City of Toronto   *
HomeContact UsHow Do I...? Advanced search Go
Living in TorontoDoing businessVisiting TorontoAccessing City Hall
Old City Hall
Time Capsule

Toronto's Old City Hall

Toronto's 3rd City Hall - Bay and Queen StreetsUnder construction for more than a decade and costing more than $2.5 million, Toronto's third City Hall was officially opened on September 18, 1899, by the mayor of the day, John Shaw. The building contained a Council Chamber, courtrooms and municipal offices.

Old City Hall was designed by Toronto architect Edward James Lennox whose later projects included Casa Loma and the King Edward Hotel. When Toronto's fourth City Hall opened across Bay Street in 1965, Old City Hall became a courthouse for the Ontario government.

Old City Hall tour

First floor map
Main floor
Second floor map
Second floor
1. Clock Tower 2. Entrance
3. Entrance Hall 4. George A. Reid Murals
5. First Floor Exhibits 6. Grotesques and Light Standards
7. Grand Staircase
Memorial Window and
War Memorial
8. City Council Chamber

Old City HallExterior

Old City Hall is designed in the Romanesque Revival style. Lennox's design created one of the most magnificent buildings on the North American continent at the time. Built mostly out of Credit Valley Stone, the castle-like plan includes corner pavilions, monumental round-arch openings, an interior courtyard and elaborate decoration inspired by the middle ages. Apparently, without consent, Lennox incorporated his name in the stonework; beginning on the west (Bay Street) wall and extending around the building, the letters E.J. LENNOX ARCHITECT A.D. 1898, are inscribed in the corbels under the roof. The cenotaph, unveiled outside the Queen Street entrance in 1925, was the site of many important civic celebrations, including those marking the end of the Second World War.

Clock Tower

The clock tower rises 103.6 metres (300 feet) and is positioned to look down Bay Street. The clock and bells were not installed until late 1900. The monumental bells first pealed on December 31, 1900. The largest bell, "Big Ben", weighs 5443 kg (11,648 lbs).
Clock tower bell

Lennox caricature in the stonework of Old City Hall

There are entrances on all sides of the building, but the main entrance on Queen Street is the most elaborate. Romanesque grotesques adorn the arches and Lennox included caricatures said to represent politicians from the late 19th century. On the west side of the centre arch, Lennox's own face is identified by his handle-bar mustache. The stonework on the entrance was restored in 1999.

Entrance HallEntrance Hall

The two-story entrance hall was once called "Toronto's grandest indoor space". The hall, originally used for public events, is lined top and bottom with scagliola (faux marble) columns with plaster capitals. The mosaic floor was patterned in Buffalo and brought to Toronto. Lennox's eye for detail even extended to the door knobs that bear the city's old Coat of Arms.

Geprge A. Reid MuralGeorge A. Reid Murals

On either side of and between the entrance doors, painted murals commemorate pioneer life. The murals were designed by George Agnew Reid, the founder and principal of the Ontario College of Art. The murals were installed in May 1899. The mural east of the door shows pioneers, while the west mural has images of farmers and workers. The space between the arches depicts discovery, fame, fortune, and adventure.

First Floor Exhibits

Exhibit cabinets are found on the main floor of the entrance lobby. One tells the story of the "Friends of Old City Hall." Following the opening of New City Hall (1965) and the planning of the Eaton Centre, Old City Hall was threatened with demolition. The "Friends", a group of concerned citizens, convinced the city to preserve the building. The other display is a collection of photographs and artifacts. Old City Hall was declared a National Historical Site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1989.

Detail of wrought iron grotesques

Grotesques and light standards

The wrought iron grotesques and gas lamp standards, now positioned near the base of the Grand Staircase, were removed from the building in 1947 and sold to an antique dealer. They were reclaimed by the city in the 1980s and, following restoration, reinstalled for the centennial anniversary of Old City Hall.

Grand Staircase, Memorial Window and War MemorialGrand Staircase, Memorial Window and War Memorial

Opposite the entrance, along the north side of the entrance hall, the Grand Staircase rises to the second floor. On the landing where the stairs divide into two, a monumental stained glass window depicts the Union of Commerce and Industry, and symbolizes the progress of Toronto. The window, manfactured by Robert McCausland Limited, is organized in three arches. The window includes 12 life-size figures, scenes of the Toronto waterfront, depictions of Toronto's second City Hall on Front Street East and Old City Hall. A marble war memorial is positioned beneath the window. The memorial was dedicated to citizens who lost their lives during the Second World War.

Old City Hall Council Chamber

City Council Chamber

When court is not in session, the former Council Chamber is open to the public. City Council met here from 1899 until 1965. The room, with its spectator gallery above, retains its late 19th century ambience.

Home | History | Time capsule
Watercolour | Gargoyles


Toronto maps | Get involved | Toronto links | 311 | Comment | Subscribe | Privacy statement
© City of Toronto 1998-2013