The Toronto Board of Trade building was once located at 2-8 Front St E/31-35 Yonge St (on the northeast corner) in downtown Toronto.
In 1845, the Toronto Board of Trade was established with a goal “to promote trade and commerce and foster economic and social prosperity.” Its first president was George Percival Ridout, and there were approximately 50 members. During its early years, the board conducted their meetings in various places, including Toronto’s second City Hall (today’s St Lawrence Market) and St Lawrence Hall.
Starting in the late 1850s, meetings were held at the stately Mechanics Institute, once located on the northeast corner of Adelaide St E and Church St. In 1884, 180-member Board of Trade merged with the 52-member Corn Exchange.
The Design Competition
In the late 1880s, the Toronto Board of Trade and its 900 members wanted to express the City’s financial security. The board decided to construct a brand new building for their headquarters to be located at the northeast corner of Yonge St and Front St. The budget was $200,000. A design competition was held to ensure they had the best-recognized talent on the continent.
The board also hired Professor Ware of Columbia College in New York to adjudicate. Considered the highest authority in America on architecture, Prof Ware widdled down the 20+ submissions to the top three. One of the contenders was Toronto’s renowned architectural duo, Darling & Curry, whose design was considered better quality. But even so, the board chose James & James from both Prof Ware’s high recommendation and for the prestige of an American firm. The board felt the American firm was better equipped to facilitate the complex design; however, their choice sparked controversy. Critics thought the James & James design was not only too small for the budget, but there were also concerns about ventilation and lighting in the offices, halls and stairwells.
In 1889, the building that occupied the corner for nearly 55 years, the American Hotel, was demolished. Construction began on a highly anticipated and ambitious design of the Board of Trade’s new building.
In early 1890, with work well underway, the roof collapsed just before the terracotta roofing tiles were added. It took all the floors beneath it to the bottom. After the catastrophe, the retaining walls were deemed secure. Construction continued however James & James hired a new contractor. The board also wanted the architects to be personally present on-site, but that was not possible. James & James proposed associating themselves with the talented Buffalo-based architect, Edward Austin Kent. He was appointed and essentially in complete control of the remainder of the project. In the end, the cost of the building had ballooned to $400,000.
Toronto’s Board of Trade Building
After all the controversy, construction and budget issues, those advocating for the “businessman’s resort” were vindicated. The seven-storey skyscraper was an attraction for both residents and visitors. Its peculiar style especially greeted those coming up from the harbour and wharves. This area was mainly warehouses at the time, so the Board of Trade Building and what we know today as the Hockey Hall of Fame were jewels at Yonge St and Front St.
The Toronto Board of Trade Building featured a beautiful combination of Gothic and Romanesque designs. To fit the unusually shaped site, the dramatic landmark had a rounded front corner. Faced with smooth-cut Credit River sandstone, there were three distinct levels to the building’s facade. Its upper corner was adorned with a crown-like row of high windows. The arcaded parapet was capped with a steeply conical roof and an onion-domed cupola.
There were two main entrances – one from Yonge St and the other from Front St E. The heavy wooden doors had stone pillars on each side surmounted by massive, richly carved arches. The vestibules with directories had marble floors and wainscotting, while skilled artisans crafted the inner doors.
A local newspaper said its “elevators were marvels of mechanical skill and genius, constructed of beautifully wrought ironwork.” The building was filled with various offices including railway, insurance, telegraph and printing companies. There was also a restaurant on the main floor.
On the top floor were the rotunda and council chamber. The dignified room had spectacular views of the harbour, Toronto Island and the lake. The ceiling and dome had artistic plasterwork, the walls had eight-foot wainscotting and the tables and chairs were of the finest quality.
The Board of Trade moved out of the building in 1914. In the early 1920s, the newly created Toronto Transit Commission moved in. In 1955, the building was sold for $1 million. It was TTC headquarters until 1957/58.
As a part of the area’s redevelopment, the spectacular jewel was demolished in 1958. The Gooderham Building was the only structure not levelled in the area bound by Front St E, Yonge St and Wellington St E. The site became a parking lot, and since 1982, the site has been home to a mirrored office building with restaurants on the ground floor.
The Board of Trade After Leaving Yonge St & Front St E
In 1914, the organization moved a few blocks north on Yonge St at King St E to the newly constructed Royal Bank of Canada building. The yearly rental fee for the top two floors of the building was $16,000. The Board of Trade’s new headquarters featured an assembly hall, council chambers, meeting rooms, offices, dining areas and more.
In 1934, the board moved to the mezzanine floor of the new east wing of the King Edward Hotel. Along with meeting space, its expansive lounge fronted King St E.
In the late 1950s, the 6,700 members strong organization moved to the top three floors of 11 Adelaide St W. The new 13-storey building, dubbed “a haven for relaxation,” cost $3 million to construct. Along with a luxurious penthouse and terrace, there were also council chambers, meeting rooms, a 300-seat dining room, a 75-seat cafeteria and offices for the staff of 36.
A milestone year for the Board of Trade was 1973. From that year on, women could join. This building sits on property once home to a bus terminal and before that, the Grand Opera House.
Today’s Toronto Region Board of Trade
In 1977, headquarters were moved to First Canadian Place at 77 Adelaide St W. While the Board of Trade originally occupied space in the podium level of the skyscraper, today they’re located on the main level, close to the Adelaide St W entrance. In 2013, the organization became the Toronto Region Board of Trade to better reflect its broader member base across the region.
For more than 175 years, they have been serving the Toronto area business community to drive growth and competitiveness in the region. The Toronto Region Board of Trade one of the largest and most influential on the continent. Supporting and advocating on behalf of businesses, they work together with the government, business leaders, educational institutions and community builders to advance the success of its 13,000+ members and the Toronto region.
Did You Know?
- In the 1830s, a group of business people created the organization’s predecessor, the City of Toronto Board of Trade; however, it was unsuccessful.
- The northeast side of Yonge St and Front St E has much history. In the early 1800s, the area was home to Chief Justice Scott when he was Attorney-General. Scott St was named after him.
- In approximately 1844, the American Hotel was built on that corner. During its time, the hotel was one of the most well-known in Canada.
- Edward Austin Kent, the architect who stepped in to complete the Board of Trade Building, was a passenger aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic (1912). His final resting place is in Buffalo, NY.
- Toronto’s Board of Trade Building was designed after Boston’s Chamber of Commerce Building (later known as The Flour & Grain Exchange) at 177 Milk St. The architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge designed the stunning treasure which stands to this day.
- Another Front St lost gem is the Cyclorama building.
Board of Trade Building Photos
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson (1894) & Volume 3 by J Ross Robertson (1898)
- Toronto, No Mean City by Eric Arthur, revised by Stephen A Otto (2003)
- Lost Toronto by William Dendy (1978)
- The City of Toronto and the Home District Commercial Directory for 1837
- Toronto City and Home District Directory for 1846/7
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jan 17, 1849, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 5, 1854, pg 2
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Mar 22, 1890, pg 20
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 19, 1890, pg 8
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 16, 1891, pg 1
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jun 27, 1914, pg 11
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jul 2, 1934, pg 7
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Oct 4, 1955, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 5, 1956, pg 8
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Feb 9, 1977, pg 12
- Toronto Region Board of Trade
- Encyclopedia Titanica: Edward Austin Kent
- Current Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Archives of Ontario, Library and Archives Canada & Boston Public Library