Following decades of neglect and decay, Scarborough's historic Guild Inn is once again on its way to becoming one of Toronto's premier cultural and event destinations. Although the historic estate which dates back to 1914 is perhaps no longer familiar to younger generations, the building and grounds—which overlook Lake Ontario from the Scarborough Bluffs—form an important element of the city's cultural heritage.
"Because I'm old, I remember it," Mayor John Tory told the audience, recounting parts of the Inn's long history. "For a long time, the Inn served as an artist's colony, and the sculpture garden features a very rich collection of architectural heritage," Tory noted, while local Councillor Paul Ainslie (Ward 43) was excited about the project's accelerated timeline, which will see a "renovated and expanded facility open in the fall of 2016."
The redevelopment will see the property—located on Guildwood Parkway in Scarborough—become an event venue for weddings, corporate functions, as well as community-oriented cultural events.
Spearheaded by the Dynamic Hospitality and Entertainment Group, the $20 million project will see modern additions complement the historic structure, while the original building itself—which remains in a state of profound disrepair—will be retrofitted to meet modern standards and regulations.
Surrounded by a expansive sculpture garden that overlooks Lake Ontario, the Guild Inn's potential is quickly evident. Despite falling off Toronto's cultural radar in recent decades, a visit to the site evidences a bucolic and historically rich landscape, which may come to serve as an increasingly valuable respite from the quickly developing city around it.
To get a better grasp of the redevelopment plans (seen above) and site history, we spoke to the project's architects, Giancarlo Garofalo and Queen's Quay Architects International's Peter Pascaris, as well as architect and heritage consultant Philip Goldsmith (below). Explaining the history of the Guild Inn, Goldsmith tells us that "the current structure on the site, which is the original building, was first built by Colonel Harold Bickford in 1914."
"At the time, this was a forested, natural area well east of the city of Toronto," Goldsmith continues, "which is very different to today's suburban context. The estate was sold to the Catholic Church's Chinese Mission, though the building remained empty for some years before being sold to to Rosa and Herbert Clark in 1932. As avid art collectors, the Clarks re-imagined the property as an inn and an arts and crafts colony, which became a hub for painters and sculptors. The Clarks started collecting architectural elements from demolished buildings to create a sculpture garden."
To this day, Guild Inn's surrounding garden remains dotted with an eclectic collection of architectural heritage, with neo-classical, gothic, and beaux arts pieces spread out across the grounds. "Many of these remain as the last vestiges of Toronto's architectural heritage," Goldsmith notes. "For example, the only remaining element of the Bank of Toronto office that was demolished to make way for Mies van der Rohe's TD Centre is right here in the garden," Goldsmith tells us, underscoring the cultural value of the site.
Meanwhile, Gaforlo and Pascaris take us through the Guild Inn's architectural history before outlining the scope of the redevelopment plans. "A series of additions had been appended throughout the 20th century," says Pascaris, "including a six-storey, 100 room wing to house an influx of guests in the 1960s." However, Garofalo explains that "the 1970s saw the beginning of a steep decline in popularity, as the natural landscape surrounding the site began to be developed, and the Inn no longer had the same desirability for vacationers."
Over the coming decades, the Inn—now owned by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority—gradually fell into disrepair, and the Guild Inn's hotel and restaurant closed down by 2001. "The building's been in very bad shape since then," Pascaris tells us, "and the basement was almost completely flooded a few years ago" Garofalo adds.
Throughout the last decade, the site has been subject to numerous revitalization proposals, though—even with most of the 20th century's later additions (including the 100-room hotel) now demolished—no project has materialized on the site until now. With the official groundbreaking now behind us, however, we can look forward to seeing the new development quickly take shape.
"The new additions are designed to maximize natural light and integrate the development into its surrounding scenery," Pascaris explains, "while keeping the aesthetic focus on the heritage building, making the modern elements cohesive and complementary." Garofalo adds that "our design maintains the scale—and roof line—of the heritage building, and we're building the majority of the structure over a former parking lot and the previous additions, avoiding an encroachment upon the natural landscape that surrounds the site."
The additions—on either side of the historic property—will flexibly accommodate a wide range of events, with the grand ballroom hosting crowds of up to 1,500, and the larger space will also be easily dividable to host smaller events. Green roofs will serve to integrate the development into the natural landscape, while the simplicity of the design allows the historic Guild Inn to take centre stage.
We will keep you updated on the project as it develops over the coming months, with updates of construction progress to come. In the meantime, more information about the project is available in our dataBase file and Forum thread, which also features a discussion of the project. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the Forum or the space below this page.