Confederation Life Building – Toronto’s Dramatic Architecture

1910 - Confederation Life Building, northeast corner of Richmond & Yonge Sts (Toronto Public Library pcr-2172)
1910 – Confederation Life Building, northeast corner of Richmond & Yonge Sts (Toronto Public Library pcr-2172)

The Confederation Life Building is located at ‪20 Richmond St E‬ (between Yonge St and Victoria St on the north side) in downtown Toronto.

Confederation Life Insurance Company was founded in Toronto in 1871 by John Kay Macdonald and a group of high-profile business people. In 1889, the company held an international competition to design their prestigious head office, the Confederation Life Building. The architect team of Knox, Elliot & Jarvis (of Chicago and Toronto) were awarded the top prize. Construction began in 1890 and was completed in 1892. When it was built, the structure was considered one of the city’s grandest and most state-of-the-art office buildings.

Majestic Romanesque & Gothic Elements in the Confederation Life Building

The design style includes both Romanesque Revival and French Gothic elements. The heavy structure features elaborate stone carvings on the façade that are both classical and Medieval. They include faces, dragons, lions, elegant leaves and more. The building had several pinnacles at one time, and the central tower was taller with intricate stone tracery.

The seven-storey red stone building was once the tallest in Toronto and was home to the Confederation Life Association until 1955. The company went out of business in 1994; however, the liquidation process took several years to complete.

A Fire at the Heritage Building

The City of Toronto gave the majestic Confederation Life Building heritage status in 1973. In 1981, while the landmark was being renovated, a fire roared through the historic building. It suffered a lot of damage, but it was a heritage property and was saved from demolition. Most of the building was restored.

Today, the building is home to many shops, restaurants, businesses and medical offices.

Confederation Life Building Photos

2021 - The Confederation Life Building on the northeast corner of Yonge St and Richmond St E
2021 – The Confederation Life Building on the northeast corner of Yonge St and Richmond St E
1910 - Looking northeast from Yonge St and Richmond St E towards the Confederation Life Building
1910 – Looking northeast from Yonge St and Richmond St E towards the Confederation Life Building (Toronto Public Library PCR-2172)
2021 - The main Richmond St E entrance of the Confederation Life Building
2021 – The main Richmond St E entrance of the Confederation Life Building
2021 - The Confederation Life Building main entrance off of Richmond St E
2021 – The Confederation Life Building main entrance off of Richmond St E
1890's - Confederation Life Building, Richmond St looking east towards Yonge St (Toronto Public Library e9-90)
1890’s – Confederation Life Building, Richmond St looking east towards Yonge St (Toronto Public Library E9-90)
1961 - Confederation Life Building, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
1961 – Confederation Life Building, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
1972 - Confederation Life Building & Saphire Tavern, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
1972 – Confederation Life Building & Saphire Tavern, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
1980 - Confederation Life Building, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
1980 – Confederation Life Building, northwest corner of Richmond & Victoria Sts
2021 - The Confederation Life building, looking northwest from Richmond St E and Victoria St
2021 – The Confederation Life building, looking northwest from Richmond St E and Victoria St
June 18, 1981 - Confederation Life Building after the fire, looking west from Richmond St East
June 18, 1981 – Confederation Life Building after the fire, looking west from Richmond St East
June 18 1981 - Confederation Life Building after the  fire, looking north from Victoria St
June 18 1981 – Confederation Life Building after the fire, looking north from Victoria St
1903 - Yonge & Temperance Sts, looking north
1903 – Yonge & Temperance Sts, looking north
2020 - Confederation Life Building heritage plaque
2020 – Confederation Life Building heritage plaque

Vintage Photo Source: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library

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