Beaches Living Guide Fall/Winter 2016
Toronto City Halls
Toronto’s First City Hall
95 Front Street • Opened 1846 • currently St. Lawrence Market
The “Old” City Hall (2nd)
60 Queen Street West • Opened 1889
currently Ontario Courts
Largest and tallest building in the city at the time
The “New” City Hall (3rd)
100 Queen Street West • Opened 1965
Architect, Viljo Revell
At the turn of the last century (1899 became 1900)
Torontonians gathered to celebrate and civic officials at the time
climbed the city hall clock tower (the tallest structure in the city
at the time) to ring-in the new century.
Today, City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square is a genuine gathering
place where Toronto rings in the New Year, hosts concerts and
events, provides an ice rink during the winter, and this past summer,
served as a wonderful welcome venue for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am
Games. It also has been used as an outdoor sculpture gallery and a
farmer’s market just like the first City Hall.
How many city hall locations has Toronto had? If you count
temporary offices at 157 King Street East, now Heritage Toronto
office, where the first city council met for 11 years following the
city’s formation, there have been four, but only three permanent
city hall buildings. Each building was specifically designed to be
our city hall. Each time the design was selected by competition and
the end result reflected the style and vision of the day.
City Hall and Marketplace
Within a decade, from when the town of York
was officially renamed Toronto in 1834, the city’s
population had tripled. Everyone agreed that the new
city deserved its own city hall. Architect Henry Bowyer
Lane, who had designed part of Osgoode Hall, created
the winning design.
Built in 1845, the building was located at the corner
of Front and Jarvis – right where the St.
Lawrence Market stands today. In fact,
if you stand across the street on Front
and look directly at the north façade
of the south market building, you can
see the original middle section with the
market built around it. This Georgian
style building was made entirely out of
red brick, with contrasting white stone.
The building housed municipal offices,
council chambers, as well as the police
station and a market. The centre section
was 3 stories high, topped by a cupola
with a clock. Council met on the second
floor where there was a public gallery and
the offices of the mayor and other public
officials. The police station was on the
main floor, with a jail in the basement.
Because of flooding problems, the jail
eventually had to be moved!
Extending out from the centre were two
wings, 2 stories high that served as a
market. It is quite fitting that when the
original centre part of the building was
saved from demolition, the St. Lawrence
market was built around it.
Toronto’s Newest and Biggest Building
The design of the city’s next city hall was also a contest – this time,
an international event where 50 architects submitted designs. Toronto
architect, E. J. Lennex was hired to prepare a design for a building that
would serve as both a city hall and a courthouse. Lennex was also the
architect of Casa Loma.
The building design itself was not original – the city hall has a striking
resemblance to the city halls in both Minneapolis and Cincinnati. Massive
red sandstone from New Brunswick was used for outside along with grey
stone from the Credit River Valley in Ontario. There are carved stone faces
at the top of several of the outside columns and under the eaves of the
building, letters spell out Lennex’s name.
A huge hour-bell weighing almost 12,000 pounds chimed every quarter
There were four original carved-sandstone gargoyles at the four corners
around the clock tower, which fell eventually off. In 2002, replacement
gargoyles were installed.
When opened in 1899, the “new” city hall was the tallest structure
on the Toronto skyline, clearly highly visible when people crossed the
harbour to the Toronto Islands. The tower has provided a terminating
vista for Bay Street from its completion to the present day.
Moving into the Modern Age
Toronto, once again, outgrew its city hall by the 1950s. This
time, Toronto launched an international design competition. 531
designs were submitted. The winner turned out to be an emerging
star of Finnish modernism, Viljo Revell.
From the beginning, the design seemed alien to Toronto, breaking
all the design conventions of the day. The material was concrete
instead of brick or sandstone; the two curved towers were
asymmetrical, and the council chamber in the middle immediately
brought to mind a space ship or a pearl. Two crescent shaped
towers, the west 20 stories, the east 27 stories, accommodate
offices for civil servants. Conceived to be a place “for the
people”, you can walk right in the main door without
having to go up an imposing set of stairs.
Within the first four days of opening in 1965, over 70,000
visitors made the trek downtown to view the masterpiece.
Without a doubt, Revell had changed the face of Toronto for
years to come. And unlike so many buildings, there simply isn’t
another like it in the entire world!
In recognition of the support for the project given by the then
mayor, Nathan Phillips, the public square opened in front was
given Phillips’ name.