darling returned in 1911 for alterations and more Renaissance Revival details showed up on the upper floors of thefacade.

HSBC Building
70 York Street

The facades of two Victorian buildings from 1889 at numbers 74 and 76 were incorporated into this glass-and-steel tower from 1989.


Sun Life Centre
150 King Street West at northeast corner of University Street

The Montreal headquarters for this financial services company was the largest building in the British Empire when it was finished in 1918. In 1978 the company came to Toronto and the twin towers of the new headquarters were ready by 1984.

St. Andrews Church
73 Simcoe Street at southeast corner of King Street

William George Storm, one of Toronto’s leading ecclesiastical architects, was called on in 1874 to design a new sanctuary for St. Andrew’s. The Church of Scotland congregation organized in 1830 and sold their old building to the St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutherans.

Roy Thomson Hall
60 Simcoe Street at southwest corner of King Street

This curvilinear performance hall composed of glass panels arrived in 1982. It took the name of Roy Herbert Thomson after a generous donation. Thomson was born in 1894 in Toronto and bounded from job to job in his youth, including selling radios. It was hard selling radios when there were not that may radio stations so he started his own in North Bay. In 1934 Thomson bought his first newspaper with a $200 down payment. The Timmins Daily Press became the foundation of a Canadian publishing empire that included 19 papers. Thomson moved to Great Britain in the 1950s where he became one of the great media moguls on London’s Fleet Street.

Union Building
212 King Street West at northwest corner of Simcoe Street

For most of the 19th century this block was the home of Upper Canada College. In 1908 the Canadian General Electric Company built an elegant headquarters here. Architects Frank Darling and John Pearson provided detailed ornamentation such as a stone Doric entrance portico, pressed metal cornice and moulded terra cotta surrounding the windows. The copper mansard roof, an affectation normally associated with the 1870s was not added until the 1980s.   

Royal Alexandria Theatre
260 King Street West

William Cawthra was far and away the richest man in early Toronto, thanks to rental income from downtown land acquired during the run of his family’s apothecary business. When he died - without a will - in 1880 his fortune was estimated at $2.4 million, making him a billionaire in today’s money. A judge split the estate among his surviving wife, two nephews and a niece. The son of that niece, Cawthra Mulock, wanted to move Toronto from the cultural backwater by building what he described as “the finest theatre on the continent.” He picked architect John M. Lyle for the job. Lyle designed an Edwardian ornament using hand-carved hardwoods and imported marble. The building was an early steel-framed structure that permitted cantilevered balconies so there were no pillars to obstruct sight lines. The theatre was built over a massive ice pit that made the Royal Alexandria one of the first air-conditioned performing spaces in the world. Mulock also obtained a “royal” designation for the theatre from Edward VII. The first performances began in 1907 and unlike nearly all of its brethren the performing space has never been used for any other purpose. 


Bank of Canada Building
250 University Avenue

This regional office for the Bank of Canada was constructed in 1957 and is a modern take on classical design from Canadian architects Ferdinand Herbert Marani and Robert Schofield Morris. 

Campbell House
160 Queen Street West at northwest corner of University Avenue

This rare survivor from the days of York was constructed in 1822 as a seat for William Campbell, a judge on the King’s bench. The Georgian manor house originally was constructed at Frederick Street and Adelaide Street where the judge could have an unobstructed view across the harbour. In 1825 he was named the sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada and was knighted when he retired four years later in 1829 at the age of 71. After managing to avoid demolition for over a century the mansion seemed doomed by greeting card maker Coutts Hallmark. The building was saved by the Advocates’ Society, a consortium of some 600 lawyers who pledged to relocate and restore the brick heritage house. In 1972 the house was slid onto the back of a flatbed truck supported by 56 tires and moved one mile to its home here, a journey of six hours. It is now functions as a public event space.

South African War Memorial
360 University Avenue

Although the Dominion of Canada declared independence from Great Britain in 1867 it did not achieve full autonomy until the Statute of Westminster in 1931. As such Canadians remained involved in the adventures of the British Empire around the world, including her last major imperial war fought against Dutch settlers in South Africa. Some 9,000 Canadians went to fight and 90 were killed in the Boer War that lasted from 1899 until 1902 and another 180 or so succumbed to disease. To remember their contributions local sculptor Walter Seymour Allward was commissioned to create a heroic monument. His South African War Memorial was dedicated in 1910; three bronze figures gather at the base of a granite column, with the female representing Mother Britain. The column is surmounted by a winged figure lifting a golden crown aloft. Allward was 36 years old at the time with several major public works already under his belt; he would enjoy a reputation as Canada’s foremost heroic sculptor in the first half of the 20th century.  

Canada Life Building
330 University Avenue

The monumental Beaux Arts style was just about breathing its last when the Canada Life Assurance Company broke ground on a new headquarters, the fourth for the country’s largest insurance company, in 1929. Henry Sproatt and Ernest Ross Rolph drew up the plans. The master plan called for a phalanx of major buildings along University Avenue but the Great Depression put a stop to the building, as it did the richly ornamental neoclassical architectural style. The building is best known for the weather beacon that stands atop the 285-foot tall roof. The beacon changes colours to broadcast to the city the impending forecast, updated four times daily.


Osgoode Hall
130 Queen Street West

The Law Society of Upper Canada traces its roots to 1797 as the watchdog body of the provincial legal profession. In 1828 the Society bought this land and began building its headquarters and law school. John Ewart, a respected builder of important early York buildings was in charge here, with input from Society treasurer William Warren Baldwin. Ewart drew on Palladian and Neoclassical influences for the two-and-a-half storey brick building with stone trim and took the name of William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Through periodic expansions the classical spirit of the original has been maintained. The property is surrounded by an ornamental Victorian iron fence and partially obscured by spreading mature trees on the grounds. Today the Ontario Court of Appeal convenes here.