Toronto’s 184th birthday on Tuesday, March 6 is the ideal time to look at some of the buildings that define the city. Some predate the city’s founding and others are relative newcomers to the cityscape, but there’s no question these structures are iconic within Toronto.
Opened in 1927, the large gates leading into the Canadian National Exhibition grounds were originally going to be called the far less catchy “The Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Gates” but were renamed when it was learned that Edward, Prince of Wales and his brother Prince George would be in Toronto when they opened. The statue atop the gates was replaced by a glass/polymer copy in 1987 when the original deteriorated.
This castle in the middle of Toronto was built as a residence for financier Sir Henry Pellatt, who commissioned famed architect E.J. Lennox to design it. Construction on the $3.5 million structure, which became known as “Pellatt’s folly,” lasted from 1911 to 1914 and was halted due to. Pellatt and his wife lived in the home, which boasted nearly 100 rooms, stables, and five acres of gardens, until the city repossessed it in 1924 due to unpaid taxes.
St. Lawrence Market
The historic downtown market’s roots date back before Toronto became a city, opening in 1803 as the population in the area continued to grow. The first temporary building on the site was built in 1814 with the first permanent building erected in 1820. The structure was rebuilt several time over the ensuing years – a model of the market in 1831 is shown above – and served as Toronto’s first council buildings until it was destroyed in the 1849 Toronto Great Fire.
Toronto City Hall
The current City Hall on Queen Street was built from 1961 to 1965 to replace what is now known as Old City Hall, just to the west of the present site. Named for then-mayor Nathan Phillips, the new building features two curved towers and a disc-like council area overlooking Nathan Phillips Square and the latest addition, the now-iconic Toronto sign.
Maple Leaf Gardens
Legendary Leafs owner Conn Smythe first conceived of a state-of-the-art home for his hockey team in the 1920s in a bid to replace the aging and tiny Arena Gardens on Mutual Street. The Gardens opened in 1931 after mere months of construction and remained the home of the Leafs and host to countless concerts and other events until 1999. It now hosts Ryerson Rams games and houses a massive Loblaws store along with other retail.
Billy Bishop Airport
Originally named the Port George VI Island Airport but better known as the Toronto Island Airport, this facility opened in 1939. From 1941 to 1943, it was a valuable training site for the Royal Norwegian Air Force as World War II continued on. In recent years, it has been the site of some controversy as residents near the airport opposed the construction of a since-completed tunnel leading from the mainland to the airport.
Toronto’s most important transit hub historically, the first Union Station opened in 1858 between Simcoe and York streets just south of Front Street. When the Great Western and Northern Railway opened their own stations nearby, the original site was demolished. The three lines moved into an amalgamated facility in the 1890s. Destroyed in a fire in 1904, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1927, rebuilt in 1970 and is undergoing massive renovations today.
Fairmont Royal York
Built on the site of what was once known as the Queen’s Hotel by the Canadian Pacific railway company, the Royal York was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth when it opened in 1929. It included a concert hall, library and enclosed roof garden, and even a golf course. It has traditionally been the residence of choice for the Royal family when they visit Canada – fitting given the fact it resembles a throne when viewed from the south