Toronto Architect Edmund Blake: Redefining Canadian Architecture


233 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1217-9
DDC 720'.92





Reviewed by David E. Smith

David E. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of
Saskatchewan and the author of Building a Province: A History of
Saskatchewan in Documents and The Invisible Crown.


The title of this book is appropriate and, at the same time, misleading.
Appropriate, because Toronto is studded with Edmund Burke’s
architectural legacy: Simpson’s department store, the present Royal
Conservatory of Music, Jarvis Street Baptist Church (his first
independent work, 1874), and the Bloor Street Viaduct are outstanding
examples. But misleading, too, because buildings whose designs
originated with Burke and his partners can be found in Halifax,
Sackville, Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria as well. The most notable
Western Canadian structures are the three distinctive Hudson’s Bay
Company department stores executed in Beaux-Arts design and clad in
white-glazed terra cotta. Angela Carr, an art historian, describes these
last buildings as “masterpieces ... emblematic of the self-confident
expansionist mood of the Canadian West in the boom years between 1908
and the First World War.”

Thus Burke’s reputation is truly national despite the concentration
of his public and private commissions in Toronto. His career was
national in another sense, for it coincided with the growth of
architecture as a profession, which itself paralleled Canada’s
progress from colony to nation. In that evolution Canadian architects
looked increasingly to the United States, and away from Great Britain,
for models in design and technology. It was Burke, for instance, who
popularized the Richardsonian Romanesque style and introduced
curtain-wall construction techniques from the United States. Yet even
when the source was American, Carr proves beyond doubt that the finished
product was eminently Canadian.

This lavishly illustrated work makes an important contribution to the
cultural history of Canada.


Carr, Angela., “Toronto Architect Edmund Blake: Redefining Canadian Architecture,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,