Built to Last

Celebrating 100 Years in the North Wing of the Ontario Legislative Building

2012 marks the centenary of the Ontario Legislative Library’s move into its location in the North Wing of the Legislative Building. The move happened three years after a devastating fire destroyed its predecessor in the West Wing. Today, the Library, that was planned by architect George Gouinlock and librarian Avern Pardoe, retains the same floor plan and many of the unique architectural features envisioned more than 100 years ago. Its solid backbone of steel and marble and its unique layout is the foundation that has allowed the structure and the facility to adapt to the changing needs of clients and staff.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the move the Library has sponsored several projects that pay tribute to the architecture, people and facilities of the Ontario Legislative Library.

Celebratory Talks

Between February and April Assembly staff and the local library community were invited to a series of three talks featuring the North Wing and the Legislative Precinct.

Catherine Dowling, Assistant Professor, Ryerson School of Interior Design shared her research on the architect George Gouinlock, who designed the North Wing of the Legislative Building. She took us on a pictorial tour of Gouinlock’s life, placing his talent and accomplishments into context.

Christopher Hume, Architecture Critic and Urban Issues Columnist, Toronto Star, gave a talk entitled, “Reading Queen’s Park: The Pink Palace in the 21st Century”. He critiqued the building, expressing what he likes (a few sculptures) and what he doesn’t (that Queen’s Park is an island surrounded by a moat filled with cars!).

Mark Osbaldeston, author of Unbuilt Toronto: a History of the City That Might Have Been, and Unbuilt Toronto 2: More of the City That Might Have Been spoke about “The Queen’s Park Precinct That Might Have Been”. He provided a delightful history of failed initiatives that would have changed the surrounding area.

Doors Open

In May the Library participated in the Legislative Assembly’s program for Toronto’s Doors Open event. Although it wasn’t possible to open the doors of the Library due to logistical issues, over 2,000 visitors viewed the display of treasures – including our oldest book, from the fourteen hundreds – and photographs depicting various areas of the Library from the past and present. These photographs are on display in the Library.

CALL Conference

The opening reception of this year’s Canadian Association of Legal Librarians (CALL) was hosted in the Legislative Building. Attendees were treated to a slideshow tracing the Library’s physical changes over the years and received mini cards with images of its interesting architectural features as mementos.


Putting our research and writing talents to good use, we produced a timeline of notable events from the last hundred years, including sending a “certified photostat” in lieu of a clipping in 1931 and obtaining a word processor in 1979.

“Built to Last”

“In the centre of Canada’s largest city, amongst the vertical sprawl of modern skyscrapers, sits a library that has kept its relevance and purpose with the help of a visionary, thoughtful design.”

Built to Last, an illustrated book published in May 2012, tells the story of the planning and construction of the Library facilities in the North Wing. It describes the 1912 facilities and follows the innovations and modifications made in response to Member’s changing needs and new technologies. Drawing on the Library’s photo collection, original architectural drawings, archival materials of former Legislative Librarians and contemporary photographs, Built to Last traces the Library facility’s history and provides a present day snapshot that is of interest today, and will be in the future, particularly to our descendants on the 200th anniversary in 2112.

Built to Last can be viewed online in a pdf version or as a Flip Book. It is a companion to From Ashes to Steel which documented the destruction by fire and water of the earlier Library facility in the West Wing.

Bookstacks seen through the glass entrance doors, 2012.

Excavations for the foundations of the North Wing were already under way when the West Wing of the Legislative Building was destroyed by fire on September 1, 1909.

The “charging” or circulation desk, seen here in the 1950′s, is the one that had been installed in 1912.

MPPs are always interested in the news. The Library’s newspaper reading area was separated from the bookstacks by a brass railing.

The Bookstacks on the fourth floor are surrounded by a “wire fence” and on the mezzanine by a railing dating back to 1912.

The Ontario Coat of Arms embellishes the four corners of the mezzanine railings.

A fireproof corridor leads from the Main Building to the Library’s entrance.

On the cover of Built to Last is a photograph of the North Wing of the Legislative Building, designed by Toronto architect, George Gouinlock.

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