Description of Historic Place
The Dominion Public Building, a large, well-proportioned example of Beaux-Arts Classicism located in Toronto’s business core, forms part one of the most imposing Beaux-Arts streetscapes in Canada. Set over a heavy base of channelled stonework the long main facade features a projecting central pavilion with free-standing Ionic columns. There are two end pavilions, and intervening walls accentuated by Ionic pilasters supporting a cornice and attic. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Dominion Public Building is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Dominion Public Building illustrates the theme of growth in Canadian cities as represented through federal buildings constructed in the Beaux-Arts style. Designed to be a prominent structure, the splendour and high quality of the design and location represent the importance of the city of Toronto to the growth of the Canadian economy. Designed to represent the federal government’s symbolic presence on the local scene, the Dominion Public Building is one of the earliest surviving federal buildings in Toronto.
The Dominion Public Building is one of the most important examples of Beaux-Arts Classical architecture in Canada. The monumental scale, classical detailing and rational design are all Beaux-Arts characteristics. This five-storey building has a rusticated base storey and projecting central portico with two-storey entry fronted by large Ionic columns supporting an entablature and attic storey. The triple-arched main entrance is decorated with stone lion’s heads. Excellent craftsmanship and materials include the interior structure of reinforced concrete, the dressed stone exterior, and the quality of the Neo-Classical decoration with bronze detailing. The Dominion Public Building is attributed to the Department of Public Works under Chief Architect, Thomas W. Fuller and is highly regarded as an excellent example of its functional type.
The distinctive Dominion Public Building has retained its unique character as part of a grand streetscape along with neighbouring Union Station (also designed in the Beaux-Arts style), that speak to the influence of the “City Beautiful” movement in Toronto. The visual link between these two buildings exemplifies formal, grand-scale urban planning of the period. Despite minor changes, the building retains much of its original detailing and character. The Dominion Public Building is a symbol of federal institutions within Toronto and an iconic example of the Beaux-Arts style in Canadian architecture.
Sources: Dana Johnson, Dominion Public Building, Toronto, Ontario, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 83-031.
The following character-defining elements of the Dominion Public Building should be respected:
- its monumental, five-storey (including a partial basement storey and double height ground
level storey) low massing with a flat roof, and irregular footprint;
- the design of the three facades visible from Front, Yonge, and Bay streets, including the
emphasis on symmetry, the placement and design of original doors, windows, and the
architectural hardware including the name and date of construction in bronze letters above the
main entrance at attic level;
-the Beaux-Arts design with Neo-Classical decoration, the unifying, ordered proportions
(both vertical and horizontal) including rusticated stonework, the projecting end pavilions, the
portico, the long facade’s repetition of Classical motifs, and its three entrances in three
well-defined pavilions, with stairs and elevators in each pavilion;
- the rational interior design with its hierarchy of spaces - including the offices lining the Front
and Yonge Street facades, with the remaining space left open for customs purposes;
- the three public lobbies of the building, clad in grey marble, typical of Public Works'
institutional lobbies of the period, including the Long Room, a public interior, intrinsic to
the original concept of the building;
- the use of durable high-quality materials, and the integrity of any remaining original interior
elements, fittings and detailing, particularly those related to the Beaux-Arts design.
The manner in which the Dominion Public Building reinforces the character of its urban setting and is a conspicuous landmark, as evidenced by:
-its overall appearance and materials that harmonize with the adjacent structures in
the central business district of Toronto as part of a well-known Beaux-Arts streetscape;
-its distinctive Neo-Classical detailing and monumental scale, that are a dominant
elements in the cityscape and are visually prominent in Toronto’s downtown business core.