Old City Hall

Old City Hall is one of Toronto’s proudest historic landmarks. The building, which was the city’s third city hall, sits at the corner of Queen and Bay Streets in Toronto’s downtown core. A stunning architectural feat, this grand structure is located across from Toronto’s present city hall and now serves as a courthouse for the provincial government.

Another Historic Landmark for Toronto

A need for more space kick-started the planning of this building in the late 19 th century. Officials sought out an architect that could design a building that would accommodate both the needs of the city hall as well as the courthouse. The architect chosen to design and build the structure, Toronto’s Edward James Lennox, was no stranger to creating opulent landmarks. His other projects included the ornate Casa Loma, a castle designed in the Gothic Revival style, and the King Edward Hotel with its regal Crystal Ballroom.

Slow Progress and a Big Budget

It took Lennox three years just to design the building. Construction began in 1889, and progress on the building was slow, with many delays and extra costs that frustrated city councillors. After almost two decades of planning and construction, Old City Hall finally opened its doors in September 1899. At a final cost of 2.5 million dollars, this castle-like building was well over the original budget of $600,000.

Architecture Worth the Wait

At the time Old City Hall opened, it was record-setting. It stood as Toronto’s largest structure as well as the biggest municipal building in North America. Designed in the grand Romanesque Revival style, it was constructed with materials brought in from various parts of the country. Lennox took advantage of Canada’s stunning natural resources and used red and grey stone from Ontario’s Credit River Valley as well as brown stone brought in from New Brunswick.

Making a Mark

Some of the most noteworthy features of the exterior of Old City Hall include the 300-foot clock tower that soars above the city, and the massive Queen Street entrance topped with grotesque gargoyles. These stone carvings are said to be caricatures of the politicians of the day. A likeness of Lennox is also included in the gargoyles on the west side of the centre arch, and the celebrated architect’s name was imprinted by stone masons in the supporting stones of the building.

Craftsmanship Inside Old City Hall

The interior of Old City Hall is remarkable, featuring beautiful stained glass windows, marble walls and an intricately patterned mosaic floor. Lennox paid incredible attention to detail which extended to design elements such as Toronto’s old coat of arms cast on the doorknobs. Stunning art also adorns the first floor of the building, including painted murals by George A. Reid.

A Fourth City Hall, And a Thwarted Demolition

Toronto was bustling with industry in the 1960s and saw plenty of building and expansion. One of Toronto’s top attractions, the Toronto Eaton Centre, was in the planning stages at the time. After the city’s fourth City Hall (referred to as “New City Hall”) opened in 1965 across the street, “Old City Hall” was threatened with demolition to make way for the massive shopping complex.

Many citizens were outraged and community activists banded together to create a group called “Friends of Old City Hall.” This group was passionate about preserving this beautiful landmark and heatedly lobbied politicians to preserve Old City Hall. Their protests were heard loud and clear and the building did not face the wrecking ball. Old City Hall was declared a National Historic Site in 1989.

Old City Hall on the Big and Small Screen

With its striking stonework and dramatic gargoyles, it’s no surprise Toronto’s Old City Hall has been the setting for many movies and television productions. An historic landmark located in the heart of the city, this grand building with its castle-like characteristics offers a sweeping background that is very appealing to filmmakers. The sprawling grounds have set the scene for major Hollywood productions such as Chicago and TV movies like The Pentagon Papers.

Old City Hall Today

The building with its 19 th century design is an interesting site to visit, particularly as it is such a contrast to the sleek, modern design of its counterpart across the street. The war memorial which sits at the foot of the Queen Street entrance attracts many visitors, particularly during the Remembrance Day ceremonies which are held each year on November 11th.

Presently, the building is used as a courthouse. The Council Chamber and City Hall municipal offices are now located across the street at the New City Hall.

Visiting Old City Hall

Old City Hall is located at 60 Queen Street West (at the corner of Queen and Bay Streets)

Location: 60 Queen Street West (at the corner of Queen and Bay Streets) on the Yonge subway line at Queen Station.

Phone within Toronto City limits: 311
Phone: 416-392-2489
Email: 311@toronto.ca .

Click here to visit Old City Hall official website.
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