The Temple Building was once located at 62-76 Richmond St W and Bay St (on the northwest corner) in the Financial District of Toronto.
The Architecture of the Ornate & “Fireproof” Building
In 1895, the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF), both a friendly fraternal society and life insurance company, began constructing its world headquarters in Toronto. The IOF was operated by the dynamic Dr Oronhyatekha, Supreme Chief Ranger.
Renowned architect, George W Gouinlock, designed the 11-storey, Romanesque Revival style structure. A steel-frame construction, the first two levels of the Temple Building were clad in Credit Valley brownstone, with the remaining stories a brownish-red brick. The building had rounded corners, was trimmed throughout with brownstone, had numerous windows, and the roof was terracotta. Almost no wood was used in its construction, except for the window frames and sashes.
There were two main entrances – one from Richmond St W and the other from Bay St. These arched doorways featured elaborately carved stonework. Inside were impressive entrance halls adorned with marble and iridescent ceramic. They led visitors to a central staircase winding to the two elevators. The first of their kind in Canada, the elevators were powered by electricity with doors that opened and closed automatically. Passengers also knew if the elevator was going up or down and what floor they were on.
Touted as being “fireproof,” some of Temple Building’s modern features included standing water pipes with a steam pump to make pressure with hose attachment on all floors, fireproof vaults, tile floors, steam heating, electric lights, good ventilation and hot/cold running water. Lavatories (sinks), closets (toilets) and drinking fountains were “lavishly distributed” throughout each floor. The basement had the equipment for heating, ventilation and lighting as well as a “bicycle stable.”
Even though the steel frame could hold the weight of the building, at the time, it was relatively new and not fully trusted. As reinforcement and contemplating adding up to another six stories to the building, the architect made the foundation 4′ 3″ thick and the main floor walls 3′ 6″ thick.
When the Temple Building was completed in 1898, it was not only the tallest building in Canada at 50 m or 165 ft, but it was also the largest and best equipped.
Who and what was in the Temple Building?
Main Corridor: Reception, telegraph and long-distance phone offices, newsstand, cigar counter and barbershop.
1st, 2nd and 3rd Floors: Business and bank offices.
The International Order of Foresters
4th Floor: Featured a large courtroom that was two stories in height. The walls and drapes were blue, and the oak furniture had rich red upholstery. Woven into the carpet were the letters “I.O.F.” and “L.B.C.” which stood for liberty, benevolence, concord. At the end of the room was a gallery for receptions and galas. There was a smaller courtroom decorated in crimson with paintings of the Queen, and prominent IOF members hung on the walls.
5th Floor: Courtrooms with waiting areas and cloakrooms.
6th and 7th Floors: One of the finest halls in the city, these floors featured the Assembly Hall and reception chamber for the order. Accommodating up to 700 guests, the hall had a double-height panelled ceiling with blue and gold decorations on a cream-coloured background. The walls featured several fine oil paintings. Dressing rooms flanked a large stage in the north end. When lit with the 40 shaded-glass electroliers and wall sconces, the room was said to be so beautiful it looked like a fairytale. The Assembly Hall was in great demand for receptions and balls. There was a kitchen on this level and everything needed to serve food. There were also more offices on this floor.
8th Floor: Head office of the IOF. Even though the Temple Building was not officially opened until 1898, this floor was completed in advance and occupied by IOF staff in 1897. A large pneumatic master-clock on the 8th floor regulated the time for all the clocks in the Temple Building.
9th and 10th Floors: Designed especially for the freemasons, the Masonic Temple featured an impressive Lodge and chapter rooms with ceiling heights of 25 ft. There was also a dance/banquet hall for 300 guests, smoking, refreshment, cloak and waiting rooms, and an adjoining kitchen with modern conveniences.
The tower in the centre of the building facing Richmond St W was two additional stories. Along with custodial apartments, there were magnificent views of Toronto, the lake, the island and more. Still, if you were up for about a 40-step climb up a spiral staircase, the sight was even better from the observatory roof.
Tearing Down a Treasure & the Site Today
The Temple Building was sold to three Toronto businesspeople for $1 million in 1950. The IOF moved to a building at Jarvis St and Charles St E.
In 1970, the Temple Building, an architectural gem, was demolished. A piece of it can be found at the Guild Inn Estate along with other saved architectural fragments from Toronto’s past.
By 1972, the 32-story office tower, which we know today as 390 Bay St, was completed. Initially, it was home to Temple Insurance, with retail space on the lower floors.
The Remarkable Dr Oronhyatekha
Oronhyatekha, whose name means “burning cloud” in Mohawk, was born in 1841 on the Six Nations Reserve. He went to the Mohawk Institute, a residential school, where he trained to be a shoemaker. In 1860, Oronhyatekha was asked to present the Mohawk address to the visiting Prince of Wales. It was there that he met Sir Henry Acland, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, who asked Oronhyatekha to study medicine at Oxford. Along with being his mentor, they became such good friends, Oronhyatekha named one of his sons Acland.
After his return to Canada in 1863, Oronhyatekha married Deyoronseh “Ellen” Hill, the great-granddaughter of Joseph Brant. They settled at their primary residence called “The Pines” Deseronto on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. In 1867, Oronhyatekha earned his Medical Doctorate at the Toronto School of Medicine and became the first accredited Aboriginal medical doctor to practice in Canada. While he practiced in the northern US, southern Ontario, it was in London, Ontario, where he joined the Independent Order of Foresters, becoming the society’s Supreme Chief Ranger in 1881.
In 1889, Dr Oronhyatekha came to Toronto and had a second home at 211 Carlton St. His responsibilities grew at the IOF. Under his 27-year leadership, the Independent Order of Foresters grew to be one of the largest fraternal organizations in the world.
Dr Oronhyatekha, a Mohawk chief, physician and speaker, passed away in Savannah, Georgia, in 1907. On the day of his funeral, an honoured and admired man, over 10,000 people came to pay their respects. The procession passed by the Temple Building on the way to Massey Hall, where he lay in state. His final resting place is at Christ Church, HM Chapel Royal of the Mohawk on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Oronhyatekha was also known as “Dr O,” and his baptized name was Peter Martin.
In 2001, Dr Oronhyatekha was designated a National Historic Person by the Government of Canada.
Did You Know?
- The site of the Temple Building was chosen since it was close to Old City Hall, the Registry of Deeds and Titles, Osgoode Hall and busy Yonge St.
- When designing the Temple Building, architect GW Gouinlock, who was also a brother in the IOF, took inspiration from Chicago’s Rookery Building.
- Other buildings designed by GW Gouinlock include the Robert Barron Building, the north wing of the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen’s Park and several structures at the CNE such as the Government Building.
- The Temple Building was said to have been the start of Bay St as an office area.
- The IOF’s embelm is a moose head within a Maltese cross.
- In 1900, members of the fraternal order were provided with free medical attendance from the Court Physician, a sick benefit of $3 for the first two weeks and $5 for the next ten weeks, a disability benefit and a death benefit. Along with their headquarters in Toronto, the IOF also had offices in Chicago, Savannah and London.
- When the IOF left the Temple Building in 1954, they moved to their newly constructed headquarters at 590 Jarvis St and Charles St E on the northeast corner. Within 13 years that building became too small for their rapidly growing insurance company so, in 1967, they moved to their present-day location at 789 Don Mills Rd. Today known as Foresters Financial, the life insurance company has over 3 million clients in Canada, the US and UK.
Temple Building Photos
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 5, 1896, pg 3
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Dec 4, 1897, pg 16
- The Independent Order of Foresters: Dedication Souvenir Booklet, 1890s
- The Independent Forester: Vol 19, No 3, Sep 15, 1898, pgs 70- 77
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: Oct 22, 1898, pg 9
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jul 19, 1950, pg 4
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jun 18, 1969, pg B16
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Dec 1, 1970, pg B16
- Lost Toronto by William Dendy (1978), pg 102
- Heritage Toronto: Dr Oronhyatekha
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: Oronhyatekha
- Parks Canada Directory of Federal Heritage Designations: Oronhyateka National Historic Person
- City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 70, Series 330, File 486 from Twitter)
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives, Toronto Public Library & Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County