Description of Historic Place
The Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada Building is located at 227 King Street South, on the northwest corner of Union Street and King Street South, in the City of Waterloo. The two-storey Roman brick clad building was designed in the Modern Renaissance style by architect Frank Darling, and was constructed in 1912 and 1921.
The property was designated, for its historic and architectural significance, by the City of Waterloo, under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 79-188).
Located between Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener, the Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada Building is a prominent and well known historic landmark. It has defined the commercial character and history of the City since its construction, close to a century ago. Placed within spacious grounds, the building is approached through a pair of wrought iron gates, flanked with large ornamental topped stone pillars. An open stone flagged forecourt, laid out in a hexagonal pattern forms the connecting link between the gateway and the front entrance.
The Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada Building was the first life insurance company to open in the City of Waterloo. The company was responsible for pioneering one of the largest commerce industries in the region. Incorporated in December, 1868, as the Ontario Mutual Life Assurance Company, the firm obtained a Dominion Charter in 1878. From 1900 to 1999 the company operated under the same name, until it was renamed, Clarica, when it was acquired by Sun Life Financial, in 2002.
The head office of the firm opened in 1912, after moving from a stone and red-brick building, which they had built in 1879, at the corner of Albert and Erb Streets. The growth of the firm, representing one of the largest insurance companies in Waterloo, served as an important source of employment for the City. It also acted as a cushion against the boom and bust cycles of the economy, for over a century. Isaac Bowman, M.P., the founding president, and Moses Springer, M.P.P., the first Mayor of Waterloo, were among the earliest company officials.
The Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada building has architecturally strikingly rich materials and detail. It was designed by prominent architect Frank Darling, of the Toronto firm, Darling and Pearson. The impressive structure was erected in 1912, with an addition in 1921, which duplicated the original architecture. Numerous additions have been made to the building over the years, however the integrity of the original design is still very evident. The 1912 building and 1921 addition is of the Modern Renaissance style of architecture and was constructed of light-brown and yellow, narrow Roman brick, with panelled grey stone quoins and moulded pedimented windows. A leaf and floral design is located beneath the cornice, while above, is a parapet with a balustrade. Terra cotta, made in England, was imported for the decorative features of the building's façade. The main (King Street) entrance features impressive oak doors, flanked by two pairs of fluted ionic columns, crowned with a circular pediment.
Sources: “The Mutual Life – Since 1870”, Marg Rowell, City of Waterloo Heritage Designation Brief, June 19, 1979; “Designated Landmarks - City of Waterloo”, LACAC, 1995; The City of Waterloo (By-law 79-188).
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Mutual Life Assurance Co. of Canada building include its:
- landmark status, defining the commercial character and history of the City of Waterloo
- significant vistas from King Street South and Union Street
- placement on spacious, well-landscaped grounds with a central stone flagged forecourt surrounded by a grand iron fence
- impressive size and massing of the building's Modern Renaissance style
- King Street facade of the 1912 building
- Union Street facade of the 1912 and 1921 building
- Roman brick cladding with panelled stone quoins and moulded pedimented windows
- high base of Ohio Sandstone
- moulded architrave and floral scroll frieze beneath the modillion cornice displaying stone carving in a floral and leaf pattern
- parapet wall with open balustrade situated above the cornice
- entrance portico, placed in the centre of the principle (King Street) façade consisting of a wide doorway with large oak doors and a broad flight of steps
- two pairs of fluted ionic columns flanking the main entrance