The Royal York Hotel and The Bank of Commerce

These two buildings dominated the Toronto skyline from when they were built around 1930 until several taller buildings were erected in the 1960’s and 70s. Each had the distinction at one time of being the tallest building in the British Empire; the Royal York Hotel for a short while, from when it was erected in 1929 till The Bank of Commerce took the title in December 1930. The latter was the tallest in the British Empire and when the Empire had become the British Commonwealth of Nations, the tallest in the Commonwealth until 1962.

Toronto Skyline 1963

The Royal York is now dwarfed by the towering back drop of today’s skyscrapers and the Bank of Commerce (now Commerce Court North) is almost completely hidden.

Toronto from the lake August 1997

The Bank of Commerce

Bank of Commerce from King St.

In 1927, having outgrown its earlier seven-storey head office, The Bank of Commerce started planning for a new headquarters, one that would surpass all other buildings in Canada in height. This 34-story tower was the first of a new generation of skyscrapers and would continue the tallest building in the British Commonwealth until 1962. Darling & Pearson, designers of many of the bank’s important buildings across Canada, were the architects, assisted by the New York firm, York & Sawyer, noted for designing office towers in the United States which combined traditional historical style with modern techniques. It was completed in December 1930 and was officially opened when the Board of Directors held their first meeting in the building on January 13, 1931. Today it is one of the best-loved heritage buildings in the city. “The immense banking hall projects an almost ecclesiastical sense of awe.”

Royal York Hotel

Royal York Hotel from the bay August 1997

While the Powells lived here and in following years a number of buildings were built and rebuilt on the site of The Royal York Hotel: other houses, hotels and even (for a while) Knox Theological College. The grandest was the stately Queen’s Hotel. When the Canadian Pacific Railway announced it would build the largest hotel in the British Empire on the site, citizens were upset by the thought of loosing their beloved Queen’s Hotel. Construction began in 1927 and on June 11, 1929, it was officially opened as The Royal York. With 28 floors, it was the tallest building in the British Empire until the Bank of Commerce overtook it a couple of years later.

It was a magnificent hotel, a city within a city, with 1,048 rooms, each with radios, private showers and bathtubs. 1.5 acres of public rooms included a 12-bed hospital, a library and ten elevators. The Concert Hall featured a full stage and a large pipe organ. There was a glass-enclosed roof garden, the largest hotel kitchen in Canada. The telephone switchboard was 66-ft. long and manned by 35 operators. It was renovated from 1988 to 1993, to restored the original elegance with refurbished guest rooms, public spaces, a health club, and a skylit pool. It is reputed to have had more than 40 million guests. Information on The Royal York Hotel from Fairmont website.