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May 21, 2020 (0) comment

Harvey Curell’s book entitled, The Mimico Story pg. 65, tells us that the first telephone exchange opened in New Toronto in Wilson’s Drug Store in 1914. Wilson’s Drug Store was immediately beside Reveley’s Hardware, which is now Don Russell’s Pharmacy. The phone exchange contained 48 lines and only operated during daytime hours. Although telephone number one was listed to Dr. John R. Serson, a Mimico physician and Dean of the High School board, most of the other 47 lines were in the homes of railway employees, in order to call them in for service. This book was very interesting to read, and contained a wealth of local historical detail. In fact, it contains much of the family history for several of the names found on the 1878 Etobicoke map located on our Early History History page, including the Van Everys, the Murrays, and the Hendrys. This book can be found in the Toronto Public Library and you can view pages of the book through their Digital collections as well (just type Mimico in the Search field)

The Bell Telephone Company of Canada (chartered in 1880 and later known as Bell Canada) provided telephone service to New Toronto following its incorporation as a town in 1913. While service was initially limited to daytime hours and party lines, the number of subscribers in New Toronto and the neighbouring communities of Mimico and Long Branch exceeded 1500 by 1925. At this time, the Bell Telephone Company authorized the construction of a building to house switchboard operators, service technicians and equipment. It engaged Montreal architect W.J. Carmichael to prepare the plans for the switching station. Carmichael had previously designed the Parkdale Telephone Exchange Building (1899) at 207 Cowan Avenue. Toronto architect Frank A. Williams designed east addition which was completed in 1946. The Bell Telephone company retained the property until 1981. The building still has the inscription stone for the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, which I’ve enlarged below, but today it houses the offices for several different small businesses.

Christina Sobolak, the current manager of the Bell Building since 2001, has been able to provide me a much more detailed history of the Bell Building as noted below:

When the original building and additions were built + the Architects:

The Bell Canada building now known as Birmingham Business Centre located at 80 Birmingham Street was once known as 199 Sixth Street, and then 201 Sixth St. The front entrance is on 6th Street and not Birmingham Street because Sixth Street was originally a main street and joined up to what is now known as Islington Avenue.

The Bell Telephone Company of Canada hired Montreal architect W.J. Carmichael to design the building to house the new telephone exchange. J. Whitehall & Son and JH Doughty Ltd. were the structural and mechanical engineers for the building. Their signatures are indicated on the 1925 floor plans excerpts below:

Note on the original Elevation drawing of the front of the building that The Bell Telephone Company of Canada was also inscribed in the stone above the front door. Unfortunately, this was covered over with cement by either Bell or Canada Fireguard in 1981. Only the inscription at the top the building remains. Also, there was a flagpole on top of the building, long since gone as well.

According to Michael Harrison, who conducts the New Toronto Walking Tour each year, the architectural design is of “the Neo-Classical and the Beaux-Arts Revival” styles. The stone lintels and sills of the windows and the stone cornice, frieze and pilasters of the doorway express touches of the Italian Renaissance style. Art Deco is expressed in the stepped window keystones and atypical stylized corner stones.” It is a formidable 2 1/2 story solid structure with 6 inch concrete walls, beams, and floors. It was designed for an additional storey to be added if more space for the telephone exchange was required.

History of Ownership of Building:

From 1926 to 1981 the building was owned by The Bell Telephone Company of Canada.

In 1981 it was purchased by Canada Firegard Inc. who redesigned the interior of the building. Each floor was divided into small offices with a main hallway.

In 1982, the building was purchased by Wyllie & Ufnal Ltd. Engineers. Christina’s father, Frank Sobolak, was the Vice President.  The mailing address was changed to 80 Birmingham Street.  Several other businesses also shared use of this building including an architect, mechanical engineer, and property development company.  Christina started her own water feature design business in 1989 and occupied the 1974 addition at the back of the building.

In 2001, Christina’s father retired and the building was renovated.  It is now a business centre for entrepreneurs with over 20 tenants occupying three floors.  Christina finds it very rewarding serving as a mentor (she has an MBA from the University of Toronto) to those starting up and growing their businesses.  Anyone interested in touring the inside the building, looking at the original architects’ drawings, or renting office space is welcome to call Christina anytime at (416) 252-0320.

According to the original 1925 building plans, the lower floor housed the cable vault, battery room, furnace & coal rooms, store room and work room for the technicians. The first floor housed the terminal room and operator’s lunch rooms. The second floor housed the operator’s room, women’s rest room and locker room. The 1926 interior was divided by beautiful patterned glass and wood panelled room dividers. The main entrance staircase was white carrera marble steps to the first floor, terrazzo landings, and 1 1/2′ thick black slate stairs up to the second floor. The only thing that remains of the original interior is the front entrance and stairway and a small plaster wall detail in a second floor closet. The windows are all still original. Instead of building upwards in 1946, Toronto architect Frank A. Williams was hired to design an addition to the east side of the building, increasing the building size by 30%. You can see the slight difference in colour of the brick.

The other interesting thing about this picture is that you can see the Continental Can building in the background to the right.

In May 2007, the City of Toronto compiled a Staff Report to recommend that the City designate the property under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. Within the document, the following reasons were cited for designation:

Heritage Attributes

The heritage attributes of the Bell Telephone Company Building related to its design value as a representative example of an industrial building with Edwardian Classical detailing are found on the exterior walls, the flat roof, and the interior, consisting of:

  • Extending two stories above a raised base with window openings, the L-shaped plan with a rear (east) wing
  • The red brick cladding with brick and stone detailing
  • The flat roof with a brick chimney near the intersection of the main body (west) and the east wing (the flag pole has been removed from the west end of the roof)
  • On the south and west elevations facing Birmingham Street and Sixth Street, respectively, the stone band courses along the walls above the basement openings and beneath the flat roof
  •  The treatment of the principal (west) façade facing Sixth Street, where the south three bays are stepped forward under a parapet with stone cornices and a name plate
  • On the west façade, the placement of the main entrance in the left (north) bay in a stone surround with pilasters and an entablature (the name plate over the door, shown on the plans for the building, has been covered over)
  • Above the west entry, the single stair hall window opening on the west façade and south elevation, the symmetrical placement of flat-headed window openings with brick voussoirs and banding, stone sills, and six-over-one wood sash windows
  • The treatment of some of the window openings on the west façade and south elevation with stone keystones, stone corbels on the sills, and brick piers with stone caps
  • The north elevation and rear (east) wall, which have less decorative detailing, with the segmental-arched window openings with brick and stone trim and wood sash windows
  • On the interior, the original staircase inside the west entrance with white carrera marble steps and terrazzo-clad landings

It is noted that the Bell Canada building was a very popular destination to visit during lunch hours for the young men working in the neighbouring local factories including Goodyear and Continental Can – because most of the operators were pretty, single, young women.

In 1946 addition plans show a conversion of the heating system from coal to an oil furnace boiler system. The lower floor now housed the cable vault, battery room, boiler room & oil fuel tank, men’s restroom and locker room, and a large work room. The main floor housed the terminal room, women’s locker room, large kitchen, lounge, and lunch room. The plans for the top floor show instructions to the contractor remove the beautiful wood and glass partition walls and open up the entire floor space into one large operator room with a switchboard along the south wall.

In 1974, a third small addition was made to the building on the north side and the heating system was converted to natural gas. A boiler inspection certificate notes that the address has been changed to 201 Sixth Street.

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