An Interesting Look At Toronto’s Architectural History

An Interesting Look At Toronto’s Architectural History

As Toronto’s leading team for historic restorations we have an extra special appreciation for the architectural history of our home city. After all, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the great architectural work of the past.

Toronto is the financial and political capital of Canada, and as a result it is home to many historically rich buildings and homes. Oh, if all of these old walls could talk!

The natural geography of Toronto provided the earliest builders with ample resources; most abundant of all was the shale layer beneath the city. As a result, a large number of the city’s buildings are constructed from brick.

The actual architectural style fluctuates by location and the time period it was constructed. For instance, some of the oldest buildings in the city were built after designs from the British Empire, including Georgian, Victoria, and Edwardian architecture.  As World War I raged on, buildings began to take on more modern and postmodern architectural designs, such as the international style.

Toronto is known for adapting styles from both the US and Europe, creating a unique mix of architectural wonders. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s most noteworthy architects designed and constructed buildings that still thrive in our city today. Some of these names include Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, I.M. Pei, Daniel Libeskind and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Common Toronto Building Materials

Toronto is built on an old dried up lakebed, providing a wide range of raw materials to build from, namely clay sediments and shale layer. These materials present the perfect ingredients for making brick, which is why most homes and buildings in the area are made from brick.

Both commercial and industrial builders relied on bricks, and only more recently have commercial builders begun using cinder blocks on projects. Other modern projects have started to implement concrete and aluminum with the addition of extensive glazing.

Some older banks and government buildings in the area are made from stone. Yet, even with all of this variety the vast majority of buildings you see in the area are constructed out of brick.

The Oldest Homes In The City: 19th Century Architecture

Very few structures remain from Toronto’s earliest building boom that took place during the nineteenth century. The two oldest homes still standing include the Campbell House and The Grange. Both are brick homes constructed in the Georgian style to reflect the style of the elite during the first half of the 19th century. In tribute to the long lasting appeal of this style, many homes continue to be built in the Georgian style to this day.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the city underwent a shift in which Victorian architecture became more popular. You see many Victorian style homes from this era dominating some of the city’s older neighborhoods, such as Parkdale, which is home to the largest assortment of Victorian homes in all of North America.

The end of the 19th century also saw the development of new styles including cost-effective bay-and-gable style homes that appear similarly to the elegance of Victorian mansions without the same square footage or high price tag.  This style home fit well in the typical narrow lots found in many parts of Toronto, and most still stand today in neighborhoods such as Parkdale and Cabbagetown.

Another popular style that arose towards the end of the 19th century was the Annex style home, which was common among wealthier neighborhoods. Annex homes borrow elements from a number of different styles, creating a unique look all its own.

Post-War Architecture In Toronto

The post-war years during the 20th century saw the institution and rise of suburbs. Interestingly, developers tried to reduce crowds in the downtown area and therefore built large complexes of homes far from the city center. Developers also avoided creating mixed-use spaces, meaning residents were forced to live and shop in different parts of town.

During the 1960’s and 70’s, apartments and condominiums became more popular, most of which were built as brick-clad high-rise buildings. Many historic Annex style mansions have been transformed into apartment buildings as well.

Preserving Toronto’s Historic Homes & Buildings

Turnbull Masonry is proud to be a part of the mission to preserve Toronto’s rich history as best as possible with our state-of-the-art techniques for restoring, repairing, rehabbing and reconstructing heritage buildings. 

Special attention to detail, exact processes and carefully matched materials must be utilized in to preserve a building’s rich value and history. When you hire us to take care of your historic home or building you can rest assured we will add years of stability without taking anything away. Contact us today to learn more!