Royal York Hotel History Toronto

A visual history of the Royal York Hotel

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 more than 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.

The hotel still operates as its own pseudo-city. 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 they squint just enough.

Here's how the Royal York hotel has looked through the years.

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Queen's Hotel, 1915

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Site of current Union Station, 1915 (Queen's Hotel in the background)

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Royal York Construction

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Looking west from Bay toward the Royal York in 1929/30

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Original Lobby at the Royal York, 1929

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Front of Royal York, 1930

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Royal York and skyline, 1930

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The Royal York on the skyline, again.

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Royal York, 1930

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Looking north at the Royal York, 1930

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Postcard 1941

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Bartenders at the Royal York, 1940s

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Royal York, 1950s

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Sewage and sanitation dinner at the Royal York, 1959

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Royal York ad, 1960s

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Skyline, 1970s

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The Royal York gets a pal in the form of the CN Tower, mid 1970s

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Royal York, 1980s

Royal York Hotel

Royal York, early 2000s

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The ballroom as it looks today. Image via Wikipedia

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The lobby as it looks today. Image via Sean Robertson

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The Telus Tower blocks off the Royal York from the skyline, 2010


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