Explore An Architectural Landmark: The Toronto Reference Library

City Living, Yorkville / Summerhill / Rosedale

There are plenty of reasons to visit one of Toronto’s 100 libraries… besides the free Wi-Fi.

Take the Toronto Reference Library for example. Yes, on any given day, it’s mostly students zipping up and down the library’s 5 floors, but you certainly don’t have to be a student to enjoy what this informational behemoth and architectural gem has to offer!!



First, the building itself is a sight to behold, if you haven’t been before. Toronto is considered to have the busiest urban library system in the entire world, and no branch is bigger than the Toronto Reference Library. But despite its grand size, it doesn’t even break the top 20 list of largest libraries in the world. But, Canada does still hold one impressive spot on that list; the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, holding 54 million catalogued items, sits at #4 (below The British Library, The Library of Congress, and the New York Library.)

Built-in 1977 by Raymond Moriyama Architects (now Moriyama & Teshima Architects), it has become a Toronto landmark and is steep in social and political history. In 1954 – 23 years before it’s completion – the Municipality of Metro Toronto was created, but libraries were primarily left to the jurisdiction of each now-amalgamated city. But a decade later, the Ontario government decided that Toronto needed its own centralized library system. One of the first decisions to be made was that the original Reference Library at St. George and College – designed in 1909 by Wickson & Gregg and A.H. Chapman, Associated Architects – was unable to serve the city’s growing population and subsequent demand.

**[Fun Fact: while everyone agreed that the new site should be within walking distance of Yonge Street, the board had difficulty deciding between three proposed locations:  the northwest corner of Yonge and Asquith, just north of Bloor; the northwest corner of Yonge and Church; and the block immediately south of Eaton’s College Street, north of Gerrard.]**


Rendering: Original proposal by Raymond Moriyama Architects, 1973.  Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.


The architect proposed the rendering above – 5 storeys clad entirely in mirrored glass that would reflect the sun during the day and reveal the library’s inner workings at night! While the Metro Toronto Library Board unanimously loved it, the City Council did not; they’d just recently voted to prohibit any new project over 45 ft. high or 40,000 square feet. So after many revisions, they agree to scrap the glass and tier the 5 floors so that the lowest one – at street level – would better match the surrounding buildings.  The inner atrium remained fairly similar, and while the cladding was sacrificed, the skylight roof and internal architecture survived. Here’s a photo of the completed project! Pretty similar to what we see today, eh?


Photo: Applied Photography Ltd, 1977. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library. (The inspiration for the atrium was the hanging gardens of Babylon)

Since it’s opening to the public in the late ’70s, there’s only been one major renovation project; a $34,000,000 “rejuvenation” was undertaken by the current incarnation of that original architecture firm, Raymond Moriyama Architects, in the early 2000s. The biggest exterior change was the construction of the glass entrance to the atrium (below). Along with the addition of the latest technologies (e.g. 3D printers), the library also took this opportunity to upgrade the interior design somewhat. Instead of disfiguring the original aesthetic, Raymond Moriyama Architects married the 70’s character with a more modern sensibility. The crown jewel of this update? The special collections rotunda!

This spectacular drone tour catalogues many of the upgrades!


Photo credits: Moriyama & Teshima Architects. Courtesy of the Toronto Reference Library


Here’s a blurb from the Ontario Association of Architects website, because we couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

“Almost four decades after its opening, the Toronto Reference Library is now deeply embedded into the architectural and cultural identity of the city. It has become a symbol for the city and crucial public space for the larger Toronto community. In fact, it is so deeply embedded in Toronto culture that it is often found in the most unexpected of places. For example, in the pop-culture classic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Volume 2), the library’s celebrated atrium is the stage for an epic battle between Ramona and Knives Chau.”

The Toronto Reference Library also – more recently – took centre stage in the music video for “Secrets” by Canadian-born, Toronto-raised The Weekend.



Okay so we know it’s an impressive architectural landmark – great for exploring on a Sunday afternoon – but if you’re looking to engage a little more actively, there’s plenty going on at the Toronto Reference Library! Check out this short 2-minute episode from NAS Daily, created by travelling video blogger, Nuseir Yassin:


And he’s right! There’s plenty of activities to be found here. If you’re tired of the same old, same old – “grabbing coffee”, “getting drinks” or “catching a movie” – suggest to your friends that you hit up the Toronto Reference Library to experience:

Recent Seminars:  ‘How To Not Get Busted After Marijuana Legalization’, A Halloween Marathon Reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein ‘Hungover: One Man’s Quest For The Cure’, ‘100 Years Of Canadian Women In the Sky’, ‘Indigenous Pathways’ …and more!

Recent Workshops: ‘The Nuts And Bolts Of Podcast Production’, ‘Repair Cafe’ (Get your stuff fixed!), Lessons in Creative Writing, ‘Protecting Your Digital Privacy’ …and more!

Recent Courses: Microsoft Suite Programs, Speaking English, …and more!

.. even Open Mic Nights and Movie Screenings!  (More info here)


Here’s a great “ode to libraries”, as it were, by the National Post: “Simply put, libraries are incredible



How awesome would it be to have this resource right in your neighbourhood?!

Our NOW SOLD tony listing at Casa Condominio Residenza, called Culture, Couture & Contemporary Living At Casa Condiminio Near Yonge & Bloor, is located at 33 Charles Street East – just under a 10-minute walk away from Yorkville and the bright lights of Yonge & Bloor! Offered For $2,388,800!



Thanks for reading!


~ Steve & The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000

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*Based on information provided by the Ontario Association of Architects. Hero Image courtesy of Moriyama & Teshima Architects

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