Description of Historic Place
Heliconian Hall National Historic Site of Canada, located in downtown Toronto, is set in a neighbourhood dominated by Victorian and Edwardian brick buildings interspersed with more recent infill buildings. Constructed in 1876 as a church, Heliconian Hall is distinguished by the use of the Carpenter’s Gothic style and Gothic-style ornamentation that contrasts with the simple board-and-batten exterior. It features a square, flat-roofed tower to the right of the entrance, and a steeply gabled central section flanked by two entrance porches. The designation refers to the hall on its legal property at the time of designation.
Heliconian Hall was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2007 because:
- since 1923, this Carpenter's Gothic Revival building has been the home of the Heliconian Club, established in 1909 and unique in Canada as a club for professional women from a variety of artistic disciplines;
- with its eclectic mix of music, art, literature and dance, it provided a meeting place for creative women in the arts, where they were free to express, share and develop their talents; and,
- with its stage, exhibit space and fine acoustics, it acted as an important venue for artistic activity, promoting the arts and in particular, the place of women in the arts.
By the early 20th century, Toronto’s female artistic community had reached a population capable of sustaining a multidisciplinary arts club specifically for women. Founded in 1909, a year after the all-male Arts and Letters Club, the Heliconian Club was a manifestation of the women’s club movement that swept North America during this period. Operating for nearly 15 years without a clubhouse, the Heliconian Club purchased the former Olivet Congregational Church in 1923, renovating and decorating it to fit their needs. Invigorated by the acquisition of a permanent clubhouse, the Heliconians met more frequently and organized more numerous and elaborate events. As the club’s first permanent location, the aptly-named Heliconian Hall provided a place where women in the arts could meet, socialize and network, as well as a creative space for artistic activity, featuring regular performances, either to promote talent within the Club, or to showcase guest performers.
A fairly-modest building, Heliconian Hall was purchased by the members of the Heliconian Club themselves, and adapted and outfitted to reflect the activities and goals of the club. With its excellent acoustics, stage and exhibit space in the main hall, and equipment such as a stage and gallery lighting, the hall is a valuable performance space, providing ample room and facilties necessessary to fulfill the Club’s role as a gathering place for women in the arts.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, December 2007.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location in the downtown Yorkville region of Toronto;
- its distinguishing Carpenter’s Gothic Revival design in a setting dominated by Victorian and Edwardian brick buildings;
- its rectangular massing, under a steeply gabled roof;
- its board-and-batten exterior on a wooden frame;
- the square, flat-roofed tower, asymmetrically located on the building’s southern elevation;
- the distinctive façade featuring playful Gothic-inspired ornamentation, two symmetrical steeply-gabled entrance porches, a rose window with drip moulding and an arcade of narrow-pointed arched windows;
- the interior’s open design that reflects the activities and goals of the Club as seen through its main hall, with its stage and its exhibit space, its excellent acoustics, its Board Room and basement sitting area;
- the main gathering place on the lower floor, known as the Board Room, which features art work and commemorative documents related to the club;
- the original objects and furnishings directly associated with the Club, including the brick fireplace, wrought iron light fixtures, and oak benches;
- the various commemorative artifacts attesting to the history of the Club and its tenure in the building, including paintings, plaques, books, and framed documents.