Guild Park and Gardens: Toronto’s Architectural Sculpture Gallery

By Liam Smythe

Given the recent uproar over the proposed demolition and redevelopment of the Dominion Foundry site east of downtown Toronto, it is easy to forget there was a time that the preservation of Toronto’s older buildings was scarcely given a second thought by the collective consciousness of our city.

In the decades following the end of the Second World War, Toronto underwent a wave of new development unlike anything it had seen before. As bulldozers cleared the farm fields around the city for new subdivisions, the wrecking balls were clearing the downtown core in the name of redevelopment and urban renewal.

Fortunately, this period brought the city many mid-century modern masterpieces, but these came at the cost of hundreds of nineteenth and early-twentieth century structures that defined an older Toronto. A quick browse through books such as William Dendy’s Lost Toronto or Eric Arthur’s No Mean City illustrates the extent of Toronto’s architectural losses, most of which occurred over the course of a few short decades.

A pathway in the Guild Park and Gardens, framed by two salvaged architectural columns. Photo: Jeff Hitchcock

Most of these structures are now completely lost to the ages; pulverized into gravel or used to backfill Lake Ontario. Thanks to the foresight of one collector however, the remains of some sixty-odd buildings were salvaged from the rubble and artfully arranged on the grounds of the former Guild Inn in Scarborough.

Now known as Guild Park and Gardens, the property is owned and operated as a park by the City of Toronto. The collection represents the work of Spencer and Rosa Clark, proprietors of the Guild Inn who recognized the sculptural value of Toronto’s disappearing nineteenth and early-twentieth century architecture.

The Guild Inn itself began life in 1914 as Ranleigh Park, a 33-room mansion constructed by Colonel Harold Child Bickford. In May of 1932, the property was purchased by Rosa Hewetson. Two months later, she married Spencer Clark in a ceremony on the property. Inspired by Roycroft in East Aurora, New York where they had spent their honeymoon, the Clarks established The Guild of All Arts. The guild was an artist’s colony that provided training for craftspeople and apprentices in fields such as wood and metalworking, weaving and painting. Within a few years, the Guild of All Arts evolved into a country resort known as The Guild Inn and became a popular tourist destination in the 1950s and 1960s.

Spencer Clark in front of the Greek Theatre in 1981. The Greek Theatre was composed of eight Corinthian columns salvaged from the 1912 Bank of Toronto. Photo: Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Prolific collectors of Canadian sculpture, the Clarks began acquiring salvaged architectural materials as early as the 1940s. These pieces were usually purchased by arrangement with the demolition contractors, occasionally directly from the people operating the equipment. Moving these pieces was not an easy task; some weighed up to six tons and had to be transported from their location in downtown Toronto, twenty kilometers east to Scarborough. The entire process including purchase, transportation, and reconstruction was funded entirely by the Clarks.

Scattered throughout the property are the remains of a number of formerly prominent landmarks. The Inn’s entrance gates off Kingston Road were formerly the entrance to the Stanley Barracks at Exhibition Place, constructed in 1840 as a replacement for Fort York. Three carved red sandstone panels from George Gouinlock’s Temple Building occupy a prominent position at the front of the property. Completed in 1896, the Temple Building was located on the southwest corner of Queen and Bay. It was the tallest building in the British Empire upon its completion and was considered Toronto’s first skyscraper.

Left: The Temple building on Queen and Bay, 1969. Top: The demolition of the Temple Building in 1970. Bottom: Carved sandstone panels from the Temple Building, now located at Guild Park and Gardens. Photos: Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library & Simon P., 2009

A series of Art Deco stone panels and parapets from the 1929 Toronto Star Building on King Street West have been artfully arranged into a small pyramid. Allegorical panels representing the provinces of Canada have also been salvaged from the Bank of Montreal. Both buildings were demolished to make way for the present First Canadian Place at King and Bay. The most prominent feature of the Guild Park is the Greek Theatre, an outdoor stage comprised of eight Corinthian columns salvaged from the 1912 Bank of Toronto. It was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Toronto Dominion Centre.

Crew installing a salvaged panel from the Bank of Montreal at 50 King Street West, 1978. The Greek Theatre is featured in the background. Photo: Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

The Clarks sold the property in 1978 to the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, acting on behalf of the City of Toronto and Province of Ontario. The Clarks were contracted to run the hotel for the next five years, however Rosa passed away in 1981. The hotel was operated under several contracts through the 1980s and early 1990s, before the Conservation Authority decided to operate the hotel itself. As it was not really in the business of running a hotel, the Conservation Authority closed the Guild Inn in 1999 and the restaurant in 2001. Although the hotel lapsed into abandonment, the gardens were acquired by the City of Toronto and are now a public park. The former Guild Inn building was recently restored and reopened as an events venue. The park remains a popular locale for weddings, parties, and concerts, while providing a subtle link to the city’s architectural past.


Liam Smythe is currently a Cultural Heritage Specialist. He is also member of ACO and a contributor to the NextGen Blog.