Carmichael, William John

CARMICHAEL, William John (1867-1927), the Chief Architect for the Bell Telephone Company headquartered in Montreal, Que., and designer of nearly one hundred Exchange buildings located in five provinces. Born in Montreal on 16 March 1867, he attended Montreal High School, and studied engineering at McGill University where he graduated in 1890. Later that year he moved to Colorado to work as a mining engineer, but by 1893 he had returned to Montreal to take up a position as draftsman and assistant to Edward Maxwell, a leading architect in that city. His two year apprenticeship with Maxwell had a significant impact on his own career and work, and in June 1895 Carmichael joined Bell Telephone Co. as Clerk-of-Works in charge of construction of the company’s Head Office Building on Notre Dame Street in Montreal. In 1897 he was appointed Architect & Superintendent of Buildings for Bell Telephone, and received the full title as Chief Architect for Bell on 1 January 1917. Working with two talented assistants Frederick J. Macnab and Newstead A. Allen, ARIBA, he carefully controlled the design and appearance of dozens of telephone exchange buildings in Ontario and Quebec, as well as the design of supply warehouse buildings for the Northern Electric Co. in Manitoba and Alberta, and his name can be linked to nearly 100 new buildings for the telephone company erected between 1899 and 1926. In addition, his mandate included the design and construction of all major alterations, additions and extensions to existing Bell Telephone exchange buildings that were built to accommodate the rapid growth of the telephone network system in the early 20th C.

Although essentially industrial in character, his designs for exchange buildings were enlivened by the introduction of classical ornament and a highly mannered and dressed appearance to the facades. His Beaux-Arts treatment of the elevations of these buildings was always carefully studied, and finely proportioned, with boldly scaled cut stone walls often forming the base to many of his designs. These walls supported heavily articulated brick walls with deeply recessed windows and broad brick arches, and almost always featured a monumental entrance portico, sometimes two stories high, reminiscent of heavy massing of a Renaissance palazzo. An outstanding example of his work was the 12 storey Elgin Exchange Tower, still standing on Sheppard Street in Toronto (1923-25), a dignified and exuberant interpretation of classical architecture applied to a simple industrial function. His work was never formulaic, and rarely would he repeat a plan. Each exchange building was tailored to the specific site located in Ontario or Quebec, and the appropriate elevational treatment of each was unique.

Carmichael retired from his position as Chief Architect on 16 March 1927, just weeks before his death at Lake Chapleau in the Laurentian Mountains on 24 May 1927 (obit. Gazette [Montreal], 25 May 1927, 7; obit. & port. Montreal Star, 25 May 1927, 9; Canadian Engineer [Montreal], lii, 7 June 1927, 584; obit. R.A.I.C. Journal, iv, June 1927, 235). His successor was Frederick J. Macnab. A biography and photographic portrait of Carmichael appeared in the Bell Telephone Co. staff magazine called The Blue Bell, February 1927, 4. The Corporate Archives of the Bell Telephone Company in Montreal holds an excellent collection of architectural records for works by Carmichael, including a complete list, organized by name of town and city, documenting more than one hundred exchange and warehouse buildings in cities and towns in Ontario and Quebec. The most complete visual record of works by Carmichael was published in the internal Bell corporate magazine called “The Blue Bell", November 1922, 10-13, illus., showing a bird’s eye perspective of a visionary “Bell Telephone Model City” with aerial views of 73 Bell Exchange buildings in Ontario and Quebec, as designed by Carmichael and built between 1899 and 1923. A detailed reproduction of this fictional city can be found in The Financial Post [Toronto], 19 Sept. 1929, 20, illus.

LONDON, ONT., Bell Telephone Co. Exchange, Park Avenue, 1898 (Evening Record [Windsor], 27 Oct. 1898, 8)
MONTREAL, QUE., warehouse for the Bell Telephone Co., Mountain Street, 1899; major additions, 1902, 1903 (C.R., x, 31 May 1899, 4; C.R., xiii, 13 Aug. 1902, 3; and xiv, 10 June 1903, 4)
TORONTO, ONT., warehouse for Bell Telephone Co., Cowan Avenue near Queen Street West, 1899; major addition, 1912 (Toronto b.p. 175, 18 July 1899; and b.p. 37489, 14 Sept. 1912)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Hayden Street near Yonge Street, exchange, 1900 (Toronto b.p. 20, 30 Nov. 1900)
MONTREAL, QUE., Wire & Cable Co., St. James Street at Lusignan Street, warehouse, 1901; additions 1902, 1903; 1905 (C.R., xii, 11 Sept. 1901, 2; Le Prix Courant [Montreal], xxxiv, 11 July 1902, 42; and xxxvi, 10 July 1903, 51; and 2 Oct. 1903, 49)
SAINT JOHN, N.B., New Brunswick Telephone Co., on Chipman Hill, 1901-02 (Railway & Shipping World [Montreal], v, March 1902, 116, descrip.)
MONTREAL, QUE., Wire & Cable Co., Guy Street, warehouse, 1902; major addition, 1903 (C.R., xiii, 2 July 1902, 3; xiv, 8 July 1903, 2)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Temperance Street, major addition to offices, 1902 (Toronto b.p. 381, 16 Sept. 1902)
MONTREAL, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., Hospital Street at St. John Street, exchange, 1903 (C.R., xiv, 23 Sept. 1903, 3)
MONTREAL, QUE., Wire & Cable Co., St. James Street at Seigneurs Street, warehouse, 1903 (C.R., xiv, 30 Sept. 1903, 4)
MONTREAL, QUE., Northern Electric Co., Richmond Street at William Street, factory, 1903 (C.R., xiv, 30 Sept. 1903, 4)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Lee Avenue, north of Queen Street East, exchange, 1906; converted to residential use in 1942; still standing in 2024 (dwgs. at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 410, File 1625, and File 1401)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co, Bellevue Avenue at Oxford Street, exchange, 1906 (Toronto b.p. 4537, 6 July 1906; Toronto Architectural Conservancy, College Street: A Study - Part One, 2012, 27-8, illus. & descrip.)
CALGARY, ALTA., Bell Telephone Co., Seventh Avenue, exchange, 1906 (dwgs. at Canadian Architectural Archives, Univ. of Calgary, 37A 7825)
MONTREAL, QUE., Northern Electric Mfr. Co., Guy Street at William Street, factory, 1906 (C.A.B., xix, July 1906, 108; Montreal, Architecture Industrielle, 1982, 160-1, illus.)
BRANTFORD, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Dalhousie Street, between King Street and Queen Street, exchange, 1907 (Brantford Daily Expositor, 5 Aug. 1907, 1, illus. & detailed descrip.)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Adelaide Street West near Bay Street, office block, with exchange building at the rear on Sheppard Street at Temperance Street, 1908; major additions, 1914, 1923, 1926 (C.R., xxii, 5 Aug. 1908, 25; Toronto b.p. 10480, 16 April 1914; and b.p. 57583, 12 Feb. 1923; and b.p. 62094, 14 June 1923; and b.p. 86789, 26 Jan. 1926; C.R., xxxvii, 30 May 1923, 128, illus. & descrip.; Const., xviii, Feb. 1925, 42-7, illus. & descrip.)
TROIS RIVIERES, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., exchange, 1908 (Const., ii, Nov. 1908, 65)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Keele Street at Annette Street, exchange, 1909; addition, 1911 (Toronto b.p. 15165, 10 May 1909; and b.p. 30031, 25 Aug. 1911)
SAULT STE MARIE, ONT., Bell Telephone Co. exchange, East Street, 1909 (Sault Star, 27 May 1909, 1; and 14 Oct. 1909, 8)
MONTREAL, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., Pie IX Avenue, Maisonneuve, exchange, 1910 (C.R., xxiv, 14 Sept. 1910, 26)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Bismark Avenue near Yonge Street, exchange, 1910 (Toronto b.p. 21055, 4 June 1910)
WINDSOR, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Goyeau Street near Park Street, exchange, 1911 (Evening Record [Windsor], 1 March 1911, 7)
OWEN SOUND, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., exchange, Ninth Street East, 1911 (Owen Sound Times, 20 April 1911, 1, descrip.)
WINNIPEG, MAN., Bell Telephone Co., East Main Street, exchange, 1911 (C.R., xxv, 2 Aug. 1911, 68)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Logan Avenue near Simpson Avenue, exchange, 1911, addition, 1925 (Toronto b.p. 30863, 10 Oct. 1911; and b.p. 81037, 6 June 1925)
OUTREMONT, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., Rockland Avenue, exchange, 1912; addition, 1925 (Outremont b.p. 739, 21 Nov. 1912; and b.p. 1914, 7 May 1925)
CALGARY, ALTA., Northern Electric Co., 11th Avenue South at Centre Street South, 1912 (inf. Gregory Utas, Ottawa)
SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT. Bell Telephone Co., Cedar Street, a two storey exchange, 1912 (Sault Star, 6 Aug. 1912, 4, descrip.)
TORONTO, ONT., Northern Electric Co., Simcoe Street near Adelaide Street, warehouse, 1912; demol. (Toronto b.p. 141, 9 Oct. 1912)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Bathurst Street at Helena Avenue, exchange, 1913 (Toronto b.p. 2647, 27 March 1913)
MONTREAL, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., St. Urbain Street, exchange, 1913 (C.R., xxvii, 12 March 1913, 73)
MONTREAL, QUE., Northern Electric Wire & Cable Co., St. Patrick Street at Shearer Street, factory, 1913-14 (Canadian Electrical News [Toronto], xxiii, 15 June 1914, 105-07, illus. & descrip.; Const., ix, April 1916, 121-5, illus. & descrip.)
MONTREAL, QUE., Imperial Wire & Cable Co., office building, 1913 (C.R., xxvii, 27 Aug. 1913, 72)
ST. CATHARINES, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., King Street, exchange, 1914-15 (C.R., xxviii, 16 Dec. 1914, 59)
MONTREAL, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., Ontario Street at St. Urbain Street, 'Plateau' exchange, 1915; 'St. Urbain' exchange, 1923 (C.R., xxxvii, 6 June 1923, 558, illus. & descrip.; and xxxviii, 9 Jan. 1924, 31, illus. & descrip.; Montreal, Les Hotels Les Immeubles de Bureaux, 1983, 152-4, illus.)
WINNIPEG, MAN., Bell Telephone Co., 1915 (C.R., xxix, 11 Aug. 1915, 54)
SHERBROOKE, QUE., Bell Telephone Co., Strathcona Square at Terrace Street, 1915-16 (Canadian Electrical News [Toronto], xxv, 1 July 1916, 22, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xxx, 5 July 1916, 672-73, illus. & descrip.)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Dufferin Street at Bloor Street West, exchange, 1918; addition, 1924 (Toronto b.p. 18705, 9 Sept. 1918; and b.p. 72033, 18 June 1924)
WOODSTOCK, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., exchange building, 1919 (Montreal Daily Star, 5 July 1919, 8)
BRAMPTON, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., exchange building, 1919 (Montreal Daily Star, 5 July 1919, 8)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Main Street at Kingston Road, exchange, 1922; addition, 1924 (Toronto b.p. 54275, 12 Sept. 1922; and b.p. 75524, 21 Oct. 1924; dwgs. at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 410, File 1933)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Asquith Avenue near Yonge Street, exchange, 1925 (Toronto b.p. 78890, 9 April 1925)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Runnymede Road at Maher Avenue, exchange, 1925 (Toronto b.p. 79128, 16 April 1925)
TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Shaw Street at Dupont Street, warehouse, 1925 (Toronto b.p. 80765, 28 May 1925)
ETOBICOKE, NEW TORONTO, ONT., Bell Telephone Co., Birmingham Street at Sixth Street, New Toronto, exchange, 1926 (signed drawings in the possession of Christina Sobolak, Birmingham Business Centre, Toronto)