Heritage conservation at work
Ontario Heritage Centre façade restoration project
From 2005-2007, the Ontario Heritage Centre underwent a significant façade restoration in three phases. Explore the work of the Trust in giving a facelift to this rare surviving example of a purpose-built Edwardian office building.
The Ontario Heritage Trust – the province's lead heritage agency – has commenced repairs to the south and west stone façades of the Ontario Heritage Centre.
This building – located at 10 Adelaide Street East in downtown Toronto – was originally the headquarters of the Canadian Birkbeck Savings and Investment Company. Built in 1908, the building was designed by noted Toronto architect George Wallace Gouinlock. It is a rare surviving example of an Edwardian office building and, for that reason, is designated a National Historic Site.
The Trust is dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's rich and varied heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. In 1988, the Trust acquired, restored and adapted the Birkbeck building for use as its headquarters, as a conference facility and to provide office space for non-profit and commercial tenants.
The composition of the front façade exhibits the symmetrical grandeur associated with the American Beaux Arts style. The projecting central bay features an unusual and dramatic pair of two-storey arched niches, each containing an aedicule (a temple-like element composed of a pediment supported on columns that stand on a projecting base). The vigorous banding of the façade and carved ornamentation limited to a few select windows is typical of Edwardian baroque style. The stonework also wraps around the southwest corner, enhancing the oblique view of the building from nearby Yonge Street.
The façade is made of both natural stone and artificial cast stone – in this case, a type that was sold under the brand name "Art Stone." In early 20th-century Toronto, artificial cast stone was a popular substitute for more expensive natural stone, particularly when many repetitive units were required. Reusable moulds meant that large quantities of ready-to-install cast stone could be produced more cheaply than natural stone, which had to be quarried and then dressed on the construction site by skilled stone masons.
This cast material was a mixture of cement, filler, pigment and aggregates that could be adjusted to provide a finished surface resembling granite, limestone or sandstone. The surface of the "stone" was often cast or incised after curing, with striations resembling the stone tooling of real stone. Even so, it remained more economical to carve individual one-off ornamental units out of natural stone. As a result, many cast stone façades are a combination of real stone and cast stone.
The Birkbeck Building is no exception. The repetitive "ashlar" blocks that compose the wall areas are all cast Art Stone. The carved sculptural elements – including window wreathes, door and window casings, pediment with tympanum beneath, columns and pedestal bases – are carved from sandstone.
During its almost 100 years of life, the Birkbeck Building has endured the wear and tear of many winters and freeze-thaw cycles, and the resulting water infiltration problems. A number of façade elements were replaced as they crumbled and failed. At some point, the whole façade was painted a light grey colour to hide accumulated dirt and to provide a uniform appearance.
In 2005, the Ontario Heritage Trust started planning a three-phase project to restore the façade in preparation for the building's upcoming centenary.