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It’s Our Building’s Birthday!

By: Karthy Chin

Before serving as our permanent home, The Theatre Centre’s location at 1115 Queen St. W. was a branch of the Toronto Public Library.

Carnegie  facade photo

Commissioned in late 1907, the Queen and Lisgar branch was built to serve residents of the west end and opened on Tuesday April 30, 1909. In 1957, the library’s Foreign Literature Centre was located here, and initially had holdings of 792 books in several languages that weren’t English. By 1963, the collection had 11,000 titles that grew from a handful of languages to over 60. The Queen and Lisgar branch, however, closed down in 1946, with most of the holdings moving to the new Parkdale library (just down the street from us) and 1115 Queen St. W. became the Parkdale unit of Toronto Public Health. When Public Health relocated their offices, changes in the West Queen West neighbourhood and cultural advocacy lead to a successful campaign to move The Theatre Centre into the building, after years without a permanent venue.

The building was designed in a Beaux Arts style under the supervision of city architect, Robert McCallum, who was a rather controversial figure in the city. He gained notoriety for his unfavourable views towards concrete, creating difficult standards for builders to meet. McCallum resigned from his position as city architect in 1913 after City Council criticized him for his management of the department.

Carnegie libraries were established by the philanthropic efforts of Andrew Carnegie. He is responsible for the growth of public libraries across North America. Other Carnegie libraries in the city include the Riverdale branch, which is still in operation.

Carnegie east end branch sketch

Our building’s heritage designation reflects its significance in the history of Toronto’s libraries and in the cultural development of the city’s west end. We’ve preserved many of the original elements of the library. Our mainspace was the library’s reading room, and the original doors have been preserved in the Beaux Arts style — usually the first thing you see when you enter the mainspace, as they are directly across from the entrance.

About the Author
Karthy Chin
interned with The Theatre Centre through the Material Culture program at the University of Toronto. She is a theatre designer and director and intends to pursue a career in professional theatre.

Sources:
“Public Notice-Heritage Land,” City of Toronto Statutory Notices (September 2012)
“Off the Grid: Ghost City 1115 Queen Street West,” by Jamie Bradburn, JB’s Warehouse & Curio Emporium (August 2015)
“Toronto’s Carnegie Libraries,” Toronto Public LIbrary (2016)
“Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries,” Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (December 2015)
“Robert McCallum,” Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada
Photo credit: Toronto Public Library