Imperial Oil Building

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The Imperial Oil Building

The Imperial Oil Building, designed by Alvan Mathers, is a skyscraper outside the downtown financial core of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Located at 111 St. Clair Avenue West, the 21-storey building was built in 1957 as the headquarters of Imperial Oil, Canada's largest oil company.

The architectural model for this building was the original design for the Toronto City Hall. Nathan Phillips, Toronto's mayor in 1955, rejected the Mathers and Haldenby design for city hall and opened the commission to an international competition that was eventually won by Finnish architect Viljo Revell. Imperial Oil, in search of a design for their Toronto head office, bought the design from Mathers and Haldenby.

During construction, catering to the wealthy local residents, welding rather than the then-customary and much noisier riveting technique, was used. The building, on completion, was the largest all-welded steel frame building in the world.

When Imperial Oil assembled the residential properties for the site, Isabel Massie, owner of a house at 59 Foxbar Road, on a long angular lot at the rear of the site, refused to sell, despite being offered up to $100,000 for her house, at the time a princely sum. As a result, Imperial Oil had to move its building closer to St. Clair Avenue than planned. Until she died in 1964, her property jutted into the Imperial Oil parking lot, an icon of a citizen's refusal to give in to a corporation. Her heirs sold the house for $70,000 to Imperial Oil, which demolished it to expand the parking lot. The last traces of Isabel Massie's house, roughly across the street from 38 Foxbar Road, were dug up in 2012 when the subsequent owner excavated for an underground parking garage.

The interior layout of 111 St. Clair Ave. W. in its office days was based on the 'core' concept, with most offices having windows and with the various service elements (elevators and meeting rooms) clustered in the centre.

With its thick walls, relatively small windows, a built-in cafeteria, a location separated from major targets, and large offices that could be converted to wards, the IOB was designed to be used, in the event of nuclear attack, as an alternative hospital.

The Imperial Oil Building from the west, giving a better view of the observation deck at its top

The building sits atop a high escarpment with a commanding view to the south, and before the construction of the downtown banking towers, in the late 1960s, the top floor observation deck was, at almost 800 feet (244 metres) above sea level, the highest point in Toronto; on a clear day visitors could see the rising spray from Niagara Falls, across Lake Ontario.

The ground floor lobby features a famous mural, "The Story of Oil", executed by York Wilson in 1957. Three years in the planning and construction, the two panels of the diptych are each 25 feet by 32 feet; the left-hand side of the mural depicts the nature of oil from its prehistoric origins, while the right-hand panel portrays the modern benefits of its exploitation.

The mural is made of vinyl acetate and is mounted to the wall in such a way that vibrations in the building will not be transmitted to the artwork, possibly causing it to crack. In addition, a ventilation system behind the same wall prevents moisture collecting on the material. Crawley Films of Ottawa was engaged to document the artwork's realization.

A three-part mural by Oscar Cahén was completed in 1956, for the building's staff lounge and dining facility on the eighth floor. These were abstract compositions in bold, bright colours, one with a sun motif. Painted on canvas, two sections were de-installed in 1979 and are now owned by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario. As of 2014, they await conservation and a permanent home. The third section was lost.

As announced in a press conference on September 29, 2004, the company re-located to Calgary, Alberta (some corporate operations moved to the Esso Building at 90 Wynford Drive in Don Mills, Ontario). The building was unoccupied for some years. Soil testing before the property was listed for sale found that sand about 40 feet below the eastern part of the parking lot was contaminated with heating oil that had leaked from an underground storage tank. The soil was excavated and replaced.

In preparation for the sale, the Imperial Oil told Deer Park United Church next door that they would no longer supply building heat to the church, effective July, 2008. This led the dwindling congregation to leave the church and share space with a nearby Presbyterian church which had split off from Deer Park church in the 1920s. The Deer Park church building remains vacant as of late 2012.

The Imperial Oil building was sold in the summer of 2010 to condominium developer Camrost-Felcorp.[1] At the same time, the church was sold to a related developer who subsequently sold a major interest to Camrost.

The converted condo at 111 St. Clair will be known as Imperial Plaza.[2]

The developers have secured City of Toronto approval for a second tower near the southeast corner of the site, a third tower replacing most but not all of the Deer Park church, and about a dozen townhouses along the Foxbar Road frontage. None of these has been built, as of late 2012.

See also[edit]


  • Kinsella, Joan C.: Historical Walking Tour of Deer Park, Toronto Public Library Board; Toronto, Ontario, 1996. ISBN 0-920601-26-X
  • MacDonald, David: Man's most irresistible force had met . . . Immovable Isabel Massie, Canadian Reader's Digest, September, 1994

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°41′11″N 79°23′58″W / 43.686448°N 79.399502°W / 43.686448; -79.399502