Bricks and Mortar: The Irish Foundations of Toronto

2020, Ireland Park Foundation
architecture, City Building, Community, Irish in Canada, Migration, Preserved Histories, social history, Toronto Treasures
About This Project

Date: September 5th 2020 – January 5th 2021
Partner: Ireland Park Foundation and the City of Toronto (Market Gallery)
With the support of: Government of Ireland, British Council (UK’s leading cultural relations organization), National Trust for Canada through the Canadian Government, ERA,Donors of IPF, Ryerson and U of T Schools of Architecture Globe and Mail, City of Toronto, and Canada’s Irish Community Media
The exhibition will eventually be displayed at the Market Gallery, 95 Front St. East, Toronto, and at
Project Members: Tatiana Poluch

Introductory Statement

Toronto is a city in flux and, its transformation is visible throughout the built environment. With the continued loss of its built heritage, there is a burgeoning interest in the physical and cultural origins of the city.

The objective of Ireland Park Foundation’s exhibit initiative is to explore the deep-rooted connection between the built environments of Toronto from their Irish roots. Throughout the last two centuries, the staggered waves of the Irish diaspora have created an architectural, landscape and urban design osmosis between Toronto and Ireland. This influence is not limited to famed architects or their grand civic buildings. Rather, the focus of the exhibition is to encompass builders, artisans, and different communities, who shaped the urban environment seen today. In this exhibit, visitors will discover how the world around them can evoke the tangible embodiment of the economic and cultural forces carried over to Toronto by those emigrating from the island of Ireland.

The buildings were chosen for this exhibition range in both form and function, from vernacular and ecclesiastical, to buildings used for industry and politics. It will examine materiality, motif and design influences, and periods of architectural design. From John Lyle creating the cornerstone of a distinctly “Canadian architecture” to Gerry Gallagher’s employment of labourers creating the Bloor Viaduct, the Irish involvement in Toronto was enormous. Many of the individuals connected to these buildings forged a strong presence within Toronto from the nineteenth century onwards.


Currently, the exhibition exists online as a privately accessible website. As the exhibition will not be officially launching for several months, this online exhibition is acting as a project deliverable and a departure point for the framework of the physical exhibition. This website encapsulates months of primary and secondary research, images, editing, and other collaborative work with both the Board of Ireland Park Foundation (IPF) and the MMSt community. I am proud to present the first component of the history and stories this exhibition will tell.

Intended Audience

The audience will consist of the General Market Gallery audience, local history and architecture enthusiasts. Additional members which may be interested in the exhibition are the Ireland Park Foundation Community, Toronto’s Irish Communities, Irish Tourists and political sponsors from the island of Ireland.

This exhibition is about the social history of the people and places tied to the Irish community in Canada through the nineteenth century to the present. Information will be presented at a Grade 9 reading level, including other interpretive material such as video and audio. Overall, the entire exhibit will feel like an inside look into an untold story about the contributions the Irish made to the city building of Toronto.

Learning Objectives

Acknowledge and pay tribute to the Irish community in Toronto

Provide a new approach to understanding the Irish immigrant narrative

Present a new perspective on the idea of place and enliven the importance of space and community in Toronto

Broaden understanding of the Irish in Canada and include perspectives that have been missing from the public narrative

Unveil a social history of Toronto and its architecture through an Irish lens while highlighting other diverse communities who have participated in the city building of Toronto


City of Toronto Archives, Archives of Ontario, Ireland Park Foundation, City of Toronto, Toronto Public Library