Originally published on Torontoist on June 8, 2010.
The pitch Olympia & York used to entice businesses and residents into the still-under-construction Queen’s Quay Terminal seemed to work. As the spring of 1983 approached, nearly all of the retail space was leased and the seventy-two luxury condos were selling quickly despite being among the most expensive boxes in the sky in the country (up to $520,000 per unit).
When the Terminal Warehouse Building was constructed in 1926, it was the first large poured-concrete structure in Canada. The site was used for regular and cold storage of merchandise under a variety of owners who allowed the structure to decay over the next half-century. By the time architect Eberhard Zeidler was commissioned to revamp the building for Harbourfront, rot had set into both the concrete and the roof. “If the warehouse hadn’t been so grossly over-constructed in the first place,” Zeidler told the Star, “if it hadn’t been so damn muscular, it would have sagged to its knees years ago.”
Comments about the building were generally positive in the newspapers. The Globe and Mail’s “By Design” column found fault only with the size of the condos relative to their cost. Critic Adele Freedman was most impressed with the way the southeast corner of the façade was cut open to expose the interior and provide a great view of the harbour. She praised how the site was reused instead of being knocked down to make way for the atriums in vogue at the time (Atrium on Bay was the comparison point). “It demonstrates that the true heritage of public architecture in Canada resides in its indigenous agricultural and industrial buildings,” she noted, “which can survive adaptation and change. Of how many new public buildings in Toronto will that be true 53 years from now?”
The first major preview for the public on March 21, 1983 had a few hiccups. The plan called for the tower’s clock to start ticking as soon as spring officially arrived in England. Guests watched as 4:39 p.m. rolled around…and nothing happened. Mother Nature decided to bestow the event with the worst snowstorm the city had seen that year, which resulted in the layers of ice that froze the clock’s hands. An hour passed before workers cleaned off the clock enough for it to operate. The clock did not cause any problems when opening ceremonies were held in June.
The ad listing day one’s festivities left one Globe and Mail reader fuming. Given his complaint, we wonder if Harvey H. Bowman of Islington wasn’t using his real name when he let loose his bile:
Why do so many advertising promotion pictures featuring the violin show the instrument in the hands of a person who has obviously never played a note in his life, certainly not a note that deserves to be heard? The Queen’s Quay Terminal advertising supplement…showed a picture of a violin lying across a score, with the bow underneath the instrument. Symphony and concert violinists pay large amounts of money for their bows, and would never treat them that way. It’s just not done.
Additional material from the June 25, 1983 and July 8, 1983 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the March 22, 1983 and June 22, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.