Toronto Athenaeum Club in Canadian Labor History


Nowadays, Canada belongs to the number of countries having a relatively high quality of life, and it is possible to suppose that this fact clearly relates to the rich history of the Canadian labor market. The given sphere of social life in Canada presents an interesting research subject because the physical appearance of cities in Canada is historically significant in itself. When it comes to the history of labor in the country, attention must be paid to the fact that some sites remain underestimated if the information concerning their historical significance is not extensively presented or only a set of disconnected facts is reflected in the mass consciousness. The report is devoted to one of the historical places in Canada, the Athenaeum Club, and is aimed at integrating facts and details to make a conclusion on the significance of the site to the history of the Canadian working class. Despite its great role in the past, the given historical site can hardly be called an autonomous tourist attraction.

Site Description

There is one thing about the exterior of the chosen building that highlights its unique role in the past. In fact, unusual architectural decisions and the use of uncommon or unpopular styles are features that attract more attention to buildings of social significance and, therefore, make them popular among tourists. The specific location of the chosen building is 167 Church St.

The façade of the chosen building is unique due to a range of non-typical and unrepeatable design decisions. Unlike many buildings in the area, the Athenaeum Club demonstrates the features of Neo-Moorish style (see Fig. 1). The latter is known as the style in which essential elements of oriental and European buildings of the Middle Ages are imitated and reinterpreted. When speaking about the architectural properties of the site, it is important to note that this style is often used in religious architecture. The Athenaeum Club, as is clear from the picture, presents a façade that is attached to an apartment house. The Athenaeum Club does not look like an ordinary building in Toronto due to the unique combination of elements related to various architectural traditions. On the one hand, its window-niche arches and the head-piece of column remind of the Neo-Moorish style and its key features. On the other hand, the building looks modern due to the use of brickwork.

 Club House for the Athenaeum Club
Fig.1. Club House for the Athenaeum Club, Toronto (n.d.).

Apart from its unique design and monumental appearance, the Athenaeum Club possesses other significant features that make it well-known. Many people living in the area know the given building under the name of “Labor Temple” because it was a place where numerous questions concerning the position of the working class were discussed.

The History of the Site

The history of the Athenaeum Club is inherent in political trends of the twentieth century that were changing due to the growing influence of the working class in the country. There are a few important periods in the history of this building, and they are connected with at least three roles that the Athenaeum Club played for the population of Toronto. The building was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. The last decade of the nineteenth century was a period when the working class was less protected than it is now due to the lack of high-quality equipment and financing (Boswell, 2015). Despite the seeming vulnerability of working population, some positive shifts towards strengthening the protection of workers’ rights could be observed during that period. Among the significant events related to the period was the introduction of Labor Day as an official holiday.

Initially, it was planned to use the building as a sports facility where visitors could train and polish their skills. The building became one of the first bowling clubs in the area. Nevertheless, the Athenaeum Club became really well-known only thirteen years after its construction. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the local authorities decided to buy the building to use it for their own purposes (“Mapping our work: Toronto labour history walking tours,” 2018). The club gradually became the place that was known as the center of the Toronto labor movement. The Athenaeum Club was used as the place where members of urban trade unions could organize their meetings and hold discussions. The building was used for this purpose up to 1968 when the Trade and Labor Congress moved into another building in Ontario (“Mapping our work,” 2018). It is known that the club was the center of labor movement for more than sixty years, and this fact proves the significance of the chosen site to the labor history of Canada. The Trades and Labor Congress that used the building was dominated by Toronto trade unions.

Considering that there was a wide range of debatable issues related to the life circumstances of working population, the work was humming in the so-called Labor Temple in Toronto. Among the key issues discussed by trade union members within the four walls of the building and in other locations were the ways to impact wage growth in different economic sectors. More than that, increasing workplace safety and compensations and securing equal voting rights for both sexes were agenda questions.

Historical Significance of the Site

The chosen place is located in Toronto which is known as the major economic and commercial center of the country. The peak of the popularity of the Athenaeum Club was in the middle of the past century, the period of labor history that was rich in events. In particular, that period of time was especially important due to the implementation of positive changes to the system of jobless benefits. With the course of time, the discussed house lost its main function and role. Nowadays, it can be described as an architectural monument that reminds people in Toronto of labor movement of the previous centuries.

It is clear from the history of the chosen location that the Athenaeum Club in Toronto presents an interesting topic of research for those interested in Canadian labor history. The period of sixty-four years when the building was known as the Labor Temple was marked with events related to the rights of working men and women. The reason why this particular building was chosen for the report is rooted both in its eye-catching design and historical significance.

To begin with, the site under consideration is significant to the history of the Canadian working class because it served as a place for workers’ and elites’ gathering. Toronto authorities did not only organize meetings to discuss issues that were obviously connected with working practices such as labor hours, wage levels, and workplace safety. Over and above, the building was used in order to discuss the most important urban problems that could have an impact on the entire population of Toronto. Also, some decisions regarding the first and the second world wars were made here (“Mapping our work,” 2018). In reference to the decisions related to military actions, it is known that issues caused by the Conscription Crisis at the end of the Second World War were the center of attention in many conversations held in the building. There is a range of factors that made the chosen site not only an important location for labor activists but also a place helping to strengthen the cultural sector and raise knowledge. There was a large library in the building, and it is another reason why the club was significant to many people living in the area.

The topic of the building’s historical significance also deserves the attention of modern researchers and common people in Toronto because the Athenaeum Club had a hand in the history of labor organizations headed by working women. Unfortunately, there are a small number of documented facts related to the building as modern researchers are likely to pay more attention to decisions and outcomes related to the position of the Canadian working class. Nevertheless, the chosen building is mentioned in some modern history books. For instance, the book by Peter Campbell that is devoted to the life of Rose Henderson, a famous female political activist who lived in Canada, mentions the building (Anderson, 2014). In the middle of the 1930s, female Communist activists in Canada chose the Athenaeum Club in Toronto as the place of their regular meetings. During that period, it was necessary for them to draw people together in order to make a stand against the superiority of capitalistic principles on behalf of working women in Canada (Campbell, 2013). The historical significance of the club for Toronto is essential, and it proves its popularity even after the loss of the labor center status.

Connection with the Present

The building’s connection with the present becomes obvious when attention is paid to the attitude of people of art and common citizens to it. Nowadays, it is used as a part of the Jazz apartments (“Mapping our work,” 2018). It is particularly important that many musicians regard an opportunity to perform their musical programs in such places as a great pleasure and honor (Hracs & Leslie, 2014). In the twenty-first century, the building is still popular as it presents an important part of the cultural heritage of Toronto. The building is not dilapidated; it is maintained in an appropriate condition. The crisis of the present century did not affect the aesthetic preferences of people in Toronto, and the unique role of such buildings is still respected (Thomas & Tufts, 2016). The Athenaeum Club is still used to hold meetings, and its appearance is purposefully maintained to preserve the unique ambiance of the past.

Outcomes and Consequences

Both tourists and residents regard the building as an important part of the city’s culture, and it makes a significant contribution to the preservation of the site. In modern times, trade union committees have separate institutions, and libraries are becoming less popular due to the fact that access to online books is growing worldwide. In spite of that, regular excursions to the club are held. The knowledge on the particular events that took place here is scarce, but the building’s history can inspire enthusiastic researchers to expand it.

References

Anderson, K. (2014). Canadian political history and ideas: Intersections and influences. History Compass, 12(5), 444-454.

Boswell, R. (2015). New light on the origins of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. The Canadian Field-Naturalist, 129(2), 207-213.

Campbell, P. (2013). Rose Henderson. Women Suffrage and Beyond. Web.

Club house for the Athenaeum Club, Toronto [Digital image]. (n.d.). Web.

Hracs, B. J., & Leslie, D. (2014). Aesthetic labour in creative industries: The case of independent musicians in Toronto, Canada. Area, 46(1), 66-73.

Mapping our work: Toronto labour history walking tours. (2018). Web.

Thomas, M. P., & Tufts, S. (2016). Austerity, right populism, and the crisis of labour in Canada. Antipode, 48(1), 212-230.