The Legislative Building is located at 111 Wellesley St W and is surrounded by Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto.
The land Queen’s Park resides on was the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. In 1842, it became home to King’s College. The college existed from 1827 until 1850, when it was replaced by the University of Toronto. The King’s College building became the University/Provincial Lunatic Asylum for a time. In 1859, the City entered into a 999-year lease with the University and opened a park named after Queen Victoria a year later. Her son and future King, Edward VII, were in attendance to open the park.
The Design Competition
For some time, the location had been considered for the province’s new parliament buildings, the fourth of its kind, and in 1879/80, their construction was approved.
In the spring of 1880, an international design competition took place. None of the entries met the criteria when it came to lighting, heating and ventilation. The Ontario government then asked one of the competition’s three adjudicators, British-born American Richard A Waite, to submit a proposal to be judged along with reworked top entries. Mr Waite’s design was awarded the commission, and it caused quite a controversy among the entrants. Mr Waite resided in Buffalo and designed many buildings there.
The Architecture of the Legislative Building
In 1886, the construction of the massive edifice began and was completed in 1892. Officially opening in 1893, the Richardson Romanesque style exterior features heavy stonework using Credit Valley pink sandstone. Other details include copper-domed towers, rounded arch entrances and windows, elaborate stone carvings and a slate roof.
Some of the interior elements of the Legislative Building include oak floors and panelling, as well as cast iron details and columns. Did you know the interior walls are made using more than 10 million bricks? Inside the Legislative Chamber, Art Nouveau master, Gustav Hahn, painted murals on the walls and ceilings. The Chamber also features magnificent mahogany and sycamore carvings.
Sir Oliver Mowat, Ontario’s longest-serving Premier (1872 to 1896), opened the first legislative session there on April 4, 1893.
The East, West & North Wings
On each side of the centre, block are wings. The East Wing features the original Robert McCausland Company of Toronto skylight, which fills the warm oak-panelled hall with natural light. The carriage entrance or porte-cochère was traditionally known as the Premier’s entryway since it allowed for an easy carriage exit onto a landing and then into the building. Another architectural element of the East Wing is the hip roof supported by iron columns.
In 1909, the West Wing was destroyed when a fire that was thought to be caused by a spark from roof repairs. While MPPs, staff and firefighters saved the Legislative Chamber, the Legislative Library and 100,000 books and public records were ravaged. Renowned Toronto architect EJ Lennox was hired to redesign the West Wing. Lennox preserved much of Richard Waite’s exterior design while adding Italian marble to the interior. On top of the West Wing, two storeys were added. A flat roof made from glass bricks allows light to pour onto the stained-glass ceiling highlighting Ontario’s Coat of Arms.
Designed by another one of Toronto’s great architects, GW Gouinlock, the plans for the North Wing were already in progress when the blaze destroyed the West Wing. Completed in 1913, the North Wing became the new home of the Legislative Library. By the time the North Wing and some of the redesigned West Wing were constructed, sandstone from the Credit Valley quarry had been exhausted, so the new sandstone was mined from Sackville, New Brunswick.
Inside the province’s parliament building is the desk of the Sergeant-at-Arms, who is responsible for the security within the Legislative Precinct. While each government appoints a Sergeant-at-Arms, there may be more than one watching over the House today.
There have been sightings of a ghostly soldier standing beside the Sergeant-at-Arms desk. While there is no proof of who the spirit may be, some think it could be Charles Smith Rutherford. He served as the Sergeant-at-Arms in the Legislative Building from 1934 to 1940; however, he may be more well-known as a veteran and decorated hero of World War I.
In 1918, Lieutenant Rutherford was a distance ahead of his command in northern France when he wandered into the midst of over 30 German soldiers. Lt Rutherford thought quickly. He boldly told the Germans they were surrounded by Canadian soldiers and they were now prisoners. The Germans were so intimidated they surrendered, and Lt Rutherford took them back to his company. It was a masterful bluff. Lt Rutherford earned the Victoria Cross for his bravery. He passed away in 1989 as the last surviving Canadian veteran of WWI to have received such an honour.
Queen’s Park is also rumoured to be haunted by three former residents of the asylum, including:
- The Lady in White – her sad presence is said to roam the halls in a white, long flowing robe.
- The Maiden – wearing a gingham dress, she hides her face with her apron.
- The Hanging Woman – in the basement tunnel, her apparition appears suspended from a noose. Those that have seen her describe her clothing as ragged and the ghastly colour of her skin.
The Legislative Buildings and Park Today
This historic landmark is home to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to this day. The park is filled with statues, monuments, memorials, and beautiful gardens and trees. It’s a great place to walk and explore Ontario’s history.
The Early Legislative Assembly & Buildings
In 1792, Upper Canada’s first elected Legislative Assembly session took place in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was then called Newark. Under the administration of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe, bills were passed establishing English property and civil law along with trial by jury (to name a few) during the first session. In 1797, the Assembly moved from Newark to York (Toronto) as it was seen as being less exposed to the US border.
From 1797 to 1813, Upper Canada’s first Parliament Buildings were located at the southwest corner of Parliament and Front Sts. They were called the Palace of Government, York. During the War of 1812, American troops burned them down. The Legislative Assembly then held meetings at Jordan’s York Hotel, once located on King St.
In 1820, Upper Canada’s second Parliament Buildings were constructed in the same location as the first; however, after only four years, the structures were destroyed by fire. This time from an overheated chimney flue.
From 1829 to 1832, the Legislative Assembly met in the courthouses at Church and King Sts until the new buildings were ready. From 1832 to 1892, sessions were held at the third Parliament Buildings, which were located on the north side of Front St, at Simcoe St.
Queen’s Park Photos
- Ontario Heritage Trust (plaque)
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson (1894)
- Landmarks of Toronto: Volume 5 by J Ross Robertson (1908)
- Haunted Toronto by John Robert Colombo (1996), The Four Ghosts of Queen’s Park
- The Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Oct 29, 2011, pg A6, The Ghosts of Queen’s Park
- Legislative Assembly of Ontario: Parliament and Government
- University of Toronto: Kings College
- Royal Ontario Museum: Cultural History
- Toronto Ghosts: Queen’s Park
- Haunted Walk: Campus Secrets and Spectres – University of Toronto Ghost Tour
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library