Confederation Life Builds A Head Office


Confederation Life Insurance Company needed to build a new head office to accommodate their rapidly expanding business and decided that the Yonge & Richmond Street block was their most favourable area.

Architect Selection

  • Site selection committee acquired property on Richmond Street East; concluded a larger building should be erected
  • Architectural completion launched in 1889
  • Montreal architect Mr. John Hokins examined 18 design submissions
  • Knox Elliot & Jarvis of Toronto were the winning architectural firm and opened their Toronto office in 1889 as a result

The Building & Design

  • Building made Toronto news headlines during construction from 1889 - 1892
  • 6-storey plus towers marked 20 Richmond at the cities largest commercial building of the 19th century
  • Design often replicated in New York on 5th Avenue millionaires mansions


  • 1893: Extended 427 feet of frontage on Yonge, Richmond and Victoria Streets, covering 21,500 square feet and 7 storeys high
  • Henry Hobson Richardson, a leading American architect adapted an early mediaeval Italian building style to feature great round arches on thick pillars, massive walls with carved detail and bold asymmetrical roof-lines
  • Connecticut Brown Stone formed base of the building with remainder fine brown chocolate presses brick with trimmings of red sandstone
  • Douglas Fir selected for the woodwork; first time used in Toronto for building purposes
  • May 10, 1893: Formal opening ceremonies were attended by approximately 200 prominent citizens


  • August 1980 - Dec. 1981:Thom Partnership Architects designed the renovation to restore the original interior and exterior including 18 foot ceilings on several floors, interior exposed brick walls, archways and high rounded windows
  • 100 + tons of red and brown sandstone quarries and cut in New Brunswick to replace deteriorated and missing sandstone
  • 27,000 bricks manufactured in Ottawa to match existing brick from 92 years prior
  • June 17, 1981, fire caused $1million dollars in damages and delayed completion 8 months; 6,000 sq. ft. of new copper roofs, gutters and trim installed as a result of the fire
  • Total restoration cost was $11 million
  • 1900: Altered ground floor with larger windows added plus a prominent corner entrance
  • 1984: Renovation and restoration joined the original 7-storey building to a new 6-storey atrium space and 27-storey office tower

Historical Designation

  • 1975: City of Toronto designated 20 Richmond a historical site under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been cited by the Heritage Foundation for its “High Standard of Excellence”

Famous Canadian Connections

  • Confederation Life Building, as it was known, is a monument to John Kay MacDonald, one of the prime founders of Confederation Life Insurance Company.
  • John Macdonald Kay; great Toronto philanthropist and one of the founders of the Toronto YMCA and Children’s Aid Society where he was President for over 30 years.
  • Sir Wm. Howland; Minister of Finance, 1866; one of the founding directors of Confederation Life in 1871 and Lt. Governor of Ontario
  • Other notable Canadian connections included: Senator William McMaster, President of CIBC; Sir Francis Hincks, Prime Minister of Canada 1851 and Finance Minister in the first parliament of the Dominion of Canada 1867; Honorable E.B. Wood M.P., M.L.A. and Treasurer of Ontario; William H. Beatty, of the legal firm Pattison & Beatty, also President of the Bank of Toronto and the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation