St Lawrence Hall – The Historic Meeting Place in Old Town Toronto

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2021 – The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto
2021 – The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto

The magnificent St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E (at Jarvis St on the southwest corner), in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.

Great Fire of Toronto 1849

Early on an April morning in 1849, the first of Toronto’s great fires broke out. The blaze started at the back of the tavern, which was located on King St E, near Nelson St (present-day Jarvis St). Flames spread quickly through the area bounded by King E, Church, Adelaide E and George Sts, in what was known then as the centre of downtown Toronto. Also called the “Cathedral Fire,” The Cathedral Church of St James, City Hall, the Toronto Mirror (newspaper), and many businesses and wooden structures were destroyed.

The Architecture of St Lawrence Hall

1859 - Looking southwest towards an overhead view of the Mirror Printing Office and St Lawrence Hall and at King St E and Jarvis St
1859 – Looking southwest towards an overhead view of the Mirror Printing Office and St Lawrence Hall and at King St E and Jarvis St (Toronto Public Library R-4341)

Built on the ruins of the first City Hall, the stately St Lawrence Hall was constructed in 1850. It cost £5,455 to build. Designed by architect William Thomas in the Renaissance Revival style, the 3-storey, T-shaped building is in clad stone.

The centre block features a trio of arched openings, including the main entryway. Over the arches are keystones with the sculpted faces of the river gods, representing the St Lawrence River, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Other elements of the heritage building include a tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns and a sculptured tympanum pediment. The mansard roof has semi-circular dormers and is clad with slate. The Hall is crowned with a domed cupola with a bell, four clock faces and a flag pole.

On either side of the centre block are two wings that had shops on the main floor with public rooms and offices on the upper floors. On the third floor is an incredible Great Hall featuring dado, cornice mouldings, a grand chandelier and a bold ceiling with decorative plasterwork. The hall has hosted many performances, social events and lectures. Some included Toronto’s first mayor William Lyon Mackenzie and American showman PT Barnum. Several Abolition meetings were held during the years that Canada was receiving those seeking refuge through the Underground Railroad.

In 1851, the third St Lawrence Market North on the northwest corner of Front St E and Jarvis St was completed. At that time, visitors could enter through the main doors of St Lawrence Hall on King St E and walk to the rear of the building to a shopping arcade of the then-connected market.

Eric Arthur & the Restoration of St Lawrence Hall

2021 - The tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns, the words "St Lawrence Hall," and the sculptured tympanum pediment
2021 – The tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns, the words “St Lawrence Hall,” and the sculptured tympanum pediment

By the mid-1960s, the building fell into disrepair and was being threatened with demolition. Thanks to the efforts of architect Eric Arthur, this piece of Toronto’s history was saved and restored to its original glory. It was also part of the City commemorating the Canadian Centennial in 1967. That same year, it became a National Historic Site of Canada.

Today, St Lawrence Hall is one of the oldest public structures in Toronto.

Did You Know?

  • King St was one of the first streets to be mapped out in the town of York. It was named after King George III, the reigning king at that time.
  • Jarvis St, north of King St E, was once known as Nelson St. South of King St E, it was known as Market St E.
  • Other significant works in Toronto designed by William Thomas include the Old Don Jail, St Michael’s Cathedral Basilica and the second City Hall, which is incorporated into the St Lawrence Market South building.
  • The Victorian-style street lamps in front of St Lawrence Hall are still lit by gas.
  • Toronto’s new City Hall is located at 100 Queen St W and Bay St.

St Lawrence Hall Photos

2021 – The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto
2021 – The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto
1972 - The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the water trough on Jarvis St just south of King St E
1972 – The St Lawrence Hall is located at 157 King St E and Jarvis St on the southwest corner, in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto. Notice the water trough on Jarvis St just south of King St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 22, Item 36)
2021 – Looking south towards St Lawrence Hall main entrance at 157 King St E with arched openings containing fanlights, keystones and spandrels
2021 – Looking south towards St Lawrence Hall main entrance at 157 King St E with arched openings containing fanlights, keystones and spandrels
2021 - Statues above the main door of St Lawrence Hall
2021 – Statues above the main door of St Lawrence Hall
2021 – One of the three deities above the arched openings of the St Lawrence Hall
2021 – One of the three deities above the arched openings of the St Lawrence Hall
2021 - One of four sculpted spandrels above the entrance to St Lawrence Hall
2021 – One of four sculpted spandrels above the entrance to St Lawrence Hall
2021 - Victorian-style gas lamp in front of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
2021 – Victorian-style gas lamp in front of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
2021 - The tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns, the words "St Lawrence Hall," and the sculptured tympanum pediment
2021 – The tetrastyle portico with Corinthian columns, the words “St Lawrence Hall,” and the sculptured tympanum pediment
1980 – Looking southeast from St James Park towards St Lawrence Hall on King St E
1980 – Looking southeast from St James Park towards St Lawrence Hall on King St E (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 15, Item 42)
1980 - Looking southeast along King St E towards St Lawrence Hall and Jarvis St
1980 – Looking southeast along King St E towards St Lawrence Hall and Jarvis St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 15, Item 52)
1980s - St Lawrence Hall at night
1980s – St Lawrence Hall at night (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 623, Item 8)
1980's - Aerial view of St Lawrence Hall with the Cathedral Church of St James and Park
1980’s – Aerial view of St Lawrence Hall with the Cathedral Church of St James and Park (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 498, Item 37)
1980 - Looking southeast from St James Park towards St Lawrence Hall on King St E
1980 – Looking southeast from St James Park towards St Lawrence Hall on King St E (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 498, Item 24) 1980 – Looking southeast from St James Park towards St Lawrence Hall on King St E (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 498, Item 24)
1977 - Looking northeast from Front St W just west of Jarvis St, towards the St Lawrence Market North and the back of St Lawrence Hall
1977 – Looking northeast from Front St W just west of Jarvis St, towards the St Lawrence Market North and the back of St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 12, ID 50)
1980 - View of streetcar and park area in front of St Lawrence Hall on King St E just west of Jarvis St
1980 – View of streetcar and park area in front of St Lawrence Hall on King St E just west of Jarvis St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 15, Item 51)
1972 – Looking south from Adelaide St towards St Lawrence Hall
1972 – Looking south from Adelaide St towards St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 841, File 40, ID 7)
2021 – St Lawrence Hall cupola
2021 – St Lawrence Hall cupola
1979 - Looking southwest towards the CN Tower and the St Lawrence Hall cupola
1979 – Looking southwest towards the CN Tower and the St Lawrence Hall cupola (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 15, Item 24)
1950 - Looking north towards St Lawrence Hall cupola
1950 – Looking north towards St Lawrence Hall cupola (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 63)
1920 - Looking north towards the men with brooms on top of St Lawrence Market North roof with St Lawrence Hall cupola in the background
1920 – Looking north towards the men with brooms on top of St Lawrence Market North roof with St Lawrence Hall cupola in the background (Archives of Ontario I0013803)
Circa 1890 - Looking north along Jarvis St from Front St E. The building with the cupola is St Lawrence Hall
Circa 1890 – Looking north along Jarvis St from Front St E. The building with the cupola is St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1441, Item 22)
1898 - The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
1898 – The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall (Toronto Public Library R-4334)
2022 - The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 – The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 - The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 – The north end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
1898 - The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
1898 – The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall (Toronto Public Library R-4331)
2022 - The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 – The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 - The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2022 – The south end of the Great Hall in St Lawrence Hall
2010's - The north end of the Great Hall at St Lawrence Hall
2010’s – The north end of the Great Hall at St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto)
2010's - The south end of the Great Hall at St Lawrence Hall
2010’s – The south end of the Great Hall at St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto)
2010's - The VIP Room in St Lawrence Hall
2010’s – The VIP Room in St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto)
2022 – Fireplace in the Great Hall at the St Lawrence Hall
2022 – Fireplace in the Great Hall at the St Lawrence Hall
2022 – Looking up at the chandelier in the Great Hall
2022 – Looking up at the chandelier in the Great Hall
2022 – St Lawrence Hall
2022 – St Lawrence Hall
Circa 1897 - Looking southwest towards St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
Circa 1897 – Looking southwest towards St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St (Toronto Public Library R-4335)
Circa 1898 - Looking northwest towards St Lawrence Market North and St Lawrence Hall from Jarvis St and Front St E
Circa 1898 – Looking northwest towards St Lawrence Market North and St Lawrence Hall from Jarvis St and Front St E (Toronto Public Library R-6040)
1890's - Looking east along King St E towards Jarvis St, notice the St Lawrence Hall cupola on the right
1890’s – Looking east along King St E towards Jarvis St, notice the St Lawrence Hall cupola on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 69)
1885 - Looking southeast towards St Lawrence Hall with the St Lawrence Market North in the background on the right
1885 – Looking southeast towards St Lawrence Hall with the St Lawrence Market North in the background on the right (Toronto Public Library R-4337)
1874 - Looking southwest towards an overhead view of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
1874 – Looking southwest towards an overhead view of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St (Archives of Ontario I0021840)
1859 - Admission card to the Union Hook & Ladder Co. Ball at St Lawrence Hall
1859 – Admission card to the Union Hook & Ladder Co. Ball at St Lawrence Hall (Toronto Public Library)
1859 - Masonic Ball at St Lawrence Hall
1859 – Masonic Ball at St Lawrence Hall (Toronto Public Library OHQ-EPHE-S-R-108)
1856 - Toronto Hose Company's Eighth Annual Ball at St Lawrence Hall
1856 – Toronto Hose Company’s Eighth Annual Ball at St Lawrence Hall (Toronto Public Library 1856TORONTOHOSECOVS)
1859 - Looking southwest towards an overhead view of the Mirror Printing Office and St Lawrence Hall and at King St E and Jarvis St
1859 – Looking southwest towards an overhead view of the Mirror Printing Office and St Lawrence Hall and at King St E and Jarvis St (Toronto Public Library R-4341)
2021 - Looking south towards the north façade of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
2021 – Looking south towards the north façade of St Lawrence Hall at King St E and Jarvis St
2021 - Biagio Ristorante in the historic setting of St Lawrence Hall
2021 – Biagio Ristorante in the historic setting of St Lawrence Hall
1972 - Water trough once on Jarvis St, just south of King St E, beside St Lawrence Hall
1972 – Water trough once on Jarvis St, just south of King St E, beside St Lawrence Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 841, File 2, ID 8)
2020 - Water trough in St James Park on King St E, across the street from St Lawrence Hall
2020 – Water trough in St James Park on King St E, across the street from St Lawrence Hall
2019 - The heritage plaque reads: St. Lawrence Hall 1850 "St. Lawrence Hall, one of the oldest public buildings in Toronto, was constructed following the Great Fire of 1849 that destroyed a large part of the city's core. Architect William Thomas designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style with Corinthian columns and a domed cupola. The entrance originally led to a shopping arcade connected to the St. Lawrence Market. The building had shops on the main floor and, on the upper floors, offices and a grand meeting hall used for social events and by prominent speakers, performers, and musicians. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, and showman P. T. Barnum all appeared in the hall, as did William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto's first mayor and Upper Canada Rebellion leader. In the 20th century, St. Lawrence Hall lost prominence and fell into disrepair. By 1965, it was partially derelict and threatened with demolition. A campaign led by architect Eric Arthur resulted in the restoration of the building and its recognition as a National Historic Site in 1967." Heritage Toronto 2017
2019 – The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall 1850

“St. Lawrence Hall, one of the oldest public buildings in Toronto, was constructed following the Great Fire of 1849 that destroyed a large part of the city’s core. Architect William Thomas designed the building in the Renaissance Revival style with Corinthian columns and a domed cupola.

The entrance originally led to a shopping arcade connected to the St. Lawrence Market. The building had shops on the main floor and, on the upper floors, offices and a grand meeting hall used for social events and by prominent speakers, performers, and musicians. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, and showman P. T. Barnum all appeared in the hall, as did William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s first mayor and Upper Canada Rebellion leader.

In the 20th century, St. Lawrence Hall lost prominence and fell into disrepair. By 1965, it was partially derelict and threatened with demolition. A campaign led by architect Eric Arthur resulted in the restoration of the building and its recognition as a National Historic Site in 1967.”

Heritage Toronto 2017
2022 - The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall 1850
 
“Erected in 1850 this structure provided a grand public hall in the St. Lawrence market-place, then the centre of Toronto, for concerts, balls, meetings and other civic events. Seating a thousand, it was proudly regarded as one of the city's finest buildings. Here, Jenny Lind sang, the Anti-Slavery Society met, and George Brown addressed ardent Reform gatherings before Confederation. When the centre of the city shifted north and west in the 1870s, St. Lawrence Hall's great era ended.”

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board

Located in the main foyer at the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 – The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall 1850

“Erected in 1850 this structure provided a grand public hall in the St. Lawrence market-place, then the centre of Toronto, for concerts, balls, meetings and other civic events. Seating a thousand, it was proudly regarded as one of the city’s finest buildings. Here, Jenny Lind sang, the Anti-Slavery Society met, and George Brown addressed ardent Reform gatherings before Confederation. When the centre of the city shifted north and west in the 1870s, St. Lawrence Hall’s great era ended.”

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board
Located in the main foyer at the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 - The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall

"Designed by William Thomas, in the renaissance tradition, this Hall, built by the City in 1850, was for many years Toronto's chief social and cultural centre. With its handsome Corinthian facade and graceful cupola, it ranks amongst the finest of 19th century Canadian public buildings. 

Its assembly room was used for lectures, concerts, balls, and receptions; here such noted Canadians as Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and Thomas D'Arcy McGee addressed Toronto audiences. After a long period of disuse and neglect, it was restored in 1967 as a Centennial Project."

Erected by the Government of Canada

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Located inside the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 – The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall

“Designed by William Thomas, in the renaissance tradition, this Hall, built by the City in 1850, was for many years Toronto’s chief social and cultural centre. With its handsome Corinthian facade and graceful cupola, it ranks amongst the finest of 19th century Canadian public buildings.

Its assembly room was used for lectures, concerts, balls, and receptions; here such noted Canadians as Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee addressed Toronto audiences. After a long period of disuse and neglect, it was restored in 1967 as a Centennial Project.”

Erected by the Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Located inside the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 - The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall

“St. Lawrence Hall was an important venue for many African Canadian activities in support of abolition and the welfare of refugee slaves in Toronto. It provided an important platform for major abolitionist speakers including Frederick Douglass, Samuel Ringgold Ward and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

One of the first events in the newly-completed St. Lawrence Hall was the 1851 "North American Convention of Coloured Freemen". Anti-slavery feelings ran high in Toronto after the United States government passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Now escaped slaves and even free African Americans could be arrested without warrant or trial anywhere in the United States. Black abolitionist leaders Henry Bibb of Canada West and Theodore Holly of Vermont organized the convention to discuss issues of slavery and Black emigration from the United States. Fifty-three delegates from across Canada and the United States, plus one from the Caribbean, attended the three-day convention.

Prominent abolitionist leaders including Dr. Martin Delany, Thomas Smallwood and John Cary debated issues of importance to the North American Black community. Topics included discussion of how to advance the fight against slavery and the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law, the fight against segregated schooling for Black children and the difficult question of whether or not to encourage Blacks to emigrate from the United States and build new lives in Canada, the Caribbean, or Africa. The convention's final resolution confirmed Canada as the best destination for refugee American slaves.”

Park Canada

Located inside the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 – The heritage plaque reads:

St. Lawrence Hall

“St. Lawrence Hall was an important venue for many African Canadian activities in support of abolition and the welfare of refugee slaves in Toronto. It provided an important platform for major abolitionist speakers including Frederick Douglass, Samuel Ringgold Ward and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

One of the first events in the newly-completed St. Lawrence Hall was the 1851 “North American Convention of Coloured Freemen”. Anti-slavery feelings ran high in Toronto after the United States government passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. Now escaped slaves and even free African Americans could be arrested without warrant or trial anywhere in the United States. Black abolitionist leaders Henry Bibb of Canada West and Theodore Holly of Vermont organized the convention to discuss issues of slavery and Black emigration from the United States. Fifty-three delegates from across Canada and the United States, plus one from the Caribbean, attended the three-day convention.

Prominent abolitionist leaders including Dr. Martin Delany, Thomas Smallwood and John Cary debated issues of importance to the North American Black community. Topics included discussion of how to advance the fight against slavery and the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law, the fight against segregated schooling for Black children and the difficult question of whether or not to encourage Blacks to emigrate from the United States and build new lives in Canada, the Caribbean, or Africa. The convention’s final resolution confirmed Canada as the best destination for refugee American slaves.”

Park Canada
Located inside the St. Lawrence Hall
2022 - A plaque commemorating the official opening of the restored St Lawrence Hall
2022 – A plaque commemorating the official opening of the restored St Lawrence Hall
1858 - Map showing the location of St Lawrence Hall and previous names of Jarvis St
1858 – Map showing the location of St Lawrence Hall and previous names of Jarvis St (Toronto Public Library)
1849 - Map of the Great Fire of Toronto 1849
1849 – Map of the Great Fire of Toronto 1849 (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson – 1894)
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