Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto
The Ontario Legislative Building is a structure in central Toronto, Ontario, that houses the viceregal suite of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and offices for members of the provincial parliament (MPPs). The building is surrounded by Queen's Park, sitting on that part south of Wellesley Street, which is the former site of King's College (later the University of Toronto), and which is leased from the university by the provincial Crown for a "peppercorn" payment of CAD$1 per annum on a 999 year term.
Designed by Richard A. Waite, the Ontario Legislative Building is an asymmetrical, five storey structure built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, with a load-bearing iron frame. This is clad inside and out in Canadian materials where possible; the 10.5 million bricks were made by inmates of the Central Prison, and the Ontario sandstone—with a pink-hue that has earned the building the colloquial name of The Pink Palace where the initial meeting of the House of Assembly occurred on 17 September 1791. Only three years later, however, construction began on a dedicated parliament building in York (now Toronto), as it was felt by Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe that the presence of a provincial capital directly across the border from the United States was too great a risk, especially as the relations between the US and Britain were then tense. By June the complex, located at the intersection of Front and Parliament Streets, was completed, and the humble wood structures were dubbed the Palace of Parliament (The structure resembled two military barracks).
The relocation to York did not ensure the protection of the capital, however, and the Palace of Parliament was destroyed by fire on 27 April 1813, as a consequence of an attack on the city in the War of 1812. The House of Assembly then met once in the ballroom of the York Hotel (between King and Front Streets), and regularly, from then until 1820, at the home of Chief Justice of the Court of the King's Bench William Henry Draper, which was located at the present intersection of Wellington and York Streets. The new parliament buildings was a two storey [[Georgian architecture |Georgian]] structure, put up on the site of the previous structure, stood only for four years, succumbing to an accidental fire on 30 December 1824.<ref name=GoO />
From then until 1829, the House of Assembly gathered at the newly built York General Hospital, located on the south-east corner of the block bounded by King, Adelaide, John, and Peter Streets; a move that delayed the hospital's opening until the legislative body moved on to the old Court House, which stood on the north side of King Street, between Toronto and Church Streets. In 1832, a new structure was built on Front Street, west of Simcoe Street, and served continuously as the third parliament building of Upper Canada until the province was united with Lower Canada in 1840, after which the joined assembly was relocated by the then Governor General, Charles Poulett Thomson, Baron Sydenham, to the general hospital building in Kingston.<ref name=GoO /> The House of Assembly moved in and out of the Front Street building over the ensuing years, relocating for brief periods to Montreal and Quebec City, even at one point adopting a perambulation system that saw parliament relocate between Toronto and Quebec every four years. With mounting displeasure over the transient nature of the Canadian parliament, and an inability on the part of politicians to agree as to where to locate the legislative building, Queen Victoria was asked to make a selection; over all the other cities in the Province of Canada, she chose Bytown (later Ottawa) in 1857.<ref name=GoO />
On 1 July 1867, however, the province joined with two others in confederation and was split into the present-day provinces of Ontario and Quebec, meaning that new legislatures were established for each of the two new provincial entities. Toronto was chosen as the capital of the former, and the legislative assembly moved back to the same Front Street property that had been home to the House of Assembly for the Province of Canada, despite the structure having been damaged by fire in 1861 and 1862. By 1880, a request was made for designs for a new parliament building for the province of Ontario, and, when none of the entries were found to be less than $500,000, the legislature approved during 1885 a budget of $750,000 for the chosen scheme by Richard A. Waite. Construction then commenced in 1886, and the Ontario Legislative Building was (though still incomplete) officially opened on 4 April 1893 by the then Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, George Airey Kirkpatrick. The final cost was tallied at approximately CAD$1,250,000,<ref name=GoO /> and the design was criticised by some as "too American".<ref name=LAO /> This left the old parliament building on Front Street vacant, and it stood as such for nearly a decade before it was demolished from 1900 to 1903. The site was then sold to the Grand Trunk Railway, which ignominiously used the former parliamentary land for freight sheds and marshalling yards. The lands are now occupied by the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, a public square, and a number of high-rise buildings.
With an increasing population in the province, it became necessary in 1909 to add a wing to the north side of the Ontario Legislative Building, enclosing the courtyard. As construction was underway, on 1 September men repairing galvanised roofing on the west wing accidentally sparked a fire that eventually destroyed the interior of that part of the edifice, including the legislative library. It then took until 1912 for repairs and reconstructions to be made, and the new wing to be completed.<ref name=GoO /> Further expansions of the parliamentary infrastructure were from then on built across the east side of Queen's Park Crescent, with the Whitney Block built in 1925, the Macdonald and Hepburn Blocks completed in 1968, the Mowat and Hearst Blocks in 1969.
The site of the first parliament buildings is currently a parking lot at a car dealership. A dig at the site is now documenting the existence of the buildings and there are demands to preserve the site.
- List of oldest buildings and structures in Toronto
- Ontario Legislature, at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Web site
- Virtual tour of the Lieutenant Governor's suite
- History of Ontario's Legislative Buildings (Government of Ontario site)
- Ontario historical plaque - Ontario's First Parliament Buildings 1798
- Provincial Parliament Buildings (2nd)
- York Hotel-Toronto Sun