Going Goth at U of T

It’s All in the Architecture



What better way to express academic prestige than with an array of Neo-Gothic architecture? In Canada, Gothic Revival remained in vogue far longer than it did in the US or Britain, where the style originated. The foundation of many prominent Canadian institutions coincided with this trend, resulting in spectacular Gothic buildings across Canadian university campuses. Scattered around the U of T campus, these “Collegiate Gothic” buildings intimidate anxious high school hopefuls, attract Instagram enthusiasts, and house classrooms and study spaces for over-caffeinated students. With its origins in spectacular Gothic cathedrals, it is no surprise that Neo-Gothic works are often found in religiously-affiliated spaces. The following are just a few of the eye-catching Neo-Gothic buildings at U of T.

Emmanuel College: Designed by Henry Sproatt, a prolific Canadian architect, this building began its life as a part of Victoria College. In 1925, a few Presbyterian congregations decided to remain independent from the newly formed United Church of Canada, and many from Knox College moved into this building to form “Union College,” soon renamed Emmanuel, at Vic. Today, it houses a school of theology and is noted for its ribbed vaults and intricate window panelling.

Burwash Hall: Former home of many famous U of T alumni including Lester B. Pearson and actor Donald Sutherland, Burwash Hall is the second-oldest residence at Victoria College, completed in 1913. It houses student residences as well as the Burwash dining hall, the largest at U of T. Burwash is notable for exemplifying turrets, gargoyles, as well as battlements.

Birge-Carnegie Library: Opened in 1910, Birge-Carnegie Library at Victoria College is another design by Canadian architect Henry Sproatt. With its looming stone exterior and long decorated glass windows, this library showcases the essential characteristics of Neo-Gothic architecture.

St. Basil’s Church: William Hay designed this stunner at St. Michael’s College. Featuring spectacular stained glass windows, a gabled roof and the most iconic ogival (a pointed arch) on campus, St. Basil’s was crucial to the construction of St. Mike’s. John Elmsley demanded one thing in return for the land that SMC sits on: that a Catholic Church be built as part of the campus. Since its initial construction in 1856, St. Basil’s has continuously been expanded and renovated. Per his request, the heart of John Elmsley was entombed in the western wall of the church after his death.

1 Spadina Crescent: The original home of Knox College, this Henry Sproatt-designed building features a wicked awesome ogival. Built in 1875, this structure is preserved by the Ontario Heritage Trust Act and is one of the most historically fascinating buildings in Toronto. In the past, it has served as a military hospital, a seminary, a penicillin factory, and eye bank and is rumoured to be one of the spookiest buildings in the city. Currently, it is under renovations and is scheduled to open in 2016 as a part of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture & Design.

Hart House: Established in 1919 thanks to a contribution from prominent Torontonian and politician Vincent Massey, this Henry Sproatt design opened as a men-only student centre, one of the first in Canada. Challenges to this gendered segregation soon followed, and in 1972, after Massey’s death, women were finally allowed entrance. Hart House features extensive ornamentation in the form of stone gargoyles, repeated large windows and a tall tower with steeply pitched roofs.

Knox College: Flying buttresses, battlements and cloister windows adorn the exteriors of Knox College. A post-grad theological college, Knox’s campus is almost entirely comprised of Neo-Gothic structures including the corridors which exemplify hypnotic rib vaulting. Beginning in 1844 as an independent institution, it became a part of U of T in 1890. Today, it grants joint degrees between U of T and the Toronto School of Theology.