The growth of modern Toronto took place mostly in the post-World War Two period. In the years immediately following the war, the city grew at a rapid rate. To meet the demand for housing and modern office space, many of the buildings that had stood in the city since the early 20th century or before were torn down to make room for new structures.
While Toronto may never be mistaken for Chicago, where architectural gems abound, or New York, where 100-year-old buildings have been restored for modern use, this city does have its share of notable historic buildings.
Travellers looking for a taste of old Toronto should book a room at the Victoria Hotel, located downtown on Yonge Street at King Street. The city's second-oldest hotel was also the first new building constructed with fireproofing technology following Toronto's great downtown fire of 1904. While it's been recently renovated as a modern boutique hotel, the Victoria maintains several original architectural details.
Just north of the hotel is 67 Yonge Street, completed in 1906 as the Trader's Bank Building. Today, the building stands as one of the few surviving skyscrapers in North America built in the first decade of the 20th century. At 15 stories, it was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth until 1913, when the Canadian Pacific Building opened next door at 69 Yonge Street.
Canada Life Building — Photo courtesy of beachdigital
From here, it's a short walk southwest, to the corner of Queen Street and University Ave. Standing here, you'll immediately notice the Canada Life Building. The sprawling Beaux Arts structure was to be part of a grand architectural plan for the area - a plan that was unfortunately scrapped after the stock market crashed in 1929.
Just a few steps away is Osgoode Hall, opened in 1832. The long Georgian and Neoclassical building sits on six acres of land along Queen Street West, and houses provincial courts and the Law Society of Upper Canada. As beautiful as the red brick building is, the ornate black iron fence surrounding the building is just as memorable. It survived calls during World War Two to have the metal recycled to use for the war effort.
Continue walking north on University Avenue and then east along Dundas Street until you reach Mackenzie House. The Georgian-style row house stands today despite the fact its neighbours have been torn down, thanks to its historical significance. The house was once the home of Toronto's first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, and today is home to a public museum where visitors can get a sense of what life was like in 1860s Toronto.
Massey Hall — Photo courtesy of fw_gadget
If all the walking has worked up an appetite, head south a few blocks to George Restaurant at 111 Queen Street East. One of Toronto's most romantic fine dining destinations is also housed in an historic structure. The six storey built in the late 1800s as a chocolate factory retains the charm you might expect from something of that period. If it's a nice night, be sure to request a table in the restaurant's stunning garden.
To cap off your day of exploring historic downtown buildings, consider seeing a concert at nearby Massey Hall. Opened in 1894 for live choral music performances, the hall is renowned for its acoustic and considered by many to be Toronto's best live music venues. Over the years, everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Bob Dylan has graced the stage here.