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Visiting Toronto, Ontario and the former 1845 Commercial Bank building: Palladian grace from a Kingston-led era

Updated on June 21, 2011
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
The former 1845 Commercial Bank, Toronto
The former 1845 Commercial Bank, Toronto | Source
Historical plaque, at the former Commercial Bank, Toronto
Historical plaque, at the former Commercial Bank, Toronto | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

A window on different versions of Canadian history

The narrative: in the 19th century Toronto became the political centre of Upper Canada because of the activities of its rebel leader William Mackenzie; and it emerged naturally as Canada's commercial centre also.

Another narrative, maybe nearer reality: Long-serving, first Prime Minister of Canada Sir John A. MacDonald, around whom events of 19th century Canadian history coalesced far more than around William Lyon Mackenzie, was from Kingston, Ontario, not Toronto. Canada's longest-serving Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was in almost every respect unlike his rebel grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie. Furthermore, in the mid 19th century, from a commercial and banking perspective, Kingston rather than Toronto, was regarded as the leading centre in Canada West (1).

But as Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges said, History is what you remember and what you forget, and it is not unknown for people to prefer to forget what really happened in 19th century Canada.

Some history of the Commercial Bank

In 1845 the building of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District was erected at 13 - 15 Wellington Street, Toronto, and was completed in 1846. But we may note this: at the building's inception, it housed a subsidiary to the Bank's main office in Kingston, Ontario.

In other words, in Canada West Kingston led commerce and not Toronto.

In fact, the Commercial Bank, in its Midland division, as it was known, never exercised a leading role in the later financial hub which Toronto became. In 1868, Merchant's Bank of Canada took over the Commercial Bank, later to be absorbed in turn by the Bank of Montreal.

Various other businesses have occupied the building subsequently, in part or in whole.

However, from the early days of the Commercial Bank's Toronto branch has survived an edifice of grace and distinction. The building, with is Palladian style frontage, was designed by architect William Thomas.

The building was dismantled in recent years and rebuilt at what is now Brookfield Place, at 181 Bay Street. As a heritage property, it now exudes its original, Italianate grace and memories in stone from the days when it represented part of Kingston's banking community in Toronto.

So how would you like to remember 19th century Toronto?


(1) Between the terms 'Upper Canada' and 'Ontario', the term 'Canada West' was used officially, immediately prior to Confederation.

Also worth seeing

In the Downtown Toronto area, notable, historic buildings include E J Lennox's Gothic Revival Old City Hall; the Legislative Assembly of Ontario building; the United Metropolitan Church; St Michael's Cathedral; St James's Cathedral.


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. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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

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