This year, my brother was brave enough to accompany me during this year’s Doors Open weekend. As usual, it was a challenge to narrow down the choices when there were so many buildings to choose from. In the end, we decided to focus on the area around Yonge and King and visited St. James Cathedral, Tom Jones Steakhouse, and the Commerce Court North. I think we managed to sample a good variety of buildings, each of which serves very different purposes.
We had both been to St. James Cathedral before, but we definitely learned a lot of new things and saw areas of the church we had never seen before. We actually have a bit of a family connection to the cathedral because our uncle used to be the head sidesperson and is still a member of the congregation. St. James Cathedral is an example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture. It was built of local brick and Ohio stone and was opened in 1853. Other parts of the cathedral, such as the spire (which was completed in 1875), were added at later dates. It is not the first church on this site. The first church, the “Church at York,” was a small, one-room wooden structure that was built in 1803 on land that was set aside in 1797. This piece of land was on the outskirts of the town, and soldiers from Fort York had to clear away some of the trees. The church eventually opened in 1807. This first church was used as a hospital during the War of 1812 and was damaged and robbed by American troops. When the church was enlarged in 1818, a bell tower was added and this bell tower was used as the town’s fire bell. In 1828, the church was dedicated to St. James the Apostle, and, in 1833, the wooden church was replaced by a Neoclassical stone church. The stone church became a cathedral in 1839 and was destroyed by fire in 1849. There’s more I could add, but I think that’s enough history for the time being.
Cathedral tower and spire
Cathedral Cross - a First World War memorial designed by the
architectural firm of Sproatt and Rolph and dedicated in 1924
Windows of the High Altar
The white marble baptismal font that
is the only surviving feature of the
1839 church that was built on the same
site and destroyed by fire in 1849.
Some of the beautiful organ casings:
The eagle from the eagle lectern and an organ casing
Some of the raku-fired ceramic plaques from The 14 Stations
of the Cross - created by Attila J. Keszei (Art Terra Studio)
and donated by Marge Yearwood in 2014 in memory of her sister:
Fourth Station - Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother
Fifth Station - The Cross Is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
Ninth Station - Jesus Falls a Third Time
Tenth Station - Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
Twelfth Station - Jesus Dies on the Cross
Some of the stained glass windows telling the history of the Church
of England and St. James Cathedral beginning with the Apostles in
Jerusalem at Pentecost and finishing with the founding of the cathedral.
Stained glass window in St. George's Chapel
depicting the silver jubilee of King George V
The antiphonal (rear) section of the pipe organ
The retired colours of the Royal Canadian
Grenadiers, the Royal Regiment of Canada,
and the Governor General's Horse Guards
hanging in St. George's Chapel.
During our visit to St. James Cathedral, we were allowed to go up into the bell tower to hear a short lecture on the history of the cathedral’s bells and participate in a change ringing demonstration. Change ringing is a type of bell ringing in which the ringers ring the bells one at a time in a moving pattern. Usually, the ringers ring the highest pitched to the lowest pitched bells, which is known as “rounds.” When a rhythm has been established, the ringers can change the order of the bells by command (“call changes”) or by using a memorized pattern (a “method”). At the core of change ringing is the rule that any bell may only move one place in the order during each rope pull. There are literally thousands of methods.
St. James Cathedral has two sets of bells: 12 bells hung for full circle ringing and, higher in the tower, a chime of 10 bells. Although the cathedral’s bell tower was designed to hold change-ringing bells, St. James Cathedral didn’t acquire its 12 change ringing bells until 1997 (the 200th anniversary of the founding of the church). According to legend, the original change-ringing bells sank in the St. Lawrence on the way to Toronto and have never been found. The current set of bells (the Bells of Old York) made the trip from the UK without any mishaps and are from St. James’ Church in Bermondsey. Each bell is named after an Anglican church in the St. James’ diocese and range in weight from 631 lbs (the smallest) to 2418 lbs (the largest). St. James Cathedral has the only tower with working change-ringing bells in Ontario, and it is only one of two churches in North America with a set of 12 bells (the other church being Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York).
If you’d like to learn more about the Bells of Old York and change ringing in general, I can strongly recommend this vid:
Our group gathered in the Bells of Old York - Founders Room (i.e., the bell tower)
My brother gives change ringing a go.
Graffiti from a 19th-century choirboy
Our next stop on the Doors Open tour was Tom Jones Steak House, one of Toronto’s oldest steakhouses. The restaurant opened in 1966, but the actual building dates to the 1800s. It is the only surviving building in a row of buildings that were torn down in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The building started off as a jewellery company and remained so until it was converted into a restaurant. Tom Jones has a New York style piano bar and dining room and is known for its Fillet Mignon Steak, Roast Prime Rib, and Filet of Salmon.
Tom Jones exterior
The probable origin of the restaurant's name:
Tom Jones, the 1963 film staring Albert Finney
Stained glass artwork of Tom Jones
Stained glass artwork of Sophie Western (I assume)
This is a menu from 1966 (I assume). I
wish the restaurant charged these prices now!
Piano Bar - Dining Room
Piano Bar - Private Dining Room. Apparently, this room used to be
an elevator shaft back when the building was a jewellery company.
Stained glass window in the private dining room
Piano Bar piano
Conglave Room fireplace
After a delightful lunch at the Elephant & Castle (not a Doors Open venue but totally worth it for the yummy fish tacos and jalapeno mac & cheese), we went to Commerce Court North. The North Tower (as it was once known) is the first building that was constructed in the current Commerce Court four-office-building complex. The building was the site of Toronto’s first Wesleyan Methodist Church, which was only a small wood chapel surrounded by woods. This later became the Metropolitan United Church from 1818 to 1831. In 1833, the Theatre Royal opened on this site, then it was the home for the seven-storey Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1887 to 1927. One of the most opulent corporate headquarters in Canada at the time, the North Tower opened in 1931 and served as the headquarters for the Canadian Bank of Commerce (now the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and still Commerce Court’s primary tenant). With its 141-metre height and 34 storeys, the North Tower was the tallest building in the Commonwealth from 1931 to 1962. There is some debate whether the architectural style is Romanesque, Art Deco, or Beaux-Arts.
Commerce Court North entrance
Some of the beautiful and intricate carving on the outside of the building
Commerce Court North lobby
Even the elevators are fancy.
Check out this ceiling.
Clock at the end of the one row of elevators
Love the details on the elevators.
The highlight of Commerce Court North has to be the absolutely magnificient banking hall with its vaulted gold-coffered ceiling. The banking hall is six storeys tall, and (according to one source) its design might have been inspired by the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome. I think the banking hall has to be seen to be believed:
Love these details on the banking hall doors:
I don't even know where to start...
An old seal press
A special intercom/phoneline used by CIBC bigwigs to get
hold of staff in a hurry. Apparently, this was still in
the CIBC Toronto corporate office well into the nineties.
Some more, uh, banking artifacts, including
a Brandt Automatic Cashier (change-making machine)
An old Imperial Bank of Canada uniform
An old Imperial Bank of Canada hockey jersey
One of the locked ballot boxes used for casting votes at board meetings
An ivory gavel older than Confederation itself. This
gavel was used at the first meeting of the Canadian
Bank of Commerce's board of directors on April 18, 1867.