The Ontario Government Building was built in 1926 to take the place of the original, smaller Ontario Government Building constructed in 1912 (now occupied by Medieval Times). The province required additional space for its exhibits aimed at educating residents of Ontario as to the various roles played by its government. For example, the new Ontario Government Building contained exhibits promoting the work of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Labour, Department of Mines, Department of Lands and Forests, Department of Northern Development and the Department of Public Highways. In the courtyard was a very popular display by the Department of Game and Fisheries of live animals such as deer, beaver, raccoons, etc. These animals were housed in fenced-in areas, allowing CNE visitors a chance to see wildlife up close. When Ontario Place opened in 1971, the province of Ontario no longer needed the building at the CNE to house provincial exhibits. From 1972 onward various seasonal tenants took over the Ontario Government Building to house their exhibits and shows.
The reinforced concrete Beaux-Arts building was designed by architects Alfred Chapman and J. Morrow Oxley of the architectural firm Chapman and Oxley. The building was built in a triangular layout, fronting on the southwest on Lake Shore Boulevard, British Columbia Road on the north and Alberta Circle on the east. The building has a central open triangular courtyard with the three wings surrounding it. Along the property facing Lake Shore Boulevard is a large concrete plaza leading down to the road, originally to Lake Ontario. A large dome at this south entrance dominates the structure while six tall lantern domes are placed at the corners of the building. The exterior was very ornate, but the interior, used for exhibit space was not decorated, like a warehouse. Chapman and Oxley also designed the Princes’ Gates and worked with the artist Charles McKechnie.
The artist Charles McKechnie, who often worked closely with Chapman and Oxley on architectural commissions, designed the statuary of the Ontario Government Building. Two majestic lions are positioned on the south lawn of Liberty Grand while another two lions flank the building’s east entrance. Charles McKechnie also designed the statuary for the Princes’ Gates.
In 2000, the City of Toronto released a request for proposals for long-term development of the Ontario Government Building. In 2001 Liberty Entertainment Group won that proposal and transformed the building, preserving and restoring its original Beaux- Arts features. The interior was transformed into a grand banquet space that includes three beautiful ballrooms. The building was renamed Liberty Grand and officially opened in 2002. Liberty Grand hosts weddings and special events year round.
Chapman, D. Howard Alfred Chapman Architect 1879 – 1949. The Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, 1978
Chapman, A. H. Ontario Government Building Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto. The Journal Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, January, 1927, p. 5 – 10
Ontario Government Building Exhibition Place – Assessment of Building Condition and Options for Conversion of Building to Year-Round Use, prepared by Taylor Hazel Architects Ltd., Toronto, November 1993
George W. Gouinlock (1861-1932) was born in Paris, Ontario. Gouinlock began his career in Toronto with the architectural firm of Kennedy and Holland in 1886. In 1888, he set up a practice with G.W. King, but from 1901 until 1921 Gouinlock practised alone.
In the early 1900s, Gouinlock was approached by Toronto City Council to redesign the west end of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later known as the Canadian National Exhibition). Many of the buildings on the site at the time were wooden structures that were not meant to be permanent. Between 1902 and 1912 Gouinlock transformed the western end of the exhibition grounds with fifteen new structures set amidst broad boulevards and an open plaza. Gouinlock’s architectural plan was heavily influenced by the Beaux-Arts classical design he had encountered at Chicago’s World’s Columbia Exposition in 1893.
Unlike other Exhibition Place buildings by George W. Gouinlock, the Fire Hall and Police Station was not designed in the Beaux-Arts style. Instead, it has an eclectic architectural design featuring a clock tower, polychrome brick banding and a shallow pitched copper roof. The Fire Hall and Police Station has Arts and Crafts design elements. Its red brick exterior is designed in contrasting colours and textures and includes Tudor style detailing executed in wood and stucco. The building was also designed with wide entranceways, allowing easy access to the building for people and vehicles.
Although the Fire Hall and Police Station has undergone several planned alterations, such as one major restoration in 1981 to bring the building to Ontario Building Code standards as well as having modern, roll-up doors installed, the structure's basic character remains intact.
The Fire Hall and Police Station is divided into two sections. A detachment of the Toronto Police Services occupied a portion of the Fire Hall and Police Station year-round for a period of time from 2004 to 2013. In 2012, a detachment of Toronto Fire Services began to occupy the Fire Hall on a full time year round basis. Prior to 2012, Toronto Fire Services were only on site during the CNE. During the CNE Toronto Fire Services provide educational programming to visitors. In 2016, a detachment of Toronto Parks, Forestry & Recreation division took up residence in a portion of the Fire Hall for use as administrative services.
The Clock Tower of the Fire Hall and Police Station is currently undergoing restoration.
The Bandshell was designed by Craig & Madill Architects. Extensive research on other band shells, such as the Hollywood Bowl in the United States, influenced the design of the Bandshell. Art Deco features can be seen on the exterior of the shell that is decorated with stylized musical notes. The structure was built to accommodate a 100-piece band. The stage itself is 63 feet in width and 38 feet in depth and faces toward the north. The building includes a full basement which houses storerooms, a transformer room and dressing rooms. At the time it was built, the Bandshell featured the latest in acoustics and lighting. The ‘shell’ consists of eight semi-circular ‘louvres’ specifically engineered to achieve ideal acoustics. The Bandshell was built with 1,030 concealed lamps that illuminate the structure in red, green and blue. This lighting feature could be controlled with dimmers thus enhancing the musical performance on stage.
When it opened in 1936 the Bandshell featured the Kneller Hall Band, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the United States Navy Band amongst other noteworthy bands. The Bandshell became the place for visitors to congregate and listen to a variety of military bands and big bands from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Since its construction in 1936, the Bandshell has also served as the site of the official opening of the annual CNE. From the stage of the Bandshell, dignitaries such as William Lyon McKenzie King, Rear Admiral the Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Vincent Massey have presided over opening day ceremonies. In more recent years the CNE opening day ceremonies have taken place at the Princes’ Gates.
Over the years the Bandshell continued to feature various musical entertainment. In the 1970s, band competitions, also known as “Battle of the Bands”, were held on the Bandshell stage. The Bandshell has also been the site of body building competitions, celebrity appearances and talent shows.
Today, the Bandshell forms part of the Bandshell Park that is host to various festivals and events throughout the year. The structure also continues to highlight a variety of musical talent during the annual CNE in August.