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Convocation Hall under construction
Photo courtesy of U of T Archives

Beaux-Arts Beauty

Alumni and friends support Convocation Hall’s construction

Winter 1905

It’s difficult to imagine life at U of T without Convocation Hall, the stately beaux arts–style building that graces King’s College Circle – but it wouldn’t have existed without the donations of alumni and friends. After the University College fire of 1890 destroyed the previous Convocation Hall (which had been located in the college’s northeast wing), the U of T Alumni Association launched a fundraising campaign to construct a new hall.

The association initially aimed to raise $25,000, but as plans for the building expanded, so did the budget. Over the course of two years, donors contributed around $50,000, which the Ontario government matched. The Class of 1884 raised $1,500 – a significant amount for the time. City residents took an interest, as well: Timothy Eaton, of department store fame, gave $1,000.

Designed by Frank Darling of Darling & Pearson (one of Toronto’s finest architectural firms), the building was partly modelled on the Sorbonne theatre in Paris and accommodates about 1,700 people. Its cornerstone was laid in June 1904, and the hall officially opened in June 1907.

The building in the left of this picture is Stewart Observatory, which was dismantled in order to make space for Convocation Hall. The observatory was reconstituted on Hart House Circle in 1908, where it still sits.

On the day the cornerstone was laid, U of T Alumni Association president Dr. R.A. Reeve remarked, “Faith in the alumni and friends of the university, at times sorely tried but never lost, today has its reward.”

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  1. 2 Responses to “ Beaux-Arts Beauty ”

  2. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    This picture shows a partially completed Convocation Hall without the dome that is the crowning architectural feature of the building. Readers may be interested to know that the construction of the dome presented a major challenge to the builder A.B. Coleman, a well-known developer in Toronto. After much experimentation (the photo may be showing one of the attempts), Mr. Coleman contracted with a bridge-building firm to construct the dome on the ground, raise it with a bridge-like structure built over the building, and lower it in place from the bridge.

    Mr. Coleman never attended school above elementary grades, but his daughters, Mary and Kathleen, both graduated from Victoria College. Kathleen is remembered by a scholarship: the Kathleen (Coleman) Krenz Scholarship, at Victoria University.

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    I was excited to see a photo of Convocation Hall during construction. (Frank Darling was a distant relative.) What I find intriguing are:

    1. The placement of the observatory. I knew that it was not originally located in front of Hart House, and recently I found a meridian-line monument on the lawn in front of the Sandford Fleming Building. May I assume that the observatory stood directly over that line?

    2. The observatory was named the "Stewart Observatory." Does that mean it was named after Prof. L.B. Stewart of the civil engineering department, who was a Dominion Topographical Surveyor (a rare distinction, roughly equivalent to at PhD granted by the federal government)?

    David H. Gray
    BASc 1968, MASc 1971