ERA Architects

The Broadview Hotel’s terracotta panels have a story to tell

Much has been spoken and written of the Broadview Hotel over the past few years. Having opened last spring, the updated landmark at the corner of Queen and Broadview has already established itself as the new go-to site for entertainment in the Riverdale neighbourhood. With all the positive attention, comes increased interest in the building’s history and the stories that continue to be revealed.

One such story can be found in the features that adorn the exterior of the Richardsonian Romanesque-style architecture, the semi-circular terracotta panels that sit atop the third-floor arched windows, and those interspersed amoungst the rich surface textures of the brick enhancements, and the moulded profiles of the arches. Twenty-one modeled reliefs provide a decorative element, featuring faces and personifications that may allude to a narrative that is not understood and could be open to interpretation.

Though the artisans are not known, the reliefs were supplied by the Toronto Pressed Brick and Terracotta Company, started in 1888 and based 2 miles west of Milton, ON. The factory was situated on a slope near the Credit River, where Medina shale was available. The main product was pressed brick. Moulded and ornamental bricks, roofing tiles and terra cotta were considered a specialty. In 1906 the company was bought by Charles Lewis. He and his brothers focused on fine terra cotta works, the only large company in Canada to do so. Many office buildings and private residences were adorned with their product, such as the 1890’s Confederation Life Building, and the Gooderham Building in Toronto.

The typical production process involved taking ground shale, kneading into a soft condition and casting it in Plaster of Paris moulds made from design drawings. The Broadview Hotel reliefs however were completed only by hand and they have a variety of textures and finishes that reveal the energy of the work and the skill of the author. Finished pieces were set to dry prior to being fired in a down-draft kiln.

The reliefs have multiple personifications of the wind, sun and moon. As companion panels these are interspersed with a series of faces; a canine, a bearded man, an Indigenous man, an owl and a boar. The collective meaning of these panels is open for interpretation.

Photography courtesy of Steven Evans