Coffin Block – A Unique Intersection Well Before the Gooderham Building

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1872 - Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from east of Church St towards the Coffin Block
1872 – Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from east of Church St towards the Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library R-6243)

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 (triangular) site. The structure became known as The Coffin Block because of its ominous resemblance to a coffin. When constructed, it was very close to the bustling wharves and quickly became a landmark.

The Coffin Block Design

The building was divided into three separate sections. The Isaac Buchanan & Co. wholesale warehouse occupied the main building 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

Circa 1885 - Looking northwest from Front St E and Church St towards the Coffin Block
Circa 1885 – Looking northwest from Front St E and Church St towards the Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library R-2320)

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.

An advertisement said the stage would take passengers “by daylight on the Lake Road during the winter season.” Travelling during the winter months was considered safer than other times of the year, and 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

2020 - The property The Coffin Block once occupied and where the Gooderham Building stands today at Wellington St E, Church St and Front St E
2020 – The property The Coffin Block once occupied and where the Gooderham Building stands today at Wellington St E, Church St and Front St E

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 various 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 crowded and cumbersome. Most people who owned horses 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.”
  • The difference between a coffin and a casket is that a coffin has six sides and is hexagonal in shape, while a casket has four and is rectangular.
  • The Coffin Block was in close proximity to the city’s first downtown core. It was just west of Toronto’s first permanent City Hall, in the front portion of what we know today as the St Lawrence Market South building.

The Coffin Block Photos

1872 - Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from east of Church St towards the Coffin Block
1872 – Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from east of Church St towards the Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library R-6243)
1838 - Fish market at Toronto Harbour, looking west from the foot of today's Jarvis St and Front St E, with The Coffin Block in the background
1838 – Fish market at Toronto Harbour, looking west from the foot of today’s Jarvis St and Front St E, with The Coffin Block in the background (Toronto Public Library B1-26B)
Circa 1885 - Looking northwest from Front St E and Church St towards the Coffin Block
Circa 1885 – Looking northwest from Front St E and Church St towards the Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library R-2320)
Circa 1888 - Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E towards the Coffin Block in the centre
Circa 1888 – Looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E towards the Coffin Block in the centre (Toronto Public Library R-2315)
Circa 1888 - Looking west from Church St towards the Coffin Block with Front St E on the left side of the photo and Wellington St E on the right
Circa 1888 – Looking west from Church St towards the Coffin Block with Front St E on the left side of the photo and Wellington St E on the right (Toronto Public Library R-6239)
1800s - Sketch of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking west from Church St at Front St E and Wellington St E
1800s – Sketch of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking west from Church St at Front St E and Wellington St E (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson – 1894)
1800s - Sketch of the south side of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking northwest from Front St E and Church St
1800s – Sketch of the south side of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking northwest from Front St E and Church St (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson – 1894)
1800s - Sketch of the north side of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking southeast from Wellington St E and just west of Church St
1800s – Sketch of the north side of The Coffin Block (1830s-1891), looking southeast from Wellington St E and just west of Church St (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson)
1898 - Looking west towards the Gooderham Building at the intersection of Front St E, Church St and Wellington St E in the St Lawrence neighbourhood. Before the construction of the Gooderham Building, the site was home to the Coffin Block
1898 – Looking west towards the Gooderham Building at the intersection of Front St E, Church St and Wellington St E in the St Lawrence neighbourhood. Before the construction of the Gooderham Building, the site was home to the Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library R-6249)
2020 - The property The Coffin Block once occupied and where the Gooderham Building stands today at Wellington St E, Church St and Front St E
2020 – The property The Coffin Block once occupied and where the Gooderham Building stands today at Wellington St E, Church St and Front St E
2023 - Looking west towards the intersection of Front St E, Church St and Wellington St E in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. From the early 1830s to 1891, The Coffin Block was located at the site of the Gooderham Building
2023 – Looking west towards the intersection of Front St E, Church St and Wellington St E in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. From the early 1830s to 1891, The Coffin Block was located at the site of the Gooderham Building
2022 – The Shoreline Commemorative is located in an architectural niche in The Berczy condo’s facade. It’s on the west side of Church St, just south of Front St E in the St Lawrence neighbourhood. Artist-architect Paul Raff created the artwork. It shows passersby that for thousands of years, Lake Ontario’s shoreline once reached the aptly named Front St
2022 – The Shoreline Commemorative is located in an architectural niche in The Berczy condo’s facade. It’s on the west side of Church St, just south of Front St E in the St Lawrence neighbourhood. Artist-architect Paul Raff created the artwork. It shows passersby that for thousands of years, Lake Ontario’s shoreline once reached the aptly named Front St
1884 - Goads Map showing the location of The Coffin Block
1884 – Goads Map showing the location of The Coffin Block (Toronto Public Library)
1833/34 - York Commercial Directory, Street Guide and Register showing Weller William, Coach Office at the corner of Market St (today's Wellington St E) and Front St
1833/34 – York Commercial Directory, Street Guide and Register showing Weller William, Coach Office at the corner of Market St (today’s Wellington St E) and Front St (Toronto Public Library)
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