William Thomas

William Thomas, architect, engineer, surveyor (born 1799 in Suffolk, England; died 26 December 1860 in Toronto, ON).

St Lawrence Hall
The architecture of the hall reflected the influence of the Renaissance style, with its raised portico over an arcaded base (photo by Steven Evans).

William Thomas, architect, engineer, surveyor (born 1799 in Suffolk, England; died 26 December 1860 in Toronto, ON). One of the founders of the Canadian architectural profession, William Thomas's work in England would have ensured him a modest place in English architectural history. It was, however, for his mark on the fledgling communities of central and eastern Canada for which he is best remembered. From 1843 to 1860, his output in Canada included over 100 buildings, including some of the finest architectural specimens of mid-19th-century Toronto as well as a legacy of work spread throughout the province and country.

Thomas moved to Birmingham in 1819 to work for Richard Tutin, a builder and surveyor. He married Martha Tutin in 1826 and joined the firm as architect-partner until Tutin's death in 1832, when he opened his own practice in nearby Leamington Spa. The elegant late-Georgian speculative housing projects he entered into there would eventually lead to his bankruptcy in 1840. After executing further commissions in Birmingham, Thomas set sail with his wife and eight children for Toronto in 1843.

A leading ecclesiastical architect and the chief proponent of Gothic Revival in Canada, Thomas's churches include St Paul's Church, London (1844), St Michael's Cathedral and Bishops Palace, Toronto (1845-48), St Paul's Church, Hamilton (1854) and St Matthew's Church, Halifax (1857).

A lover of sculptural detail, Thomas's residential work, including his own Oakham House, Toronto (1848) and Inglewood House, Hamilton (1852), displays a florid array of stone-carved details. In this regard, the pinnacle of his career was the Brock Monument, Queenston (1852-59) with its fine quality of sculptural decoration; upon completion it was the second largest monument of its kind in the world.

Today Thomas is best known for his commercial and institutional buildings, which include the Commercial Bank of the Midland District, Toronto (1844), (whose reconstructed facade is now part of the BCE Place), the St Lawrence Hall and Market, Toronto (1845-50), courthouses of Niagara and Kent Districts (1846-47), Guelph Town Hall (1856), Québec Custom House and Halifax Courthouse (1858), and the infamous Don Jail, Toronto (1857-64).

A founder and president (until his death in 1860) of Canada's first professional association of architects, engineers and surveyors, Thomas's legacy includes the first Canadian trained architects in the province: William Storm (1826-99) and Thomas's own sons William Tutin Thomas (1829-92) and Cyrus Thomas (1838-1911).


Further Reading

  • Glenn McArthur and Annie Szamosi, William Thomas, Architect 1799-1860 (1996).