The Horticulture Building, today home to the Toronto Event Centre, is located at 15 Saskatchewan Rd (between Dufferin St and Princes’ Blvd) at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
The Architecture of the Horticulture Building
Built in 1906/07, architect George Wallace Gouinlock designed the Beaux-Arts style pavilion to display flowers, fruits, plants and vegetables.
The one-storey structure features a red-brick façade with classical and Baroque elements in white stone, decorative portico entrances and metal cornice work. The Horticulture Building is uniquely E-shaped. A cross-section on the south end joins the structure’s three wings that extend to Saskatchewan Rd.
Its central entrance faces Lake Ontario and is topped with a magnificent glazed glass and steel dome that towers 23 m or 75 ft high from floor to tip and is 18 m or 65 ft in diameter. Outside, the dome’s 16 main ribs were once studded with electric bulbs making its crown shine. The Horticulture Building cost approximately $90,000 to construct and, at the time, was considered fireproof.
For several decades the Horticulture Building primarily served to exhibit floral and agricultural items as well as for competitions related to the industry. It did, however, perform other duties.
A Morgue for the Noronic Disaster
On the evening of September 16, 1949, the Great Lakes luxury cruise ship, the SS Noronic, docked at Pier 9 (once near today’s Jack Layton Ferry Terminal). At 1:30 am the following morning, before everyone aboard could be woken up, a fire quickly turned into a raging inferno. In the end, 119 people perished.
Officials realized that Toronto’s morgue could not handle the number of dead. The city’s Chief Coroner contacted the CNE’s General Manager, and for five months, the Horticulture Building served as a vast impromptu morgue.
New Toronto City Hall Design Competition
In 1958, the Horticulture Building was used to display the model submissions in the international competition to design Toronto’s new City Hall. There were over 500 entries received from 42 countries. The models and designs filled the building and, if laid out end-to-end, would stretch 4 km or 2.5 miles.
The winning design was created by Viljo Revell and Associates from Helsinki, Finland. The architectural style of Toronto City Hall brought the city into a modern era when it opened in 1965.
The Property Today
In 2004, a long-term lease was signed for the 41,000 sq ft Horticulture Building and the surrounding 86,000 sq ft property. Two years later, the historic structure became home to Muzik, an exclusive nightclub attracting celebrities, musicians, athletes and politicians. In 2013, the property underwent $5 million in upgrades to develop a pool and patio venue around the building.
In 2018, Muzik was rebranded into the Toronto Event Centre, an entertainment venue and supper club with commercial space.
Did You Know?
During World War I and II, CNE grounds became known as Exhibition Camp for the Canadian Armed Forces. From 1942 until 1946, the Horticulture Building served as the Quartermaster Stores.
The Horticulture Building received heritage status from the city in 1973.
Out of over 20 early Exhibition buildings designed by GW Gouinlock between 1902 and 1917, only five remain today. They include the Administrative, Music, Horticulture and Government buildings, along with the Fire Hall/Police Station. They represent the finest and most extensive group of early 20th-century exhibition buildings in the country and were designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.
Over 20 limestone sculptures known as the Garden of Greek Gods, created by renowned Toronto artist Elford Bradley Cox, were donated to the city in 1979 by a local restauranteur named Athanasios Karamanos. For several years, many pieces were around the grounds of the Horticulture Building. In 2022, the figures were relocated and unveiled at their new permanent home on the south side of Exhibition Place. They are free to see and, once again, publicly accessible.
The Crystal Palace once stood on the site of the present-day Horticulture Building. It was the jewel of the Exhibition and the primary exhibit building. The Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire on Thanksgiving night in 1906.