The Coffin Block was located at 52 to 60 Front St E, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Its southern façade faced Front St E while its northern façade fronted Wellington St E (then Market St). The Coffin Block was once where the Gooderham Building stands today.
The Unusually Shaped Piece of Land
The triangular-shaped piece of land bound by Front St E, Scott St, Wellington St E and Church St was laid out this way because, at one time, Front St E followed the shore of Lake Ontario.
This was especially so for the eastern end of the block where Wellington and Front converged. Built in the early 1830s, architect John Ewart designed a 3-storey brick building for the gore site. The building became known as The Coffin Block because of its ominous resemblance to a coffin. When constructed, it was very close to the bustling wharfs and quickly became a landmark.
The Coffin Block Design
The building was divided into three separate sections. The main building was occupied by the Isaac Buchanan & Co. wholesale warehouse until 1845.
The centre block of the building was home to James Scott, a confectioner. His business ran from Wellington St E through to Front St E. It was frequented by the officers who lived in the quarters on the upper floors of The Coffin Block and by the militia who watched over the town during the 1837 Rebellion.
The Stagecoach Office
The eastern tip of The Coffin Block was the headquarters of the William Weller Stage Office. Both a terminal and booking office, Mr Weller’s busy stagecoach lines serviced passengers and freight to and from Hamilton, Niagara, Kingston, and points in between.
In an advertisement, it said the stage would take passengers “by daylight on the Lake Road during the winter season.” It was considered safer to travel during the winter months as at other times of the year, road conditions could be poor.
An 1847 notation in the Kingston Argus mentioned the following about Mr Weller’s stages: “The Toronto stage now generally performs the distance between that place (Toronto) and Kingston in 28 hours, making a faster rate than has before been done except by express.”
Through the Years
In the 1840s and 1850s, the neighbouring Wellington Hotel (at Wellington E and Church Sts) converted the upper floors of The Coffin Block into an annex.
In its later years, the unique building was used for offices and a variety of business purposes.
The Coffin Block was demolished in 1891 to make way for the present-day Gooderham Building.
Did You Know?
- Wellington St E was once known as Market St. It led to the St Lawrence Market North structure.
- The stables for Mr Weller’s stagecoach were on the southeast corner of Front St E and Church St.
- Coaches were said to be crowed and cumbersome. Most people who owned their own horse and carriages preferred to take their own transportation to get to the City.
- On the parapet of the south side of The Coffin Block was a weather-worn sign “Wellington Hotel” (see image 5 below).
- The difference between a coffin and a casket is: a coffin has 6 sides and is hexagonal in shape, while a casket has 4 and is rectangular.
- In the decades to come, the area surrounding The Coffin Block became the City’s first downtown core. It was just west of Toronto’s first permanent City Hall and what we know today as St Lawrence Market South building.
The Coffin Block Photos
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson
- Lost Toronto by William Dendy
- Town of York: Toronto 1837: A Model City
- Coffin Works: From Coffins to Caskets
- Vintage Photos: Toronto Public Library & Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1884 by Chas E Goad from the Toronto Public Library