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Put it in the Bank – Now and Then #flashbackfriday By Gerry Condotta

In 1909, John Macintosh Lyle (1872–1945) designed the Dominion Bank at the southeast corner of St. Clair and Vaughan Road. A prolific architect, he designed many Canadian landmarks, however bank buildings were the mainstay of Lyle’s architectural practice—especially the Dominion Bank. Between 1909 -1937, not including commissions from the Bank of Toronto and the Bank of Nova Scotia, he designed twenty-four Dominion Banks within the Toronto area. A good number of these banks still exist on the very same corner they were erected on, most are occupied by new businesses a few are refurbished TD banks.

The Toronto Dominion Bank southeast corner of Vaughan Road and St. Clair Avenue, Vaughan Road Widening. May 23, 1912  Fonds 1231, Item 875. Toronto City Archives
The Toronto Dominion Bank southeast corner of Vaughan Road and St. Clair Avenue, Vaughan Road Widening. May 23, 1912
Fonds 1231, Item 875. Toronto City Archives

When competing for clients, location was inherent in bank architecture; preferably corner lots, in the heart of the business district, on the best side of the street with desirable surroundings. A suitable site gave the building an optimal street presence and was referred to as the Standing Advertising Effect by marketers as early as the 1860’s. Attractive, solidly built buildings of superior materials conveyed an image of permanence to the public, and this permanence was a bank’s most important asset.

The Wychwood branch, as it was known, at the southeast corner of St. Clair and Vaughan Rd. opened in 1911. Lyle’s pattern of a red brick exterior with light-colored limestone trim as well as a distinctive curved corner entrance is something he would incorporate into the design of other Dominion Banks.

hakimbuildingnow
Photo: Present Day Hakim Optical

Between 1908 and 1911 the municipalities of Earlscourt, Dovercourt, Oakwood, Wychwood, and Bracondale were annexed by the city of Toronto. To stimulate development along what was then largely a rural road, the city’s Toronto Civic Railways built a streetcar line along St. Clair Ave. from Yonge Street to Lansdowne, beginning construction in 1911 with service completed in 1914. In fact, the 1912 archival photograph of the Dominion Bank at St. Clair and Vaughan Rd. was taken to document road widening in preparation of the streetcar line.

There were few communal buildings before the streetcar line that had already been erected in the vicinity of the Dominion Bank that are still standing today: St. Alphonsus Catholic church (1911) located directly across the street from the bank, Hillcrest Community school (1905) just south on Bathurst St. and St. Michael’s and all the Angels Anglican church (1909) at St. Clair and Wychwood.

The Dominion Bank served the community for seventy years, closing on January 23, 1981. During that time the interior of the bank was remodeled in 1962 with a partial refit in 1973 to align with TD’s new corporate identity (the adoption of TD Shield and signature TD Green). After 1981, the building remained partially vacant with the exception of a short stint in 1983 by the Guerreo Gallery. In 1985, the former bank building became a Hakim Optical store and has served the community for the last 31 years.

Presently, The Standing Advertising Effect is something that has not escaped the marketers of the Starbucks Coffee Company. Two former bank buildings designed by John Lyle in the community that are Starbuck Coffee shops: the Bank of Toronto at the southwest corner of St. Clair Ave. and Christie St. (1920) as well as the Dominion Bank at the southeast corner of Dupont St. and Christie Street (1922).


GERRY CONDOTTA is a freelance writer who prefers his puns intended. He has co-created his son Kaden and looks forward to some day capturing that moment in writing.

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