St Lawrence Hall was designed in competition in 1845 as "a new front to the old market buildings" to replace a public hall flanked by shops erected in 1831 as one side of a rectangle of buildings surrounding York's market square. When York was incorporated as Toronto in 1834 the hall and adjoining rooms became the City Hall for a decade until its successor was built nearby. Construction of the "new front" was delayed until 1849, when an area-wide fire destroyed the old buildings on the site. In their place was raised a structure containing a large and elegant public hall in the centre and shops and walk-up rooms in the wings. The latter were privately owned but erected to an approved plan. Behind the building a long tail housing the city's butchers replaced the market square. For many years St Lawrence Hall, named for Canada's patron saint, was the centre of cultural and political life in Toronto, hosting many balls, receptions, concerts and lectures. John A. MACDONALD
, George BROWN
and the world-renowned soprano Jenny Lind all appeared here.
Designed by William THOMAS of Toronto, the architecture reflected the influence of the Renaissance style, with its raised portico over an arcaded base, but reinterpreted in a distinctly Victorian manner. Its richly carved ornamentation, picturesque skyline, and the eclectic incorporation of a French mansard roof were typical of contemporary architectural tastes.
By the 1870s more modern theatres, concert halls and ballrooms had been built and St Lawrence Hall fell into decline. In 1967 it was extensively restored. For 48 years, beginning in 1948, the Hall was home to the National Ballet of Canada.
St Lawrence Hall
The architecture of the hall reflected the influence of the Renaissance style, with its raised portico over an arcaded base (photo by Steven Evans).
JANET WRIGHT Revised: STEPHEN A. OTTO