Steele, William

STEELE,William (1839-1903) of Philadelphia, Penn. was the patriarch of a family of architects and engineers that practised for three generations. Born in February 1839 Steele Sr. entered the building construction business in Kensington, Penn. in 1864 and specialised in the design and construction of industrial buildings. His first commission in Canada was that for the office and factory of the Toronto Carpet Manufacturing Co. Located at the southwest corner of King Street West and Fraser Avenue, this structure was the first of eight buildings which his firm was to design for the company over the next twenty years. With its heavy robust load-bearing brick walls and wide expanse of repetitive glazed bays, the structure was the initial phase of a complex that grew to become one of the largest industrial precincts in the city. Virtually every element survives today, and the industrial spaces now accommodate a variety of professional and commercial offices and studios.

After the death of Steele Sr. in 1903, the firm was inherited by his four sons Joseph M. Steele (1865-1957), Andrew Steele (1881-1965), John Steele ( -1948), and Edward Steele ( -1933). Joseph served as President of William Steele & Sons Co. from 1903 until 1936. With a growing number of commissions in Canada, the firm first opened a Toronto office in the Manning Chambers (see advert in the Toronto Daily Star, 31 March 1905, p. 11). As the firm grew, they opened a larger office in the Ryrie Building in April 1916 (C.R., xxx, 19 April 1916, 394) and the local Toronto branch was headed by Andrew Steele. They were among the first to introduce a Chicago-style aesthetic of wide bays and floor-to-ceiling glazing to Toronto warehouse construction. This technique allowed natural daylight to penetrate deep within the six different production and storage buildings which the firm designed for the T. Eaton Co. east of Bay Street in downtown Toronto. The largest of these was the immense 12 storey loft building on Bay Street (1916; demol. 1974) with spacious sixteen foot internal ceiling heights on every floor. The innovative use of a reinforced concrete frame for this building, and the absence of load-bearing walls, was a radical departure from the normal heavy masonry walls which the Steele firm had used in the substantial addition to the Toronto Carpet complex, completed just five years earlier in 1911.

One of the last commissions by the firm in Canada was a similar loft warehouse building for the T. Eaton company in Moncton, N.B. (1919-20). With nearly 300,000 sq. ft. of storage space, it became one of the largest industrial buildings in the Maritimes. A photographic portrait of Steele Sr. can be found in Moses King, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians, 1902, 63 (inf. Leon Clemmer, Wyncote, Penn.; inf. Tamara Karpie, The Atheneaum, Philadelphia).


TORONTO CARPET MANUFACTURING CO., King Street West at Fraser Avenue, factory, 1898; addition facing Mowat Avenue, 1903; addition of Building No. 7, Mowat Avenue at Liberty Street, 1911; powerhouse, 1919; addition at Mowat Avenue at Liberty Street, 1923; all still standing in 2023 (Toronto Daily Star, 25 May 1904, 5, descrip.; Toronto b.p. 74, 29 Sept. 1898; b.p. 1319, 17 June 1903; b.p. 27169, 17 May 1911; b.p. 26581, 2 Oct. 1919; b.p. 64393, 28 Aug. 1923; dwgs. City of Toronto Archives, SC Box 1, Acc. 79-S37; dwgs. OA, Horwood Coll., Item 1671)
EMPIRE BUILDING, Wellington Street West near Bay Street, warehouse for E. & S. Currie Ltd., 1904; demol. c. 1967 (Toronto b.p. 899, 16 July 1904)
FRANK H. FLEER GUM CO.INC, Sterling Road near Dundas Street West, two large factory and storage buildings, 1907 (Toronto b.p. 9538, 7 Nov. 1907; Concrete Engineering [Cleveland], iii, March 1908, 71, descrip.)
CONSOLIDATED PLATE GLASS CO., Spadina Avenue near Grange Avenue, warehouse, 1910; converted to retail use c. 1980; still standing in 2023 (Toronto b.p. 24001, 27 Oct. 1910; P. McHugh, Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, 1985, 58, illus.)
WARWICK BROTHERS & RUTTER CO., King Street West near Spadina Avenue, warehouse, 1913 (Toronto b.p. 5765, 17 July 1913)
T. EATON CO. Alice Street, Terauley Street and Louisa Street, factories and warehouses, 1916-17; partially demol. 1974; with remaining buildings destroyed by fire in 1978 (C.R., xxx, 24 May 1916, 50, t.c.; xxxi, 13 June 1917, 513-15, 522, illus. & descrip.; Const., xi, March 1918, 80-1, illus.; Journal of the Engineering Inst. of Canada [Montreal], ii, April 1919, 300-16, illus. & descrip.)
T. EATON CO., Bloor Street West at Dufferin Street, factory, 1916; demol. (C.R., xxx, 5 July 1916, 45)
ADAMS FURNITURE CO., Yonge Street at Shuter Street, 1919-20 (Toronto b.p. 24043, 2 July 1919; C.R., xxxiii, 10 Dec. 1919, 49; Const., xiii, Oct. 1920, 321-22, illus.)
EXIDE BATTERY CO., Dufferin Street opposite Springhurst Avenue, major addition to factory, 1920 (Toronto b.p. 34070, 14 Sept. 1920)
SHUTTLEWORTH CHEMICAL CO., Dundas Street East at Victoria Street, conversion of warehouse into an office building, 1921 (Toronto b.p. 40506, 7 June 1921)
ALTON REALTY CO., Queen Street East at Victoria Street, office block, 1922 (Toronto b.p. 50401, 19 May 1922; C.R., xxxvi, 9 Aug. 1922, 53)
CRANE LTD., Front Street West at Windsor Street, warehouse and office, 1922 (Toronto b.p. 52355, 7 July 1922; C.R., xxxvi, 6 Sept. 1922, 53)


KITCHENER, ONT., Williams, Greene & Rome Co. Ltd., Benton Street at St. George Street, a large 4 storey factory, 1913; later called The Arrow Shirt Co. after 1919; converted to residential lofts in 2005-06 (Susan S. Mavor, "Christian Science, Commerce and Culture: The Experience in Berlin/Kitchener 1892-1943" in the Waterloo Historical Society, Annual Report, Vol. 107, 2019, p. 139, illus. and descrip.; inf. Mr. Rych Mills, Kitchener; inf. Karl Kessler, Waterloo; Kitchener Public Library, Williams, Greene & Rome Coll., signed perspective drawing from 1913)
MONCTON, N.B., T. Eaton Co., Foundry Street, mail order warehouse, 1919-20 (C.R., xxxiii, 14 May 1919, 449-50, illus. & descrip.; Moncton Transcript, 6 Feb. 1920, 1 & 3, descrip.; J. Leroux, Building New Brunswick - An Architectural History, 2008, 147)