Union Station | A Sweeping Beaux-Arts Style Gem in Toronto

by Denise Marie

Union Station is located at 65 Front St West and bounded by Bay and York Streets, in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The History & Architecture

Union Station as we know it today, opened in 1927. It was Toronto’s third. The previous two Union Stations were still located on Front St however they were between York and Simcoe Streets and faced the water. Planners turned the entrance of the new station towards the city since the downtown was growing.

Union Station

Union Station in the 1920’s (Photo Credit: Toronto Archives)

The station was a shared terminal of Canadian Pacific Railway and Grand Trunk Railway. The collaboration of architects who designed the sweeping Beaux-Arts style gem included Ross & MacDonald, Hugh Jones and John Lyle. Construction began in 1913 but was delayed due to WWI.

The exterior is clad with limestone, rising the equivalent of 7 stories from the base. In the centre block, there’s a raised attic covered by a hipped roof and the main entrances are behind 22 limestone columns. The adjoining wings have flat-headed window openings decreasing in height each storey. The end pavilions have hipped roofs and oversized round-arched entrances.

The walls of Union Station are faced with Zumbro stone

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On the interior, the Great Hall features vaulted, tiled and coffered ceilings, barrel-vaulted windows, marble floors, huge round-arched openings and carved in the stone walls are the names of the cites once serviced by the railways. There are also stairs and a ramp leading to the concourses.

Throughout the building, there’s original finishes, fixtures and hardware.

The beautiful ceilings and arched windows in Union Station

The beautiful ceilings and arched windows in Union Station

This iconic jewel became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1975. The City acquired the property in 2000.

On a regular day, more than 300,000 people pass through Union Station to commute on GO trains, busses, the TTC subway and the UP Express.

Visit www.torontounion.ca for more history and details on the now glass-covered moat (2019), the beautiful West Wing waiting area with the oversized skylight, the SkyWalk, the train shed, shops, food vendors and more.

The Victory Burlesque Theatre | A Once Famous Toronto Venue

by Denise Marie

The Victory Burlesque Theatre was located at 285 Spadina Ave (at Dundas St West) in the Chinatown neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The History

Originally built as the Standard Theatre in 1922, the live Yiddish theatre venue was developed by Toronto’s Jewish community. Designed by architect, John Jeffrey, the three-storey, Art-Deco style building features buff-brick cladding and is trimmed with cast stone and brick. There are two pairs of brick piers with decorative cast stone capitals, flat-headed window openings on the upper floors with stone sills and brick flat arches, a dentilled cornice and brick parapet.

Along with presenting Jewish theatrical productions with its own company of actors, the Standard Theatre also hosted NYC touring companies and was the backdrop for political meetings. The building also contained a pharmacy along with general rooms and was considered mixed-use.

In 1935, the post World War I era theatre became The Strand movie theatre and changed names once again in 1941 to the Victory Theatre.

The Victory Burlesque Theatre

The Victory Burlesque Theatre in 1935-1937 (Photo Credit: Toronto Archives)

In 1961, the venue once again began showing live performances, this time of the risqué variety. It was called the Victory Burlesque Theatre and the opening act was Little Star, “the blazing gal from outer space.” The Toronto Police morality squad kept a watchful eye on the theatre. It was quite the corner at the time. In the 1970’s, similar Yonge Street establishments were attracting more of an audience and in 1975, the curtains closed on the theatre.

The Victory Burlesque Theatre

The Victory Burlesque Theatre in 1972 (Photo Credit: Toronto Archives)

In 1975, the venue was renovated and became a Chinese-language theatre called Golden Harvest. Mandal Sprachman was the architect. It was in operation for about two decades.

Throughout the years, various retail and a bank branch has occupied parts of the building which received heritage status in 2007. I read that on the interior, the auditorium with stage, recessed ceiling and Classical sidewall decoration still exist inside.

Rexall Drugstore at Spadina Ave & Dundas St East

The former Victory Burlesque Theatre in 2020

Today, the building on the northeast corner of Spadina Ave and Dundas St West is home to Rexall Drugstore and retail shops.

 

The Beautiful Medieval Style of St Andrew’s Church

by Denise Marie

St Andrew’s Church is located at ‪73 Simcoe St‬ (at King St West) in the Entertainment District of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The History

The church was founded in 1830, in association with the Church of Scotland. One of the oldest Presbyterian congregations in the country, their first house of worship was built at the southwest corner of Church and Adelaide Streets. In 1852, it was the first Presbyterian church to have organ music. This was very controversial at the time. When that structure became too small, the church purchased the property where it stands today.

Built in 1876, the Romanesque Revival gem, was designed by William Storm. The medieval style of Scottish-influenced architecture is constructed of Georgetown sandstone and features two flank towers facing King St West plus a larger single tower with turrets which faces Simcoe St. The interior elements include rich woods, an organ loft, balcony and beautiful stained-glass windows, including one of the most unique in Canada – the 48th Highlanders window. In the early 1900’s, an ornate chancel (the space around the altar) was added.

St Andrew's Church

St Andrew’s Church at King & Simcoe Sts in Toronto

St Andrew’s Church became of the most influential Presbyterian churches in Canada and in 1890, founded a centre for social work in the city.

At one time, the four corners of King & Simcoe Sts were known as Legislation, Education, Damnation & Salvation:

  • Legislation: Lieutenant Governor’s home on the southwest corner (now Roy Thomson Hall)
  • Education: Upper Canada College on the northwest corner (now Canadian General Electric heritage building)
  • Damnation: British Hotel on the northeast corner (now an office building)
  • Salvation: St Andrew’s Church on the southeast corner

The church is open for self-directed tours, ‪Monday‬ through Friday. For more information or a virtual tour, visit St Andrew’s Church official website.

Massey Hall | The Grand Old Lady of Shuter St

by Denise Marie

Massey Hall is located at 178 Victoria St (at Shuter St) in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The History

Built in 1894 by Hart Massey, founder of the successful farm equipment manufacturing company, the music hall was designed by architect Sidney Badgley. Once called the Massey Music Hall, the historic gem was built to honor Massey’s late son, Charles Albert. The now National Historic Site was a gift to the people of Toronto to develop the arts.

The landmark music auditorium with its Moorish Revival interior, originally had 3,500 seats consisting of orchestra seating, two balconies, stage and private boxes and tiered onstage seating. The exterior was considered austere with a brick and stone façade.

Massy Hall in 1972

Massey Hall in 1972 (Photo Credit: Toronto Archives

Opening night on June 14, 1894 was a performance of Handel’s Messiah with a 500-member chorus and a 70-member orchestra.

Until the 1920’s, it was the only hall in Canada specifically designed for music. In 1933 and after a major renovation which including reducing the seating to 2,675, adding a lounge, replacing wooden stairs with steel and stone steps, adding Art-Deco elements and enlarging the ground floor entrance, the name was changed to Massey Hall. In 1943, a flood destroyed photos, records, documents and playbills. In 1948 and due to fire concerns, the original wood seating and oak floor was replaced. In the 1950’s, plaster began falling off the ceiling so thick wire had to be added for the protection of the patrons. In 1973, the hall which is known for its warm, outstanding acoustics, was on the city’s first list of heritage sites.

Click to visit the Massey Hall website

Massey Hall – a National Historic Site (Photo Credit: Massey Hall)

Notable Performances

Some of the notable people and performers who have appeared at Massey Hall include Gordon Lightfoot, Oscar Peterson, Nellie McClung, Winston Churchill, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan and his band (later known as The Band), Jack Dempsey (boxing match), Buffy Saint-Marie, Blue Rodeo and Russell Peters.

Rush, Neil Young and Burton Cummings are just a few of the artists who have recorded albums at the hall. There has also been a 7-month run of Cats, as well as ballet, opera and theatre performances. “Canada’s Carnegie Hall” was also once home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Gordon Lightfoot has the honour of the most solo performances at Massey Hall (over 160). His first performance was in March 1967 and, just before Massey Hall closed for renovations in July 2018, Mr Lightfoot played 3 sold-out shows.

Click to visit the Massey Hall website

Moorish Revival interior of Massey Hall (Photo Credit: Massey Hall)

Massey Hall Revitalization

Through the years, the “Grand Old Lady of Shuter St” named in 1953 by Vincent Massey (grandson of Hart Massey) has undergone several updates. The $135+ million revitalization began in 2015. The renovations will protect the building’s heritage while bringing it into the 21st century. Updates include opening the stained-glass windows, restoration of the plaster ceiling including repairs to the ornamental spike shapes along the ceiling arches, repairing/reinstating lighting, updated entrance, more accessible box office, restoration of the original signage, adding elevators along with additional bars and bathrooms, constructing a 7-storey addition and much more.

Massey Hall’s grand reopening is expected to take place in mid 2021.

For more information, visit the Massey Hall official website. Or, click for a list of hotels in downtown Toronto.

The Scarborough Bluffs | A Natural Geological Wonder in Toronto

by Denise Marie

Have you been to the Scarborough Bluffs? The main access to see The Bluffs is at Bluffer’s Park at ‪1 Brimley Rd South in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada‬.

Toronto’s Spectacular Wonder

This natural wonder is a geological record of the latter stages of the Great Ice Age. About 70,000 years ago, sediments made up of plant and animal fossils were left in a river delta. This occurred in the first advance of the Wisconsinan glacier. The fossil sediments formed the lower 46 metre/150 foot portion of The Bluffs. This was then covered by 61 metres/200 feet of alternating layers of sand and boulder clay put there by later advances and retreats of ice. The last withdrawal of the glacier happened about 12,000 years ago. Wind along with water erosion from Lake Ontario are what formed The Bluffs.

The spectacular Scarborough Bluffs

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The Bluffs have attracted scientific interest from around the world. They run along a 15 km stretch on the shore of Lake Ontario, from the Eastern Beaches in Toronto to East Point Park in Scarborough. There are 11 waterfront parks which allow visitors to admire the magnificent beauty of The Bluffs however the main area is Bluffer’s Park.

How to Access from Bluffer’s Park

Follow Brimley Rd South going towards Lake Ontario. Follow this beautiful, tree-lined winding road down to Bluffer’s Park. Keeping to your right, there’s a large paid parking area to your right. Once parked, head towards the lake. Follow the path along the lake to the right and this will lead you to the magnificent Bluffs.

Be sure to check the City of Toronto website for hours of operation.

Note: This information can change without notice. Confirm all details directly with attraction in question.