The Music Building

The Music Building remains as one of the most unique structures built on the grounds of Exhibition Place. The building was constructed as three octagonal domes connected together to form a triangular-shaped structure. This whimsical design, with its ornate architectural detail, was the vision of architect George W. Gouinlock. Photo courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, taken during the 1949 CNE

George W. Gouinlock (1861-1932) was born in Paris, Ontario. Very little is known about his early training, but it is believed that he apprenticed in Hamilton and may have worked in Manitoba, Chicago and Milwaukee before moving permanently to Toronto in 1874. 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. A founding member of the Ontario Association of Architects, he was elected president in 1909.

In the early 1900s, Gouinlock was approached by Toronto City Council to redesign the west end of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition (later known at 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.

Beaux-Arts design combines classical architecture from ancient Greece and Rome with Renaissance ideas. It is characterized by order, symmetry, formal design, grandiosity, and elaborate ornamentation. The style originated in France and spread throughout the industrial world. Beaux-Arts design was a popular architectural style in North America from 1885-1925. In the United States, the Beaux-Arts style led to planned neighborhoods with large, showy houses, wide boulevards, and vast parks. Because of the size and grandiosity of the buildings, the Beaux-Arts style was most commonly used for public buildings like museums, railway stations, libraries, banks, courthouses, and government buildings. It also set a new precedent for the construction of exhibition buildings. Of the fifteen new buildings Gouinlock designed for the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, all were influenced by the Beaux-Arts style, including the Railway Building (renamed the Music Building in 1968). The Railway Building was built as part of a joint venture between the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, the Toronto Industrial Exhibition and the City of Toronto. The building had to fit on a small triangular piece of land and contain three separate exhibit spaces. Gouinlock took these spatial challenges and used them to his advantage designing a fanciful yet functional trefoil building with domes and decorative friezes characteristic of the Beaux-Arts style.

The Railway Building opened in time for the 1907 fair and was used to showcase rail travel and achievements in transportation. The continuing growth and popularity of the annual exhibition were closely tied to the development of rail transportation which made it possible for people from every province to attend. The popularity of railway travel began to wane after the Second World War and from 1952 onwards, the Railway Building became home to different groups over the years. From 1952 to 1961 it functioned as the Hydro Building where it housed exhibitions promoting Canadian advances in energy developments including the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and a model of a nuclear powered generating station. In 1968 the Railway Building was renamed the Music Building.

In 1987, a fire almost nearly destroyed the Music Building and there was much debate between City of Toronto Council, Heritage Toronto and the Canadian National Exhibition as to its future. At the time, the Board of Governors of Exhibition Place recommended demolishing the Music Building, but the Toronto Historical Board undertook a fundraising campaign to try to raise enough funds and awareness to prevent the demolition of the historic building. In 1989, with public and private donations, as well as grants from three levels of government, City of Toronto Council approved the restoration of the Music Building. The Music Building re-opened in 1990. Today, the Music Building is leased to the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

Apart from the Music Building, another four of Gouinlock’s original fifteen buildings still exist: the Horticulture Building (home to the Muzik Clubs), the Press Building (home to the administrative offices of the Canadian National Exhibition), the Government Building (home to Medieval Times) and the Fire Hall-Police Station (still in use by the Toronto Police Services and Toronto Fire Services during the CNE). The other ten were destroyed by fire or demolished as part of subsequent revitalization programs.



Adell, J. The Music Building (Formerly the Railway Building). Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, 1989

Blumenson, J. The Birkbeck Building, 8-10 Adelaide Street East, Toronto, A Final Report. The Heritage Trust, Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1985