The former Winchester Hotel & Hall is located at 531-537 Parliament St (at Winchester St on the southeast corner) in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood of Toronto. The beginnings of this landmark date back to the mid-1800s, and while it has gone through many phases, it has evolved back to its original grandeur.
The Early Years
In 1857, a farmer named James McCaffrey purchased the land and opened the Santa Claus Tavern three years later. The Lake View House Hotel was established in 1866 on the same site. Set back from Parliament St, it was a 2-storey pebbledash building.
By 1880, the property was owned and managed by John Ayre. He added a pebbledash and brick addition in the direction of Parliament St. It was then that the Lake View House Hotel became Winchester Hall, while the new addition became the Lake View Hotel.
The Lake View Hotel
In 1888, the Lake View Hotel was replaced with the red-brick, 3½-storey building and 2½-storey extension we know today. The Second-Empire style hotel, which fronts onto Parliament St, was designed by architects Kennedy & Holland.
It was a popular “uptown” resort destination with the most up-to-date amenities, including telephones, electric bells and bathrooms on each floor, as well as iron and patent rope fire escapes in each room. Other highlights included a belvedere to view the lake, a public hall, a billiard room, a lodge room, a good lawn and, in the summer, a garden. It was said to be “…kept scrumptiously neat and inviting throughout.”
The Architecture of the Winchester Hotel & Hall
Architectural features of the Winchester Hotel include a pressed metal ceiling on the interior of the main floor while the exterior has a mansard roof clad with slate, gabled dormers, brick corbelling, stone sills and lintels, pilasters and a domed corner tower which was topped with a belvedere/lantern.
The 2-storey Winchester Hall fronts onto Winchester St and is interconnected to the hotel. Its architectural elements include quoin corners, a gable roof with bracketed eaves and arched windows with bracketed stone sills and brick voussoirs. Inside the Hall on the second floor is the historic Laurentian Room, which dates back to the 1930s.
Art Moderne Updates
In 1941, architect Benjamin Swartz was hired to update the Victorian-era buildings. On the hotel’s interior, the lobby and entrance off Winchester St were redesigned in Art Moderne style. Plus, a terrazzo and chrome staircase leading to the second floor replaced a wooden one. On the exterior, a 2-storey “Winchester” sign and clock were hung on the landmark’s northwest corner, and the main floor was clad with laminate panels called Vetrolite®. In 1955, the laminate panels were removed and replaced with Granox.
For a time, the Winchester became known as one of the toughest watering holes in the City.
The Restoration of the Cabbagetown Gem
In 2006, Stanford Downey Architects was commissioned to do some significant restoration work on the exterior. This included removing the Granox and rebuilding the damaged brick underneath with matching salvaged face brick. The ground-floor windows were enlarged and dressed with sandstone to match the original. Using vintage photos, they also recreated wood entry doors and windows.
In August 2009, a fire broke out, and flames were coming from the roof. Firefighters battled the flames and saved the historic building.
The Winchester Hotel & Hall owner hired Hunt Heritage, period-correct preservationists, to do the exterior restoration. In 2019, the company worked their magic in preserving the edifice. This included traditionally tuckpointing the brick and adding the lantern with flagpole back to the top of the domed tower (it had been removed before 1955). And while doing the work, they uncovered (and restored) a hidden gem – a mosaic tile apron at the Parliament St entrance that says “Lake View.”
The Cabbagetown landmark is residential and commercial, with a Church’s Texas Chicken and Subway on the main floor.
Did You Know?
- Parliament St was named after the first Parliament Buildings constructed in the late 1700s. Governor Simcoe had the government buildings built on land south of Front St E, between Berkeley and Parliament Sts.
- In the mid-1800s, many people who emigrated to Canada due to the Irish famine settled in this area. Since they did not have much money, they planted their gardens, and the main vegetable grown was cabbage, hence the name Cabbagetown.
- The building received heritage designation from the city in 1975.
Winchester Hotel & Hall Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 531 Parliament St
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 531 Parliament St
- Canada’s Historic Places: Winchester Hotel and Winchester Hall
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Jan 19, 2021 (A heritage building gets a proper capping off)
- Toronto: Old and New 1891 by Adam Mercer
- Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould
- CP24: Fire breaks out at historic Cabbagetown hotel
- Stanford Downey Architects: Heritage
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library