A History Of St. Lawrence Hall In 1 Minute

St Lawrence Hall Toronto 2010 | © Vladimir/Wikicommons
St Lawrence Hall Toronto 2010 | © Vladimir/Wikicommons
St. Lawrence Hall, named after Canada’s patron saint, is Toronto’s historic meeting hall located in the heart of the city, nestled at King Street East and Jarvis Street near the famous St. Lawrence Market. Built upon a burnt down structure in the ‘Market Block’ area, this building was the first public meeting hall in Toronto featuring a 1000 seat amphitheatre. Opening in 1850, the Hall played host to all kinds of public gatherings, balls, receptions, lectures, concerts, exhibitions as the centre of Toronto’s cultural, social and political life, even seeing famous names like John A. Macdonald and George Brown during its time.

In 1803, Lt. Governor Peter Hunter came up with a plan for the Market Block, assigning the area known as St. Lawrence Market today to be the designated market area, and that same year, the first permanent farmer’s market structure was built in the northern corner along King Street (this wooden structure was replaced by a brick structure in 1831). In 1834, the local civil offices moved into an older structure which was located where St. Lawrence Hall is today until the construction of the City Hall nearby. In 1849, the Great Fire of Toronto destroyed the northern part of this structure and much of the town centre. In an effort to rebuild, a plan was made that would include building St. Lawrence Hall in its place.

Designed by William Thomas in Renaissance Revival style, Thomas included a central Roman-style temple, Corinthian columns, and three arches. While his main influence was 16th-century Italian Renaissance architecture, he also incorporated contemporary additions like the French mansard roof to protect the building during winter, and Victorian accents. The building officially opened in 1850, and in 1851 the façade was altered by Thomas, but the details of the design are unknown.

St Lawrence Hall spring 2012 © Secondarywaltz/Wikicommons | St. Lawrence Hall, Toronto, Ontario | © Preeteesh Singh/Wikicommons | St. Lawrence Hall in 1860 | © Public Domain/Wikicommons

For years to come, the hall would be the social centre of the city, hosting meetings and events like recitals by world-renowned musical acts, performers and artists, featuring names like Sigismund Thalberg and Ole Bull as well as performances by the Toronto Philharmonic Society. The hall also played host to the National Ballet of Canada and is said to have been an important meeting place for members of the Abolitionist movement and Irish Catholic Benevolent Union. The lower level was integrated into the Market Square by adding commercial stores, the second level held offices, and the third level had a 1000 seat assembly room used for concerts and big speeches. However, by 1870, larger and more conveniently located performance venues began popping up around the city, and the building entered what would be a long list of years of decline leading to deterioration of the building.

In 1967, the hall was declared a national historic site and restored in commemoration of Canada’s 100 years, opening up the hall’s assembly room for social and corporate events including the first two Juno Awards ceremonies (1970 and 1971). Today, the hall continues as an event space used for weddings, art exhibitions and conferences.

📅 St. Lawrence Hall: By appointment only

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