The Wesley Building, today Bell Media Headquarters, is located at 299 Queen St W (and John St on the southeast corner) in the Wellington Place and Entertainment District neighbourhoods of Toronto.
The Methodist Book & Publishing Company
In the early 1910s, the architectural firm Burke, Horwood & White was commissioned to design a building to house the head office of the Methodist Church of Canada and the Methodist Book & Publishing Company. The publishing house, which produced a religious journal, Sunday school papers, and textbooks and undertook other printing jobs (deemed appropriate by the church), needed more space, so the property on John St between Queen St W and Richmond St W was purchased.
The Architecture of the Wesley Building
In 1914, construction began on the five-storey Neo-Gothic landmark and was completed the following year. The Wesley Building was modern for its time. It’s constructed of a steel frame, concrete and tile. Three of its facades are clad with cream matt glazed terra cotta that features Gothic details.
A few architectural highlights include the ornate arched main entrance, book motifs and trefoils on the piers, a most-interesting band of grotesque scribes and readers along the top of the second storey and crocketed pinnacles on the roofline. There are many large windows which allow for abundant light. The coffered plaster ceiling inside the main entrance off of Queen St W is another character-defining element.
Along with the Methodist Book Room on the ground floor and church offices on the top floor, the building also housed the composing room, presses, binding room, mailing room, the library and wholesale departments, offices, boardrooms, and proofreading rooms. Plus, a vault runs the entire width of the building under the Richmond St W sidewalk.
The 125,000 sq ft building was named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England. Behind the highly decorative façade of 299 Queen St W was everything needed for the successful operation of a large industrial organization. The Methodist Book & Publishing Company was considered one of the most modern publishing houses on the continent.
In 1919, Ryerson Press became the general trade publishing division for the Methodist Book & Publishing House, producing educational, Canadian history, and literary titles. Ryerson Press was named after Rev Egerton Ryerson, who first published The Christian Guardian, a newspaper sponsored by the Methodist Church of Canada, in 1829. He also founded the Methodist Book Room.
United Church Publishing House
In 1925, when Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches joined to establish the United Church of Canada, the publishing company was renamed the United Church Publishing House. The Wesley Building was the church’s national headquarters until 1959. United Church Publishing House ran into financial difficulties, and in 1970, Ryerson Press was sold to McGraw-Hill, an educational publishing company.
The Wesley Building was one of the 490 buildings on Heritage Toronto’s initial induction list in June 1973.
The CHUM-City Building
In 1984, CHUM purchased the historic building. The communications company was known for its innovative ideas, and this was a bold move since it built its appeal toward younger viewers. Renamed the CHUM-City Building, the interior was altered, becoming the world’s first TV production centre without formal studios.
The first broadcast in the new studio was in 1987 by MuchMusic VJ Erica Ehm. It was also home to CITY-TV and the video booth, Speaker’s Corner, where a $1 donation (which went to charity) gave you two minutes to express your point of view. Some of those thoughts were aired on the station. The building itself became famous with the CityPulse LiveEye truck smashing through the wall on its east side.
Bell Media Headquarters & the Building Today
In the mid-2000s, CHUM Limited assets were purchased by Bell Media. The iconic Wesley Building is the company’s headquarters, along with its downtown TV and radio studios.