Ontario Heritage Centre
‘Anything that gives you a foot in the past is good stuff.’ – Robertson Davies
High land values and development pressures tend to overwhelm older, midrise commercial buildings, especially those in the urban core. This Edwardian gem, a rare example of early 20th century financial office architecture, had miraculously escaped demolition.
It had been the head office of the Canadian Birkbeck Investment and Savings Company, designed in a style that was thought to project an image of stability and prosperity.
Acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust, the province’s lead heritage agency, it was to be preserved and updated as their head office, and protected for the benefit of future generations.
‘Slash marks near the entrance doors and along the street level bear witness to the early 20th-century use of sulphur-tipped matches, struck against the rough surfaces of the building to light cigars before entering the building to conduct business.’
We carefully restored this outstanding building inside and out to provide 3,700 square meters of attractive space for conventional office users and numerous heritage groups. Together with Spencer Higgins, a restoration architect, we formulated a thoughtfully documented design approach to suit the $3.7 million budget and to demonstrate appropriate conservation standards and techniques.
Exhaustive research, sensitive design, careful specification – the project was both a laboratory of creative methods and a living textbook for developers of other historical properties.
Features include the wood-paneled Oval Boardroom, marble lobby and one of the last manually operated elevators in the city. The rooms are graced with decorative plaster, carved wood and ironwork, high ceilings and large windows that provide generous natural light.Since its restoration, the Centre has become a tremendously popular venue for weddings, conferences, corporate functions and period films.