A visual history of the Royal York Hotel
The Royal York Hotel, still one of Toronto's grandest structures, is yet another example of that old adage that nothing comes without a cost. Completed in 1929, the structure that would dominate the Toronto skyline for 35+ years (until the TD Centre came along) actually replaced a beautiful building in its own right: the Queen's Hotel, the first parts of which were constructed all in the way back in 1844.
Both hotels were ideally situated given their proximity to both old and new Union Stations, and played host to the most important dignitaries of their days. When the Royal York was completed in 1929, it was briefly the tallest building in the British Commonwealth until the Bank of Commerce Building went up just north of it on King Street in 1930. Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the hotel was more than just an opulent destination; it was the type of building that a burgeoning metropolis needs to put itself on the map.
According to Fairmont, who currently own the hotel, when it opened the Royal York was like a city within a city: "It boasted 1,048 rooms — each with radios, private showers and bathtubs. The 1.5 acres of public rooms included a 12-bed hospital, 12,000-book library and ten ornate passenger elevators... There was a glass-enclosed roof garden, the largest hotel kitchen in Canada with a bakery that could produce over 15,000 French rolls a day..."
To some extent not much has changed. The hotel still operates as its own pseudo-city, a fact underscored by Christopher Heard's recent writer-in-residence experiment. Extensive renovations in the late 1980s and early 90s would re-modernize the hotel, but as even a brief visit to the current lobby makes clear, much of the 1930s charm has been preserved.
The hotel no longer dominates the skyline as it once did, and the sign has changed a number of times over the years — almost allowing one to pick out the decades without other contextual aid — but the building still has a commanding presence from the street. A person exiting Union Station on a foggy day, might even be transported back to the early days of the Royal York if he or she squints just enough.
Queen's Hotel, 1915
Site of current Union Station, 1915 (Queen's Hotel in the background)
Royal York Construction
Looking west from Bay toward the Royal York in 1929/30
Original Lobby at the Royal York, 1929
Front of Royal York, 1930
Royal York and skyline, 1930
Royal York, 1930
Looking north at the Royal York, 1930
Bartenders at the Royal York, Ca. 1940s
Royal York, Ca. 1950s
Sewage and sanitation dinner at the Royal York, 1959
Royal York ad, Ca. 1960s
The Royal York gets a pal in the form of the CN Tower, mid 1970s
Royal York, 1980s
Royal York, early 2000s
The ballroom as it looks today (via Wikipedia)
The lobby as it looks todat (via Sean Robertson)
Current sign of the Royal York (via Phil Marion)
The Telus Tower blocks off the Royal York from the skyline, 2010
Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted