A couple weekends ago I helped out with Doors Open Toronto (May 24-25) at the Ontario Heritage Trust Centre, downtown at 10 Adelaide Street East. Doors Open is a fantastic event operated throughout Ontario, with various communities participating and showing off their heritage buildings with open doors. I have volunteered in the past with Doors Open Huronia, in Penetanguishene, it is great to see the number of people who come out, ask questions and learn about a particular site. It was especially great this year as people got to see the beautiful place that I get to work in everyday. When I first arrived at the Trust I was in awe of the grandeur of the building, with the Beaux-Arts moulding on the facade, the marble detailing on the interior hallway and the wooden offices with transom windows in John White Hall.
The building was designed by George Gouinlock for the Canadian Birbeck Investments and Savings Company in 1908-1909. Originally intended to be several stories high, the building has not fallen short of its prominent location next to the Financial District.
Following Birbeck the building was owned by the Canadian Mortgage and Investment Company, and then in 1927 the Standard Bank. Its use as a bank is evident in the interior space and the vaults that still line the interior hallways on the first and second floors.
Marble entrance hallway, with a recreation of the Birbeck Savings Company logo painted on the above right.
The original elevator (with modern updating) that is operated by an elevator person. Only a handful of these still exist in the city.
The oval board room (still used as a board room today for our meetings). The oak woodwork is exquisite, as everything is slightly curved. Even the radiator is curved to the room. The original oval table is still in the room, as it is not easily removable…one way to protect heritage items. The fireplace is purely decorative as there is no chimney…but what is a swanky board office without a fireplace.
The vaults in the hallway (now where supplies and files are kept)
Throughout the weekend we had close to 1,400 people tour throughout the building, the highest on record in Doors Open history for the building. The favourite component was of course the elevator, which acts as a little time portal, that is surprisingly very quick for its age.
On Saturday I also got to do a little Doors Open exploring elsewhere in the city visiting Spadina House. I had gone by this beautiful home numerous times before on my visits to its neighbour Casa Loma. As it was part of Doors Open, it seemed the best time to tour the property and grounds. I have no idea why I never ventured through the Spadina House gates before, the house and gardens were beautiful.
Me after smelling all of the beautiful flowers in the garden
The property was originally owned and built on by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818. He named his 200 acre estate Spadina. The original wood frame house burnt down in 1837, the following year he built a smaller country estate. The property was sold to James Austin in 1866, founder of Dominion Bank and Consumers Gas. The house was turned over to his son Albert Williams Austin in 1892, who significantly expanded and altered the building. When he died in 1933, his daughter Anna Kathleen Thompson lived in the estate from 1942, until 1982. The building has greatly witnessed the change and development of the city over the last one hundred and seventy-seven years from its position on Davenport Hill. One can only imagine the lavish parties in the 1920s, situated in the elite neighbourhood also called home by the Eaton’s and Pellat’s.
This upcoming weekend it is Doors Open Huronia (June 6-7) and I hope to get out and check out a few sites in the local area. I am particularly interested in seeing the old boys reformatory, built in the 1860s and now administrative offices for Waypoint Centre for Mental Health. Lots of interesting history on those grounds!
Look for Doors Opens events in your community, and get out to explore the rich history that is just inside an older building’s doorstep. You never know where one will take you!