Hotel Ford was once located at Bay St and Dundas St W (on the northeast corner) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. It was across the street from the former Toronto Coach Terminal.
Toronto’s Most Modern Hotel
In July 1927, R.T. Ford & Company began constructing the latest hotel in their expanding chain in Toronto. Just ten months later, Mayor Sam McBride was formally opening the city’s newest hostelry with a golden key. From Bay St, guests poured into the flower-filled rotunda – the men’s lobby had red leather chairs and the women’s lounge with patterned furnishings. Within 30 minutes, the 750-room Hotel Ford was completely sold out. That evening, an inaugural dinner was attended by government officials and prominent citizens.
The “fireproof” hotel cost approximately $1 million to build. It was made of concrete, steel and brown brick and was uniquely E-shaped. A cross-section on the building’s north side joined three 12-storey wings, all supported by a double-height one-storey base.
Hotel Ford featured “first-class accommodation at minimum rates,” ranging between $1.50-$2.50 for single occupancy or $2.50-$3.50 for double. The hotel was also marketed to those looking for permanent residence at $8 per week for one or $10 for two.
Each guestroom had a wardrobe, a bathroom with hot and cold running water, a telephone, a radio, a reading lamp, sunproof curtains, and the finest mattress and linens with all furnishings by the T Eaton Company. There was also a dedicated section for women only, with no men allowed to enter that part of the building – a feature already found in larger American hotels.
Hotel Ford’s dining room featured cuisine by the internationally famous chef of the former Queen’s Hotel (where the Royal York Hotel is located today), plus there were lounges, nightly entertainment, dances and parties. Other amenities included a house physician, a barber shop, a shoe shine stand, a magazine counter, a cigar store and valet service.
For its first year, Hotel Ford was the best hotel in Toronto… until the Royal York Hotel opened in 1929.
Hotel Ford’s Decline
The property later had various owners, including Sheraton Hotels. They had sold it in 1954 for $3.6 million; however, due to a default in mortgage payments, the hotel ended up back in Sheraton’s possession in the mid-1960s. Some renovations were made through the years, but Hotel Ford had slowly gone downhill.
A portion of the guests were seniors who were permanent residents, but others were using the hotel for illicit activities. What began as the city’s most modern hotel had become a grimy haven for crime and, as one local newspaper writer put it, “The Queen of the Dumps.” By the early 1970s, only 509 rooms were available for rent – a single was $8 per night with shared shower facilities or a double at $17 with your own bathroom. Even though there were signs at the front desk with the types of credit cards accepted, it was mainly a cash-in-advance hotel.
After a series of tragic events in its final years, including a deadly fire, a fatal 12-storey fall down an elevator shaft, and the murder of a 9-year-old boy, Hotel Ford closed in October 1973. Its contents were sold off, and by the summer of 1974, the building had been demolished.
Since the early 1980s, the northeast corner of Dundas St W and Bay St has been home to the Atrium on Bay office building.
Did You Know?
- When excavation work began on the hotel in 1927, the fill was hauled away by horses and wagons. It was causing major traffic disruptions, so it was ordered that the work be carried out at night. It looks like construction and traffic issues have gone hand-in-hand in Toronto for nearly a century.
- Ford Hotel’s first manager was Lou Scholes, a champion oarsman. Mr Scholes was brought up in the hotel business as his sportsman father was one of Toronto’s pioneer hotel proprietors, operating Athletes Hotel (once on Yonge St, at the site of the former Colonial Tavern).
- Perched 49 m or 160 ft in the air on top of the hotel’s roof was Toronto’s first “skyscraper bungalow.” The 6-room green stucco residence was designed by architects Shepard & Calvin for Jack Green and completed in 1928.
- Travellers coming into the city from the bus terminal often had their first sandwich and cup of coffee at the hotel’s restaurant.
- A scene from the 1969 movie “The First Time,” starring Jacqueline Bisset, was filmed in Hotel Ford.
- Staff referred to the hotel as “the Big F” (for Ford?).
The Hotel Ford Chain
The R.T. Ford & Company built and operated four other hotels, all of which were designed by architect John Foster Warner. They include:
Rochester, NY – Hotel Richford for Men at 67 Chestnut St was the company’s first hotel. Located in their hometown, the 350-room property opened in 1915. It was later renamed Hotel Ford, then the Richford Hotel. The building has served a variety of uses and still stands today.
Buffalo, NY – Hotel Ford at 210 Delaware Ave was the chain’s second property, opening in the early 1920s. It had 750 rooms, and its architectural style became the blueprint for the company’s future hotels. Like Toronto, this building did not survive and was demolished circa 2000.
Erie, PA – Hotel Ford at 515 State St opened just weeks before Toronto in 1928. The 400-room hotel had two wings instead of three. Today it’s a mixed-use building known as the Richford Arms Apartments.
Montreal, QC – Hotel Ford at 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd W was the fifth hotel. It opened in 1930 and had 750 guestrooms. The building was later renovated for other uses, and today the former hotel is primarily office space.
Hotel Ford Photos
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jul 8, 1927, pg 16
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 31, 1928, pgs 16 & 18
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Jun 1, 1928, pgs 5 & 13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 8, 1954, pg 23
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Oct 9, 1968, pg B13
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: May 12, 1969, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 16, 1970, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Sep 29, 1973, pg 5
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Oct 1, 1973, pg A3
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Nov 1, 1973, pg 1
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 12, 1979, pg D1
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Street Photo: 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd W (Montreal), 515 State St (Erie, PA) & 67 Chestnut St (Rochester, NY) from Google Maps
- Toronto City Directory by Might Directories Ltd 1928 courtesy of Toronto Public Library
- Toronto Yellow Pages 1970 courtesy of Toronto Public Library