The Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM, is located at 100 Queen’s Park (at Bloor St W on the southwest corner) in the University of Toronto – St George Campus area.
The Founding of the Royal Ontario Museum
Early in the 20th century, a group of influential Torontonians saw the need for a museum of high stature in the city. While they campaigned for funding, Professor Charles Trick Currelly, a U of T graduate, Methodist minister, archaeologist and the museum’s future Director of Archaeology, began collecting objects for the upcoming institution.
While on a site in Egypt in 1907, Prof Currelly was taking a cast of a temple wall for display at the new museum however he did not have the funds to colour it. He was visited there by Sir Edmund Osler and others from Toronto. They donated funds for that project and became lifelong benefactors of the museum.
In 1910, the Government of Ontario and the University of Toronto partnered and equally funded the new institution – the Royal Ontario Museum. The new museum was to be located on 2.5 acres of University property near the southwest corner of Bloor St W and Queen’s Park.
The First Building
Respected Toronto architects, Darling and Pearson, were tasked to design the new building. While the new museum was being constructed, Prof CT Currelly received and stored relics and specimens for the upcoming display of treasures.
What we know today as the ROM’s West Wing was completed in 1914 at the cost of $400,000. The three-storey, Romanesque Revival-style structure is clad with stone and buff brick with terracotta trim. The museum’s main entrance was a round-arched door facing Bloor St W. Three full-height bay windows can be seen from Philosopher’s Walk, a park that runs alongside the original building.
The Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada, opened the landmark. It was a grand affair. There were five museums within the heritage building, including the Museums of Archaeology, Geology, Mineralogy, Paleontology and Zoology. ROM initially began with 60,000 objects and artifacts from around the globe, such as Medieval European luxuries, armour, crystals, pottery, tapestries, fossils and jewelry.
The museum’s first Director of Palaeontology, Doctor William Arthur Parks, organized expeditions to the Canadian and American West starting in 1918. For nearly two decades, Dr Parks and his team collected fossilized remains that provided much of ROM’s extensive and world-renowned dinosaur exhibit.
The East Wing and Centre Block
Each department kept collecting new treasures with great zeal. As space in the galleries quickly became filled, items started being stored in the basement. So in 1931, the architectural firm of Chapman and Oxley was commissioned to design the East Wing (which faces Queen’s Park) and the Centre Block (which connects the two wings).
Constructed during The Great Depression, the excavation was done by hand, using picks, shovels, and horse-drawn wagons. In an effort to use locally-sourced materials, Ontario marble was utilized in various areas of the addition, including in the floor, steps, pillars, and decorative panels of the Rotunda. Noted Dutch-Canadian sculptor William Oosterhoff created the stone carvings.
In 1933, the Royal Ontario Museum’s new space opened. Newspapers heralded the H-shaped building as a “masterpiece of architecture.” Inside, visitors to the museum would find a vast array of articles that humans produced throughout the centuries, such as garments, musical instruments, implements, armour and weapons. In 1933, over 285,000 people passed through the museum’s turnstiles.
In 1955, the five museums merged into one body, and in 1968, the museum separated from the University of Toronto, becoming an entity solely under the Ontario government. Attendance was up to 462,700 during that decade.
In 1967, the University of Toronto transferred the property at 90 Queen’s Park (directly south of the museum proper) to the ROM at no cost. In 1968 and with excitement over space travel at its peak, the museum opened the McLaughlin Planetarium on the site. Visitors to the attraction could see the heavens reproduced inside a 75 ft diameter, 84 ft high dome in the Star Theatre. The $2 million project was a gift from Colonel RS McLaughlin, a Canadian automobile manufacturer and philanthropist. After 27 years, the planetarium went dark due to a lack of attendance and budget cuts. In 2009, the University of Toronto re-acquired the McLaughlin Planetarium site for $22 million.
Curatorial Centre & Terrace Galleries Addition
In the early 1970s, the Royal Ontario Museum was one of the buildings on Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list. In 1978, the Royal Ontario Museum began a $55 million revitalization project. A library, a 9-storey curatorial centre (south courtyard) and a six-level terrace gallery (north courtyard) were constructed. The museum’s current galleries were also renovated. In 1984, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were in Ontario to celebrate the province’s Bicentennial. While visiting ROM, the Queen unveiled a plaque, officially opening the Queen Elizabeth II Terrace Galleries in a special ceremony.
Renaissance ROM & the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal
Thirty years after opening, the Terrace Galleries were demolished to make way for the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, part of the Renaissance ROM project. Completed in 2007, the ROM celebrated the opening of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The self-supporting prismatic structures are comprised of five interlocking steel frames clad in glass and strips of brushed aluminum. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, the stunning Crystal and its seven galleries overlook Bloor St W. The historic 1914 and 1933 facades are revealed in the interior. Mr Lee-Chin’s lead donation of $30 million launched the $270 million renewal plan.
The museum’s heritage Weston Entrance, accessed from Queen’s Park, reopened in 2017 after undergoing a revitalization. Hariri and Pontarini Architects redesigned and reconstructed the space to complement the contemporary style of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The entrance features clear views of the spectacular Rotunda through to the Samuel Hall – Currelly Gallery.
The Royal Ontario Museum Today
Internationally recognized, The Department of Natural History holds one of the country’s most extensive natural history collections. Having over 10 million specimens, the department displays and researches the vertebrate fossils of dinosaurs, mammals, birds, fishes, insects and arachnids, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, fungi, plants, minerals and gems, rocks and ores, and meteorites.
The Department of Art & Culture has almost one million pieces from around the world that dates back to pre-historic times up to the present day. The collection includes artwork from the Indigenous Americas, Canada, Egypt and Nubia, Africa, the Islamic World, Greece and Rome, Asia and Europe.
For over a century, the Royal Ontario Museum has been an educational and historical showcase for nature, culture and the arts. Canada’s largest museum, ROM attracts over 1.3 million visitors from around the world each year. Today, over 13 million objects are displayed throughout the museum’s 40 gallery and exhibition spaces. The museum also features lectures, films, concerts and performances. Plus, over 60,000 objects can be viewed in ROM’s online collection.
Charles Trick Currelly
While Prof Currelly devoted his life to creating ROM, he previously collected for prominent people in Toronto, Canada and Britain. This included Sir Edmund Walker, a philanthropist and one of the influential people that wanted to establish a prestigious museum in Toronto.
Prof Currelly was the ROM’s Director of Archaeology from 1914 until his retirement in 1946. Before his passing in 1957, he wrote about his travels and adventures in an autobiography titled I Brought the Ages Home. The Samuel Hall – Currelly Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum, named in his honour.
The Royal Ontario Museum is thought to be haunted by the spirit of Prof Charles Currelly. Nightguards have reported seeing the ghostly presence of a man wearing a nightshirt and cap in the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art. Click for more haunted tales.
Royal Ontario Museum Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 100 Queen’s Park
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 100 Queen’s Park
- Ontario Heritage Trust
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 7, 1910, pg 9
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Aug 15, 1911, pg 3
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Mar 21, 1914, pg A2
- The Toronto Daily Star Newspaper Archives: Dec 24, 1932
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 13, 1933, pg 4
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Jan 5, 1934, pg 11
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 5, 1965, pg 5
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 27, 2007, pg A10A
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library, Archives of Ontario & University of Toronto Archives