Description of Historic Place
The Old Toronto City Hall and York County Court House is a massive, sandstone building in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Built over an 11-year period from 1889 to 1899, it is located in the heart of the city of Toronto, adjacent to the current City Hall which replaced it in 1965. The formal recognition refers to the building on its legal property at the time of designation (1984).
Old Toronto City Hall and York County Court House was designated a national historic site in 1984 because this Richardsonian Romanesque structure is among Canada’s most important examples of monumentally scaled city halls; and because its superb downtown site, richly carved sandstone surfaces, and variety in colour and texture combine in a clear expression of the region’s late 19th century self-confidence.
The Old Toronto City Hall and York County Court House is one of Canada’s finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Its massive scale and monumental design reflect its dual function as city hall and court house, the increasing complexity of civic administration, and the desire of city politicians to convey the prosperity and rapid urbanization experienced by Toronto in the second half of the 19th century. Designed by local architect E.J. Lennox between 1883 and 1886, the City Hall and Court House took eleven years to construct, from 1889 to 1899. Its design used a variation of the Romanesque style developed by American architect H.H. Richardson, which was popular for public buildings during the 1880s. Numerous crafts- and trades-people were involved in its construction, including Robert McCausland Limited (stained glass) and George Agnew Reid (muralist). The Richardsonian Romanesque style is evident here in the massive scale and proportions of the building, the richly carved and coloured sandstone surfaces, and the repeated use of towers, round-arched openings, and arch-and-spandrel motifs. The building is dominated by a tall, off-centre clock tower that corresponds with the axis of Bay Street, the heart of the city’s financial power.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, November 1984.
Key elements which relate to the heritage value of the Old Toronto City Hall and York County Court House include:
- Its location in the heart of downtown Toronto; its relationship to its site, including its axial relationship to Bay Street;
- its Richardsonian Romanesque style, evident in its massive scale and proportions, its quadrangle plan, the heaviness evident in the detailing and treatment of materials, the richly textured and coloured sandstone exterior, the predominance of round-headed openings, steeply pitched roofs, towers and intricately carved medieval decoration;
- elements typical of H.H. Richardson’s architecture, including the quadrangular plan, the clock tower, and architect’s identifiers carved in stone on the building;
- its massing, consisting of a four-storey-high quadrangle arranged around an open central courtyard, with corner pavilions and square and circular towers;
- the solidity and sense of permanence conveyed by the rich texture and massive proportions of stone elements, the massive proportions of door and window openings, the deep window reveals with stone mullions;
- its steeply pitched hipped roofs, with shaped gable dormers;
- the massive, square clock-tower, aligned with Bay Street, and decorated with a series of medieval motifs;
- the use of contrasting colours and textures of stone, including sandstone from the Credit Valley and New Brunswick, in shades of russet and beige
- the use of rock-faced blocks of stone, enlivened by many carved surfaces;
- the round-arched window openings, often presented in pairs or arcaded bands with elaborate stone voussoirs, window surrounds, colonettes and stone mullions
- the triple-arched entrance;
- its elaborate stone detailing, including grotesques, voussoirs and carved window surrounds, mullions, colonettes, carved panels;
- its interior plan, including the two-storey entrance hall with a grand, divided staircase, and the former Council Chamber with a spectator gallery above;
- surviving original interior detailing in wood, plaster, iron, bronze and marble, including a mosaic floor, columns with plaster capitals, faux-marble finishes, woodwork, wrought-iron grotesques and gas lamp standards, and door knobs bearing the city’s old coat of arms;
- interior painted murals by George Agnew Reid;
- a monumental stained glass window by Robert McCausland Limited in the entrance hall.