Rating: NNNNN

How quirky fires are. Among the many tragedies of last week’s Queen West fire, the irony is that while the six 1870s examples of fine Italianate design went up in smoke, the surviving buildings have no heritage value at all.

The lost buildings, from the early days of Toronto’s expansion westward, were characterized by very large vertical windows and large projecting eaves supported by ornate brackets. Notes Heritage consultant Thomas Wicks: “This style was particularly well suited to commercial properties because of the rather grand scale.”

While Queen’s new Heritage District designation means the new buildings that replace those lost will at least be required to fit in with the street, experience tells us they won’t have quite the same appeal. No one is likely to exert similar effort in the detailing and materials for the construction of modern commercial structures.

As well, new additions to the street will have to be paid for, meaning the rents will be high.

With the possible exception of Duke’s Cycle, which owned its own building and so may stay in the location, the independent stores that occupied this block are likely to be replaced by chain stores and high-end retailers.

Loss and change are inevitable in a city. Although the burned buildings were fairly simple in style, we will not see their like again.

611-617 Queen West Home of Jupiter, Preloved, National Sound. Style Italianate two-storey with a symmetrical facade of four equal bays framed by brick pilasters, with arched windows (some original) topped by brick hoods. What made the building special The lower buildings on Queen West featured balloon frames made of wood, a building technique pioneered by cost-conscious North Americans who found wood plentiful. Former occupants J. Wilbury, barber James Kelly, tailor and J. Sandeville, plumber.


Kevin Steele www.KEVINSTEELE.com

619-621 Queen West Home of Suspect Video and Room+, with commercial units on the upper floors. Style Italianate three-storey with arched windows topped by brick hoods and framed by brick quoins. What made the building special A projecting cornice on alternating deep and shallow brackets. Midblock, the architecture on this stretch of Queen becomes grander. These were among the most impressive commercial developments of their time. Former occupants J. Harrington, stove merchant Arthur Young, grocer.


Kevin Steele www.KEVINSTEELE.com

623-625 Queen West Home of Duke’s Cycle since 1914. Style Italianate three-storey with a symmetrical facade of five windows. What made the building special Dentil-like bracket treatment on overhang – like soldiers abreast – and battlement-shaped ridges in the brickwork, which replicated the stonework usually found on more distinguished buildings. Former occupants James Carolan, flour and feed merchant C. Smith, restaurateur.

Dylan Reid is an associate editor at Spacing Magazine.



Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content