Description of Historic Place
The building at 8-10 Adelaide Street East, commonly known as the Ontario Heritage Centre, is situated on the north side of Adelaide Street, slightly east of Yonge Street, in the City of Toronto. The four-storey sandstone and Art Stone building was designed in the Beaux Arts style with baroque influences, by architect George W. Gouinlock, and was constructed in 1908.
Originally, the building was called the Birkbeck Building; however, when the Ontario Heritage Foundation (now the Ontario Heritage Trust) purchased the property to serve as its headquarters, in 1985, the building was renamed.
The property was designated by the City of Toronto under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1976 (Bylaw 82-76). It was designated a National Historic Site, in 1986, by the Government of Canada.
The Ontario Heritage Centre is situated in Toronto's financial and commercial district. In 1907 when Gouinlock was asked by the Canadian Birkbeck Investment Company to design the building, this district was still rebuilding from the disastrous 1904 fire. In the years after the fire, a new Toronto skyline emerged with taller buildings of modern fire-proof construction. The property at 10 Adelaide Street was located in a highly desirable setting near King Street's financial buildings, on a main street equipped with streetcar tracks.
The Ontario Heritage Centre is significant for its association with George W. Gouinlock, who was commissioned to design the Canadian Birkbeck Investment and Savings Company's office building, in 1907. Born in Paris, Ontario in 1861, Gouinlock studied architecture in Winnipeg, and opened a firm in Toronto in 1893. He was a founding member of the Ontario Association of Architects, becoming its president in 1909. He designed a number of buildings in Toronto including the Temple Building (demolished 1970), the tallest in the British Empire when completed in 1895. He also designed buildings for the Canadian National Exhibition between 1902 and 1912. Construction of the Birkbeck Building began in 1908 and when completed it housed the Canadian Birkbeck Investment and Savings Company's banking, loan and mortgage services and corporate offices, as well as commercial office space. The company, under varying names, owned the building until 1927, when it was purchased by the Standard Bank of Canada for $180,000. Other property owners included the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the National Trust Company.
The Ontario Heritage Centre is significant for its Beaux-Arts design with baroque influence and innovative fireproof construction using porous terracotta tiles to fireproof the steel frame. Gouinlock's original design called for a seven-storey building, however, the top three floors were omitted during construction giving the building a squat appearance. The four-bay façade is divided into three horizontal sections by cornices; a two-storey base with horizontal masonry banding, a smooth ashlar mid-level with narrow horizontal banding and an upper level with a smooth ashlar finish. The vertical arrangement is also divided into three parts, with a wide central double bay flanked by two receding single bays. The projecting central section contains a pair of two-storey niches at the level of the base, each containing a round headed window on the second floor and a ground floor window framed by an aedicule, flanked by Corinthian columns, topped with a broken pediment. At grade level, the two outer bays contain wood frame doors with large transoms framed in carved masonry surrounds, with a round window with garland detailing above. The recessed windows above are detailed with a bracketed sill, a surround with an eared architrave and prominent projecting keystones. The mid section has recessed rectangular windows, separated by panelled pilasters in the central double bay, and projecting horizontal banding of the flanking single bays. The upper-level section has the same window placement as below with keystones and voussoirs, but it is topped with a projecting sheet metal cornice and cast stone balustrade at the roof line.
Upon entering the building at the main entrance (eastern doors) there is a vestibule, then a marble clad lobby with a brass letter box, and hand-operated elevator. Other interior elements include the plaster dentil trimmed egg-and-dart mouldings, glazed wood office partitions, rows of bank vaults, original washrooms, and a paneled oval boardroom with bow window and fireplace with decorative mantel.
In 2006, original glazed ceramic tile window wells were discovered on the front of the building, which were buried, and studied as an archaeological feature.
Source: Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Ontario Heritage Centre include its:
- Beaux-Arts design with baroque features
- structural steel frame fireproofed with porous terra cotta tiles, a first for a Toronto building
- use of a combination of natural stone for some architectural elements and cast stone for repetitive elements
- vertical façade arrangement divided into three parts: a wide slightly projecting centre between two slightly recessed corner sections
- central two-storey rusticated base with two-storey niche containing Corinthian columns and topped with a broken pediments and arched windows
- wooden doors on the outer bays with large transom and heavily moulded stone surrounds
- bull's-eye windows with garland frame detailing
- mid-level section's deeply recessed windows of the central bays separated by panelled pilasters, and the outer bay windows framed by horizontal masonry bands
- cornice separating the mid-level section from the upper level section, with a pair of small hooded cartouches
- upper level section's smooth finish and window treatment with exaggerated voussoirs and keystones
- projecting sheet metal cornice and cast stone balustrade at the roof line
- 1908 Otis Fensom hand-operated elevator, with operable original mechanical and electrical components
- oval boardroom with wood panelling, bay window, and fireplace with decorative walnut mantel
- mezzanine level with iron stair railing and decorative plaster ceilings
- glazed round headed windows seen from the General Office
- brass letter box
- 19-foot tall scagliola pilasters in the Gallery crowned with capitals
- plaster dentil trimmed egg-and-dart mouldings
- two original marble staircases
- original maple strip floors in the south Gallery
- maple herringbone patterned floor in the General Office
- entrance to the General office through an arched entranceway with a pair of glazed doors in the hall
- upper floor plan of the hallways with vaults along the east side and wood office partition along the west
- stencils of “Canadian Birkbeck” logo within a laurel wreath
- terrazzo floors
- washrooms with original fittings and partitions
- original buried elements on the south and west side of the building and in the foundation
- location in Toronto's historic financial district
- location just east of Yonge Street, a main street in Toronto