The City regulates the construction of all structures in Toronto through the building permit application process. The process requires builders to submit architectural plans of their proposed buildings along with their applications.

City Buildings Department staff had been saving the plans since 1904, resulting in a huge collection of 120,000 rolls of plans. The City began to microfilm the plans in the 1980s, making it unnecessary to keep the original blueprints. However, it was recognized that at least some of the original drawings had a place in the Archives’ collection.

In the mid 1990s the Archives selected a number of plans to document various building types and neighbourhoods in the city. These plans provide an in-depth documentation of building construction in the city for more than a hundred years, giving equal weight to the fancy and the plain.


Commercial Art Deco

The Archives’ collection of Building Permit Application Plans contains many examples of Toronto’s great lost Art Deco/Art Modern heritage of the 1920s through the 1940s.

The buildings shown here include a single storefront with offices over, a row of storefronts  with offices over, and a combined factory, storage facility and showroom.


Blueprint of facade of two-storey building with long rows of windows.
Addition to factory for three stores,
showroom & fur storage building,
700 Bay St, elevation
August 27, 1937
Architect: Benjamin Swartz
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 731, Item 7
Blueprint of two-storey building with tall windows on the second floor and a sign reading "Kodak".
Alteration to store,
411 Yonge St, scheme 2, elevation & plan
August 27, 1936
Architect: Langley & Howland
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 674, Item 10
Two-storey building with decorative stonework and different shapes of windows.
Stores with offices over, 1471-1473 Yonge St, elevation August 30, 1932 Architect: Benjamin Swartz City of Toronto Archives, Series 410, File 278, Item 8


Many of Toronto’s buildings designed in the Art Deco/Art Moderne style were temporary structures, such as refreshment booths.

As well, many examples of gorgeous Art Deco features were “add-ons” — ground-level deco jewels applied to plain 19th century or early 20th century structures, such as on this somewhat generic, vitrolite covered ‘Name Grill’ storefront.


One-storey building with signs advertising doughnuts and coffee.
Refreshment booth,
Lake Shore Blvd W, elevations, plan & section June 18, 1936
Architect: M.A. Barten
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 612, Item 1
One-storey building with wide windows on either side of a door.
Alterations to store for restaurant,
577 Bay St, elevation
April 12, 1940
Architect: M.A. Barten
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1115, Item 1


Semi-Detached Housing

Toronto has been described as a city of semi-detached housing. A huge building boom was prompted when the City increased its size by annexing many neighbouring communities from 1906 to 1912.

Real estate developers and other speculators scrambled to fill in vacant lots within these newly acquired areas.

A significant feature of this building boom was the adoption of the semi-detached house model as a popular and affordable option, both for builders and for buyers.


Blueprint of one pair semi-detached dwellings, Nairn Ave., 1919
One pair semi-detached dwellings,
Nairn Ave, elevation
September 13, 1919
Architect: D.H. Burnham
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1859, Item 1
Blueprint of 2 pair dwellings, 1010-1012 Queen St. W., 1905
2 pair dwellings,
1010-1012 Queen St E, elevation
November 2, 1905
Architect: P.H. Finney
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1416, Item 1
1 pair semi-detached dwellings,
Glebeholme Blvd, elevation
August 9, 1919
Architect: H.G. Fulford
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1834, Item 1


Row after row of these “semis” filled in vast tracts of land throughout the annexed areas in the city’s east, west and north ends.


The Vernacular

The building permit plans on file in the Archives are an excellent resource for the study of the City’s evolving vernacular, or common building types, as well as for the study of its grander architectural achievements. While vernacular buildings may be modest, they are often distinctive and associated with a particular place.

An example is the many Joy Oil Company gas stations that were built in Toronto in the 1930s. Joy Oil was based out of Detroit and Cleveland in the United States. Their fanciful stations were built in a miniature Chateau Style, complete with circular towers and conical roofs.


Blueprint of gas service station, 910 Lake Shore Road, 1936
Gas service station,
910 Lake Shore Road, elevations
November 17, 1936
Architect: Joy Oil Co Ltd
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 505, Item 8


The stations established a unique corporate image for the firm in an era of rapidly increasing automobile usage, and were local landmarks in several Toronto neighbourhoods.

The last remaining station, located at 1978 Lake Shore Blvd. West, was designated in 1989 by the City as being of architectural significance. It was relocated recently pending restoration.


Walk-Up Apartments

A boom in the construction of walk-up apartment buildings occurred in Toronto from the late 1910s through the 1920s. The City, in an early attempt to control this kind of development, passed a bylaw in 1912 that prohibited the construction of apartment buildings in residential neighbourhoods.


Blueprint of Apartment house, Kendal Ave., 1912
Apartment house,
Kendal Ave, elevation
May 4, 1912
Architect: J. Hunt Stanford
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1454, Item 1
Blueprint of Apartment house, 180 Waverley Road, 1914
Apartment house,
180 Waverley Rd, elevation
June 1, 1914
Architect: Hunt & Woodburn
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1457, Item 1


However, despite the bylaw and warnings against the “evil of tenements” issued by the Medical Officer of Health, a significant number of apartment buildings were  built, through exemptions to the law, or along commercial stretches where the law allowed them.

Additionally, clusters of these three and four storey apartments were built just outside of the city’s limits, in Forest Hill and York Township, where the City’s bylaw did not apply.

By 1921, there were more than 2,000 apartment units in Toronto. In the mid-1920s, these numbers increased dramatically before trailing off by the time of the Great Depression. By 1931, despite Toronto’s restrictive efforts, there were more than 20,000 apartment units in the city.


Blueprint of Apartment house, 610-614 Ontario St., 1912
Apartment house,
610-614 Ontario St, elevation
November 1912
Architect: J.A. Harvey
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1448, Item 1
Blueprint of Apartments, 147-151 Palmerston Ave., 1912
147-151 Palmerston Ave, elevation
October 8, 1912
Architect: Mallory & Thatcher
City of Toronto Archives,
Series 410, File 1453, Item 1


A surprising number of these apartment houses survive to this day, showing the enduring nature of this residential form.


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