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Toronto's Forgotten Landmarks: Bank Of Toronto at 205 Yonge Street

Posted by Jonathan Castellino / June 10, 2009

bank1.jpgThe derelict Bank of Toronto at 205 Yonge Street had always struck me as an architectural anomaly. Built in 1905 of Lennox design, the austere neo-classical facade always seemed to me a sad symbol of modern decay.

Several years ago, long before the current economic crisis, a visiting friend asked me why there were two massive abandoned banks across the street from one of Toronto's most popular malls - the only answer I could give at the time was "well, there used to be three?"

Gears are finally in motion to redevelop this magnificent piece of Toronto history, which started a few years back when a visiting Irish entrepreneur fell in love with the spot, co-purchased the property, and proudly flew his native flag above the main entrance.
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For those of you wondering about the bizarre 'parkette' between this bank and its sister, it used to be a bar called 'The Colonial Tavern' until the 1970s, when it was leveled . Also of note is the seemingly anachronistic wheelchair ramp to the buildings south - an appendage added to the edifice during Heritage Toronto's occupancy of the site, which lasted from 1992 until as recently as 2001.
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Many of you will recognize the beautiful main arcade/atrium of the building, as it featured prominently in the television series Flashpoint recently - a show with an odd fondness for many of my usual haunts...
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The Bank of Toronto itself was founded in the late 1850s, with its original location being farther East, on Church St...
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Sadly, the beautiful dome on the roof of the old bank is a fake, as my visit to the top floor revealed...
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Yonge street intervenes on a very telling conversation between 205 and its modern surroundings; it appears that the shadow of annihilation rests in and on every building, old and new alike. In a very Hegelian moment, Paul Virilio once noted that "you could say that architecture is nothing but the art of making ruins."

(To see the rest of the photos from this set, as well as high-res. versions of the ones above, please visit my flickr slide-show below.)

Discussion

36 Comments

Keidi / June 10, 2009 at 10:40 am
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Ahh would love to get in there, any security guards around?
khalid / June 10, 2009 at 10:45 am
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I have always been curious about this buildings. Thanks for the interior shots!
Josh / June 10, 2009 at 10:52 am
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I too have been curious about this building for a while. It looks like it's far more impressive inside than out. Show us inside some more of Toronto's historic buildings!
badbhoy / June 10, 2009 at 10:59 am
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You mention that the site is due to be redeveloped. Any idea what the plans are?
Jonathan / June 10, 2009 at 11:04 am
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Bagbhoy- they are actually still looking for tenants; the place is only in such good condition because of relatively recent filming in the building.

It is an odd space, especially the main arcade, but they have already started to put up heritage photos / plaques around, so it might just serve as an atrium, with the rest of the building as offices, etc. Again, these (the info-boards) may have been there because the building was occupied by Toronto Heritage...I don't know the details in this regard...

jonathan@blogTO
Sandra De Freitas / June 10, 2009 at 11:15 am
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These are stunning! I've always drooled over old bank architecture! Thank you for your fabulous photography!
Zoë K / June 10, 2009 at 11:18 am
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Great shots. I was always curious about that building.

I watched one episode of Flashpoint - hostage situation in a bank...I recognize the hallway shots from the episode :)
Curly / June 10, 2009 at 11:35 am
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That was just beautiful, I always wondered what that building was. Wonder how long before some idiot takes it down to build more ugly "modern structures"
Alan / June 10, 2009 at 11:46 am
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With Toronto Heritage formerly in there, it may be neglected but it's hardly forgotten. The forgotten one is (was?) just south across the courtyard.
Jonathan / June 10, 2009 at 11:50 am
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Alan - I'd consider them both forgotten - but I could only find my way into one : P

Actually, the funny part is that if you walk behind the south building you mentioned, there is a hole in the door you can peek through to reveal that there are worker lights on, and that they've been doing work there as well! It looks fairly boring compared to 205 though...

jonathan@blogTO

ps. Keidi - if you're the Keidi I think you are, we've actually met several times for explorin' - you can e-mail me for details...
Ratpick / June 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm
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My dad's dentist, now retired, used to have his office above one of those banks (not sure which). During a robbery long ago, a shot was fired into the ceiling and the bullet came up through the floor near the dentist's chair.

Back in those days, bank managers had revolvers, so who knows who fired the shot?
Jonathan / June 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm
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Ratpick - wowza! I believe his office was in the south building - and the 'DENTIST' sign is still etched onto the window in gold!

jonathan@blogTO
John / June 10, 2009 at 01:50 pm
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It's Heritage Toronto, not Toronto Heritage (easy to check).

Also, both bank buildings were featured in their exhibit "Building Storeys" this year:http://www.heritagetoronto.org/building-storeys-photo-exhibit-torontos-aging-spaces
Jonathan / June 10, 2009 at 02:08 pm
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John - I made the change - I think I had originally re-structured the sentence from reading something without noting the group's actual name - thanks for pointing that out!

I got to check out 'Building Storeys' at the Gladstone - very interesting work!

jonathan@blogTO
Torontonian / June 10, 2009 at 02:17 pm
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The Bank of Toronto [later T-D Bank] annexed thisShoo
Yonge St. branch to the Bay/|Queen branch.

The CIBC to the south closed its doors when the Eaton
Centre opened up and it moved in on the lowest level
opposite Shoppers' Drug Mart.

The Eaton Centre caused a general emptying out of
street stores on Yonge Street. Birks Jewellers and
Tip Top Tailors also followed suit and their buildings
still stand 3 decades on having fallen into desultory
use by their tenants.

Indoor malls and underground concourses have sucked the
life out of the streets of the centre city. There was
a greater vibrancy and each store was individually special
rather than pattern-book-predictable in its looks
and general appearance.

O, give me back the days when people dressed up to go
to Yonge Street!
Kris(tine) / June 10, 2009 at 04:17 pm
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Anyone else think this might make a great spot for the proposed City of Toronto museum? Knock down some walls, open the space up and hot damn! - you'd have a Museum right down the road from one of the busiest tourist spots in the city!
Kris(tine) / June 10, 2009 at 04:18 pm
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Anyone else think this might make a great spot for the proposed City of Toronto museum? Knock down some walls, open the space up and hot damn! - you'd have a Museum right down the road from one of the busiest tourist spots in the city!
Robert Ruggiero / June 10, 2009 at 10:45 pm
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Thanks for this article. I've always loved these old banks. I can't believe how much marble is left intact inside.

Let's hope this Irish entrepreneur does something with a public purpose once something happens.
Lucas Medina / June 11, 2009 at 12:58 am
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Another fantastic series Jonathan. I've always wondered what it looked like inside that great old bank. Its such an incredible building, with so much potential. I just hope the future plans don't involve a massive condo swallowing it, the way one King W. did with the old TD bank.
Jonathan / June 11, 2009 at 11:10 am
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Lucas - thanks!

As an addendum, the current developers have contacted me regarding the images, and asked to use them to present to Heritage Toronto (as well as taking some more B&W's)... : )

jonathan@blogTO
hvh / June 11, 2009 at 02:43 pm
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re the eaton centre:

it was deliberately designed to have blank walls facing yonge street, so that no "bums" or other street people could find niches in which to sleep, perchance to piss, etc. this resulted in the affected blocks essentially dying from lack of interest in strolling. people just wanted to get thru the spot asap.

the colonial was a favourite spot for musicians. gary burton, thelonius monk, rahsaan roland kirk, carmen mcrae, fatha hines, george shearing and oscar peterson are among the many with whom we shared the air. tearing it down caused an uproar met with the typical toronto expression of a shrug (no wonder the city went wild for trudeau)
Alan L / June 12, 2009 at 05:25 am
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I hear the Toronto museum is looking for a home...
Olivera / September 8, 2009 at 03:52 pm
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is it me or would that make just the most spectacular event venue for weddings and events. JOHNATHON since the developers contacted you let them know ill rent the space for a night, Im currently looking lol
Olivera replying to a comment from Jonathan / September 8, 2009 at 03:52 pm
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is it me or would that make just the most spectacular event venue for weddings and events. JOHNATHON since the developers contacted you let them know ill rent the space for a night, Im currently looking lol
Christopher / March 27, 2011 at 10:48 am
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No comments since 2009, so I'm going to assume that this Irish buyer's plans have either hit a snag or fallen flat completely.
True shame and embarrassment every time I walk past the now caged front of this stunning building.
the lemur replying to a comment from Christopher / March 28, 2011 at 12:01 am
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Agreed. Every so often the 'for sale' is changed a bit but I don't think selling this property is high on the owner's priority list. Last time I checked out the phone number posted it was connected to a Suzuki dealership in western Ireland - probably a more engrossing business operation.
Insert Real Name / March 31, 2011 at 08:56 pm
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This would make a splendid Toronto Public Library branch. Pity that will never happen.
BillyO / December 15, 2011 at 06:35 pm
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Condos coming here soon. Don't worry though, the heritage structures at 199 and 205 Yonge will be looked after. MOD developments will handle the project, the are currently working in a condo with heritage structures at Yonge and St Joseph St.
416adam / January 25, 2012 at 11:42 am
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Unbelieavble that such a beautiful building has been allowed to sit vacant so long!
Ed Bird / February 25, 2012 at 03:54 pm
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Who is the mysterious Irish co-owner of 205 Yonge street???
the lemur replying to a comment from Ed Bird / February 25, 2012 at 05:27 pm
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Co-owner? I thought it was just the one guy:

http://www.thestar.com/news/ideas/article/698250
Ed Bird / February 25, 2012 at 05:42 pm
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Hello Lemur,
Thanks for you (very) rapid response.
It was a car dealer from Waterford in Ireland (Tommy Farrell) who bought # 205. Word is there was/is a partner!
E.
Jane / July 22, 2012 at 09:52 pm
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Wow thanks for the posts. I enjoyed them and the images very much.
Louise / December 9, 2013 at 10:38 pm
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Any idea what it sold for? I am so in Love with this biulding!
Hannah / October 3, 2014 at 02:26 pm
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This is quite beautiful and it's really solid and clean looking. What did it sell for? Or if you can atleast give us an approximate estimate?
Alyssa Wong / November 14, 2014 at 09:45 am
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These banks are beautiful, I'm a sucker for old architecture. Can someone please reopen this place because I really really want to see the interiors with my own eyes. Awesome pictures though!!

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