The Little Red Umbrella Goes To Doors Open

It was Doors Open in Toronto this weekend, the time of the year when many of the city's most interesting and historically important buildings welcome the public to explore our heritage absolutely free of charge. It's a pretty freaking neat event, and since we Little Red Umbrella people are more than a little bit interested in the history of our city, we've been looking forward to it for a while. We hit the streets all the weekend long, running from one building to the next, taking photos of and notes about everything we could get to. We saw plenty of cool shit, from a ballet performance in the majestic grand ballroom of St. Lawrence Hall to the giantass bank vault door at One King West, one of the thickest and heaviest doors ever built. And now we share it all with you:

Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall, has been on the corner of Queen & University, nearly as long as there has been a Queen & University. It was originally built in the 1830s, with lots of additions and subtractions since then (including that iconic black wrough-iron fence). The architect was William Warren Baldwin, a doctor and lawyer who was one of the most important pro-democracy figures in Toronto's early history. He's also the same guy who built the original Spadina House, and had Spadina Avenue carved out of the forest.

Osgoode Hall is also where an escaped slave, Thornton Blackburn, got a job working as a waiter. He used the money he earned there to launch the city's first horse-drawn cab company, which in turn gave him enough money to help other former slaves get on their feet after coming to Toronto through the Underground Railroad. We wrote more about him here.

Today, it's still home to the Law Society of Upper Canada and some of Ontario's highest courts.

Osgoode Hall

Osgoode Hall's atrium was one of the additions, added in the 1870s

The ceiling in the atrium

The floor of the atrium

The overwhelming diversity of the Law Society of Upper Canada, 1932

The Great Library

WWI memorial

One of the very few places that remembers the contribution of the fathers of Canadian democracy: Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine. More here.

I know John Beverley Robinson and an anti-democratic Family Compact jerk of a judge, but Osgoode Hall's pretty big on him

A Toronto history handbook from the late 1800s


Old City Hall

Old City Hall has been towering over the intersection of Queen & Bay since the very end of the 1900s. It was built by another of Toronto's most important architects, E.J. Lennox, the same guy who did Casa Loma, the King Edward Hotel, and the west wing of Queen's Park. It's Old City Hall that he gets the most attention for, though. In large part because of his battles with city council. He went waaaaaaaaaaaay overbudget, spending six times as much as he was supposed to. They retaliated by saying he wasn't allowed to carve his name into the building, like he usually did, but he did anyway. And...

Lennox had the councillors carved into the facade of the building, looking like fools...

...while he added himself looking normal. (The guy with the moustache.)

The huge, spectacular "Union of Commerce & Industry" stained glass window

Fancypants courtroom

The mosaic floor is one of the reasons things went over budget

Angels span the spandrels


St. James Cathedral

St. James was the very first church in Toronto, first built in the late 1700s on the same spot (at King & Church) where the cathedral now stands. It was at the centre of city life all the way through the 1800s, and played a huge role in the battle to bring real democracy to Canada. (Torontoist has a big post about it by our Editor-in-Chief here.)

The first St. James built all the way back in the 17freaking00s

Our first bishop, John Strachan, hero of the War of 1812, hater of democracy, is buried in the church

St James has great stained glass, including this WWI memorial

In the doorway to the cathedral, they have John Ridout's headstone. He was killed in a famous duel with Samuel Jarvis, which we wrote about here.

St. Lawrence Hall

Just across the street from St. James Cathedral is St. Lawrence Hall, another building that played a central role in the political and social life of Toronto. It was built in the wake of the Great Fire of 1849, which wiped out the whole neighbourhood. It's where Sir John A. Macdonald and George Brown rallied their political troops in the drive toward Confederation. And former slave/abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass gave a big speech here once at an three-day-long anti-slavery convention which officially declared Canada to be the best destination for refugee slaves.

St. Lawrence Hall at King & Jarvis

Ballet in the Great Hall


St. Lawrence Hall just a few years after it opened

The Great Hall ballroom back in the day

The ceiling of the Great Hall is totally awesome

One King West

Now, you probably recognize One King West as the building with the huge fin-shaped condo tower built on top of it on the southwest corner of King & Yonge. But when it originally opened in 1914, it was home to the Dominion Bank (back in its pre-TD days).

One King West

Dowwwwn into the vaults

This was one of the biggest bank vaults in the world

It took 19 horses to pull the 40 ton door

The One King West website calls it "one of the largest and heaviest doors ever built"

The 45 foot ceilings of the Great Banking Hall

The Great Banking Hall has the provincial emblems embedded in the ceiling (except for you, Newfoundland, you took to long to join Confederation)

The Great Banking Hall had a 100 foot teller counter, now the longest bar in Canada

The Church of the Redeemer

The Church of the Redeemer is that one on of the northeast corner of Bloor and Avenue/University. It has been there since 1879, when it opened to serve some of the Anglican residents of the village of Yorkville.

The Church of the Redeemer

The church in the 1890s, when Bloor and University were still dirt roads

The church has amaaaaaaaazing stained glass windows

Lots of the church's peeps died fighting WWI and they've got lots of memorial windows

The church's choir hanging out in 1907

"I Know That My Redeemer Liveth"

City Hall

By the end of the 1950s, Old City Hall wasn't big enough for Toronto anymore. And so a new, modern design was chosen. A slum was level and the current iconic City Hall went up and the new Nathan Phillips Square was created. It all opened in 1965.

There's a cool diorama of the city in City Hall. All the pink buildings are heritage properties.

Our mayor's office. Note the football statue and the photo of Ford's dad hanging with Mike Harris

Toronto's Park & Rec Department!

Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

This post originally appeared on the Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog, which tells stories about the history of Toronto. You can read more highlights from it here, or visit it yourself here.


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