As this year was Canada’s 150th birthday, I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion other than popping Strange Brew into the DVD player (though I totally did that too, eh?). I had read on the Muddy York Facebook page that Richard would be conducting a special Canada 150 walking tour, so I decided to register for that. When Richard emailed me to confirm my registration, he suggested that I might enjoy Bruce Bell's lecture at St. Lawrence Hall at 11:00. As the Muddy York walking tour was to begin at St. Lawrence Hall at 1:00, it seemed like a really good idea. I’m glad I followed Richard’s suggestion because St. Lawrence Hall was definitely worth it.
I have to admit that I knew almost nothing about St. Lawrence Hall before I went there. While I’m sure I must have walked past the building a number of times, I had never actually been inside. St. Lawrence Hall was Toronto’s first large meeting hall and it was a place where lectures, concerts, receptions, balls and exhibitions were held. Designed by William Thomas and built in 1850, St. Lawrence Hall was named after the patron saint of Canada. St. Lawrence Hall might never have been built if it hadn’t been for the fire of April 7, 1849, which destroyed much of the town centre, including the original St. James Cathedral and the main market at King and Jarvis. The ground floor of St. Lawrence Hall was designed to accommodate commercial space, while the second floor contained office space, and the third floor held the great hall.
As I learned during Bruce Bell’s excellent lecture, such Canadian luminaries as Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister and a Father of Confederation), George Brown (a prominent journalist, politician, and another Father of Confederation) and Thomas D’Arcy McGee (a famous politician and journalist who was assassinated in Ottawa in 1868) all spoke at St. Lawrence Hall. Sir John A. Macdonald and American abolitionist Frederick Douglass even had offices on the second floor. Macdonald and Douglass delivered a number of speeches promoting the abolition of slavery, and St. Lawrence Hall served as a platform for abolitionist speakers in general. St. Lawrence Hall also had its fair share of entertainment, with such artists as Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, and General Tom Thumb performing in the great hall.
St. Lawrence Hall saw a decline in popularity in the 1870s when Yonge Street began to gain prominence as the city’s centre. With the rise of performance venues such as Massey Hall in the 1890s, St. Lawrence Hall could no longer compete and it eventually fell into disrepair. Fortunately, it was restored in 1967 and it’s looking beautiful 50 years later. If you would like to learn more about St. Lawrence Hall, I would definitely recommend this article.
St. Patrick's Hall. This section of the third floor was leased to the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union.
It was sealed off at some point and was rediscovered during the restoration process in the 1960s. Irish
Catholics weren't allowed to enter St. Lawrence Hall through the main entrance and had to use a side
entrance. Toronto may not have had racial segregation, but it certainly had religious segregation.
A bust of the Prince of Wales from 1866
The great hall
Carved plaster ceiling and gasolier (gas-powered chandelier)
I may have known this once and forgotten, but in 1857
Canadian politicians had wanted Toronto to be the nation’s
capital (or, rather, the capital of the then “province of Canada”).
In fact, they had assumed it was a done deal. However, when
Queen Victoria was asked to pick a capital, she chose Ottawa.
It’s most likely that the British government, fearing another
attack from the Americans, dissuaded Queen Victoria from
choosing Toronto as it was too close to the US for comfort.
The fireplace that was lit for the grand re-opening
of St. Lawrence Hall on December 28th, 1967
This story may be apocryphal, but when Toronto was expecting a visit
from the Prince of Wales in 1860, the reception committee was looking
for some way to distinguish Canadian-born Canadians from British-born
Canadians. They were holding a meeting in the great hall when a maple
leaf supposedly blew through the window shown above. The committee
decided that the Canadian-born Canadians would wear a maple leaf, and
this is how the maple leaf became a symbol of Canada. However, based on
some quick research, I know that the maple leaf was being associated
with Canadian identity as far back as 1700. All the same, it’s a cool story.
Before Bruce Bell's talk, one of the event organizers was kind enough to direct my attention to the archaeological
work going on right outside the window! When St. Lawrence Market's North Market was demolished, the foundations of
the 1830s market was unearthed. Archaeologists discovered brick, ceramic shards, and a complex network of drains.
I was pleased to hear the bells at St. James Cathedral ringing the quarter hour (it was 11:45) as I left St. Lawrence Hall. As I had some time to kill before the walking tour began, I grabbed lunch at Second Cup and then walked around for a bit. I walked to St. Lawrence Market and back and then hung out at St. James Park for a while. Naturally, there are pictures.
St. Lawrence Market South. Built in 1845 to serve as Toronto City Hall, it was then rebuilt in 1850 and 1904
and renovated in 1972. St. Lawrence Market would eventually replace the market that was destroyed by fire.
St. James Park:
St. James Cathedral as seen from St. James Park
I returned to St. Lawrence Hall before 1:00 for the Muddy York walking tour. There were only about a dozen of us, so it was a nice size for a group. It can be awkward when there are too many people, especially if there are tour stops in fairly tight spaces. I won't cover everything I learned on our fun and highly informative tour because I can't remember it all, but I'll include some highlights.
During the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964, the public sent in thousands of suggestions for the
new flag design. For some reason, this Beatles flag didn't fly. I think it would have been far out.
Land of the silver birch
Home of the Beatles
Where still the Fa-ab Four
Wander at will...
Or maybe not. The Beatles broke up in 1970, so it's not as if I would have been able to reap the benefit. :-(
One of our first stops on the tour was the One King Street West Hotel & Residence. This building was the home of the Dominion Bank (which later became the Toronto-Dominion Bank) for 126 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Dominion Bank possessed the largest and best-equipped bank vault in Canada. This bank vault still lies in the basement of the building. It's often rented out for corporate parties and other events. It was even used as a location for RED, which was filmed in Toronto.
Marble staircase leading from the One King
Street West lobby to the bank vault and the PATH.
On another tour stop, I found myself at Commerce Court North again (having
visited it during Doors Open 2017), but this time I was at the back of the building.
And, as those of you who read my Doors Open post
will remember, North Commerce Court was the
tallest building in the Commonwealth from 1931
to 1962. I think it still manages to hold its own.
Commerce Court courtyard
A mural was set up outside Commerce Court to commemorate Canada's
sesquicentennial. My pictures definitely don't do it justice.
The tour ended at Nathan Phillips Square where there was quite a bit
of celebrating going on. I stayed long enough to snap some pictures.
I had seen people wearing red and white throughout the day, but there
was just a sea of it at Nathan Phillips Square. It was a heartwarming sight.