A mosaic of intricate detail of glass and metal in the ceiling of the National Gallery

Noteworthy architectural wonders in Ontario

A mosaic of intricate detail of glass and metal in the ceiling of the National Gallery

From museums and historic buildings to downtown streetscapes, Ontario in a whole new way through its notable and significant architecture.


Commerce Court, Toronto

Commerce Court is an eccentric architectural site that seamlessly blends the old and the new in downtown Toronto.

Its history dates to 1931 when the North Tower, designed by the Pearson and Darling firm was completed.

The ornate ceiling is the renowned attraction of this building and i s a true marvel of architectural craftsmanship. Its intricate details, elaborate moldings, and delicate motifs create a captivating display of artistry and elegance, capturing visitors’ attention from the moment they walk in.

The ceiling serves as a testament to the building's rich history and reflects the grandeur of its Beaux-Arts design.

Here area few key historical and architectural highlights of Commerce Court:

  • In 1931 it served as the tallest building in the entirety of the British Empire and to this day is considered a Beaux-Arts Jewel.
  • Along with the North Tower, Commerce Court includes three other modern buildings, namely – Commerce Court West, East and South.
  • All of these have been designed by I.M. Pei, who is renowned as one of the most influential architects of the modern era.
  • The four buildings integrate modernist materials with traditional stone to create an innovative architectural design in harmony with the original North Tower.
  • One of the standout features of Commerce Court is that it shapes Toronto’s current skyline, while paying homage to the property’s historic roots.

Location: 199 Bay Street, Toronto

Casa Loma, Toronto

Dramatic and imposing, Casa Loma, which means “Hill House” in Spanish, overlooks downtown Toronto from an elevated vantage point. The views are even more stunning inside, including the glass ceiling in the Conservatory.

Here are some noteworthy historical and architectural elements of Casa Loma:

  • E.J. Lennox was the architect of this site and is also responsible for other famous Toronto landmarks such as the Old City Hall and the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
  • This Gothic Revival castle-style mansion and garden in midtown Toronto has become a true icon of the city's architecture and heritage.
  • Owned by the City of Toronto, Casa Loma welcomes over 650,000 visitors annually, making it one of the top tourist attractions and hospitality venues.
  • Casa Loma is also a highly sought-after location for film shoots. Dead Ringers (1988), X-Men (2000), Crimson Peak (2015) are few of the many prominent examples.

Location: 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto


CN Tower

The CN Tower is an iconic Canadian landmark and one of the hallmarks of Toronto’s skyline.

Until 2009, this tower was rated as the world’s tallest free-standing structure standing at 553 metres, by the Guinness World Records. It was surpassed only by Dubai's Burj Khalifa, which is another notable architectural landmark.

While it is common knowledge that the CN Tower is a popular tourist destination, as it pulls around two million annual visitors, this structure has several other notable features:

  • The tower has microwave receptors at 338 meters and 553.33 meters antennas, resulting in the residents of Toronto enjoying one of the clearest receptions in North America.
  • 360 The Restaurant, located at 351 metres, completes one rotation every 72 minutes, providing diners ever-changing, full-circle view of Toronto and Lake Ontario.
  • The tower is equipped with six high-speed glass-fronted elevators that take a mere 58 seconds to reach from top to bottom and vice versa.
  • In 1995 it was ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Location: 290 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto

Toronto Reference Library

The Toronto Reference Library is an iconic architectural masterpiece located in Toronto. Designed by architect Raymond Moriyama, it is a prominent landmark and a hub of knowledge, providing a vibrant space for learning, research and community engagement.

The library's design showcases a modernist style with a striking exterior made of glass and steel. The building's clean lines, geometric shapes and extensive use of natural light create an inviting and contemporary atmosphere.

But it’s not just how the building looks on the outside that makes it great, its interiors are a sight to behold:

  • The heart of the library is a stunning multi-level atrium, featuring a grand staircase and large skylights that flood the space with natural light, creating a visually stunning focal point.
  • The library is organized into terraces, each dedicated to specific functions such as reading areas, study rooms, and meeting spaces.

The library is also home to a remarkable collection dedicated to the renowned author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The collection includes rare books, manuscripts, letters and memorabilia.

It serves as a valuable resource for scholars and fans of Sherlock Holmes, who are interested in the life and literary contributions of this iconic figure.

Location: 789 Yonge Street, Toronto

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

The AGO is a cultural landmark, renowned for its diverse art collection and unique architectural design.

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the AGO stands as a stunning fusion of art and architecture, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in a dynamic and visually striking space.

  • The front facade of the AGO is composed of a glass and titanium-clad sculptural structure. These reflective materials create a visually captivating effect by capturing the changing light throughout the day.
  • AGO’s iconic spiral staircase made from glass, wood and metal is an architectural marvel that not only provides a functional circulation element but also serves as a sculptural work of art within the gallery.

The AGO completed a major revamp in 2008 and added new attractions such as:

  • The iconic Baroque staircase that ascends from the second floor of the Gallery and links Walker Court to the new Vivian and David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art and Baillie Court.
  • The creation of Galleria Italia - the sculpture gallery that extends 450 feet along the north side of the building.

Location: 317 Dundas Street West, Toronto


National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

While the outstanding art collection makes the National Gallery of Canada famous, the architecture of the building is a work of art in its own right.

Designed by the world-renowned architect, Moshe Sadfie, The National Gallery of Canada was completed in 1988.

Interesting architectural highlights of this property are as follows:

  • The hallmark of the building is its exterior, that is primarily constructed of granite.
  • The glass and steel structure extending over the main entrance gives the gallery its distinctive look.
  • The entrance includes a grand staircase that leads visitors up to the main level.
  • The building features a range of green technologies, including a green roof, geothermal heating and cooling, natural lighting and ventilation systems.
  • Inclusion of green technologies helps to reduce the museum's environmental footprint and make it a model of sustainable architecture.

Location: 380 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

Notre Dame Cathedral, Ottawa

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa and is a designated National Historic Site in Canada.

This cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture, and it also houses some of the most magnificent stained-glass windows in North America.

Here’s what to know and look for when you visit to the Cathedral:

  • Windows located above the main entrance of the cathedral features tall figures representing St. Patrick, St. Paul, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Peter.
  • Between 1956 and 1961, the majority of the original stained-glass windows were replaced with a new set of 17 historiated windows.
  • Designed by Guido Nincheri of Montreal, these windows continue the tradition of teaching biblical events through pictures in glass and depict the mysteries of Christ's life and the Virgin Mary.
  • All the window artwork is designed by Guido Nincheri of Montreal, also known as “Canada’s Michaelangelo.”

Location: 385 Sussex Drive, Ottawa


Kingston City Hall, Kingston

Before it was relocated to Ottawa, Kingston served as the United Canada’s first capital city from 1841 to 1844.

Much of the architecture reflects the importance of this period in the city’s history, in particular City Hall, which offers free tours from May to October.

Located in the heart of downtown Kingston, the City Hall is a prime example of Neoclassical style of architecture. Here are some key highlights:

  • This 19th century town hall showcases a T-shaped plan with a long rectangular three-story façade, flanked by slightly projecting end pavilions and a rear wing.
  • It has served as a central gathering space for civic activities for over 150 years and continues to do so today.
  • The careful preservation of its character-defining elements ensures that Kingston City Hall remains a cherished national historic site and a testament to the city's rich architectural heritage.

Location: 216 Ontario Street, Kingston


Dundurn Castle, Hamilton 

Once home to Sir Allan Napier MacNab, a railway magnate, lawyer and Premier of the United Canadas, this 40-room Italianate-style villa is beautiful inside and out.

The landscape and buildings of Dundurn Castle were carefully designed by architect Robert Wetherell.

Here are a few highlights to note:

  • The main house reflects a blend of Classical and Italianate influences, boasting a mix of architectural patterns.
  • Over the years, the estate has evolved to incorporate Gothic Revival and classical-style outbuildings, as well as elements from the 1812 military earthworks and 18th-century farm buildings.
  • The internal architecture of the main house includes towers, roofs with pointed tops and decorations, large windows and a prominent porch.
  • The result is a cohesive composition that captures the essence of picturesque design.
  • Additionally, the interior spaces, including the North loggia, capture the unique style of the time when Sir Alan Napier MacNab lived there.

Location: 610 York Boulevard, Hamilton

Ontario is filled with architectural marvels that attract visitors to explore and appreciate their beauty. These structures combine history, creativity and cultural importance, that invites travellers to immerse themselves in the unique stories they tell and create memories of their own.

Last updated: December 28, 2023

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