Canada Life Building – Toronto’s Beaux-Arts Gem & Iconic Beacon

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2020 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto. The first insurance company in Canada was founded in 1847 as the Canada Life Assurance Co. by Hamilton-based banker and mathematician Hugh C Baker
2020 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto

The Canada Life Building is located at ‪330 University Ave‬ (just north of Queen St W) in downtown Toronto.

The History of Canada Life

The first insurance company in Canada was founded in 1847 as the Canada Life Assurance Co. by Hamilton-based banker and mathematician Hugh C Baker. In 1903, they moved their offices to a building on the northeast corner of King & Bay Sts in Toronto. In 1929, the company sold their first office building to the Bank of Nova Scotia (now Scotia Plaza) and began building its new head office on University Ave.

The Impressive Architecture & Move

1931 – The Canada Life Assurance Company Building on University Ave just north of Queen St W on the west side in downtown Toronto. Completed in 1931, the historic second-generation skyscraper was designed by prominent Toronto architects, Sproatt & Rolph
1931 – The Canada Life Assurance Company Building on University Ave just north of Queen St W on the west side in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3172)

Completed in 1931, the historic second-generation skyscraper was designed by prominent Toronto architects, Sproatt & Rolph. Canada Life wanted the building to convey the company’s stability and security while preserving simplicity. The E-shaped structure is made of a steel skeleton and clad with Indiana limestone. Above the 3-storey portico are 10 Tuscan columns on the University Ave facade. The interior has ceilings adorned with gold leaf, while the floors, columns and trim are made of different types of marble.

The dignified office building has a 12-storey centre block, a 6-storey tower and 8-storey wings. When constructed, there were executive offices, boardrooms, a 17th-floor observation lounge, an assembly hall, a hospital, a laboratory, a switchboard, a cafeteria, elevators, two basements and under Simcoe St, a tunnel leading to a boiler house and garage. The Beaux-Arts style building was supposed to be larger; however, it had to be scaled back due to the Great Depression.

The move from King and Bay Sts to the new offices on University Ave took 200 people and 40 hours to complete. One of the City’s newspapers called it “one of the greatest overnight treks the city has ever seen.” There were also three Brinks trucks and several police officers on motorcycles to assist in the transfer of millions of dollars in policyholder funds to the new office vaults. That Monday morning, 700 employees started working at the company’s new office.

The Weather Beacon & How to Read It

2020 - In 1951, the insurance company added a weather beacon to the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto. In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon got its first update and switched to LED bulbs - 1,004 of them
2020 – In 1951, the insurance company added a weather beacon to the Canada Life Building

In 1951, the insurance company added a weather beacon. It was the talk of the town. They copied this idea from an insurance company in NYC. In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon got its first update and switched to LED bulbs – 1,004 of them.

Colours

  • Green = clear
  • Red = cloudy
  • Flashing Red = rain
  • Flashing White = snow

Light Direction

  • Running Up = getting warmer
  • Running Down = getting cooler
  • Steady = no change

Forecasts

  • ‪7 am‬ = morning forecast
  • 11 am‬ = afternoon forecast
  • 3 pm = evening forecast
  • 7 pm‬ = next day forecast

The Company Today

The insurance and wealth management company has been operating for more than 170 years. It still calls this historic gem home, and they have offices throughout Canada, the US, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Did You Know?

  • Before the Canada Life Building, the University Ave and Simcoe St area was home to many stylish homes.
  • Second-generation skyscrapers are high-rise buildings that are set back from the property line and rise in a series of progressively narrower widths while increasing in height. This allows for sunlight to reach the street.
  • In 1909, a league was formed in Toronto to promote Beaux-Arts planning ideas. University Ave from Front St W to Queen St W was supposed to look like Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Some plans included buildings of a specific colour and height, no billboards or illuminated signs and no overhead wires. While part of this plan happened and included the Dominion Public Building, Union Station, the demolished Parker Pen Building, and the Canada Life Building, the Great Depression and a vote changed these plans. There was also supposed to be a traffic circle called Vimy Circle (a war memorial) at Richmond St and University Ave.
  • In the early 1970s, the Sir William Campbell Foundation entered into an agreement with Canada Life and the City. In the agreement, the Campbell House Museum was moved and resides on property owned by the insurance company directly south of the Canada Life Building.
  • The Toronto landmark received heritage status in 1973.
  • Just north of the Canada Life Building, on the east side, once stood Canada’s largest armoury, the University Avenue Armouries.

Canada Life Building Photos

1931 – The Canada Life Assurance Company Building on University Ave just north of Queen St W on the west side in downtown Toronto. Completed in 1931, the historic second-generation skyscraper was designed by prominent Toronto architects, Sproatt & Rolph
1931 – The Canada Life Assurance Company Building on University Ave just north of Queen St W on the west side in downtown Toronto. Completed in 1931, the historic second-generation skyscraper was designed by prominent Toronto architects, Sproatt & Rolph (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3172)
2020 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto. The first insurance company in Canada was founded in 1847 as the Canada Life Assurance Co. by Hamilton-based banker and mathematician Hugh C Baker‬‬‬‬. Notice the South African War Memorial in the foreground. Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward created the granite and bronze monument
2020 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto. The first insurance company in Canada was founded in 1847 as the Canada Life Assurance Co. by Hamilton-based banker and mathematician Hugh C Baker‬‬‬‬. Notice the South African War Memorial in the foreground. Canadian sculptor Walter Seymour Allward created the granite and bronze monument
Between 1935 and 1936 -  Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building
Between 1935 and 1936 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1230, Item 4451)
2020 - In 1951, the insurance company added a weather beacon to the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto. In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon got its first update and switched to LED bulbs - 1,004 of them
2020 – In 1951, the insurance company added a weather beacon to the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto. In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon got its first update and switched to LED bulbs – 1,004 of them
1950 - Looking north on University Ave from just south of Queen St W towards the Canada Life Building. Notice in the far distance Ontario’s Legislative Building
1950 – Looking north on University Ave from just south of Queen St W towards the Canada Life Building. Notice in the far distance Ontario’s Legislative Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 166)
2020 - Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto
2020 – Looking northwest towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto
March 20, 1979  - Looking northeast from Simcoe St and Queen St W  towards a view of the Campbell House and the Canada Life Building in the background
March 20, 1979 – Looking northeast from Simcoe St and Queen St W towards a view of the Campbell House and the Canada Life Building in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 21, Item 13)
2021 – Looking north toward the Campbell House Museum at Queen St W‬ and University Ave, with the Canada Life Building in the background
2021 – Looking north toward the Campbell House Museum at Queen St W‬ and University Ave, with the Canada Life Building in the background
1972 - Looking northwest from the corner of Queen St W and Bay St towards Canada Life Building in the distance in downtown Toronto
1972 – Looking northwest from the corner of Queen St W and Bay St towards Canada Life Building in the distance in downtown (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 61, Item 1)
2021 – The Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
2021 – The Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
1945 - Employees filling at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building
1945 – Employees filling at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building (Archives of Ontario I0004509)
1945 - Office employees at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building
1945 – Office employees at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building (Archives of Ontario I0019712)
1945 - Employees at their desks at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building
1945 – Employees at their desks at the Canada Life Assurance Company Building (Archives of Ontario I0004508)
1931 - An interior boardroom of the Canada Life Assurance Company
1931 – An interior boardroom of the Canada Life Assurance Company (Toronto Public Library R-3977)
1955 - Looking north from south of Richmond St W along University Ave towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building on the
1955 – Looking north from south of Richmond St W along University Ave towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building on the (Toronto Public Library R-5725)
2022 - Looking northwest from University Ave and Queen St W towards the South African War Memorial and the Canada Life Building
2022 – Looking northwest from University Ave and Queen St W towards the South African War Memorial and the Canada Life Building
1950 - Looking northwest towards Osgoode Hall on the right and the Canada Life Assurance Company Building in the distance in downtown Toronto
1950 – Looking northwest towards Osgoode Hall on the right and the Canada Life Assurance Company Building in the distance in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 398)
Circa 1930 - Looking northwest towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building. The photo was taken from the Osgoode Hall ground
Circa 1930 – Looking northwest towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building. The photo was taken from the Osgoode Hall ground (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3026)
1975 – Looking northwest from Queen St W towards Osgoode Hall and the Canada Life Building
1975 – Looking northwest from Queen St W towards Osgoode Hall and the Canada Life Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 14, Item 14)
2022 – Looking northwest from Osgoode Hall grounds towards the Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
2022 – Looking northwest from Osgoode Hall grounds towards the Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
1934 – An aerial view of the Canada Life Building and Osgoode Hall, looking northwest
1934 – An aerial view of the Canada Life Building and Osgoode Hall, looking northwest (Library and Archives Canada e010861775)
2021 – Looking northwest from Osgoode Hall towards the Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2021 – Looking northwest from Osgoode Hall towards the Canada Life Building located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2022 - Looking northwest from University Ave just north of Queen St W towards the South African War Memorial and the Canada Life Building
2022 – Looking northwest from University Ave just north of Queen St W towards the South African War Memorial and the Canada Life Building
February 11, 1935 – Looking northwest along University Ave, from north of Adelaide St W towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building on the left
February 11, 1935 – Looking northwest along University Ave, from north of Adelaide St W towards the Canada Life Assurance Company Building on the left (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1663)
May 26, 1930 – Looking northwest towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building. The photo was taken from the Star Building at 80 King St W
May 26, 1930 – Looking northwest towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building. The photo was taken from the Star Building at 80 King St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 10008)
Circa 1930 - Raising the last stone to the top of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building, looking southeast
Circa 1930 – Raising the last stone to the top of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3182)
May 26, 1930 – Looking southwest from University Ave, just north of Queen St w  towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building
May 26, 1930 – Looking southwest from University Ave, just north of Queen St w towards the construction of the Canada Life Assurance Company Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 20235)
2022 - Looking southwest from University Ave toward the Canada Life Building with the CN Tower in the background
2022 – Looking southwest from University Ave toward the Canada Life Building with the CN Tower in the background
1950 – The front entrance to the Canada Life Building is located at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto
1950 – The front entrance to the Canada Life Building is located at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 1)
2020 - Looking west towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto‬‬
2020 – Looking west towards the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave‬, just north of Queen St W in downtown Toronto‬‬
 2022 -  Looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building with its new sign located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
2022 – Looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building with its new sign located at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬‬‬‬
2023 -  Looking southwest towards the Canada Life Building showing its new sign with the CN Tower in the background
2023 – Looking southwest towards the Canada Life Building showing its new sign with the CN Tower in the background
2020 - The entrance to the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2020 – The entrance to the Canada Life Building at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2020 - Sign for the Canada Life Assurance Company at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2020 – Sign for the Canada Life Assurance Company at ‪330 University Ave in downtown Toronto‬‬
2023 -  The Simcoe St entrance to the Canada Life Building in downtown Toronto
2023 – The Simcoe St entrance to the Canada Life Building in downtown Toronto
2021 – Looking northwest toward the Campbell House Museum and the Canada Life Building at Queen St W‬ and University Ave
2021 – Looking northwest toward the Campbell House Museum and the Canada Life Building at Queen St W‬ and University Ave
2023 - The Canada Life Building and CN Tower
2023 – The Canada Life Building and CN Tower
2021 – In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon at the Canada Life Building got its first update and switched to LED bulbs – 1,004 of them
2021 – In 2019 and after 68 years, the beacon at the Canada Life Building got its first update and switched to LED bulbs – 1,004 of them
Circa 1931 – An aerial view looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building, University Avenue Armouries and Old City Hall. Notice University Ave was being extended south of Queen St W
Circa 1931 – An aerial view looking southeast towards the Canada Life Building, University Avenue Armouries and Old City Hall. Notice University Ave was being extended south of Queen St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 10092)
Circa 1931 - Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries and Canada Life Building with bare land on the right being cleared for University Ave extension
Circa 1931 – Aerial view of University Avenue Armouries and Canada Life Building with bare land on the right being cleared for University Ave extension (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7295)
Circa 1924 – Looking northwest towards the future site of the Campbell House Museum and Canada Life Building at Queen St W and University Ave. Notice the South African War Memorial on the right
Circa 1924 – Looking northwest towards the future site of the Campbell House Museum and Canada Life Building at Queen St W and University Ave. Notice the South African War Memorial on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7363)
Circa 1926 – Looking northeast towards the corner of King St W and Bay St. The photo also shows the head office of the Canada Life Assurance Co, just east of Bay St on King St W
Circa 1926 – Looking northeast towards the corner of King St W and Bay St. The photo also shows the head office of the Canada Life Assurance Co, just east of Bay St on King St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7098)
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

George Cox (1840 - 1914) 

"At the turn of the 20th century, as Toronto challenged Montréal as the banking capital of Canada, George Cox was among those in the vanguard. After a successful business career in Peterborough, he moved to Toronto where he was president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1890 to 1906, significantly expanding the bank's network from its base in Ontario into Western Canada. He was also president and general manager of Canada Life, dominating the insurance industry from the mid-1890s until his death. Powerful in both the banking and insurance sectors in these exciting decades, Cox was one of Canada's most prominent capitalists.” 

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

George Cox (1840 – 1914)

“At the turn of the 20th century, as Toronto challenged Montréal as the banking capital of Canada, George Cox was among those in the vanguard. After a successful business career in Peterborough, he moved to Toronto where he was president of the Canadian Bank of Commerce from 1890 to 1906, significantly expanding the bank’s network from its base in Ontario into Western Canada. He was also president and general manager of Canada Life, dominating the insurance industry from the mid-1890s until his death. Powerful in both the banking and insurance sectors in these exciting decades, Cox was one of Canada’s most prominent capitalists.”

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada
SOURCE

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