Though the city of Toronto may only be known to many as a tertiary metropolis when it comes to well known or architecturally significant buildings in North America, Canada’s financial and cultural capital still has a great deal to offer if you know where to look. Toronto’s downtown skyline and nearby neighborhoods are, in fact, home to structures designed by some of the world’s most prominent architects, including Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster, Will Alsop and I. M. Pei. The city is – and should be – proud of its architectural heritage. With the help of cultural and preservation organizations, Toronto strives to safeguard notable and architecturally significant structures. One such structure, which has been standing for nearly 100 years and was designed by a local architect, is the Wesley Building on Queen Street West.
The historic Wesley Building is a well-known landmark in this Canadian city. Recently, the building garnered an award of excellence from the Heritage Toronto organization for restoration work begun in 2001 on this Industrial Gothic structure, which features a terracotta tile exterior. The building was designed and built between 1913 and 1915 by the Canadian firm Burke Horwood & White. It was built for the Methodist Church (later to become the United Church of Canada), which needed a new home for its administrative offices, presses and bookrooms. The Wesley Building – now the headquarters for CTV – was the home for Canadian media company CHUM Limited (including Toronto’s Citytv network) for more than 20 years. CHUM was careful to preserve the building’s exterior while renovating and updating the interior.
Named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, the Wesley Building’s gothic exterior decoration is meant to recall the ancient roots of scholarship and printing, but the building’s steel skeleton and glazed terracotta cladding were entirely modern for their time. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Burke Horwood & White (1894 – 1969) was known for its commercial buildings and for its use of modern materials and methods of construction. The firm was known for using materials such as glazed terracotta, early iron and reinforced concrete frames, as well as various forms of fire protection. Firm Principal Edmund Burke consulted on civic planning for Toronto, such as the architectural aspects of the Bloor Street viaduct, and was known as an avid researcher of advances in technology, building programming and design. In the words of Angela Carr, Burke’s biographer, he “presided over the transformation of the architect from craftsman to consulting professional.” (“Toronto Architect Edmund Burke: Redefining Canadian Architecture,” McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995.)
For the restoration process of the Wesley Building, by Quadrangle Architects (project lead) and E.R.A. Architects Inc. (restoration architects), the building’s terracotta cladding underwent an exhaustive, six-year, four-phased refurbishment to repair the wear and tear of the most public façades. The work included repairing cracks, replacing some terracotta units with new, precast units and installing new structural steel. The challenge was to blend the new, restored and repaired exterior tile to achieve a uniform composition. Additionally, the firms were working with three different elevations: Queen Street West, John Street, and Richmond Street West.
“The jury felt the conservation work in preserving this historically important and uncommon building material in Toronto has contributed significantly to the urban streetscape of Queen Street,” Heritage Toronto says.