There is a treasure trove of secrets, anecdotes, and seldom told stories related to Toronto's famous neighbouring city halls. When we put together our post on TTC oddities we realized Toronto's civic centres - built a little over six decades apart but lightyears distant in terms of design - were also deserving of a dedicated round-up.
From abandoned observation decks to fake gargoyles and buried
communication systems, there's plenty in this post to impress your
friends and check out on your next visit.
"NEW" CITY HALL
THE DESIGN COULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE THISLong
before the international design competition that would be eventually
won by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, the city seriously considered
going with another proposal submitted by a committee of architects.
A public vote eventually put paid to the idea but the blueprints
weren't tossed out. The design of the main tower was sold to Imperial
Oil and built on St. Clair, where it stands today. Had it been built on
Queen, the old Registry Office building would have remained standing and
there would have been an entrance to the planned Queen subway at the
south end of the main civic square.
CONSTRUCTION DESTROYED ONE OF TORONTO'S GREAT CIVIC STRUCTURES
Though it doesn't stand directly on top of it, Toronto's grand
Registry of Deeds and Land Titles office was taken down just as the
famous curved towers were beginning to take shape. The building and its
imposing entrance that consisted of eight massive columns used to stand
behind Osgoode Hall where the Superior Court of Justice building is now.
THE COUNCIL CHAMBER WEIGHS 4,000 TONNES
We know because the entire structure is supported by a single central
reinforced concrete support column. The hollow structure, visible at
the centre of the ground floor rotunda, is embedded more than 16 metres
into the bedrock beneath city hall. Electrical, plumbing, and air
conditioning ducts run down its centre.
THE BUILDING CAME WITH ITS OWN DESIGNER FURNITURE
As we found out earlier this year when the city dropped $75,000 on
replacements, Toronto City Hall came complete with a massive set of
specially commissioned modernist furniture from designer William
Platner's Knoll collection.
The chairs and matching tables in the protocol lounge had been
damaged by decades of wear and tear and were replaced with modern
equivalents, much to some councillor's consternation, in September.
Though the building's heritage status doesn't specifically protect
the chairs, staff have taken an "active interest" in keeping the
original stylings of City Hall intact.
THERE'S A CLOSED ROOFTOP OBSERVATION DECK
Yes, City Hall does have an observation deck, but it's lamentably
closed to the public most of the year. The bleak windswept outdoor space
is accessible via the main east tower elevators and a walk up a flight
of stairs but outside of Doors Open it's strictly out of bounds for
health and safety reasons.
THERE'S A GIANT SCULPTURE MADE OF NAILS JUST INSIDE THE MAIN ENTRANCE
Artist David Partridge's Metropolis was the winner of an art
competition in 1974. The design consists of more than 100,000 copper
nails embedded in nine separate panels and is meant to represent the
image of a great city - though not specifically Toronto. It was
installed in 1977 and runs the entire length of the concrete wall to the
right of the main doors.
"OLD" CITY HALL
THE PRESS GALLERY USED TO BE HOOKED UP TO A PNEUMATIC MAIL SYSTEM
Back when reporters hammered out stories on typewriters, filing copy
with the city editor was a protracted task. Freshly inked sheets of
paper would be handed to a copy boy who would run the story - literally -
to the newspaper office.
In 1930, the Toronto Star and Toronto Telegram
joined an existing pneumatic tube system under Bay Street that allowed
reporters to blast copy the more than 4,500 metres to the nearest
editor. The system likely fell into disuse in the 1940s and has now
ARCHITECT E. J. LENNOX CHEEKILY SIGNED HIS NAME ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING
Look carefully at the decorative stonework near the roof on the Bay
side of the building - "E.J. LENNOX ARCHITECT A.D. 1898" is spelled out
in individual letters. The predominant rumour surrounding the unusual
autograph says Lennox was not allowed to sign his work and was forced to
sneak it in.
THE CLOCK MECHANISM HAS BEEN KEEPING TIME FOR 113 YEARS
Way up inside the faces of the clock, a relatively small cast iron
mechanism, shielded inside a protective wooden case, has been quietly
ticking away for over a century. The black and gold machine was shipped
from London in 1900 and craned into the semi-complete tower on wooden
The largest of its three bells - imaginatively named "Big Ben" - is
inscribed with the names of the city aldermen and mayor from 1900 and
dedicated to Queen Victoria. The system is powered by a giant pendulum
that maintenance man John Scott likens to a child on a swing when it
needs to be stopped.
THE GARGOYLES ON THE CLOCK TOWER ARE FAKE
The original New Brunswick sandstone monsters that protruded from all
four corners of the tower used to weigh three tonnes each until, in
1938, a 50-pound piece fell off the northeast grotesque, punching a hole
through the copper roof below. Property commissioner Graham Blant
decided the features were unsafe and ordered them taken down.
The current creatures are lightweight replicas of the master stonemason Arthur Tennison originals.
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