Historic lobbies live on

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26 Oct Historic lobbies live on

There was a time when Canada’s largest city wasn’t a cluster of soaring glass towers, when buildings were made of stone masonry and didn’t block out the sunlight.

Toronto wasn’t this country’s biggest city then – that honour fell to Montreal – but as the banking industry and other economic drivers slowly shifted west to the Ontario capital, an eventual surge in population fuelled the need for dense residential solutions. With almost 100 high-rise developments under construction in the city – the most of any North American centre save for New York – that demand is showing no sign of waning.

But in the midst of all the glass-and-steel corridors that have been built, there remain little reminders of the city’s history, and opportunities arise to merge old with new. Some of yesterday’s grand entrances and lobbies, for example, have been retained within modern residential projects. Places like the old Imperial Oil corporate headquarters at Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue and a former branch of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at Yonge and Queen streets live on with a new surround.

“Any of that is a tangible link to our past, which Toronto has so little of,” says historian Bruce Bell. “Toronto does make it on the list of the top cities of the world, and people think it’s always been like this, but it hasn’t and these old buildings give us an idea not only of what we once looked like but who we were.”