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The Rise of The King Edward Hotel Toronto

October 11, 2012

The King Edward Hotel is Toronto’s first luxury hotel built in 1903.

The hotel marks the transition from Queen Victoria’s era of strict standards of personal morality to King Edward’s reign of opulence and grandeur. The idea for the King Edward Hotel – originally to be named The Palace Hotel to honour Queen Victoria – was conceived before Queen Victoria died in 1901 and brought to completion after Edward VII ascended the throne, with the newly named hotel – The King Edward.

The King Edward Hotel ranks as one of the world’s great “palace hotels” – all built around the turn of the 20th century.

During the late Victorian age in Toronto there were no grand hotels to which visitors – commercial, elite, royal or otherwise – could  be directed without apology or embarrassment. Opposite the old Union Station was the Queen’s Hotel which had grown by awkward additions to a row of townhouses first erected in 1838 – whose interior rooms and standards were not quite up to expected quality and service (the Queen’s Hotel was demolished and replaced by the Royal York Hotel in 1929).

(The Queen’s Hotel, Toronto)

Palatial hotels, such as the Savoy in London, Hôtel Ritz in Paris, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, set high standards for architectural design, interior decoration, facilities and services.

(London’s Savoy Hotel was opened in 1889)

(Hôtel Ritz in Paris was opened in 1898)

(The Waldorf-Astoria in New York originally started as two hotels with the Waldorf Hotel opening in 1893 and the Astoria Hotel opening in 1897.  The first hotel (seen below) was demolished for the erection of the Empire State Building)


(The current Waldorf-Astoria was opened in 1931)

In Canada, hotel standards were set by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Hotels with a chain of resort hotels built across the country along the railway line – such as The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec and The Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta.  

(The Banff Springs Hotel)

(The Chateau Frontenac Hotel)

The first upscale hotel of international consequence was The Windsor, in Montreal, opened in 1878.

In the late Victorian era there was much discussion about building a new hotel in Toronto, and in 1899 the Toronto Hotel Company was founded by George Aemilius Jarvis – with the support of George Cox (of Canada Life and the Bank of Commerce) and George Gooderham (of Gooderham & Worts Distillery).


The site chosen for the new hotel on King Street East – facing Toronto Street – was previously that of the Golden Lion clothing store, which had closed in 1898, on the site of what was known as The Walker Building. Along the western edge of the lot Victoria Street was extended south to Colborne St. (Victoria Street on right side of hotel in the postcard below).

The first designs for the new hotel were drawn up in 1900 by architect Henry Ives Cobb of Chicago,

but ultimately went to Toronto-based architect Edward James Lennox who designed several of the city’s most notable landmarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including Old City Hall and Casa Loma.


Lennox was able to obtain superb craftsmanship, construction materials, decorations and furnishings, resulting  in Toronto’s first luxury hotel whose appearance befitted the status of the society and business clientele it hoped to attract.

(This is a rare hotel construction photo from the Globe Newspaper of Saturday, 13th December 1902)

The two-storey ground floor and lower mezzanine formed the base of the construction design. In the crowded streetscape of King Street in 1903, the King Edward Hotel had presence and dignity – especially seen from the northwest (as shown above) where a three-quarters round corner bay, supported on massive columns, emphasized both the height and mass of the building.

When the hotel first opened, the main entrance was sheltered by a large canopy of glass and cast iron supported over the sidewalk on twin pillars.

The King Eddy – as it became affectionately known – was an instant landmark and long-term success, sharing in the development of the city of Toronto. Photographs appeared in view books for tourists, and the hotel popped up on tally-ho tours of the town.

Transportation on horse-drawn King Edward Omnibuses (modeled on Paris Opera buses) met steamships and railway trains to bring them to the well-known and well-chosen comfort and style of the world-renowned hotel.

It was the rise and arrival of the King Edward luxury hotel… and so for Toronto.


From → architecture, history

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