Royal Ontario Museum – Canada’s Nature, Culture & Art Treasure House

2020 - The north facade of the East Wing (completed in 1933) and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (completed in 2007) at the ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen's Park
2020 – The north facade of the East Wing (completed in 1933) and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (completed in 2007) at the ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen’s Park

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.

1922 - Looking north at the Royal Ontario Museum, present-day's West Wing - the path along the building is what we know today as Philosopher's Walk
1922 – Looking north at the Royal Ontario Museum, present-day’s West Wing – the path along the building is what we know today as Philosopher’s Walk (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 134)

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.

1930s - The East Wing and Park Plaza Hotel, looking southwest from Queen's Park just south of Bloor St W
1930s – The East Wing and Park Plaza Hotel, looking southwest from Queen’s Park just south of Bloor St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3058)

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.

1993 - The McLaughlin Planetarium and the south end of the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum
1993 – The McLaughlin Planetarium and the south end of the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 179, Item 29)

McLaughlin Planetarium

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.

1993/96 - An aerial view of ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen's Park - the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal replaced the Terrace Galleries
1993/96 – An aerial view of ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen’s Park – the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal replaced the Terrace Galleries (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 710, Item 6)

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.

2017 Revitalization

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.

2021 - Michael Lee-Chin Crystal sign at ROM
2021 – Michael Lee-Chin Crystal sign at ROM

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.

Haunted Tales

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

1915 - Looking south from Bloor St W at the Royal Ontario Museum, today's West Wing - notice the original main entrance was off of Bloor St W
1915 – Looking south from Bloor St W at the Royal Ontario Museum, today’s West Wing – notice the original main entrance was off of Bloor St W (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-65MS)
2020 - The north facade of the East Wing (completed in 1933) and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (completed in 2007) at the ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen's Park
2020 – The north facade of the East Wing (completed in 1933) and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal (completed in 2007) at the ROM, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Queen’s Park
1930s - The East Wing and the Park Plaza Hotel, looking northwest from Queen's Park and Charles St W
1930s – The East Wing and the Park Plaza Hotel, looking northwest from Queen’s Park and Charles St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3058)
1983 - Looking southwest at the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum from Queen's Park, just south of Bloor St W
1983 – Looking southwest at the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum from Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, ID 102)
2020 - Looking southwest towards the Weston Entrance and East Wing of ROM from Queen's Park, just south of Bloor St W
2020 – Looking southwest towards the Weston Entrance and East Wing of ROM from Queen’s Park, just south of Bloor St W
2020 - The Weston Entrance of ROM at 100 Queen's Park
2020 – The Weston Entrance of ROM at 100 Queen’s Park
2020 - Stonework details, statues and stained glass over the Weston Entrance of the Royal Ontario Museum
2020 – Stonework details, statues and stained glass over the Weston Entrance of the Royal Ontario Museum
2020 - A masked statue above the Weston Entrance at ROM
2020 – A masked statue above the Weston Entrance at ROM
2021 - Michael Lee-Chin Crystal sign at ROM
2021 – Michael Lee-Chin Crystal sign at ROM
2021 - The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, looking southeast on Bloor St W towards Queen's Park
2021 – The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, looking southeast on Bloor St W towards Queen’s Park
1930's - The East Wing of ROM and the Alexandra Gates, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd
1930’s – The East Wing of ROM and the Alexandra Gates, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1140)
1955 - Looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd towards the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum
1955 – Looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd towards the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto Public Library r-5332)
2020 - ROM's north and east facade of the East Wing and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd
2020 – ROM’s north and east facade of the East Wing and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, looking southwest from Bloor St W and Avenue Rd
1993/96 - An aerial view of ROM, looking southwest towards Bloor St W and Queen's Park - the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal replaced the Terrace Galleries
1993/96 – An aerial view of ROM, looking southwest towards Bloor St W and Queen’s Park – the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal replaced the Terrace Galleries (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 710, Item 6)
1968 - An aerial view of the Royal Ontario Museum, McLaughlin Planetarium and Varsity Stadium in the Queen's Park and Bloor St W area
1968 – An aerial view of the Royal Ontario Museum, McLaughlin Planetarium and Varsity Stadium in the Queen’s Park and Bloor St W area (Archives of Ontario I0016682)
Date unknown - Professor Charles Trick Currelly, ROM's first Director of Archaeology
Date unknown – Professor Charles Trick Currelly, ROM’s first Director of Archaeology (University of Toronto Archives 2004-30-7MS)
1933 - The Chinese Tomb exhibit at ROM - notice the carved marble Guardian Lion's from China's Qing Dynasty period (1650 to 1750 AD) which are now located at the museum's Weston Entrance
1933 – The Chinese Tomb exhibit at ROM – notice the carved marble Guardian Lion’s from China’s Qing Dynasty period (1650 to 1750 AD) which are now located at the museum’s Weston Entrance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9773)
2020 - One of two carved marble Guardian Lion's from China's Qing Dynasty period (1650 to 1750 AD) - located at the Weston Entrance on Queen's Park
2020 – One of two carved marble Guardian Lion’s from China’s Qing Dynasty period (1650 to 1750 AD) – located at the Weston Entrance on Queen’s Park
1933 - Corythosaurus intermedius, a genus of hadrosaurid "duck-billed" dinosaur on display at the Royal Ontario Museum
1933 – Corythosaurus intermedius, a genus of hadrosaurid “duck-billed” dinosaur on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 9774)
1932 - During construction of ROM's East Wing - Ontario marble was used in the Rotunda for the floor, steps, pillars and decorative panels
1932 – During construction of ROM’s East Wing – Ontario marble was used in the Rotunda for the floor, steps, pillars and decorative panels (Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photograph Archive TSPA 0114416F)
1931 - Construction of the Centre Block and East Wing of ROM, looking east with Victoria College's rooftops in the distance
1931 – Construction of the Centre Block and East Wing of ROM, looking east with Victoria College’s rooftops in the distance (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-21MS)
1931 - Construction of ROM's East Wing, looking east towards Bloor St W and Queen's Park - notice the Park Plaza Hotel on the left and the Department of Household Science building behind the construction
1931 – Construction of ROM’s East Wing, looking east towards Bloor St W and Queen’s Park – notice the Park Plaza Hotel on the left and the Department of Household Science building behind the construction (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-19MS)
1930 - Just prior to the construction of ROM's East Wing and Centre Block, looking northeast towards Park Plaza Hotel, Church of the Redeemer and Department of Household Science building at Bloor St W and Avenue Rd/Queen's Park
1930 – Just prior to the construction of ROM’s East Wing and Centre Block, looking northeast towards Park Plaza Hotel, Church of the Redeemer and Department of Household Science building at Bloor St W and Avenue Rd/Queen’s Park (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-8MS)
1924 - Cases in the Geology section of ROM
1924 – Cases in the Geology section of ROM (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-51MS)
1923 - The Greek Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum
1923 – The Greek Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-60MS)
1923 - Wall of Egyptian temple in the Archaeology area of the Royal Ontario Museum
1923 – Wall of Egyptian temple in the Archaeology area of the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-56MS)
1923 - Chinese Buddha exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum
1923 – Chinese Buddha exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-61MS)
1922 - Hadrosaur dinosaur skeleton, collected in Alberta in 1920, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum
1922 – Hadrosaur dinosaur skeleton, collected in Alberta in 1920, on display at the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Archives 2004-30-2MS)
1922 - Looking north at the Royal Ontario Museum, present-day's West Wing - the path along the building is what we know today as Philosopher's Walk
1922 – Looking north at the Royal Ontario Museum, present-day’s West Wing – the path along the building is what we know today as Philosopher’s Walk (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 134)
1910s - Darling and Pearson Architects sketch of the Royal Ontario Museum
1910s – Darling and Pearson Architects sketch of the Royal Ontario Museum (University of Toronto Archives 2002-64-36MS)
2020 - The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher's Walk, on the west side of the Royal Ontario Museum
2020 – The Alexandra Gates at the north end of Philosopher’s Walk, on the west side of the Royal Ontario Museum
2020 - Along the west side of ROM is Philosopher's Walk
2020 – Along the west side of ROM is Philosopher’s Walk
1993 - The McLaughlin Planetarium and the south end of the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum
1993 – The McLaughlin Planetarium and the south end of the East Wing of the Royal Ontario Museum (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 179, Item 29)
2020 - The former McLaughlin Planetarium at 90 Queen's Park
2020 – The former McLaughlin Planetarium at 90 Queen’s Park
1920s - Dr William Arthur Parks, ROM's first Director of Palaeontology
1920s – Dr William Arthur Parks, ROM’s first Director of Palaeontology (University of Toronto Archives 2009-9-2MS)
2020 - William Arthur Parks heritage plaque
2020 – William Arthur Parks heritage plaque
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