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Visiting the Toronto Harbour Commission Building, Toronto, Ontario: Beaux-Arts Classicism by Alfred Chapman

Updated on January 31, 2012
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Toronto Harbour Commission Building
Toronto Harbour Commission Building | Source
Air Marshall William Avery Bishop
Air Marshall William Avery Bishop | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Adminstering ships and airplanes

The clean lines of this most fine building have graced Downtown Toronto, Ontario, for nearly a century.

Some history and features

In 1917, however, when the edifice was built, it was situated in the Harbour itself, at the water's edge. Today, it stands several hundred metres away from the Harbour, because the basin has been long reclaimed to the land.

Be this as it may, the building was erected to house the Toronto Harbour Commission, although this body exists under another name and charter today. But the building is often still referred to as the Toronto Harbour Commission Building.

The architect responsible for the Toronto Harbour Commission Building was Albert Chapman, who worked in the style of Beaux-Arts Classicism. The edifice was executed in concrete, with facing in Indiana and Queenston limestone.

Features include a frontage with prominent Corinthian columns. In the interior, a boardroom has walnut panelling; an entrance way is noted for arched recesses, marble walls and flooring.

Toronto's first Harbourmaster was appointed in 1837 by the Province of Upper Canada. In 1850, the Harbour Trust was formed, officially the Commissioners of the Harbour of Toronto. It was in 1911 that the Toronto Harbour Commission was instituted, and to house this body, the present building was thus planned.

The Toronto Harbour Commission — THC — used the building until 1999. Then the THC became the TPA — Toronto Port Authority (French: L'Administration Portuaire de Toronto ) which became fully operational in 2001.

One of the rôles of the TPA is to manage the City Centre Airport, known until 1994 as the Island Airport; since 2009 it has been known as the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (1). In the early 21st century, a ferry service was operated across Lake Ontario to Rochester, NY, but this was withdrawn because of financial difficulties. Today, cruise ships sometimes berth at the former ferry terminal; the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 greatly facilitated the presence ocean-going vessels, both passenger ships and especially cargo vessels.


(1) As municipal affairs go, there are those who disagree with the name 'Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport'. There are those who wish for the Toronto Port Authority to be controlled more closely by the municipal authorities. There are those who claim that naming the former City Centre Airport the 'Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport' is akin to bad faith because the name of a distinguished and popular Canadian aviator will cause people to have unnecessarily positive feelings. These positive feelings may negate in some people's minds the negative feelings that some municipal officials, desirous of more political influence which they seek to justify, have about the Toronto Port Authority and the airport for which it is responsible. There are those who wish to close Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. And so it goes. In any case, the airport is Canada's third busiest in terms of passenger numbers.

Also worth seeing

In Downtown Toronto itself, visitor attractions include: Fort York, Exhibition Place, Union Station, Old City Hall, Osgoode Hall, Campbell House, the Ontario Legislative Assembly Building at Queen's Park, the CN Tower, and many others.


How to get there: Porter Airlines, flies to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, with wide North American connections. Car rental is available at Union Station. However, visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to 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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