Hidden Toronto: Daniel Brooke Building

The circa-1833 Georgian Revival classic was at the epicentre of commerce, politics and the Great Fire of Toronto


What 

Daniel Brooke Building

Where 

150-154 King Street East

Why you should check it out

Daniel Brooke was a prominent merchant in the Town of York.

The circa-1833 building named after him on King is one of the last remaining of the old town, as well as one of the best examples left of Georgian Revival architecture in the city.

Its brickwork and stone detailing characterized the warehouse buildings within the area when York was emerging as a commercial centre. The building played an important role in the economic life of the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood. But it also became an epicentre of York’s political history.

The building was rebuilt to accommodate Brooke’s many growing commercial enterprises when the Great Fire of Toronto destroyed most of the buildings in the area in 1849. The fire, also known as the Cathedral Fire, wiped out the old Market Block, as it was known, around present-day King and Jarvis.

The fire was reportedly “discovered” at around 1 am in the rear of Graham’s Tavern on the northeast side of King and Jarvis, which was known as Nelson at the time. But its cause is not known.

The Brooke building was mostly spared by the flames and would soon become home to other businesses destroyed by the fire, most notably, the Conservative newspaper the Patriot.

The newspaper of Conservative reformers was started by Thomas Dalton in Kingston in 1829. Dalton tried to sell the newspaper before he moved to York in 1832. He brought the paper with him when that plan fell through. 

Dalton was a successful businessman and brewer who originally immigrated to Newfoundland from England before moving to Kingston. He would go on to become a director of the Bank of Upper Canada after buying shares in the bank.

According to biographi.ca, Dalton was known for his “radical sympathies.” When he moved his paper to York to be closer to the political action he would become part of the reform wave, befriending rebel William Lyon Mackenzie’s circle of friends and former American revolutionaries. Dalton, however, was hardly a radical, despite his well-publicized fights in the pages of the Patriot with government members of the Legislative Assembly.

Dalton died in 1840. His wife Sophia Sims Dalton would take over the Patriot’s operations becoming Canada’s first female publisher. In 1848, she sold the paper to the Leader owner, James Beaty.

Coincidentally, James Austin, a printer who apprenticed under Mackenzie and left Upper Canada after the rebellion of 1837, would return and set up a grocery shop in the Brooke Building alongside the Patriot. Like Dalton, Austin would go from political reformer to bank president – the Dominion Bank in his case – and later become head of Consumers Gas. His home, Spadina House, would become the Spadina Museum. 

The St. Lawrence neighbourhood, on the other hand, would fall into extreme poverty as the epicentre of York’s life moved further north and west in the latter half of the 19th century and the Brooke Building would be abandoned. 

For some 50 years starting in the late 1930s, the building’s lower level was home to the Sportsman’s Shop, an army/navy surplus store. But the upper levels of the building were unoccupied save for the squatters that would use them from time to time.

In the 1980s a development project to transform the St. Lawrence neighbourhood saw the building and the block around it redeveloped into the King George Properties’ luxury condo project.

The project spurred redevelopment and the reemergence of the surrounding neighbourhood, re-establishing the building and its place in the commercial life of the city.

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks.

@enzodimatteo

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One response to “Hidden Toronto: Daniel Brooke Building”

  1. I always enjoy these glimpses into Toronto’s past. Thank you for the interesting and enlightening articles, Enzo!

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