Historicist: The Lasting Legacy of Darling and Pearson
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Historicist: The Lasting Legacy of Darling and Pearson

Frank Darling and John A. Pearson defined an era in Canadian architecture.

Royal Ontario Museum (south elevation), 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 134.

These same members of the city’s business and social elite were instrumental in the founding and early years of the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Museum of Toronto. Darling and Pearson, then, were the natural choice to build the original building for the ROM. It opened in March 1914, and survives within the museum’s present configuration.

When the art museum outgrew the Grange, the Georgian mansion bequeathed to the city by Goldwin Smith, Darling and Pearson were recruited. Their Renaissance Revival-style structure was built adjacent to the original house in 1916-1918, but the exterior features have been rendered all but unrecognizable by subsequent renovations and expansions of the AGO.

Art Gallery of Toronto, 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 41, Item 314.

The firm did other institutional projects as well. Not only did the (new) Trinity College, designed in 1914 and erected on Hoskin Avenue between 1923 and 1925, mimic the Gothic Revival style of the original, it also closely replicated the original’s footprint. Other buildings at U of T designed by Darling and Pearson included the Anatomy Building (1919-1921), the Medical Sciences Building (1902-1903), the Physics Laboratory (1906-1907), the Faculty of Education (1908-1909), as well as Convocation Hall. Upon its completion in 1907, critics dismissed this domed hall encircled with ionic columns. The Canadian Architect and Builder judged it to be “[n]ot particularly in harmony with the University,” as Patricia McHugh notes in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, 2nd Edition (McClelland & Stewart, 1989).

Elsewhere in the city, the firm found inspiration for the Canadian Pacific Railway’s North Toronto Station from St. Mark’s in Venice. Completed in 1916, the station was restored in 2003 to become the Summerhill LCBO.

North Toronto Station (CPR), June 1, 1916. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 13213.

As a side project, Pearson collaborated with Jean Omer Marchand on the Centre Block and Peace Tower after the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa burned down in 1916. For his part, Darling served on the federal planning commission that sought to transform Ottawa into a city of boulevards and monuments befitting a national capital.

Darling was a prominent member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the Ontario Association of Architects, and the Toronto Guild of Civic Art. Considered one of the best architects in the British Empire, he was the first Canadian granted the gold medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Darling was close to his family. His mother lived with him at 11 Walmer Road, and he was particularly fond of his nephews and nieces. He died in May 1923, after eight months of failing health, and was buried at St. John’s (Norway) Cemetery. In the June 1923 issue of Construction, quoted by Beszedits, Percy Erskine Nobbs eulogized Darling:

Equal, but no greater artists we may have had among us in his time, and professionals of no less acumen, and scholars as well endowed, and some few far more energetic traders, but a man so perfectly balanced in the varied accomplishments that make an architect occurs but rarely, and it may be long before we see his like again.

Like Darling, Pearson was recognized for his professional achievements. He was first to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Architecture at the University of Toronto. He continued in architecture after the loss of his long-time business partner, until his retirement in 1935. Pearson died at his home, at 210 Forest Hill Road, in 1940.

Images without captions: Trinity College, University of Toronto, ca. 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2488; Portrait of Frank Darling taken from Globe and Mail (May 10, 1922). Wikimedia Commons; Portrait of John A. Pearson from The Year Book of Canadian Art, 1913 (J.M. Dent & Sons Limited); Imperial Bank of Canada at Queen & Roncesvalles, Toronto, in 1951. Canadian Architectural Archives (51575-100); and Postcard of the Dominion Bank Building, 1913-1914, at King and Yonge. Toronto Public Library (PC 2867).

Other sources consulted include: Eric Arthur, Toronto No Mean City, 3rd Edition (University of Toronto Press, 1986); William Dendy, Lost Toronto (University of Toronto Press, 1978); Mike Filey, Mount Pleasant Cemetery: An Illustrated Guide (Firefly Books, 1990).

Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.


CORRECTION: November 21, 2011 This story originally stated that Pearson’s father and grandfather had constructed Arundel Castle for the Duke of York, when in fact it was for the Duke of Norfolk.

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