Hockey Hall of Fame

June 11, 2008

Build in the Beaux Arts style that is common throughout the city, the 1885 Bank of Montreal Headquarters building was designed by Darling and Curry. What were they thinking? It’s rococo stylistic flourishes suggest that all the stops were pulled out for the Bank of Montreal. The facade features numerous gargoyles, and eight carvings with a dropped jaw hold the eight symbols in their mouths: communication, industry, writing and the arts (Yonge St) and farming, architecture, music and commerce (Front St). Behind the tree, Hermes, the messenger of the gods peers down on pedestrians with a stern look.

As the home of hockey, it has a fond place in the hearts of Canadians and under the tree you can find the sculpture “Our Game.” Young hockey players are lined up ready to hop the boards and take on the world. The sculpture was done by Edie Parker in 1993.

30 Yonge Street

Allen Lambert Galleria

June 11, 2008

One of the most stunning indoor spaces in Toronto, the Allen Lambert Galleria is sometimes described as “the crystal cathedral of commerce.” Featuring a soaring vaulted ceiling and the heritage facade of an 1890’s bank building, there are surprises with every turn. The Galleria was designed in 1991 by Santiago Calatrava, one of Spain’s most famous architects.

His tropical tree canopy is one of the most elegant spaces in Toronto and is complemented with his “Heritage Square.” The arching frond theme is continued in the adjacent square with an equally stunning atmosphere. Note the “venetian blind” styling around the walls and the two windows “cranked open” to let the tropical breeze in.

181 Bay Street

Commerce Court

June 7, 2008

Built in 1930 as the headquarters of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the 34-story tower was the tallest building in the British Empire until 1962 and one of the most opulent corporate headquarters in Canada. Constructed in the Romanesque Revival style, by Pearson and Darling, its vaulted Main Banking Hall is modelled after Rome’s Baths of Caracalla. In 1972, three other buildings were erected, thus creating the Commerce Court complex: Commerce Court West.

The building is famous for its “Giants of Jordan Street.” Sixteen enormous faces vigilantly stare out to all corners of the city, each face alternating between a grin and a grimace. They represent the bank’s goals of courage, observation, foresight and enterprise.

“Mother of Elephants” is a bronze sculpture created in 2002 by Derrick Hudson, a Windsor artist who’s work features wildlife forms in bronze, silver and stone. He focuses on wildlife art because he finds the animal form dynamic, diversified and, tragically, disappearing. “I hope to make people aware and concerned about animals in the wild” says Hudson, “and to assist in channelling this concern into greater animal protection efforts.”

199 Bay Street

TD Centre

June 7, 2008

Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the TD Centre is considered one of the 20th Century modernist masterpieces of the International style. The original TD Centre consisted of a grouping of two steel-and-glass towers and a banking pavilion. The 55-storey Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower was the first to be completed, officially opening on Canada’s 100th birthday, July 1st, 1967. Mies Van der Rohe sought to create an architecture where “skin and bones” buildings were perfectly balanced and orderly while creating a “free flowing” open space between them.

The towers sit back from the street with space between each building to create a quite different sense of scale. In fact the entire city block can be reduced down to five black obelisks of pure form. “Less is more.” Look for the Barcelona Chair which is another “Mies” masterpiece from the 1929 World’s Fair in Spain. For many, he is more famous for the chair than the building.

Prairie Sculptor Joe Fafard is famous for his rural art themes. His “The Pasture” collection of seven placid cows all created from the same basic mould, hint at the district’s ever hopeful “bull market.” The 1985 installation adds a simple serenity to the grounds. Also look for Al McWilliams’ “Wall and Chairs” sculpture bringing a suggestion of “stonehenge”to the grounds.

66 Wellington Street W.

While Barbara Hepworth’s museum sculptures fetch millions of dollars at auction, one of her finest works quietly rests in front of the Sun Life Building. It does raise the question of how public art is viewed outside of a typical context of white walls, small placard and security guards. Of her sculptures, Sir Herbert Read said “She infused the formal perfection of geometry with the vital grace of nature.” The forms are archetypal and instinctual- tapping into a sense of the prehistoric. This sculpture is from a collection of nine bronze pieces titled “The Family of Man” and was created in 1970.

Modernist abstraction was a common theme in the sixties when Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore were very popular sculptors. Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore were in the same art class at Leeds School of Art in 1919 and enjoyed a lifelong friendship.

150 King St. W

Built in a kindler, more gentle modernist style, the Four Seasons Performing centre has received much acclaim since it opened in 2006. Designed by Diamond + Schmitt, and built to house the Opera Company, it features the longest unsupported glass staircase ever built and a subterranean storey filled with sound-absorbing pads to stop subway noise from filtering upward. Some of the little extras include a backstage machine to dry wigs and individually heated seats. Each seat (there are 2,000) has been computer tested for the best possible sitelines.

This building is part of the architectural renaissance of Toronto that has appeared at the beginning of the twenty first century. Toronto has not seen this level of design and growth of public buildings in over 100 years.

145 Queen St. W.

Canada Life Building

June 4, 2008

The fifteen-floor Beaux Arts building was built by Sproatt & Rolph and completed in 1931. The colour of the weather beacon are either White(Snow), Green(Fair), orRed(Rain). When the Tower is lit its either Slowly Rising(temperature), Fast Rising(temperature), Steady, Or Falling Slow / Fast. It remains one of the largest office buildings in Toronto with windows that can be opened by the occupants. It had been originally built as a mooring point for airships like the Zeppelin. Air travel at the time was just beginning and flights were starting up across Europe. Unfortunately, a number of airship accidents, including the Hindenburg catastrophe in 1937 brought plans to a halt. Eventually, the tower became Toronto’s first light sourced weather beacon in 1951.

330 University Avenue

Osgoode Hall

June 4, 2008

Osgoode Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in Canada. From 1829 to present over ten major renovations including additions and updates have occurred. Osgoode Hall was designed by Cumberland and Storm to house the law courts and the Law Society of Upper Canada and by 1970, the building had occupied an entire city block. The Province of Ontario and the Law Society own Osgoode Hall which has been designed in a late Palladian style. The iron fence surrounding the lawns of Osgoode Hall is also quite famous. Its distinctive iron gates are narrow and restrictive; it is a long-standing myth that they were designed to keep livestock out of the grounds of the Hall, and in the 1950s students tried to herd a cow through one of the gates (they did not succeed!).

130 Queen Street West

The Archer

June 4, 2008

Henry Moore’s sculpture “The Archer” is one of the distinctive pieces of public art at City Hall. There was much controversy over the sculpture and it was not initially accepted by the Toronto City Council. However, the Mayor Phillip Givens stepped in and raised $100,000 through private donations. It was finally unveiled in 1966.

Henry Moore believed sculpture should have a sense of mystery in order to maintain interest. His work is known for it’s monumentality and in later sculpture the expression of nature’s inherent forms. He preferred his sculpture to be exhibited in the open air, interacting with it’s environment – touched and enjoyed by the passing public.

100 Queen St W

Peace Garden

June 4, 2008

A small shelter, with a pool and eternal flame and sundial make up the modest peace garden. Pierre Trudeau turned the sod to start construction in 1984. His Holiness Pope John Paul lit the eternal flame with an ember from Hiroshima and filled the pool with water from Nagasaki and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth formally dedicated the garden. How come we don’t have world peace?

100 Queen St W

New City Hall

June 4, 2008

The first design for the new City Hall design was a disaster. “Sterile” said Frank Lloyd Wright. Something radical needed to be done. It was the age of Sputnik and streamlined fins on all the cars. What better way to demonstrate the new decade than with the spaceship and its corresponding launchpad? From the air, the building is seen as a giant unblinking eye, thus the building’s original nickname of “The Eye of Government”. When finished, the building caused a storm of controversy among many people, who felt that it was extremely futuristic, too futuristic for the city. Even 40 years later, it still appears very modern.

Designed by Finland’s Viljo Revell, the building opened in 1965 and its modernist architecture still impresses today.

100 Queen St W

Old City Hall

June 4, 2008

Taking 11 years to build (1889 – 1899) at a cost of more than $2.5 million, it was not only the biggest structure in the city at that time, it was also the largest municipal building in North America. Designed by EJ Lennox in the Romanesque style, City Hall was nearly demolished to make way for the Eaton Centre, until finally declared a historic monument in 1989.

If the politics of the day were conservative, the city made up for it with their Hall. Elaborate decoration and “over the top” architectural stylings with Romanesque details abound including a number of grotesques. The gargoyles in particular are enormous and caricatures of the local councillors at the time can also be found throughout the exterior. Note the gargoyles around the clock tower. The originals were there in the 1809’s but deterioration meant they were removed in the 1920’s. Finally in 2003, the gargoyles are back again.

60 Queen St W

Cloud Gardens

June 3, 2008

Named for the small greenhouse set to house mountain ecologies, the park is one of the more elaborate in Toronto and it won the designer, George Baird, a Governor General’s Architecture Award. Built in 1990, it includes a monument to construction workers, a waterfall and a four season woodland garden comprised of native oak, maple, ash and hemlock trees. It is also a destination for many downtown inhabitants (including both birds and humans) looking for a patch of green space in the concrete jungle.

Richmond & Temperance, West of Yonge

Synthetic Eden

June 3, 2008

The visitor approaches Stacey Spiegel’s intriguing 1991 art installation through one of Ontario’s few public glass sculptures. These towers are etched with waves and cells within tree trunks, suggesting a purifying process. Hidden in the courtyard lies the three sculptures of Eden representing the cycles of nature. Adam made from steel mesh lies staring at the sky with water flowing from his mouth, suggesting oneness with his environment. The bronze tree shoots water into the air which falls back down as raindrops while the stainless steel bubbling flower suggests another of nature’s cycles. The paving stones are also patterned in concentric circles of waves connecting the garden together. And of course the mural above has the ever present snake threatening to destroy the garden. Note the animals in the green circle of life.

1 Adelaide St

Consumers Gas Building

June 3, 2008

Consumer’s Gas Building was first built in 1852, as the company’s head office. The Italianate/neo-Renaissance style façade was designed by David B. Dick, was added to the north in 1876 and final adjustments in 1899. It uses terracotta extensively in the construction of the facade. The President of the Company who commissioned the new building was William Berczy’s son, Charles Berczy who was also the Postmaster for the city. The company’s charter was to provide “a cheap and effective mode of lighting the streets and places of the said City, as well as the houses and shops.”

19 Toronto Street.

Court Square

June 3, 2008

Tucked away in an alley off Church St, Court Square is a small garden with a “legal” theme. Court Square features a polished granite slab/stage with a sculpted open book with several White pine trees nearby – the arboreal emblem of Ontario. While it seems peaceful enough and it’s small leafy enclave is a welcome respite, there lurks an ominous past. It was known as “hanging square and was used for floggings and public executions including the last public hanging in 1905 of Fred Lee Rice. The polished granite slab/stage with a sculpted books hints at gallows platform with “lessons learned”.

The Arts and Letters Club entrance was also through Court Square and in 1908 the Group of Seven was formed here. The park was designed in 1997 by sculptor, photographer and artist Susan Schelle and she has brought a distinct artistic approach to the space. She alludes to the constant desire for order that we place upon the land: one side of her granite wall says “the laws of the land” while the other side of the wall says “the laws of nature.”

Court Street

St James Cathedral

June 3, 2008

Centered in the heart of old York, the Cathedral is one the city’s greatest landmarks. Designed by Fredrick Cumberland, after the first four churches were destroyed by fire, the fifth incarnation which was finally completed in 1865 is perhaps the finest example of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada.

The immense spire has an illuminated clock that for many years provided a beacon and navigational point for ships coming into the harbour. It was the first building that travellers saw when they emerged from Union Station. Today, it still serves as a haven and port of call for the homeless and disadvantaged in the neighbourhood. The interiors reads like a “Who’s Who” of historical Toronto as the names, places and dates see all too familiar. The Church played a greater part in people’s lives than it does today, and this building was the heart of religious Toronto for the greater part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Bell tower is considered one of the greatest examples of a public chiming clock anywhere in the world and to this day is considered only second to Big Ben in London England. It has the largest peal of bells in North America and also carries Big Ben’s tune: the Westminister Chime which traditionally accompanies the prayer:

All through this hour,
Lord be my guide,
That by thy power,
No foot shall slide.

This rhyme seems apt in Toronto, where Winter’s icy sidewalks constantly prevail upon pedestrians.

65 Church St

St Lawrence Hall

June 2, 2008

The heart of Toronto’s social life for many years, it was the place for politics, grand balls and concerts. Both Sir John A MacDonald and George Brown campaigned for Confederation here, It was also the centre of many abolitionist rallies and activities that supported the welfare of refugee slaves. William Thomas designed the elegant Palladian-style building in 1850, which boasts one of Toronto’s few domed cupolas. It also housed the National Ballet of Canada for many years and was fully restored in 1967.

Above the main doorway sits three Canadian water gods: god of Niagara on the left (strength and power), the god of Lake Ontario on the right (placid water) and the god of St Lawrence in the centre (constant weeping).

155 King Street East

Mushroom Studio

June 2, 2008

Nestled at the end of a small lane in front of St James Cathedral lies the Toronto Sculpture Garden. It’s purpose is to foster innovative contemporary sculpture installations and it has done so since 1981. It’s main purpose is to allow artists to experiment with public space and to address ongoing issues of architectural scale, materials and context. It’s also a wonderful spot to stop and wait for the St James Cathedral bells to begin their peal.

The sculpture garden, is free and open to passersby, the homeless, and casual strollers. It inserts itself into the daily paths of people going about their business rather than being a locked away in a gallery. Unlike most public art, also it changes on a regular basis.

About her 2008 Mushroom Studio, Katie Bethune-Leamen says:

” Mushrooms are a nice metaphor for cities – lovely/not so lovely, loved/not so loved. Mushrooms are interesting in that they shift constantly in how we configure them – delicious/poisonous, creepy/beautiful etc. So they make a really nice location for work in that they are unstable.”

115 King Street East

Flatiron Building

May 29, 2008

George Gooderham was the original tycoon of Canada and oversaw his empire from the first “Flatiron” building in North America. It was uniquely designed and built in 1892, allowing it’s owner to survey his bank, distillery and other interests by simply looking out his window. The most photographed building in Toronto, it is famous for it’s commanding presence in the neighbourhood.

It is also noted for it’s exquisite terracotta work on the fascia. The mural,( called Trompe.d’oille), was created by renowned Calgary artist Derek Besant. The mural is a picture of the Perkins Building, which is located directly across the street.

49 Wellington Street East

Berczy Park

May 27, 2008

Berczy Park

This site has been central to human activity for centuries and holds great meaning for many peoples. A creek used to flow along present-day Church St and down to the lake and for many hundreds of years it was a native fish camp. After European settlement, it also served as a major terminus for stagecoaches to Niagara and Queenston and so the site has served as a natural a gathering place to this day.

The site is named after William von Moll Berczy, a renowned portrait painter, historical and literary writer, urban planner and architect. His dream was to create a new community of Markham. He tried to finance the community with a contract to build Yonge Street, but ran out of money and at one point, John Simcoe, the Governor of Upper Canada had him thrown into debtors’ prison. Hardships and dreams aside, his creative talents were outstanding, He is recognized as one of the greatest Canadian portrait painters and he also won a architecture competition for the design of Christ Church in Montreal in 1803. It is fitting that he is remembered in one of the most architecturally significant areas of Toronto.  Look for the 1982  “Family Group” sculpture by Almuth Lutkenhaus commemorating his community spirit.

Front & Wellington


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