Toronto’s architectural gems—the Brooke Building at Jarvis and Front


When I first began researching Toronto’s 19th-century buildings, I began in the old town of York. Very few of the structures from this period of the city’s history remain in existence today. The two major exceptions are the Grange, now a part of the AGO, and Campbell House, which was relocated to University and Queen Street West from Frederick and Adelaide streets. A lesser known building from the town of York is the student residence of Upper Canada College, at the corner of Duncan and Adelaide Streets. It dates from 1833, the year prior to York being incorporated as a city, when its name was changed to Toronto. To view a post about the student residence of 1833, follow the link:

The building in the above picture was also constructed in 1833. It is the Daniel Brooke Building, on the northeast corner of King Street East and Jarvis streets, diagonally across from the south building of the St Lawrence Market. It contains a row of three shops, which were in a poor state of repair until they were restored. Today, the Brooke Building appears as if they had recently been constructed.  

The small complex of shops was erected in 1833 for Daniel Brooke, a prosperous businessman. Because he was a property owner of substantial means, he was likely very concerned when the rebels marched down Yonge Street in 1837 in a rebellion against the excessive powers of the royal governor and the influential families of the town. Armed rebels, troops and military skirmishes were rarely good for business. In 1848 and 1849, the Brooke Building was improved and rebuilt. When a great fire swept along King Street, many of the shops and buildings were destroyed, including the church of St. James at King and Church streets. Fortunately the Brooke Building did not sustain much damage.  

The Brooke Building has housed a variety of commercial enterprises. One of the best known of these was in the 1840s, when the wholesale grocery business of James Austin and Patrick Foy occupied part of the premises. In the 1850s, the Brooke Building housed the offices of The Patriot, an influential conservative newspaper.

In the years ahead, the funds that James Austin earned in his business located in the Brooke Building financed various enterprises. He eventually became the president of Consumers’ Gas and was one of the founders of the Dominion Bank, which survives today as the Toronto Dominion Bank (the TD). The magnificent mansion he built atop the Davenport Road hill, adjacent to Casa Loma, remains today. It became a museum in 1984.

The architecture of the Brooke building on King Street East contains simple lines, with a symmetrical facade in the Georgian style. Large chimneys attest to it being built in an era when fireplaces were the sole method of heating. Large rectangular windows allowed plenteous light to enter the interior rooms in an age without electric lighting. Gable windows inset into the roof provided extra storage space, living quarters, or room for offices, where there would otherwise have been be only an attic. The Toronto Historical Board placed a plaque on the building in 1994. It provided much of the information for this post. 


       The south facade of the Brooke Building on King Street East

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The gable windows in  the roof of the structure and a view of the cornice

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The south facade of the building and the large chimneys above the east facade (right-hand side).


The 19th-century style shop on the southwest corner of the building. 


The Brooke Building in September of 2013. The structure is a visual reminder of the early days of Toronto.

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