Everybody’s Darling

By Marta O’Brien, originally published August 6, 2009

Talent in Two Centuries: Architect Frank Darling

If you’ve ever admired a stone bank building with classical columns or a dignified University of Toronto building, then you may have been looking at the work of Scarborough-born architect Frank Darling (1850-1923).

Darling worked with several partners. After a brief association with Henry Macdougall, Darling formed a more lasting and productive partnership with Samuel Curry in 1880. Darling & Curry designed one of our city’s best-known buildings: the Bank of Montreal – now the Hockey Hall of Fame – at the corner of Front and Yonge streets. When completed in 1886 its 16.8 metre (55 feet) square banking hall was the largest in Canada. Many of its features have been preserved, including the colourful stained glass dome. This ornate structure operated as a bank from 1886 until 1982.

Did you know that Toronto had the first children’s hospital in North America? Darling & Curry designed the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children (1889) on College Street. The innovative E-shaped building maximized light and ventilation while looking solid and reassuring in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. It’s now the headquarters for Canadian Blood Services.

Classical detail on top storeys of Dominion Bank Building (Photo by Marta O’Brien)

Beginning in 1892 Darling was with his final partner – John Pearson – and the firm continued to design grand bank buildings. I think their finest is the 1913-14 Dominion Bank Building at the corner of King & Yonge. With its grey granite base and white glazed terra cotta shaft and top storeys, it is the quintessential Beaux Arts style skyscraper – using classical elements in a new and modern way. The grand banking hall inside was more ornate than the exterior. Darling & Pearson also designed dozens of bank branches – some outside Ontario – for at least six Canadian banks. Two outstanding examples here are the temple-like Bank of Commerce (1905) now abandoned on Yonge across from the Eaton Centre, and the stately Bank of Montreal at Yonge & Queen (1910).

Holwood (photo by Marta O’Brien)

The few residences designed by Darling & Pearson were lavish. Holwood, for Sir Joseph Flavelle, is a 1902 mansion not far south of the ROM. Its enormous Corinthian portico exudes wealth, and the luxurious rooms are now enjoyed by University of Toronto law students and faculty.

Speaking of U of T, Darling & Pearson applied their skill to over half a dozen buildings still in use. Most exhibit classical elements, but the architects emulated the Gothic Revival of Kivas Tully’s 1850s original when they designed the new Trinity College on Hoskin (opened in 1925).

Darling was a master of detail inside and outside his buildings, and was known for handling complex projects that succeeded aesthetically and functionally. Before designing Toronto General Hospital on College Street (1909-19), he travelled with a surgeon to the best hospitals in North America to glean ideas. Darling & Pearson designed the original Royal Ontario Museum along what is now Philosopher’s Walk. It opened in 1914 and contained Archaeology, Palaeontology, Mineralogy, Zoology, and Geology museums.

Centre of Toronto General Hospital, restored & incorporated into the MaRS complex (Photo by Marta O’Brien)

Although it had a very short life as a railway station, the CPR’s North Toronto Station (1915-16) is another fine Darling & Pearson creation. The architects did a superb job organizing the spaces for waiting, dining, smoking, and ticket purchasing. The clock tower, modelled on that of St. Mark’s in Venice, has been a landmark for almost a century. If you visit the Summerhill LCBO look at the stone. This was the first building in Toronto built with Tyndall limestone from Manitoba, which has a pleasing mottled appearance. Inside, the grand former waiting room has lovely tall windows and plaster detailing – revealed when the building was restored in 2003.

Frank Darling was active in professional organizations. He was a member of the Toronto Architectural Guild, director of the Guild of Civic Art in 1907, a founding member of the Ontario Association of Architects, and its president in 1895.

Of the many honours conferred upon him, he was admitted to the Royal Canadian Academy at the young age of 36. He later became the first Canadian to win the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal for promotion of architecture, and he received honourary doctorates from U of T and Dalhousie.

Lifelong-bachelor Darling was described as a genial and pleasant person with a good sense of humour. He belonged to many clubs, including the Toronto Hockey Club, Toronto Golf Club, Ontario Jockey Club, Toronto Cricket Club, and York County Hunt Club.

Using a variety of architectural elements in different types of buildings, Frank Darling contributed to Toronto’s landmarks. Architect Percy Nobbs eulogized Darling inConstruction magazine as follows: “…a man so perfectly balanced in the varied accomplishments that make an architect occurs but rarely, and it may be long before we see his like again.”

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