May 18th, 2022
Buildings That Take You Back in History

Q4. Name two of the earliest churches on The Danthforth. (P16)

Buildings That Take You Back in History

by Beth Parker

Prince Edward Viaduct Public Lavatory (55 Danforth)

At 55 Danforth Avenue there is a Toronto landmark-one of the city's first public washrooms. The population of the city was growing and restaurants or hotels at the time didn't usually offer public facilities. People also were travelling more about the city, so public washrooms were built at the intersections of major street car routes.

This particularly one was opened following the completion of the Viaduct. It was designed in red brick and stucco so it resembled the houses being built in the area. It also had "solid wooden stalls" and brass fixtures, with attendants. Today it is a French immersion school.

Playter Society Building (757 Broadview Avenue)

The sons of the original Playter family, Albert E. Playter and his brother, realized in the early 1900s that Broadview and Danforth was quickly becoming a busy and "up and coming" corner. The streetcars not only stopped there, but there was a "wye" near the corner where the cars could turn around. The brothers therefore built a "round nose" building as a retail and commercial centre. The building still stands at the corner of Broadview and Danforth.

There were stores on the main floor, offices upstairs and on the top floor a large meeting hall where the local Orange Order met. The hall also became a favourite places to go and dance in the 1920's and Guy Lombardo's orchestral played there throughout the 1930s.

Allen's Danforth Theatre (147 Danforth)

The early 1900s also brought movies to Toronto, a very popular pastime in working class neighbourhoods because they were so inexpensive.

The first movie theatre for the Village of Chester was Wilson's, built around 1908 at the corner of Broadview and Danforth. By the 1920's, there were five between Broadview and Pape.

One of these theatres was Allen's Danforth Theatre, constructed by architects Jule and John J. Allen. This particular national chain of theatres wanted to get away from the ornate style common for movie theatres of the day. Although it may seem fancy by our standards with its curved walls and oval ceiling, Allen's was considered "toned down" for the time, with its muted colours and more spacious design. Notice the simple wrought iron canopy of the front entrance and patterned brickwork, and if you look carefully, on the front of the building you can see the inscription AT.

Today, of course, it is known as "The Music Hall" where musicians now perform. Almost next door, you'll find the popular restaurant, bearing the name, Allen's.

St. Barnabas on the Danforth (361 Danforth)

St. John's Norway Parish established a mission church in the little village of Chester in 1958. The first actual building was on today's Ellerbeck Street 200 yards north of Danforth Avenue. It was erected through the generosity of the Playter family, with land donated by her three sons. on the at side of today's Ellerebeck Avenue, 200 yards north of Danforth Avenue. The wooden church, first known as St. John's Playter's Corners, was used for over 25 years.

The parish had little money because according to the church's records, members were mostly wage-earners with limited incomes (In 1869-1870, the total receipts for the year were $192). One of the church's earliest projects was to buy a sewing machine. Each member contributed 1 cent a week. Apparently it took 4 years to collect enough money to buy the machine.

In 1907, the congregation bought the present site on the Danforth, moving the wooden church to its new location. It was a memorable event because heavy rains stalled the process. The church sat perched on moving "beams", in the middle of Danforth Avenue on Saturday morning. A group of 20 men and women cleaned up the interior so it could be ready for worship the next morning.

Church of the Holy Name (606 Danforth)

This renaissance styled church started out as an Irish Catholic congregation in 1913, serving the new Irish immigrants although the main building and rectory weren't completed until 1926. The large, limestone church could seat over 1,000 people and was designed to resemble S. Marie Maggiore in Rome. It was designed by architect Arthur Holmes, who did many Roman Catholic buildings in Toronto, including Brennan Hall, at the University of Toronto and Trinity Bellwoods.

Danforth Car Barns or Carhouse (1627 Danforth Avenue)

At Danforth and Coxwell, there were streetcar barns, built in 1915 to replace the "old" car barns on Gerrard Street. They operated as bus barns until 2002 but today are home to Habitat for Humanity.

There is a wonderful story in 1944 of an annual event that used to take place at the Mennonite City Mission, at Danforth and Woodbine, and the streetcars that passed along the Danforth. The details demonstrate how important it was to have transportation in Toronto connecting areas like the Danforth with downtown, and even the Toronto Islands and the Beaches.

"The highlight of the year was the annual Sunday school picnic. Two streetcars would leave the Coxwell car barns, proceed east along the Danforth, clang their bells as they passed the mission, turn around at the Luttrell loop, and return westward. Stopping at the Mennonite mission they would take on their load of youngsters, families, and church workers. Filled to capacity they would deliver their load to the ferry for the trip across Toronto Bay to Centre Island. The day would consist of games, races, lots of food and lots of fun. The trip home for these tired souls was much quieter than the trip out." From Danforth Mennonite Church of Toronto.

Royal Bank (646 Danforth Avenue)

It's worth having a close look at this building because of its "late Beaux Arts" architecture, a style you see in various Canadian legislature buildings as well as the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Completed in 1925, the building was originally a Union Bank. Note the classic Beaux Arts' features: terracotta columns, ornamentation including bay leaf details, metal cornice, projecting facades, and enriched entablature (this is the area near the top of the building where the columns meet).

  • Myrvold, Barbara, Historical Walking tour of the Danforth, Toronto Public Library, 1992
  • Myrvold, Barbara, The Danforth in Pictures, Toronto Public Library, 1979
  • The Danforth BIA
  • The Church of St. Barnabas on the Danforth
  • Danforth Diaspora: The Many Faces of a Neighbourhood
  • Eastminister United Church

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