Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Toronto

Historical Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Toronto

Once an Anglo backwater, today's Toronto is the cultural and economic hub of English-speaking Canada. The city's architectural beauty is supplemented by its historical richness, with some of the buildings dating back as far as the late 18th century. This self-guided tour invites you to explore the most prominent of them, such as Gooderham, Daniel Brook Building, Massey Hall and others, making up the historic heritage of Toronto!
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Historical Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Toronto (See other walking tours in Toronto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Gooderham Building
  • Daniel Brooke Building
  • St. Lawrence Hall
  • St. James Anglican Cathedral
  • St. Michael's Cathedral
  • Mackenzie House
  • Massey Hall
  • Old City Hall
  • Osgoode Hall
  • Campbell House Museum
Gooderham Building

1) Gooderham Building

Among the many places worth visiting in the St. Lawrence neighborhood, especially for an architecture buff, is the Gooderham Building. Hardly five stories tall, wedged in a triangular intersection between Front and Wellington streets, this structure is one of the most photographed sights in the city. The house was built in 1892, ten years before its famous kin, the Fuller Building in New York City, and as such, represents an early example of the flatiron form of architecture.

The previous building on this site was shorter but of the same shape and was called the Coffin Block. The current vermilion red-brick edifice, with tinges of Romanesque styling, was constructed for distiller George Gooderham and served as the office of the Gooderham & Worts distillery until 1952. The Gooderham family sold the property in 1957, following which it changed hands several times. In 1975, the building was designated a historic site under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Besides its shape, the Gooderham Building is well-known for the mural on its back wall. The Flatiron Mural – created by renowned Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant – uses a trompe-l'œil effect to make the wall appear to have more windows than it does, as well as to give it a more mobile effect with the help of a picture of the Perkins Building, which is located directly across the street, depicted as if loosely 'tacked' down to the wall, with some of its edges 'fluttering' away.

Right behind the Gooderham Building is a tree-lined spot called Berczy Park. This park, housing a sizeable three-tier fountain fitted with 27 cast-iron dogs spouting water, a cast-iron cat, and crowned with a bone, was completed in 2017. The drinking trough for dogs has made this fountain a popular destination, particularly for dog lovers.
Daniel Brooke Building

2) Daniel Brooke Building

One of the very few structures that escaped the devastating fire of 1849 is the Daniel Brooke Building on Jarvis and King Street. Now standing in all its glory and wisdom, this antique edifice, built in 1833, was originally owned by Daniel Brooke, a wealthy local merchant.

Boasting elegant Georgian style, the architecture is quite a rare sight in the city. Throughout the years, the building has served as home to an array of commercial enterprises. In fact, it was also the place where James Austin and Patrick Foy first opened their grocery store. The former later went on to become one of the most prominent business figures in 19th century Canada. Subsequently, the building saw many prominent personalities and grew quite popular in the local business circuits. However, towards the end of the 19th century, the entire neighborhood surrounding the complex went into a spell of extreme poverty leading to the ultimate abandonment of the building.

Eventually, the government took it up to renovate and revamp the entire neighborhood, as well as to give the Daniel Brook Building the much needed face-lift. After tireless efforts, the area returned to its former glory and today is, once again, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city.
St. Lawrence Hall

3) St. Lawrence Hall

Standing elegantly close to the St. Lawrence Market is a building fit to put any other structure in the vicinity to shame. Such is the grandeur and immense presence of the St. Lawrence Hall. This spectacular building took shape in the mid-19th century and was the work of the renowned Anglo-Canadian architect, William Thomas. Thomas first moved to Canada with his wife and 10 children in 1837 to escape economic hardship in his native England. Thomas's career took off no sooner than he set foot in Toronto and he is now considered to be one of the most gifted architects of his time.

The St. Lawrence Hall is believed to be one of William Thomas’s best works. Designed in Renaissance Revival style, this colossal building has a fantastic facade that complements its width. An interesting feature is the typical Roman temple that takes center stage atop this building.

The overall breathtaking view of the edifice makes it seemingly unlikely that any single element thereof can enchant you more. Still, the interiors of St. Lawrence manage to achieve exactly that, displaying elegance, sophistication and opulence. No wonder, the Hall has been the epitome of Toronto’s artistic society.
St. James Anglican Cathedral

4) St. James Anglican Cathedral

One of the most enthralling churches of Toronto is the St. James Cathedral. Not only does the facade of this church make it captivating, but it is also the story that accompanies it.

Home to the oldest congregation in Toronto, established in 1797, St. James's serves as the spiritual center of St. Lawrence neighborhood and is the episcopal seat of the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of Toronto. All of this makes it one of the most treasured heritage sites in the city.

Built in the mid-19th century, the cathedral boasts a magnificent Gothic Revival style of architecture. Designed by Frederick William Cumberland, the St. James Cathedral greets spectators from far and wide coming to admire its sheer beauty. The structure flaunts a wonderful harmony of proportions and grandeur. With its white brick and sandstone exterior, the building conspicuously stands out in contrast to its surrounding landscape. Along with its exteriors, the cathedral's insides are also equally breathtaking. The architectural elements include high raised ceiling, ribbed vaults and pointed arched lights that brighten the interiors with natural illumination, making it a truly magnificent sight to behold during daylight.
St. Michael's Cathedral

5) St. Michael's Cathedral

On Church Street in the Garden District of Toronto stands St. Michael’s Cathedral. Clad in tones of grey and brick, this cathedral stands solitary with its exceptional majestic appeal and timeless architectural pride. And why not, St. Michael's is the oldest temple in Toronto, dating back to the mid-19th century.

This overpowering structure demands attention of any passer-by with its robust Neo-Gothic appearance and linear, geometric patterns. Although its exterior may be quite overwhelming and severe, the interior of the cathedral comes as a total surprise. Balancing the exacting exterior, the insides of the church are dabbed with color, grandeur and gentle elegance. Unlike many Christian places of worship in Toronto, built in Gothic Revival (where the Gothic is tweaked to fit modern times), St. Michael's Cathedral sticks to the classic Gothic style – featuring rich stained glass windows, high vaulted ceiling with richly hued murals and paintings along with sculptures of various saints and other figurines. The cathedral was designed by William Thomas, an Anglo-Canadian architect, best known for his stunning and timeless creations and vintage architectural landscape in Canada.

Other than being a place of faith for the Catholics of the region, this cathedral was heavily involved in the establishment of the St. Michael’s Hospital, a medical center and a teaching hospital in Toronto.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful architecture, magnificent in terms of colors and comfort.
After an extensive renovation, the basement is now functional, the pews are all cushioned and the solemnity of the place is well kept!

This is a great place to attend mass, especially when the St. Michael's choir is singing.
Mackenzie House

6) Mackenzie House

Built in the 1850s, this gas-lit Georgian style row-house at 82 Bond Street is the Mackenzie House. The place is believed to be haunted by the ghost of the first mayor of Toronto, William Lyon Mackenzie, who in 1820 emigrated from Scotland and published here a political newspaper, “Colonial Advocate.”

Initially, the house functioned as a print shop and was used for Mackenzie's publications. The man lived here, together with his wife Isabel and 13 children, until he passed away in the second floor bedroom in 1861. The property was sold in the 1930s and was to be demolished, had it not be for the concerned citizens who raised enough money to save it. Later, in 1950, the Mackenzie House was renovated, restored by the Toronto Historical Board, and made open to the public as a museum exhibiting glimpses of the Victorian-period life, managed by the Cultural Division of Toronto City and Museum and Heritage Services.

The house was locked for a long period, during which several strange activities were observed making people believe it was haunted. A man whose description matched Mackenzie’s and a long haired woman were seen inside when the house was empty and locked. Some other haunted stories included playing of the antique piano, sounds of operation of the printing press and footsteps. These paranormal activities have been observed and reported, but never properly documented. Either for the chill of mystery or the thrill of history, a visit to the Mackenzie House is a must.

Operating Hours:
Saturday-Sunday: 12 pm – 5 pm.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Massey Hall

7) Massey Hall

The Massey Hall in Toronto is the venue where one can enjoy a variety of art forms, from classical music to jazz to international dance troupes. Gifted to the city by the Massey family, this architectural beauty was designed by Sidney Badgley at a cost of $152,390.75. A host to more than 100 events annually, the Hall can seat up to 2,765 people in two balconies and a ground floor.

In 1894, the venue had its debut concert, featuring Handel's Messiah. Artists like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark Knopfler, Buddy Guy, Bob Marley, etc. have performed at the Hall, known for its mind-blowing acoustics. Neil Young, the famous Canadian song writer released a recording of his “Live at Massey Hall” performance in 1971. That same year, the Hall became a site of National Historic importance in Canada. In 1975, it was designated as a "Heritage Property" by Toronto City Council under the Ontario Heritage Act. A pre-concert hors d'oeuvre can be enjoyed at the Hall's Victorian-style bar and lounge, called Centuries. The walls of Centuries hold memories of all the artists who have played the Massey.

The Corporation of Massey Hall, a non-profit charitable organization, stands as a pillar of support for the development of talented Canadians, with a mission to provide platform for showcasing international arts.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Old City Hall

8) Old City Hall

Sitting on the corner of Queen and Bay streets in Downtown Toronto is an imposing Romanesque-style building. Between 1899 and 1966, this architectural marvel was home to the Toronto City Council, the third city hall built for the burgeoning city. Upon its completion, what is now known as the Old City Hall was one of the largest buildings in Toronto and the largest civic structure in North America.

Charged with the task of creating it was the prominent local architect, Edward James Lennox. It took Lennox altogether three years to come up with an acceptable design plus another decade or so to have it materialized in stone.

The end result was surely well worth the wait, though. Grand in its demeanor and elegant in its stance, the magnificent City Hall became a heritage landmark, whose distinctive 103.6 metre-tall (340 ft) clock tower was the crowning jewel of the city, well seen from far and wide.

The clock mechanism for it was made in Croydon, England. The clock room was also fitted with three bells: two smaller ones, striking every quarter of an hour, and a bourdon bell which strikes every hour and weighs 5443 kilograms.

Matching the magnificent exterior of the building, its interior is just as charming with intricate details such as the grand staircase with stained glass windows depicting Canadian history, various murals, statues, and other elements.

The overall cost of the project came to more than $2.5 million (which is close to $53 million in today's money). Angered by the cost overruns and construction delays, the city councillors refused Lennox a plaque proclaiming him as the architect for the completed building. Not to be denied his well-deserved glory, however, Lennox had stonemasons "sign" his name in corbels beneath the upper floor eaves around the entire building, reading: "EJ LENNOX ARCHITECT AD 1898".

Despite its size, the Old City Hall proved inadequate to Toronto's growing municipal government within a couple of decades of its completion. In the 1960s, the building was slated for demolition to clear space for a retail complex (Eaton Centre), but fortunately was saved by public outcry and turned into a courthouse. In 1984, the Old City Hall was designated a National Historic Site.

Make sure to visit the small "lake" close by, as many of the pictures from Toronto you might know are taken from this place while facing the "TORONTO" sign.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Osgoode Hall

9) Osgoode Hall

A heritage building spread over six acres in Toronto is the Osgoode Hall. This hall has garnered attention for 170 years for its legal activity, and was named Osgoode in honor of the first Chief Justice of the province, William Osgoode. Although construction began in 1829, this historic edifice was completed only 20 years later and under several architects, like John Ewart and W.W. Baldwin. The outer facade of the building retains the Italian Renaissance style, and the inside of the Hall boasts beautiful stained glass heraldic windows, intricate ceiling and elegant arched pillars. The Hall also has Palladian elements. A myth related to the iron gate is that it was originally designed to keep livestock out of the grounds.

After being troop barracks from 1838 to 1843, the Hall went through several restorations from 1844 to 1891. Until relocation of the faculty of York University in 1969, the Osgoode Hall was the home of the Law School of the University, the Osgoode Hall Law School. In honor of Ontario lawyers and law students who died in action during the First World War, a memorial was sculpted by Frances Norma Loring in 1928 and added to the Library of the Hall. In 1979, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Connected through a tunnel in the north is the courthouse, at 361 University Avenue. Currently, the Osgoode hall houses the Law Society of Upper Canada, Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Appeal.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Campbell House Museum

10) Campbell House Museum

Built by the Sixth Chief Justice of Upper Canada, Sir William Campbell, and his wife in 1822, the Campbell House is the oldest remaining house from the original city of York in Toronto. Lady Campbell inherited this Georgian-style house after the death of William Campbell in 1834. All contents of the house were auctioned after her death and until 1890 it served as a residence for local notables.

Originally, the house was on Adelaide Street East and after 150 years, the 300-ton house was shifted to University Avenue with an assistance from the Toronto Transit Commission. A campaign was launched by the Advocates Society to save the house when its last owners, Coutts-Hallmark Greeting Cards Company, decided to demolish it in 1972. On April 1st 1972, the house was fully restored and opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Designed for comfort and entertainment, the House was constructed when the Campbells were socially and economically established. After the Campbells, it was used by a horseshoe nails company and elevator company as an office and factory, respectively. Today, the house operates as a museum that educates both tourists and locals about the lifestyles, trends and tit-bits from the bygone era. Visitors are offered guided tours of the property and can enjoy educational programs like historic baking, Scottish dancing, storytelling, etc. It also serves as a club for the members of Advocates Society.

Opening hours:
October 1 – April 30 (except for the month of January): Tuesday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Saturday, 12 pm to 4:30 pm.
The museum is closed for tours the month of January but visitors are still able to book group visits and attend public events.
May 1 – September 30: Tuesday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 12 pm to 4:30 pm.

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