Toronto Through My Lens

Category: Architecture (Page 1 of 11)

Stackt Market

Stackt Market is a truly unique concept. Located at 28 Bathurst Street at Front Street West, Stackt Market has been awarded “Public Space of the Year” by Designlines Magazine, and is also the winner of “Retail Innovation for Fast Company’s Innovation by Design”.

Opened in the summer of 2019, Stackt Market is built entirely from 120 reclaimed shipping containers which create 100,000 square feet of art, retail, events and public space. The containers are – wait for it – stacked, with those on the bottom retrofitted and occupied by pop-ups, creative incubators, 30+ retailers and food/beverage vendors. The shipping containers up top act as large canvasses for local and international artists, drawing attention to the site from the many surrounding condo developments and office towers. Stackt Market is also home to 300+ annual events and 7 annual festivals which put community at the forefront.

Designed by LGA Architectural Partners’ Janna Levitt and Danny Bartman with Stackt Market founder Matt Rubinoff, Stackt Market inhabits the site of a former smelting plant. The 2.4-acre-lot is roughly the size of two city blocks.

Onsite Art Gallery

Even the WC were container-like…

Stackt Market is strong on community and art. According to their website:

STACKT is on a mission to innovate a new experience where customers, businesses, art and hospitality thrive as one. STACKT is built on the idea that commerce is culture, and culture is community made. The community is made up of innovators, creators, collaborators, and consumers alike.

Come check it out!

The Old Don Jail

Given that my last post was of the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital, it seems only natural to segue into posting about its next door neighbour – the old Don Jail.

When I first arrived in Toronto many moons ago I remember hearing about the infamous Don Jail from so many different people. To say the place fell into wrack and ruin was an understatement; by all accounts it had all the charm of a medieval dungeon.

Construction & Cramped Quarters

The Don Jail was built between 1858 and 1864, with a new wing built in the 1950s. Designed in 1852 by architect William Thomas, who also designed St. Michael’s Cathedral and St. Lawrence Hall, the jail was constructed with a distinctive facade in the Italianate style.

The Don Jail opened in 1864 and closed in 1977. The Jail was state-of-the-art when it was built, and considerably more humane than jails in much of the world at the time. It was certainly a great improvement from earlier Toronto Jails. The cells, though, were tiny – just 86 centimetres wide and there was no electricity or plumbing. A bucket served as a toilet, which was emptied every morning.

Prisoners were not allowed to talk without permission and received only monthly visits from friends and family. Violations frequently resulted in flogging. For about the first 100 years, inmates generally were not allowed to speak unless addressed first by a prison official.

Prisoners spent 23 hours a day in the cell blocks with the remaining hour in the outdoor exercise yard, now a parking lot. They had to keep moving in the yard and were not allowed to sit around and soak up the sun. The inmates did much of the maintenance including painting, carpentry work and other jail repairs. They also worked a jail farm that covered much of the present Riverdale Park.


In later years the Don Jail became extremely overcrowded. Frequently three inmates were held in cells meant for a single prisoner and in other cells inmates went for days without a chance to exercise. The environment was so bad that both prisoners and guards were at risk. The jail did not meet the minimum prison standards of the United Nations.

At one time the jail held 691 prisoners, well over the recommended maximum. It was designed to house 275 prisoners, one per cell, and it was noisy and plagued with mice and cockroaches. Many of the prisoners suffered from mental illness.

Public Hangings

Public hanging in Canada wasn’t abolished until 1869, and in Toronto it was moved indoors from the Don Jail yard to its confines in 1905. Before capital punishment was abolished in Canada, the Toronto Jail was the site of a number of hangings. Starting with the execution of John Boyd in January 1908, hangings at the jail took place in an indoor chamber, which was a converted washroom, at the northeast corner of the old building.

Previously, condemned men had been hanged on an outdoor scaffold in the jail yard. The indoor facility was seen as an improvement because outdoor executions were quasi-public (at the hanging of Fred Lee Rice on July 18, 1902, crowds had lined surrounding rooftops to see something of the spectacle), and because the condemned didn’t have to walk as far.

A Massive Renovation

When the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital demolished the 1950s-era Riverdale Hospital building to replace it with a new 10-storey facility, the historic Don Jail building was extensively renovated to serve as the administrative wing for the hospital, a process which included the removal of “150 years worth of grime” from the exterior. About 20 per cent of the former jail’s heritage interior was preserved, including the centre block’s half-octagonal rotunda featuring clerestory windows, as well as original iron railings and balconies supported by griffin and serpent cast-iron brackets.

In 2012, Bridgepoint Health commissioned a complex restoration project to be carried out on the Don Jail, overseen by several architecture firms. The inflexible floor plan, established for the isolation and separation of prisoners, was transformed into an open, welcoming, and functional administrative space for the new Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Centre.

About 20 per cent of the former jail’s heritage interior was preserved, and the rest of the brickwork cleared out to make way for modern office space. Clear material distinctions were made between new and old and the patina of history. A new partition never meets an old wall, but instead is separated by a glass fin and the marks of history. This work was recognized with the 2016 Built Heritage Award of Excellence.

Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital coupled with the Old Don Jail

The east wing was formally decommissioned on January 6, 2014, at which point it too was transferred to Bridgepoint Health and demolished in March and April of that same year. The grounds of the former jail are being landscaped into a city park to be named Hubbard Park after William Peyton Hubbard. The former Don Jail Roadway has been extended and renamed Jack Layton Way after Jack Layton, the late leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and former Member of Parliament for the area.

On A Final Note, Literally…

Those who know me know I’ll link pop music to anything, and the Don Jail is no exception. Most of us from the music video era know that a certain Canadian pop star who liked to wear sunglasses at night shot his 1984 signature video at the old Don Jail. This was way, waaaaay before its current renovated state of course:

OK, queue the pulsating synths…


There are practically hundreds of articles written on the history of the Don Jail. The information above was gleaned from several websites, the City of Toronto and the Ontario Heritage Foundation by the Toronto Historical Board.

For an interesting 2011 article from The Globe & Mail regarding the Don Jail, click here. The piece highlights much of the harrowing and inhumane conditions in the jail during its prime.

Curves At The AGO

The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) at 317 Dundas Street West is a near-limitless photography source of beautiful curves, gentle angles and spirals.

The building complex takes up 45,000 square metres of physical space, making it one of the largest art museums in North America and the second-largest art museum in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) being the largest.

The gallery was established in 1900 as the Art Museum of Toronto and formally incorporated in 1903. The museum was renamed the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1919, before it adopted its present name, the Art Gallery of Ontario, in 1966.

The museum’s permanent collection includes over 120,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. The museum collection includes a number of works from Canadian, First Nations, Inuit, African, European, and Oceanic artists. In addition to exhibits for its collection, the museum has organized and hosted a number of travelling art exhibitions.

If you’d like to check out the latest exhibitions at the AGO, click here.

Jarvis Street Baptist Church

The Jarvis Street Baptist Church is located at 130 Jarvis Street, on the northeast corner of Jarvis Street and Gerrard Street East.

The Church has its origins in a small group of people who first gathered in October of 1818, in what was then York, Upper Canada. By 1832, the congregation had moved to Lombard Street, and by 1848, to Bond Street. In the late 1860s, church membership was such that a new, larger building was needed.

In 1875, the church moved to the current location at the intersection of Jarvis and Gerrard Streets. A fire in 1938 destroyed much of the church building. At this point, a rebuilding was accompanied by an expansion of the Sunday school and offices.

The Jarvis Street Baptist Church was designed in the Gothic Revival style by the architectural firm of Henry Langley and Edmund Burke who served for many years at Jarvis Street Baptist Church as a Sunday-school teacher, chair of the choir committee, and deacon.

It was one of the first churches in Canada to be built with an amphitheatre-shaped interior. The ground floor seating is grouped in a semicircle, while the gallery above is horseshoe shaped. The gallery is supported by iron columns. Above the gallery, another set of columns support a faux-Gothic ceiling.

The church has been protected under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act since 1999.

The main facade of the building is made from brown stone obtained from the regions of Queenstown. The stone is laid unevenly with a pattern that varies in different shades of browns and dark yellows. The material used for the roof is Canadian slate.

The roof is constructed from a series of pitched segments centrally connected by a horizontally sliced dome. There are eight entrances, each consisting of solid oak double doors framed with pointed sandstone arches.

References: Jarvis Street Baptist Church website

The Future of Toronto’s “Cube House”

Last year I published a post on the unique “Cube House” in downtown Toronto. A lot of readers expressed interest in that post, found here.

The Cube House recently surfaced in the news, and I instantly thought of the post I had written earlier. Further to that, here’s an article on the Cube House from CBC News, written by CBC Toronto Reporter Ryan Patrick Jones.

Uncertainty swirls for Toronto artists after iconic cube house sold to developer

Property at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue sold for more than $19M in November

Musicians renting Toronto’s unique cube house say they’re unsure how long they’ll be able to keep their creative gathering space alive after a new developer purchased the site.

Block Developments bought the 8,700-square-foot parcel of land at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue, along with several nearby row houses, last year with plans to redevelop.

But Luis Vasquez, a music producer who’s rented one of the three cube units for the past year and a half, said he’s not sure what the plans are, the timeline — or what it will mean for the community of music lovers currently using the space.

“There’s this uncertainty,” he said. “We’re kind of in the dark.”

The ownership change is the latest in the saga of the unusual structure, which has been used as a billboard for a local coffee shop, a private residence and, most recently, as a space for recording artists and musical performances.

The cube house was built in 1996 by two Canadian architects inspired by cube homes in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The three elevated green cubes include a residential unit and two commercial units.

While it isn’t a designated heritage property, the cube house land is listed on the city’s heritage register, meaning it’s believed to be of cultural heritage value or interest.

Vasquez, owner of The Audio Station, transformed his unit into a music studio where artists pay for recording, mixing and mastering services. He hosts live music and other community events on weeknights and weekends.

The cube house has become an important gathering place for musicians and music lovers, said Ronan White, a musician who puts on community events. He said he would be sad to lose it to development.

“The more and more these things happen, the less spots we actually have to congregate and be ourselves,” he said.

The potential loss of the cube house shows that art, culture and music aren’t being prioritized as the cost of living increases, Vasquez said.

“I think the community is really hurting for it.”

Redevelopment plans already underway

Plans to redevelop the cube house land have been in the works for years. 

Previous owners submitted a development application in August 2021 for a mixed-use community called Sumach Artsplace. It would have resulted in a 35-storey, triangular-shaped tower being built on the site with 443 new homes, including 324 market-rate condo units, 119 affordable rental units, and a public plaza. 

However, former co-owner Taso Boussoulas told CBC Toronto that the application fell apart shortly after it was submitted because it incorporated nine homes across the street that his company did not own.

Boussoulas said he had an “arrangement” with the homeowners but some pulled out. As the project sat idle, Block Developments swooped in.

“We negotiated a deal, something that we felt was fair for us and fair for them, and we sold,” Boussoulas said.

New developer working on ‘revised application’

Property records show Block Developments purchased 1 Sumach St. for $19.125 million on Nov. 30, 2023. That same day, records show the company purchased six of the nine homes across the street from the cube house.

In an email statement, Block Developments said it is working on a “revised application,” incorporating feedback from city staff on the previous proposal as well as “community priorities that have been flagged for us.”

“We are taking our time and do not want to rush this process until we feel we are ready for a robust resubmission that represents Block’s best vision for the site,” the statement said.  

The first quarter of 2025 is the earliest tenants would need to vacate the cube house, according to Block Developments. It did not respond to a question about whether the company plans to demolish or move the cube house. 

In the meantime, the developer said its staff are inspecting the buildings to identify any issues and to make essential repairs to make sure the units are “safe and suitable” for the existing tenants.

The company didn’t respond to a question about whether it plans to demolish or move the cube house.

Alex Walker, owner of recording studio 3CubeMusic, said he hopes he can continue running his business out of the cube house while the developer plans the site’s next steps. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The city of Toronto confirmed via email that it’s been talking informally with the new developer about potential changes to the previous development application, but that no new plans have been formally submitted.

Alex Walker, a beatmaker and music producer, recently opened the 3CubeMusic recording studio inside one of the cubes. He hopes he can keep operating out of the cube for at least a year.

“The future is uncertain and it’s a little scary for me as a tenant here trying to run a business,” Walker said.

“I’d be happy just to be able to say that we were part of the cube’s legacy, you know? We go down with the building.”


Ryan Patrick Jones


Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at

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