Vintage Toronto Ads: Great Depression Hospitality

Originally published on Torontoist on January 23, 2007.

Vintage Ad #133 - King Edward Hotel 1934

Source: Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934

TO. Hogtown. The Queen City of Canada. The Centre of the Universe. Centennial City. All names applied to Toronto over the years.

Centennial city?

That was the nickname tossed around when Toronto celebrated its 100th birthday in 1934. To commemorate the event, a Centennial Committee was put together by city council, whose lasting work was Jesse Edgar Middleton’s book Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934. The book includes a variety of sketches of the city’s first century, as well as a program from a “service of thanksgiving and prayer” (and Wagner and Rachmaninoff) held on March 5th to mark the anniversary. Among the sub-committees formed for the celebration: permanent memorial, song judging (which included poet E.J. Pratt), drill corps display and stamp exhibition.

The last 60 pages of the book feature ads from leading institutions and businesses of the city. One of those still surviving is the King Edward Hotel, recently displaced as the city’s most fashionable place to stay by the newly-built Royal York. Opened in 1903, the King Edward was built on the former site of the Golden Lion department store. The hotel was designed by architect E. J. Lennox, who also worked on Old City Hall, Casa Loma and the Massey Mausoleum in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. The original eight floors were joined by an 18-storey addition on the east side of the hotel in 1921.

In 1932, the hotel entered receivership, which probably accounts for the rates “keeping with the times” at the height of the Great Depression. Using the Bank of Canada inflation calculator, based on the Consumer Price Index, shows that the starting rates for those rooms would be $45-120, or your average roadside chain hotel today. The 50 cent breakfast? $7.50.

Note all the elements designed to lure a posh crowd, even as they began to recover from financial ruin. A floor just for the ladies! Not just any run-of-the-mill French chef, but one honoured by the French government! Not just a house band, but “an internationally famous 15-piece orchestra”! The latter claim had some merit – Luigi Romanelli, who led the hotel’s house band from 1923 until his death in 1942, made radio appearances with his Monarchs of Melody on CBC and NBC.

Weak management and competition from newer hotels downtown led to proposals to raze the building in the mid-1970s. Instead, much of the hotel was restored by the early 1980s, though the Crystal Ballroom on the upper levels remains in ruins, used to teach fly fishing.

UPDATE (June 2017): The Crystal Ballroom eventually underwent renovation, reopening for public use in April 2017.