Edwards, Robert John

EDWARDS, Robert John (1854-1927), a remarkably prolific architect who sustained an active practise for nearly sixty years. His works can be found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and throughout Ontario. He rode the wave of economic boom and bust cycles in Ontario and the North West Territories, moving from town to town before setting up a permanent office in Toronto in 1886 and remaining there for the duration of his career. He was active under his own name, and as a member of seven different partnerships including:

Darling & Edwards, Barrie, Ont. 1878-79 (with Frank Darling of Toronto)
Bruce & Edwards, Winnipeg, Man. 1882 (with Donald Bruce of Winnipeg)
Edwards & Peters, Winnipeg, Man. 1883 (with Wesley A. Peters of Winnipeg)
R.J. Edwards, Port Arthur, Ont. 1883-85
Edwards & Webster, Toronto 1886-1895 (with Henry J. Webster)
R.J. Edwards, Toronto 1898
Edwards & Wagner, Toronto, 1899-1901 (with Charles F. Wagner)
R.J. Edwards, Toronto 1901-1907
Edwards & Saunders, Toronto 1907-1916 (with Frederick F. Saunders)
Edwards & Edwards Toronto 1917-1923 (with his son Gordon R. Edwards)

Born in Barrie, Ont. on 15 April 1854, he was educated there and received his early training in Toronto as an apprentice in the office of Harper & Son, Architects from 1874 to 1878. This link was established from evidence given at a Coroner's Inquest in Buffalo, N.Y. into the death of Thomas W. Jordan who, in March 1876, left several letters at his residence including one addressed to "R.J. Edwards, c/o Harper & Son, Architects, Toronto" (Commercial Advertiser [Buffalo], 31 March 1876, 3). By 1878 Edwards had returned to his hometown, in Barrie, Ont. and was recorded in partnership there with Frank Darling (Northern Advance [Barrie], 11 April 1878). This appears to have been a marriage of convenience, since Darling remained in Toronto and Edwards lived and worked in Barrie, acting as a local representative of the Toronto firm of Darling & Edwards. In less than a year, Edwards had closed his Barrie office and moved to Toronto (Northern Advance [Barrie], 6 March 1879). The name of Edwards appears in Toronto directories from 1878 to 1882 as a draughtsman, likely in the office of his mentor John Harper.

He moved to Winnipeg in late 1881 in order to capitalize on the building boom there, and formed a partnership with Donald Bruce, as Bruce & Edwards (Manitoba Daily Free Press, 15 Feb. 1882, 1, advert.). The following year, he started a new partnership with Wesley A. Peters, who he had met in Toronto when both were working in the Langley office (Manitoba Daily Free Press [Winnipeg], 16 May 1883, 1, advert.). When the economy there went into recession, Edwards decamped to Port Arthur, Ont., becoming the first (and only) professional architect to open an office at the Lakehead before 1890. His works there include the colossal Northern Hotel (the largest hotel in Northern Ontario, built 1884-85), and the distinctive High Victorian design of the Central School (1884). Over the course of the next two years, Edwards dominated the local scene and designed more than twenty commercial, institutional, residential and ecclesiastical works in Port Arthur. No other city in Canada can claim to hold such a dense concentration of buildings which are entirely credited to one architect, all of them erected within a short two-year period. Many of his works there still stand today (as of 2016) and are now designated landmarks.

In late 1885 Edwards left Port Arthur and moved to Toronto, opening a new office in early 1886 in partnership with Henry J. Webster. He then worked alone in 1897-98, and formed another partnership with Charles F. Wagner, but their collaboration was brief, and ended after two years. Once again Edwards was working under his own name until 1907, then he formed yet another partnership, this time with Frederick F. Saunders, which was active until 1916. Edwards then invited his son Gordon R. Edwards to join in a new partnership, which was to be his last. Edwards retired from the profession in 1923, and died in Toronto on 8 November 1927 (death notice Toronto Telegram, 8 November 1927, 5; The Globe [Toronto], 9 Nov. 1927, 14; biog. M. Bixby, Industries of Canada - Province of Ontario, 1886, 140; biog. Toronto Illustrated, 1893, 165).

EDWARDS & PETERS (works in Winnipeg, Man.)

WINNIPEG, MAN., several double dwellings in Point Douglas for George Smart, 1883 (Winnipeg Daily Sun, 21 March 1883, 1)
WINNIPEG, MAN., H. W. Jamieson Block, McDermot Avenue at Adelaide Street, 1883 (Manitoba Free Press [Winnipeg], 2 April 1883, 4, t.c.)

R.J. EDWARDS (works in Port Arthur, Ont.)

ST. JOHN'S ANGLICAN CHURCH, Pearl Street, 1883-84 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 21 July 1883, 4, t.c.; A. Taylor, Church of St. John The Evangelist 1872-1972, 6, illus. & descrip.)
CUMBERLAND STREET, at Pearl Street, commercial block for Daniel F. Burk, 1883 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 25 Aug. 1883, 3, t.c.)
ST. PAUL'S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, Pearl Street at Arthur Street, 1883-84 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 15 Sept. 1883, 3, t.c.; 7 Oct. 1884, 2, descrip.)
unnamed street, residence for D.H. McKenzie, 1883 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 29 Sept. 1883, 3, t.c.)
ONTARIO BANK, Lorne Street at South Water Street, 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel, 3 March 1884, 3, descrip.)
unnamed street, two stores for John Bourke (or Burk), 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 9 May 1884, 3, t.c.)
CUMBERLAND STREET, at Arthur Street, store for J.H. Bartle, 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 27 May 1884, 3, t.c.)
CAMERON STREET, residence for John T. Mackay, 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 6 June 1884, 3, t.c.; 28 March 1885, 4, descrip.)
NORTHERN HOTEL, Park Avenue at Front Street, 1884-85 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 13 Aug. 1884, 3, descrip.; 15 May 1885, 4, descrip.)
CONTINENTAL HOTEL, Cumberland Street at Victoria Street, 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 30 Sept. 1884, 3, descrip.)
OLIVER TOWNSHIP, Anglican Church, 1884 (Weekly Sentinel [Port Arthur], 7 Nov. 1884, 2)
CENTRAL SCHOOL, Algoma Street at Waverly Street, 1884 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 3 Dec. 1884, 2, descrip.)
RIVERSIDE CEMETERY, landscape plan and chapel, 1884-85 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 3 Dec. 1884, 3, descrip.)
COURT STREET, residence for Judge Hamilton, 1885 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 5 May 1885, 4, t.c.)
ARTHUR STREET, residence for J.J. O'Connor, 1885 (Thunder Bay Daily Sentinel [Port Arthur], 6 May 1885, 4, t.c.)

EDWARDS & WEBSTER (works in Toronto unless noted)

SPENCER AVENUE, residence for Frank M. Nicholson, 1886 (Globe [Toronto], 12 March 1886, 6, t.c.)
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONT., Chautaqua Hotel, 1887; Amphitheatre, 1887 (Globe [Toronto], 15 April 1887, 3, t.c.; 28 April 1887, 5, t.c.)
CHURCH STREET, at Wood Street, row of seven houses for Robert Thompson, 1888 (Telegram [Toronto], 17 April 1888, 2, t.c.)
CAMPBELL BLOCK, Dundas Street West at Keele Street, a large commercial block with six stores, 1888 (Toronto World, 20 Oct. 1888, 5, descrip.)
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONT., cottage for Pemberton Page, 1889 (C.A.B., ii, April 1889, illus.)
BARRIE, ONT., residence for J.H. Bennett, Bayfield Street, 1889 (C.A.B., ii, Sept. 1889, illus.)
HALIFAX, N.S., Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club House, 1889; altered 1903 (C.A.B., ii, Sept. 1889, illus.; L. Maitland, Queen Anne Revival Style in Canadian Architecture, 1990, 203, illus. & descrip.)
ARCADE BUILDING & MARKET, Yonge Street at Gerrard Street, 1889 (Telegram [Toronto], 11 June 1889, 3, t.c.)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., residence for Thomas Marks, Cameron Street, 1889 (C.A.B., iii, Feb. 1890, illus.)
BRANTFORD, ONT., residence for E.B. Crompton, Dufferin Avenue, 1890 (Brantford Expositor, 5 April 1890, 4, illus. and detailed descrip.)
TORONTO JUNCTION, factory for Hoover & Jackson, Dundas Street West, 1890 (York Tribune [West Toronto Junction], 27 May 1890, 2, t.c.)
EAST TORONTO, St. Saviour's Anglican Church, Kimberley Avenue at Swanwick Avenue, 1890-91 (Globe [Toronto], 30 March 1891, 8, descrip.; Canadian Churchman, 2 April 1891, 215, descrip.; C.A.B., xv, Jan. 1902, plate illus.; inf. Barbara Myrvold, Toronto)
EAST TORONTO, pair of houses for an unidentified client, Swanwick Avenue at Norwood Road, c. 1891 (C.A.B., xiv, Dec. 1901, illus.; inf. Barbara Myrvold, Toronto)
EAST TORONTO, large residence for Mr. Munro [sic], actually the residence of Benjamin Morton, at the west end of Benlamond Avenue, and called "Norwoodlea", c. 1891 (C.A.B., xv, Jan. 1902, illus.; Canadian Manufacturer & Industrial World [Toronto], Vol. 49, 19 Aug. 1904, 35, illus. in advert. for Robert J. Edwards, architect; Toronto World, 31 May 1902, 2, descrip of the house in a real estate advert.; inf. Barbara Myrvold, Toronto)
ST. GEORGE'S HALL, Elm Street, 1891-92 (C.R., ii, 2 May 1891, 1, t.c.; Toronto World, 3 Sept. 1891, 1, descrip.; Mail [Toronto], 7 Oct. 1892, 6; C.A.B., xv, June 1902, illus.)
DOWLING AVENUE, near Laxton Avenue, two houses for William Jerrett, 1892 (Toronto b.p. 880, 17 June 1892)
EAST TORONTO, large residence for Donald George Stephenson, Gerrard Street East at Enderby Road, 1892 (C.R., iii, 8 Oct. 1892, 1)
EUCLID AVENUE, near Robinson Street, a row of 6 attached houses for John Bainbridge, 1892-93 (Toronto b.p. 1179, 30 Nov. 1892, permit signed by Mr. Webster, architect)
JAMESON AVENUE, residence for William P. Atkinson, 1892 (C.A.B., v, Oct. 1892, illus.)
CHURCH STREET, at Granby Street, row of three houses for Robert Thompson, 1893 (Toronto b.p. 1210, 10 Feb. 1893)
JAMESON AVENUE, residence for Adolph S. Compain, 1894 (Toronto b.p. 1712, 20 July 1894)
DUNBAR ROAD, residence for Mrs. Rosamond Fuller, 1895 (Toronto b.p. 1903, 18 May 1895)
BARRIE, ONT., Allandale Methodist Church, 1895 (Northern Advance [Barrie], 21 Nov. 1895, 3)

R.J. EDWARDS (works in Toronto unless noted)

SARNIA, ONT., Arlington Hotel, new verandahs and balcony, 1898 (Sarnia Observer, 15 April 1898, 3)
CANADA PERMANENT LOAN & SAVINGS CO., Toronto Street, alterations to Board Room and offices, 1898 (C.R., ix, 29 June 1898, 3; C.A.B., xii, May 1899, 107; xvi, June 1903, illus.)
SOUTH DRIVE, near Sherbourne Street North, residence for George A. Newman, 1898 (Toronto b.p. 288, 12 Aug. 1898; C.A.B., xi, Dec. 1898, 221 and illus. plates)
ROSEDALE, residence for an unidentified client, 1898 (C.A.B., xi, Dec. 1898, 221 and illus. plate)

EDWARDS & WAGNER (works in Toronto unless noted)

KING STREET WEST, at Spencer Avenue, pair of stores and apartments for Thomas McIlwain, 1899 (Toronto b.p. 267, 1 April 1899; b.p. 284, 22 Sept. 1899)
MATTHEWS BROTHERS CO., Dundas Street Bridge, addition to factory, 1899 (Toronto b.p. 47, 8 May 1899)
KING STREET WEST, at Spencer Avenue, residence for Benjamin Panter, 1899 (Toronto b.p. 224, 24 Aug. 1899)
MUSKOKA, summer residence for James Hardy, Ouno Island, Lake Rosseau, 1899 (L. Lundell, Old Muskoka: Century Cottages & Summer Estates, 2003, 106-09, illus.)
COWAN AVENUE, two houses for Jonathan M. Kilgour, 1900 (Toronto b.p. 238, 16 Oct. 1900)
WELLESLEY STREET EAST, near Homewood Avenue, residence for William H. Knowlton, 1900 (Toronto b.p. 168, 20 March 1900)
WAVERLEY ROAD, residence for the architect Charles F. Wagner, 1901 (C.A.B., xiv, May 1901, illus.)

R.J. EDWARDS (works in Toronto unless noted)

PORT ARTHUR, ONT., residence for Thomas A. Gorham, 1901 (C.R., xii, 10 April 1901, 2)
BRUNSWICK AVENUE, near Bloor Street West, residence for Mrs. William Wakefield, 1901 (Toronto b.p. 65, 11 Nov. 1901)
MADISON AVENUE, residence for S.J. Graydon, 1902 (Toronto b.p. 361, 11 Sept. 1902)
DELAWARE AVENUE, near Dewson Street, residence for A. Pollard, 1902 (Toronto b.p. 489, 9 Oct. 1902; C.A.B., xvii, April 1904, illus.)
KING STREET WEST, at Maynard Avenue, residence for Thomas McIlwain, 1903 (C.A.B., xvi, July 1903, illus.)
SPADINA ROAD, near Bernard Avenue, residence for S.J. Graydon, 1904 (Toronto b.p. 1061, 16 Aug. 1904)
JAMESON AVENUE, 'Dundargue', a mansion for George Gall, 1905 (C.A.B., xviii, July 1905, illus.)
(with A.C. Barrett) REGINA, SASK., Canada Permanent Mortgage Corp., Scarth Street at Eleventh Avenue, office block, 1906-07 (Morning Leader [Regina], 27 April 1907, 11, descrip.)
SAINT JOHN, N.B., Canada Permanent Mortgage Corp., Prince William Street at Market Square, office block, 1906 (dwgs. at PANB, Mott Coll. 428)
BARRIE, ONT., South Ward School, 1906 (Barrie Examiner, 10 May 1906, 7, illus.)
WOODLAWN AVENUE, near Yonge Street, residence for R.J. Edwards in trust, 1906 (Toronto b.p. 12 April 1906)
CHESTNUT PARK ROAD, residence for Robert G. Smythe, 1906 (Toronto b.p. 4827, 7 Aug. 1906)
ALBERT APARTMENTS, Broadway Place near Spadina Avenue, 1906 (Toronto b.p. 6017, 27 Nov. 1906)
MIDLAND, ONT., public school, 1907 (C.R., xviii, 20 March 1907, 2, t.c.)
CRAWFORD STREET, residence for John A. Harkins, 1907 (C.R., xviii, 10 April 1907, 6)
RUSHOLME ROAD, near Dewson Street, residence for Robert W. Campbell, 1907 (Toronto b.p. 8554, 10 July 1907)
BARRIE, ONT., Central Methodist Church, Elizabeth Street, 1907-08; demol. 1957 (Barrie Examiner, 31 July 1953, 12; Central United Church: The First Hundred Years 1865-1965, 10-11, illus.)

EDWARDS & SAUNDERS (works in Toronto unless noted)

SHUTTLEWORTH CHEMICAL CO., Dundas Street East at Victoria Street, factory, 1907 (Toronto b.p. 9443, 25 Oct. 1907; Const., i, Feb. 1908, 32, illus.)
PARKDALE MASONIC HALL, Queen Street West at O'Hara Avenue, 1908 (Const., i, Feb. 1908, 72)
ST. GEORGE STREET, near Bernard Avenue, residence for Richard A. Graydon, 1908 (Toronto b.p. 12284, 19 Aug. 1908)
HAVELOCK STREET, residence for Alfred G. Saunders, 1909 (C.R., xxii, 30 Dec. 1908, 27)
WALDORF APARTMENTS, King Street West near Spencer Avenue, 1910 (Toronto b.p. 19470, 30 March 1910; Const., vi, June 1913, 265-6, illus. & descrip.)
ERINDALE, ONT., St. Peter's Anglican Church, Mississauga Road at Dundas Street, 1910 (C.R., xxiv, 27 April 1910, 27, t.c.)
FREEMASON'S HALL, College Street near Markham Street, 1910 (Toronto b.p. 22255, 21 July 1910; Const., iv, March 1911, 62, illus.; Oct. 1911, 78-80, illus. & descrip.; Toronto Architectural Conservancy, College Street: A Study - Part One, 2012, 35-7, illus. & descrip.)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., residence for F.S. Wiley, 1910 (Daily News [Port Arthur], 19 July 1910, 4)
FOREST HILL ROAD, in York Township, summer residence for W. Cecil Lee, 1911 (Builder & Contractor [Toronto], i, 15 May 1911, 155, illus. & descrip.)
ST. STEPHEN'S ANGLICAN CHURCH, College Street at Bellevue Avenue, parish house, 1911 (C.R., xxv, 21 June 1911, 59)
COLLEGE HEIGHTS APARTMENTS, St. Clair Avenue West at Oriole Road, 1912 (Toronto b.p. 32577, 21 Feb. 1912; Const., vi, June 1913, 265-6, illus. & descrip.)
RIVERDALE MASONIC LODGE, Gerrard Street East near Logan Avenue, 1912 (Toronto b.p. 32876, 16 March 1912)
MAYNARD AVENUE, near King Street West, apartment block for John H. Adams, 1912 (Toronto b.p. 33119, 9 April 1912)
AVENUE ROAD, at Foxbar Road, apartment block for Frank Babcock, 1912 (C.R., xxvi, 22 May 1912, 40-41, illus. & descrip.)
OAKVALE DAIRY, Gerrard Street East near Boulton Avenue, 1912 (Toronto b.p. 34646, 8 June 1912)
CARTER, CUMMINGS CO., Adelaide Street East near Princess Street, warehouse, 1913 (Toronto b.p. 3513, 23 April 1913)
SPADINA ROAD, near Kilbarry Road, residence for W. Cardeil Hall, 1916 (Const., ix, June 1916, 186-7, illus. & descrip.)

EDWARDS & EDWARDS (works in Toronto)

ST. CLAIR AVENUE WEST, near Parkwood Avenue, two houses for Albert A. Thompson, 1916 (Const., ix, Sept. 1916, 314)
INDIAN ROAD, residence for William J. Neely, 1918 (Const., xi, June 1918, 180-81, illus.)
FOREST HILL ROAD, near Frybrook Road, residence for Thomas B. James, 1923 (Const., xvi, Aug. 1923, 286)


TORONTO, ONT., Board of Trade Building, Yonge Street at Front Street East, 1888. The office of Edwards & Webster was one of 18 firms from the United States and Canada who submitted a design for this important competition (see full list of entrants in C.A.B., ii, April 1889, 42). Four architects were selected for the second stage, but Edwards & Webster were not among the finalists. The winners were James & James of New York City.
TORONTO, ONT., Confederation Life Office Building, Yonge Street at Richmond Street East, 1890. Undeterred by their loss in the Board of Trade competition, Edwards & Webster submitted an ambitious proposal using the pseudonym "Paid Up Policy" (C.A.B., iii, April 1890, double plate perspective illus. with plan). Their entry, one of 18 submitted, was an amalgam of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, but their plain and bleak treatment of the facade was no match for the winning design by Knox & Elliott of Chicago.