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Earlier this week, the demolition of the Royal Canadian Military Institute's building on University Avenue began. Heritage Toronto provides a reason for why the decision was made to tear down the entire building: the facade had been altered significantly in mid-century. The problem with this compromise is that it turns the heritage portion of the building into a form of decoration that's shorn of its original context.
All images by Matthew Harris, except the rendering of the RCMI condominium by Tribute Communities.
In most cases, slapping a 50 storey glass structure on top of some old house that everyone has forgotten about it just plain silly: a compromise that benefits neither.
I know it's hip to hate condos, but they're built where they're built and how they're built for a reason. As for the RCMI, the architectural interest of what was there before lies not so much along the original building itself but the curiousity and historical factor of being the last house on University. As for 1 bedford, I don't recall ever seeing a facade like that at the original site to begin with?
Perhaps not always, as a new generation of historically-aware councillors is slowly lining up to take over. Once again, I say shame to you all and congratulations to Montreal for believing in their heritage buildings and keeping them for future generations to enjoy! My hope is that, in the upcoming municipal election, Toronto voters for a change will make their vote count and they will consider ousting all the current shameless councilors and vote for a new blood of councilors that will work for all of us and our best interest and not for the best interest of their building developers' friends and all others!
Aww who cares, it's already too late for any interesting cityscape in Toronto, so let it all slide. Montreal economy fell apart 40yrs ago, there was a mass exodus of people and business, it is still trying to recover.
I'm not a fan of facadism, if only because it deprives us of examples of buildings as they were originally created both inside and out, but there are different degrees of facadism.
Now, the building behind the brick skin is completely new (although the layout inside is respectful of the original hotel) but the streetscape is preserved?
I hope you know that Toronto's heritage demolition record does not even come close to Calgary's and Montreal's. As usual, people are up in arms about something after the issue was before council and the OMB.
Montreal whored themselves out to the Canadiens in the matter of the Windsor Station, a decision which massively compromises expansion of their commuter rail network. I wrote a comment on this last week that seems to have vanished, so here it is again (with a few updates).
It wasn't obvious when the demolition had started unless you happened to look at the building from the Simcoe Street side. The Royal Canadian Military Institute is happy because they are getting a brand-new facility on the first few floors of the new tower.



I don't love facadism ever, and I'd much rather that the new building had a podium with a newly-designed facade that signals the presence of the Military Institute at street level while working better with the residential tower above.
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It was felt that it would be better to "recreate" the historical facade and put it at the base of the new building, which heritage officials and Councillor Adam Vaughan supported.The practice of retaining or recreating historic facades is called facadism, and has been practiced in Toronto for several decades. And unless the facadism is done well, the heritage portion often looks pasted onto the new portion of the building as an afterthought.An example of this form of facadism is the John Lyle studio facade that is incorporated into One Bedford Avenue. The house itself was not really anything special, it was the context that was interesting as it was a relic of another time when University was an estate-lined promenade rather than a busy downtown thoroughfare. It was a mishmash of old Victorians converted to storefronts and a few crappy lowrise commercial blocks. How much will be left for them to protect, though, if Vaughan is allowed to continue his seemingly out-of-character destruction of so much of what Toronto once was? It started with Barbra Hall, skipped a beat with Mel Lastman (he did some stuff but mostly allowed developers run the show) David Miller did a lot, would love to have seen this momentum continue and get us back to the heady days of the 70's and push TO into the future, but it won't happen just yet.
Mostly we see the type exemplified by One Bedford - a historic building's front ripped off and reconstructed in a different location from where it was built, and a purely cosmetic reconstruction at that. Anyone passing by it today would assume that the original building was preserved, with the condo tower placed on top, in a setback; you'd be wrong. I worked at 400 University, next door, until October 1, and watched the demolition proceed from the back of the building to the front through that last week of September.
Has something been lost, from a cultural heritage point of view, by the demolition of the existing building?
This looks like it's going to be a kind of ersatz recreation of the old facade, as it looked before the stucco and the other regrettable interventions of more recent years. Countless remarkable buildings have been and continue to be demolished and ravaged in Toronto. The original building, owned by the club, was facing millions in upgrades over the next decade (before demolition) and could simply not afford it. But this demolition is unusual, at least in one respect: the building was listed as a heritage building, and since the renderings of the new condominium showed a facade of the old building incorporated into the new building's base, it seemed that at least the something of the original would be retained. Unlike cities which were large and dense in the nineteenth century like New York, London and Paris, most of Toronto's heritage is low-rise. John Lyle was an architect of many significant buildings in Toronto, including Union Station. Remember the sweet handshake deal these current shameless councilors voted to payout at our expense! The whole building was demolished, right down to the entranceway (which was briefly preserved during the first phase of construction) then reconstituted so that, unless you look closely (or have a good memory and had the occasion to be in the neighbourhood during the construction), looks like it never left the streetscape. Preliminary work had begun even earlier, starting on August 29, when the cornerstone and the unfortunately useless time capsule were removed from the building.


City staff did initially recommend against amending the zoning by-law to allow this development on the grounds that it didn't provide enough car parking.
Yes, but when the design and physical value of the building has been degraded through poorly-done alterations, and when the occupant of the building (and also the biggest contributor to its historical or associative value) is in support of the demolition, it's very hard to make the case for saving it on heritage grounds. This citie's builders could justify prostituting their daughters in the name of cheap dirty development profits. This means that redevelopment to create larger spaces to match the city's growing population would normally require the complete demolition of the generally smaller heritage buildings.
Although some portion of the historic building has been retained, the resulting mixture of old and new does not seem very well incorporated, and it is uncertain how much historical context a layer of bricks at the base of a condo provides.Facadism is also taking place at the site of the new Shangri-La condominium.
I hope someone has been photographing all of these lost buildings, then at least we can look at all the photos of the buildings that we used to have.
The original proposal for the building included no parking garage, on the basis that the building was minutes from two subway stops.
The latter property is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act (stronger protection than the Royal Canadian Military Institute, which was only listed). City council chose to approve the zoning by-law amendment, subject to an agreement under section 37 of the Planning Act that requires the developer to pay for a number of additional amenities and heritage considerations.
These may also be some of the reasons why the property was only listed, and never designated, as was the University Club. In the end, Tribute came up with the best offer, or as the line says, an offer the club could not refuse, which was: $5 million for the land and $10 million to rebuild the club. The Bishop's Block, one of the city's original Georgian townhomes, had its exterior carefully removed before demolition. This was unacceptable to the city and OMB, however, so underground parking had to be added into the plan.
The vote was something like 85%+ in favour of the deal - all members were sad to see the building go but are now super excited to be moving shortly into the new digs. The plan is to create a new concrete structure for the building and re-attach the historic cladding.
Keep in mind the average age of a club member is about 67 or 68 years old - a demographic group I think is often stereotyped as not embracing change.
In the Bishop Block's case, demolition of the existing structure was necessitated due to the extreme disrepair of the building - there was a hole in the roof that allowed water to leak in. This form of facadism is slightly better than the one being practised at the RCMI - at least the original bricks of the building are being retained, and the Bishop's Block will largely resemble what it did previous to its demolition.Hence the core issue with the RCMI redevelopment: how does a partial recreation of the former building constitute heritage? If the builder is going so far as to throw out every part of the physical building, shouldn't we simply accept the loss and move on?



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