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Ontario County Court House

416, Centre Street S., Whitby, Ontario, L1N, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1985/01/30

East elevation of the central portion of the Ontario County Court House; OHT, 2006
Ontario County Court House – 2006
East elevation of the Ontario County Court House; OHT, 2006
Ontario County Court House – 2006
East elevation of the Court House showing the jail (demolished) and Registry Office; Historical Atlas of Ontario County, J.H. Beers and Co., Toronto, 1877
Ontario County Court House – c. 1877

Other Name(s)

Ontario County Court House
County Buildings
Centennial Building

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1853/01/01 to 1854/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/11/14

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The building at 416 Centre Street South, in the Town of Whitby, was built as the Ontario County Court House, but since 1967, it has been known as the Centennial Building. Situated at the north-west corner of Ontario and Centre Streets, the two-storey brick building was designed in the Classical Revival style by architects Cumberland and Storm. It was constructed 1853-54.

The exterior of the building and scenic character of the property are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1985). The property was designated for architectural and historical reasons by the Town of Whitby under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1979 (By-law 887-79). The building is co-owned and managed by the Town of Whitby and the Regional Municipality of Durham and is used as a theatre, archives and community centre.

Heritage Value

Located at the north-west corner of Ontario Street and Centre Street South the property is situated in what has become one of Whitby's oldest residential neighbourhoods. The site was chosen for its prominence, as it occupies the highest elevation in the town, which contributes to the building's monumental and grand character. With its lofty cupola, the court house became a major landmark in 19th century Whitby. The spacious grounds of the property originally served to accommodate a separate jail, to the north west of the courthouse (demolished), and, in 1873, a small Registry Office was built, in the north-east corner (extant). The entire block on which the former court house is located remains in public use, housing other cultural and recreational facilities.

The Ontario County Court House is associated with Ontario County as its judicial, administrative and government offices from 1854-1964. The courthouse reflects the formal establishment of Ontario County, which occurred on January 1, 1854. Prior to this, the area was part of the Home District and then York County for judicial and municipal purposes. The Municipal Act of 1849 allowed for the creation of Ontario County, on the provision that sufficient population and local economic development milestones could be met. Assured that these requirements had been satisfied, the Province of Canada's Legislative Assembly proclaimed the formation of the Provisional County of Ontario, in 1852. Additional requirements necessitated that a structure housing judicial and administrative services be constructed and plans for the Ontario County Court House and an adjacent jail were drawn in that year. The growing community of Whitby was chosen as the county seat because of its central location, rapidly growing economy and excellent harbour. With agricultural wealth at a peak, in the 1850s, combined with the county's status as one of the top grain markets in the province, and the prosperity generated by Whitby's harbour, the confidence of the newly formed county found expression in the distinguished design of the Ontario County Court House. The structure consisted of offices for County Court officials, in addition to meeting space for the County Council, County Court and attic living quarters for a caretaker. Later, the building housed additional county offices such as that of the County Public Schools Inspector.

The Ontario County Court House is one of Ontario's pre-eminent examples of the Classical Revival style. Seeking to associate the new county with the democratic tradition first established in ancient Greece, elements of classical Greek architecture were incorporated into the design. These elements included a centre temple block with a recessed portico comprised of giant engaged Doric columns and a Doric entablature. Rather than a slavish interpretation of classical Greek architecture, the design fuses Roman features such as round-headed windows, and a domed rooftop cupola encircled by Ionic columnettes. Solid brick walls and vaulted brick ceilings contributed to the original fire-resistant construction of the structure, necessary for the safeguarding of the county's records. Responsible for the 1852 design were the esteemed Toronto architects Frederick Cumberland and William Storm with James Wallace in charge of the construction from 1853 to 1854. As a team, Cumberland and Storm designed some of the most outstanding buildings in Toronto such as University College and Osgoode Hall's central building; prior to the partnership Cumberland was the architect for Toronto's St. James Cathedral (1850 to 1852). Later additions to the courthouse in 1873 and 1910 contribute to the building's evolution. In 1873 the north wing was extended, with a similar extension to the south wing and second stories added in 1910.

Source: OHT Easement Files.

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Ontario County Courthouse include its:
- Classical Revival style façade and architectural details
- portico (in antis) that defines the frontispiece with Doric piers, engaged columns, a Doric entablature with triglyphs, metopes and attic windows, and raked cornice
- highly symmetrical 13-bay main façade, consisting of a two storey (plus attic), gabled roof central section of temple form, and two storey wings with low pitched, hip roofs
- brick construction with a buff-coloured brick exterior laid in Flemish bond, grey sandstone detailing, and rock-faced stone foundation (wings)
- red tuck-pointing/ribbon pointing on the mortar joints
- regular, symmetrical fenestration with multi-pane, round-headed windows with stone sills and square-headed windows with multi-pane sashes, stone sills, lintels and mullions
- windows behind the portico with tapered jambs, eared stone casing, and 6 over 6, double-hung sashes
- plain brick pilasters with stone capitals that define the bays on the façade
-1870s “rouging” of some of the buff brickwork
- domed wood framed cupola with multi-pane glazing, flagpole and encircled by Ionic columnettes
- central entrance with wooden, panelled double doors and multi-pane transom and straight flight steps
- side entrances with sidelights and transom lights
- placement upon the highest elevation in the Town of Whitby
- horizontal dominance of the main façade creating a monumental and grand effect indicative of government and judicial institutions
- unobstructed situation with views of the main façade from the east, north-east and north-west
- dominance on the local skyline
- adjacent situation to the former Registry Office
- setback upon the spacious lot, allowing for broad lawns and plantings




Recognition Authority

Ontario Heritage Trust

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Ontario Heritage Foundation Easement

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1854/01/01 to 1964/01/01
1873/01/01 to 1873/01/01
2003/01/01 to 2005/01/01
1967/01/01 to 1967/01/01
1979/01/01 to 1979/01/01
1985/01/01 to 1985/01/01
1852/01/01 to 1852/01/01
1910/01/01 to 1910/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Security and Law

Function - Category and Type


Civic Space


Courthouse and/or Registry Office

Architect / Designer

Cumberland & Storm


James Wallace

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Conservation Easement Files Ontario Heritage Trust 10 Adelaide Street East Toronto, Ontario

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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