Visiting the Former Wesley Building, Toronto, Ontario: A Major, Neo-Gothic Landmark for More Than a Century
Pinnacled structure recalling a religious movement
Located at 299 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario is the historic building formerly known as Wesley House (1).
The building, in striking, neo-Gothic style, was the work of Burke, Horwood and White (2), and, dating from 1913, it has thus stood at this prominent location in Downtown Toronto for a full century.
Originally the building was the headquarters of the Methodist church in Canada; then, after this church's amalgamation with the majority of Presbyterians in 1925, it became the headquarters of the United Church of Canada. For many years, Ryerson press — itself a Methodist publishing arm named for prominent Ontarian educator the Rev. Dr Egerton Ryerson — was also based at the building.
In more recent years, others entities based at the building have included a media division of Bell Canada and other media groups. For some years it was known as the ChumCity Building.
In general terms, this building, with its neo-Gothic features and prominent pinnacles, reminds me generally of Marischal College in the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. (Additional, shared features between the Wesley Building and Marischal College include their Downtown urban settings and their monumentality.)
The very existence of this building is a witness to the significance of the influence of the Methodist (and subsequently United) churches in Ontario. While there are those who would seek to discount the relevance of Christian heritage in the 20th century history of Canada (3), the facts surrounding the inception of prominent pieces of real estate such as this one would belie such claims. Just as at one time the tallest skyscraper in New York City was a building erected for the American Tract Society, so also this fine structure is an unavoidable, early 20th century monument to the significance of the Methodist confession to very large numbers of Canadians.
February 10, 2014
(1) Named for John Wesley, regarded by many Methodists as the founder of their church movement.
(2) This architectural partnership was also responsible for Simpson's department store, and for the design of many church buildings, Canada-wide, but especially in the Martimes. The firm was significantly influenced by the architecture of Chicago department stores. Many of its architectural drawings have been lodged with the Archives of Ontario. See also: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/burke-horwood-and-white/
(3) I recall reading, for example, one biographer of Lester B. Pearson blandly attempting to claim that Christianity was not relevant to the career of this distinguished Ontarian, with his background as a 'son of the manse'!
Some sourcing: wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Toronto itself, there is a rich heritage of historic buildings, including: Annesley Hall and the Lilian Massey Building and Victoria College (all with Methodist historical connections); Trinity College; the Legislative Assembly building of the Ontario Parliament; Queen's Park; Old City Hall, Campbell House, Osgoode Hall, Fort York, Union Station, the CN Tower, and many others.
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. TTC Streetcar 501 passes 299 Queen Street West. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. You are advised to 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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