Saturday, August 7, 2021
William Thomas was one of the pioneer architects in Toronto and his work in the 1840s and 1850s has had a lasting effect on the city with several of his buildings still standing. William was born in Suffolk, England, in 1799 and developed his skills designing several buildings in Gloucestershire, Birmingham and Leamington. When a depression came to the building industry in 1843 he packed up and moved to Toronto. William Thomas designed many buildings which have been demolished but the ones that remain represent a fabulous cross section of society. From the rich to the poor and from saints to sinners, everyone enjoyed the benefit of William’s work.
1844 – St. George’s Church 4600 Dundas Street in Etobicoke. This was one of Thomas’ first projects after arriving in Canada and this Anglican church is still serving the community, although currently restricted to on-line services. The brickwork above the vestibule states that the building was erected in 1844 and restored 1894.
1845 – The Commercial Bank of Midland, Toronto now in BCE Place. This building was started in 1843 shortly after Thomas arrived in Canada and was completed two years later. It was intended to be the bank’s prestigious entry into the Toronto market but it didn’t survive more than 25 years before the bank closed down. The building was used by various other businesses until 1969 when it was vacated. It was taken apart and reassembled in the concourse of BCE place. The picture below is from 1880 and taken from the Toronto Archives.
1848 – St. Michael’s Church 65 Bond Street. This was the second Catholic Church in the community after St. Paul’s, which had been built in 1822. Excavation of the cathedral had begun in 1845 and it was consecrated in September 1848. The congregation made its mark by being instrumental in the founding of St. Michael’s Hospital.
1848 – House of Industry 87 Elm Street. This building was Toronto’s answer to the poor house. In an era before social services people who were destitute often had nowhere to turn. After moving into this building designed by Thomas, the House of Industry began providing food, shelter and fuel to the needy. In 1947 it was converted into a senior’s residence because this population sector were now the ones most often in need.
1848 – Oakham House 63 Gould Street William Thomas designed this house as his own residence and used part of it as an office as well. The gothic revival house in yellow brick at the left was his home. Thomas had the red brick addition completed as an office for his architecture firm. The house is now part of Ryerson University and is used by students as a pub and cafe.
1850 – St. Lawrence Hall 157 King Street was built in 1850 as part of St. Lawrence Market. Inside, it is divided into three main rooms and was the first major event space in the city. The hall was used for concerts, balls, receptions and lectures featuring many prominent Canadians including George Brown and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. It had been in decline for a number of years until it was declared a national historic site in 1967 and then restored as a Centennial project.
1853 – Brock’s Monument Queeston Heights. Thomas was commissioned to build a second monument to War of 1812 hero Isaac Brock who died at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The original monument had been destroyed in 1840 in a bomb attack and it was replaced with the present 56 metre tall one which opened to the public in 1859.
1856 – Don Jail 550 Gerrard Street East. The Don Jail was the 4th jail to be built since the founding of York and the original portion of the jail served until 1977. An east wing was built in 1958 and closed in 2013 and then demolished the following year. This is Thomas’ most infamous building as it has been the site of 26 hangings and countless murders and suicides over the years. It has recently been rehabilitated and incorporated into Bridgepoint Hospital.
William Thomas passed away in 1860 after only a decade and a half in Toronto but he has left a lasting legacy in his architecture.
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