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Visiting Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario: imposing Romanesque Revival building by E. J. Lennox

Updated on March 10, 2014
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario, completed 1899
Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario, completed 1899 | Source
Historical plaque, Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario
Historical plaque, Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

On completion, the largest civic building in North America

Situated at Queen Street West and Bay Street, the Old City Hall, Toronto, Ontario, was completed in 1899 to an 1887 design by architect E. J. Lennox (1854-1933) (1).

The building served as Toronto's municipal headquarters until 1965; hence the current inclusion of the word 'Old' in the building's name. It is now a courthouse.

Its thick walls and round arches are complemented by rich carvings and by the 103.6 metre clocktower, which forms a a striking landmark down the length of Bay Street. Among the principal materials used in the buildings execution was Credit River sandstone.

The interior of the building is distinguished by various murals depicting local, historical personalities. The designer of these murals was George A. Reid. There are also striking stained-glass windows by Robert McCausland.

Architect Lennox found that this lengthy project greatly exceeding its original budget; on completion, its total cost was a then astronomical sum of over $2.5 million. His relations with local politicians also suffered. However, it is probably true to say that many of E. J Lennox's detractors are not remembered as much as he is now.

At the front of the building is the Cenotaph, erected in 1925 to honour the memory of the fallen in World War One. Commemoration at this monument was later extended to include the fallen of World War Two, the Korean War and Peacekeeping operations.

Old City Hall is located in the heart of Toronto's financial district. The building thus came to signify somewhat the confidence of the business community and civic assurance.

It has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.


(1) E. J. Lennox was responsible for many buildings in Toronto. These include Casa Loma and the West Wing of the Ontario Parliament's Legislative Building. He was heavily influenced by Richardsonian Romanesque and it is as a fine example of Romanesque Revival that Old City Hall is particularly known.

Also worth seeing

Visitor attractions and historic buildings in Downtown Toronto are too numerous to summarize properly, but some noteworthy, historic buildings include: Osgoode Hall, Campbell House, United Metropolitan Church, St. Michael's Cathedral, St James's Cathedral, the Ontario Parliament's Legislative Building.

Further afield are:

Ashbridge Estate, Toronto (distance: 5.2 kilometres), home to an old Ontario family for more than two centries.

Gibson House, Willowdale (distance: 15.2 kilometres), historic 19th century house, now a museum.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. However, visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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