Excerpt: 305 Lost Buildings of Canada

Raymond Biesinger and Alex Bozikovic uncover the legacies of buildings from across that country that are now gone but still have something to say

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Cities are always changing. When we see a building go down, it’s generally because changes of taste and commerce have made it seem dispensable. But sometimes the forces at work are more dramatic: winds, floods or fire. 

In the 19th century, neighbourhoods and buildings burned regularly. Wood-frame construction and the limits of firefighting technology meant that, once a blaze began, it would often consume a large area. Even a major building clad in masonry, like the Moncton Sugar Company mill on that city’s waterfront, could go. 

Of course, a major disaster also has architectural victims. Halifax’s Exhibition Building had been partially dismantled and moved – but still standing – when the Halifax Explosion of 1917 wiped it out. 

In more recent years, it can be weather that is the culprit. In 2010 a winter storm hit the Outer Battery in St. John’s and took Keith Garland’s century-old family fishing shed with it. And in the next century, the changing climate will inflict more and perhaps surprising damage on our cities. The Cecil Hotel in Calgary had seen many things in its century of existence. But when the Bow and Elbow rivers overflowed their banks in 2013, in a storm fed by the effects of human-made climate change, the flood that came spelled the hotel’s end.

Here, a selection of 10 buildings from across Canada.

St. John’s, Nfld.

Garland’s Shed 1880s-2010

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 

Fishing is fundamental to the culture and economy of Newfoundland, and it can be a difficult and dangerous business, even here. The Battery, at the mouth of St. John’s Harbour and the base of Signal Hill, has often been hit by rockfalls and avalanches over the years, to the peril of the fishers and families who live here. But in 2010, it was a winter storm that devastated the Outer Battery, taking with it all of Critch’s Wharf and several buildings including the century-old family fishing hut of Keith Garland, which slid into the water. Outer Battery Road.

Halifax, N.S.

Halifax Exhibition Building 1879-1907

Designed by Edward Keating.

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
Canadian cities built many grand exhibition buildings in the Victorian era, and this was among the grandest. Keating, then the city’s chief architect, created six different versions of the design. He settled on a 261-foot-long arch-topped hall punctuated by three towers with cupolas. The hall, whose modern engineering allowed for a surprising number of windows, was used for exhibitions in summer and a skating rink in winter. The building was moved (minus its towers) to South Street in 1907 to serve as a skating rink. Its replacement, the new exhibition building, was destroyed in the 1917 Halifax explosion. Near Victoria Park; now Cathedral Church of All Saints.

Charlottetown, P.E.I. 

The Cabot Building 1887-1963

Designed by David Stirling & William C. Harris.

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
Charles Morris’s plan for Charlottetown put Queen Square at its heart. The city’s first market building stood in the middle, where Province House is today, before being moved 294 feet northwest to the newly named Market Square. Nearby, the Cabot Building stood next to Province House, a red-brick structure that was less classical and more eclectic than its serious neighbour. A series of fires hit the area in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, consuming a series of market buildings. The Cabot Building, however, was deliberately demolished for a new landmark. Richmond Street; now Confederation Centre for the Arts.

Moncton, N.B.

Moncton Sugar Company 1879-1896

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
John Leonard Harris remade Moncton. He and his brother Christopher were well-connected and affluent, but unlike many of their peers they were willing to take some entrepreneurial risk. John Harris led the creation of Moncton’s first gasworks and water system, developed large areas of the town, and led its town council for a time. The Harris interests included ships — a crucial part of the local economy — and, for a time, sugar. The refinery was started in 1879 and running by 1881. One of its towers was eight storeys tall, and it dominated the skyline, a symbol of the newly industrialized city. Ships arrived from the West Indies carrying the raw materials, up to three hundred workers processed them, and the refined sugar left by rail. The building was destroyed by fire in 1896, but the Harrises were on to other things, and it was not rebuilt. Northeast corner of King Street and Main Street.

Montreal, Que.

Le Palais de Cristal 1860-1896

Designed by John William Hopkins.

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
Named after the Crystal Palace at London’s 1851 Great Exhibition, this hall was constructed on rue Sainte-Catherine for the Industrial Exhibition of 1860. The Montreal Board of Arts and Manufacture meant to make it permanent and so chose a solid material for its base: white brick with pink accents. The structure was moved to the Dominion Exhibition Ground (now Parc Jeanne-Mance) in the 1870s. Later, it housed one of the first indoor hockey rinks in Canada; the first recorded game was in 1875. In 1896, it, like many of its fellow crystal palaces, burned. Parc Jeanne-Mance.

Kingston, Ont.

British American Hotel 1791-1963

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
One of the city’s longest-lived buildings was constructed as the Kingston Hotel in 1791, in fine Georgian style. A century later it was still good enough for visiting dignitaries Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. (However, a local newspaper reported that when Wilde arrived, one afternoon in 1882, “he advanced in a listless and languid manner to the hotel stairs. He climbed these as if enduring a most terrible punishment.” His lecture on beauty received a mixed reaction.) The hotel burned down in 1963. King and Clarence Streets. 

Regina, Sask.

Regina Indian Industrial School 1891-1948

Designed by Walter Chesterton.

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 

From 1891 to 1910, children from First Nations and Métis communities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba were brought here. The Presbyterian Church and the federal government had straightforward goals: to Christianize them, assimilate them, and teach them a trade. “All influences should be used to break up the reservation and tribal systems,” wrote the first principal, A.J. McLeod. One historian estimates one hundred children died here. At least thirty-five were buried in a cemetery on the site; their identities are mostly unknown. The school closed in 1910, becoming a jail and later a home for delinquent boys. It burned in 1948, and the only trace remaining is the cemetery. Its architect, Chesterton, joined the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. 701 Pinkie Road, Pense.

Saskatoon, Sask.

Queen’s Hotel 1912-1980

Designed by Frank P. Martin.


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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 

The original Queen’s Hotel was one of the first hotels in Saskatoon, built in 1892, just after the railway arrived. This larger five-storey replacement was a Beaux-Arts brick building with terracotta trim and pediments. By 1980, the Queen’s was catering to long-term residents. On May 31, a major fire broke out, probably in the sauna. Forty-six firefighters came to battle it; two of them, Victor Budz and Dennis Guenter, perished. In the wake of the fire, the Saskatoon Fire Department changed its breathing equipment and increased its inspections of saunas. 1st Avenue South at 20th Street; now a parking garage.

Calgary, Alta.

Cecil Hotel 1912-2015

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
The Cecil Hotel came in with a boom, and went out with a flood. The “workingman’s hotel” with bar and barbershop opened in 1912 to serve railroad workers and mechanics. The founders were German immigrants, printers Charles Pohl and Joseph Schuster, who ran a newspaper called Der Deutsche Canadier out back of the hotel. The First World War ended the paper and Pohl’s time in Canada, but the hotel survived as a steady presence in the East Village; the neon sign on the roof shouted its name for half a century. The bar became a gathering place for Calgary’s queer women, and then a rougher crowd, attracting lots of police attention, and after a murder, it closed down in 2008. The floods of 2013 hit the place hard, bringing rain and decay inside its gabled roof, and two years later it came down. 401 4th Avenue Southeast; now a parking lot.

Victoria, B.C.

Oak Bay Boathouse 1893-1962

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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 
First built next to the Mount Baker Hotel at the end of Orchard Avenue, this boathouse survived when the hotel burned to the ground. It went on its own voyage, floated to a new site on Turkey Head in 1915. In 1925, a yacht was built inside that was too big to remove, so a beam of the boathouse had to be cut. The walls were never straight after that. Beach Drive; now Oak Bay Marina.

Mount Baker Hotel 1893-1902

Designed by Alfred Bodley and Samuel Maclure.


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Illustration: Raymond Biesinger 

The Canadian Settlers Co. built this hotel on eleven acres of waterfront land, with fifty-seven rooms and eight bathrooms. At the time, Oak Bay was a place to get away from Victoria. The hotel burned in 1902, and a new Oak Bay Hotel was built on a different site; this too disappeared as Oak Bay evolved into a suburb. Now Oak Bay Marina.


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