Art Deco architecture across Canada… and in Leaside, too

Garden Court Balconies. Photo by Tim Morawetz.
Garden Court Balconies. Photo by Tim Morawetz.

What places come to mind when you hear the phrase ‘Art Deco’? The Empire State and Chrysler buildings in New York? The Christ the Redeemer sculpture in Rio? The ‘Detroit Industry’ murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts? The Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation building on Bay St. in Toronto?  Or perhaps Garden Court Apartments here in Leaside.

Tim Morawetz’s book Art Deco Architecture Across Canada, published last July, establishes that Canada was not immune to the design movement that swept Europe and North America (and beyond) beginning in the 1920s and ending in the 1940s, bringing modern and original artistic and design ideas, to add to the more traditional, historical styles.

Art Deco Architecture Across Canada is a lavishly illustrated coffee table book, but so much more. The book’s subtitle, Stories of the Country’s Buildings Between the Two World Wars, means that it is more than a catalogue of important buildings and their architects from across the country. It is chaptered not by style or period, but by the building’s role in society, i.e., Life at Work (business, industry); Life in the Community (social services); Life at Home (residential); Life as a Shopper (retail); Life on the Move (transportation); and Life of Leisure (entertainment). It reminds us that buildings are commissioned for a purpose, they are designed, built, and maintained, reflecting the context of the time. In other words, they have life, and deserve attention and respect.

So what does this book have to do with Leaside? First, the author is a communications strategist/business writer who lives in Bennington Heights, and second, the Art Deco style in architecture, being contemporary with a key phase of the Town of Leaside’s development, is an integral part of the story of Leaside.

Garden Court Balconies. Photo by Tim Morawetz.
Garden Court Balconies. Photo by Tim Morawetz.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the Art Deco buildings in Leaside:

• The Pease Foundry Company Building (now a TD Bank, Laird-Eglinton Pet Hospital), 211 Laird Drive; note the distinguished continuous (curved) windows; and the horizontal Streamlined Moderne styling.

• Leaside Town Hall (now ABC Academy Daycare), 235 McRae Drive; spy the geometric detailing above the entrance and the stone coat-of-arms of the Town of Leaside on the face of the building.

• Agnes Macphail House, 2 Donegall Drive at Millwood Road, designated both for its association with Agnes Macphail, Canada’s first female MP, and its Streamline Moderne variant of Art Deco design.

• Garden Court Apartments, 1477 Bayview Ave., an iconic Art Deco housing complex recognized by The Cultural Heritage Foundation, Leaside’s foremost contribution to Art Deco, and the only local building to find its way into Art Deco Architecture Across Canada;

• 4 Donlea Dr., one of only a few Art Deco residential buildings, is still standing, but was completely re-clad a couple of years ago, obliterating all the Streamline Moderne features like the continuous curved windows.

This is Tim Morawetz’s second book about Art Deco – his first was Art Deco Architecture in Toronto: A guide to the city’s buildings from the Roaring Twenties and the Depression that was honoured in 2010 with an Award of Merit from Heritage Toronto.

So what does it mean to have an esteemed Art Deco expert in our community? It’s meant a lot – he has been willing to speak up in support of our community’s treasures when needed, for example, the former Agnes Macphail house: “In my opinion, the former Agnes Macphail house…is an important example of interwar residential architecture. It may be the only duplex in Leaside that incorporated the 1930s Streamline Moderne architectural design features that were quite prevalent in larger apartment buildings (namely buff brick walls, flat roof, ‘speed stripes’, horizontal emphasis in the windows, the octagonal window and the multiple planes on the Millwood façade).”

Tim’s passion for this period of architecture exudes from the pages. We can learn so much.

Art Deco Architecture Across Canada is available in local bookstores, as well as online.

About Geoff Kettel 98 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), and Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.