Sparling, William Frederick

SPARLING, William Frederick (1884-1940) holds a unique position in Toronto architecture as the author of the design for the tallest building in the British Empire. Built in 1924-25, the twenty-two storey Metropolitan Building in Toronto established a new record for skyscraper construction throughout the Commonwealth, and it was only later surpassed in 1931 with the completion of the 34 storey Bank of Commerce tower in Toronto, designed by York & Sawyer, with local architects Darling & Pearson. Born in Toronto on 1 October 1884, Sparling was educated at Jarvis Collegiate, but he appears to have received no formal education in architecture. Instead, he served a five year apprenticeship with Burke & Horwood from 1901 to 1906. He joined the Ontario Assoc. of Architects in 1905, then worked briefly as a junior architect in the office of the Francis R. Heakes, Chief Architect of the Ontario Dept. of Public Works in 1907-08. He launched his career in 1909, and was a member of the following firms:

Curry & Sparling, Toronto, 1909-1916 (with Samuel G. Curry)
William F. Sparling & Co., Toronto, 1916-1928
Sparling, Martin & Forbes, Toronto, 1928-1931 (with Mr. Martin and William Forbes)

In 1909 he was invited by Samuel G. Curry to form a partnership in Toronto (see list of works under Curry & Sparling). Much of the design work by the firm appears to come from the hand of Sparling, not Curry, with a variety of commercial and residential commissions including the Charles Goad Co. Office Block on Bond Street (1912), an impressive design which reveals Sparling’s long standing interest in, and devotion to, the Renaissance Revival style. Their partnership was dissolved in early 1917 when Curry retired. Sparling then opened his own office in Toronto called William F. Sparling & Co., Architects & Engineers. His significant early works include The Trusts & Guarantee Building, Bay Street, Toronto (1916-17; still standing, and now owned by the Bank of Montreal). This refined classical design must certainly rank as one of the most elaborate and sumptuous bank interiors in Canada, with a two storey high banking hall and mezzanine finished with marble, bronze and mahogany. The hall is topped by a richly detailed coffered ceiling, and the entire room is an open, free-span space uninterrupted by columns or intermediate supports.

That same year he completed another landmark, the Masonic Temple on Yonge Street, in the Italian Renaissance style. This four storey block, clad in brick and Indiana limestone, included a public concert hall seating over 1,200 patrons, and lodge rooms for the Scottish Rite of the Masonic order on the upper floors. Completed in 1918, it was an engineering milestone, incorporating the largest reinforced concrete trusses ever used in North America up until that time. These concrete trusses, spanning 66 feet, enabled Sparling to create the column-free auditorium on the ground floor while supporting the assembly rooms on the upper floors. As a developer and entrepreneur, Sparling had a long-standing interest in the history and development of Casa Loma in Toronto. When the owner of the castle, Henry J. Pellatt, encountered financial problems, Sparling stepped in with a plan to convert the castle into an apartment hotel in 1925, and he arranged a bond issue to support the plan (Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 3 Dec. 1925, 2, illus.; Toronto Star, 28 Dec. 1926, 9, descrip.; and 14 March 1927, 13, illus. & descrip.; Contract Record [Toronto], xli, 25 May 1927, 526). The concept included his design for a new wing of 200 rooms for the castle, but his scheme was never realised. In 1928 Sparling joined forces with a “Mr. Martin”, an engineer by training, and William Forbes, and together they completed plans for a modern Gothic church in Oshawa, and for the Pierce Arrow Auto Showroom on Yonge Street near Summerhill Avenue, still standing and later used by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. as their uptown studios.

The stock market crash of October 1929 caused a dramatic downturn in work for local architects, and the partnership of Sparling, Martin & Forbes was dissolved, with Martin moving to Detroit, and Forbes joining the staff of Kaplan & Sprachman in Toronto. The Casa Loma Holding Company which Sparling had created was also forced into bankruptcy at this time. Sparling died in Toronto on 11 May 1940 at the age of 56 years (obit & port. Globe & Mail, 13 May 1940, 4; obit Toronto Star, 11 May 1940, 2; obit Telegram [Toronto], 11 May 1940, 2; Engineering & Contract Record [Toronto], 22 May 1940, 106; inf. Ontario Assoc. of Architects; inf. Christopher J. Sparling, Toronto).

W.F. SPARLING (works in Toronto unless noted)

WESTON, ONT., warehouse for Canadian Tire Co., 1917 (Const., x, Dec. 1917, 432)
BELLEVILLE, ONT., warehouse and cold storage building for Graham Co., Front Street, 1917 (Const., x, June 1917, 217; and xii, Jan. 1919, 12-16, illus. & descrip.)
TRUSTS & GUARANTEE BUILDING, Bay Street at near King Street West, designed by Curry & Sparling in 1916, completed by William F. Sparling & Co. in 1917; with addition of upper floors in 1929 by Sparling Martin & Forbes; still standing in 2023 (C.R., xxxi, 12 Sept. 1917, 767-9, illus. & descrip.; Const., x, Dec. 1917, 422-30, illus. & descrip.; Toronto b.p. B8966, 8 July 1929)
MASONIC TEMPLE, Yonge Street at Davenport Road, 1917-18; still standing in 2023 (Toronto b.p. 10960, 15 March 1917; Const., xi, Sept. 1918, 275-81, illus. & descrip.)
PEMBROKE, ONT., munition plant for Pembroke Iron Works Co., 1918 (C.R., xxxii, 16 Oct. 1918, 41)
WHITNEY AVENUE, at Roxborough Drive, residence for Reginald N. Boxer, 1919 (Toronto b.p. 25071, 8 Aug. 1919; Const., xiv, Aug. 1921, 232, illus.)
LEVER BROTHERS LTD., Broadview Avenue at Eastern Avenue, factory, 1920; demol. (Toronto b.p. 29393, 30 March 1920)
WOODBRIDGE, ONT., Christ Church (Anglican), Islington Avenue near Thistlewood Avenue, 1921; still standing in 2023 (Weston Times & Guide, 7 Dec. 1921, 1, descrip.; History of Christ Church Woodbridge 1843-1967, 14, illus)
BARBER ELLIS CO., Adelaide Street West near Spadina Avenue, warehouse, 1922 (Toronto b.p. 46596, 20 Feb. 1922; C.R., xxxvi, 24 May 1922, 55)
TORONTO EVENING TELEGRAM LTD., Bay Street at Melinda Street, major addition to office and printing plant, 1922; demol. c. 1970 (Toronto b.p. 50973, 1 June 1922)
THE METROPOLITAN BUILDING, Adelaide Street East at Victoria Street, a twenty-one storey skyscraper,1924; still standing in 2023 (Toronto b.p. 71537, 3 June 1924; C.R., xxxix, 27 May 1925, 524-7, illus. & descrip.; Const., xviii, July 1925, 222-6, illus. & descrip.)
DOMINION ENVELOPE & CARTON CO., Adelaide Street East at Ontario Street, factory, 1924-25 (Toronto b.p. 76670, 2 Dec. 1924)
ORMSBY & ROWAN LTD., Adelaide Street West at York Street, office and warehouse, 1925; addition, 1928; demol. c. 1970 (C.R., xxxix, 18 March 1925, 58; and xlii, 4 April 1928, 54)
WARREN ROAD, residence for Alexander M. McQueen, 1924 (C.H.G., i, May 1925, 12, illus.)
CHESTNUT PARK ROAD, residence for James Turnbull, 1924 (C.H.G., i, June 1925, 16, illus.)
SYDNEY, N.S., Presbyterian Church, George Street at Brookland Street, 1925-26; still standing in 2023 (C.R., xxxix, 5 Aug.1925, 56; and xl, 2 June 1926, 47)
ALEXANDRA BOULEVARD, residence for Edward B. Stockdale, c. 1925 (inf. Mr. Rand Sparling, Toronto)
NEW TORONTO, Boxer Wallpaper Co., Birmingham Street, factory, c. 1925 (inf. Mr. Rand Sparling, Toronto)
GRANITE CLUB, St. Clair Avenue West near Yonge Street, 1926; addition, 1929 by Sparling Martin & Forbes; demol. 1973 (Toronto b.p. 89239, 11 May 1926; Const., xx, Feb 1927, 38-50, illus. & descrip.; Saturday Night [Toronto], 26 Feb. 1927, 29, illus. & descrip.)
ELLIOT HOUSE HOTEL, Shuter Street at Church Street, 1926 (C.R., xl, 27 Oct. 1926, 49)
CASA LOMA, proposal for major addition, 1927, but not built (Toronto Daily Star, 3 June 1927, 26, illus. & descrip.)
LOBLAW GROCETERIA CO., Lakeshore Boulevard West at Bathurst Street, large warehouse, 1927; still standing in 2023 (Toronto Daily Star, 3 June 1927, 26, descrip.; and 27 Jan. 1928, 8, illus. & descrip.; C.R., xli, 18 May 1927, 54; and xlii, 27 June 1928, 679-84, illus. & descrip.; Const., xxi, June 1928, 203-06, 209-10, illus. & descrip.; Tim Morawetz, Art Deco Architecture Across Canada, 2017, 30-32, illus. & descrip.)
THE OLD TAVERN HOTEL, Bay Street, between Temperance Street and Richmond Street West, for Dr. A.V. Garden, a complete rebuilding of the original building with a new 3 storey hotel, in the old English style, 1936 (Toronto Daily Star, 8 May 1936, 10, descrip.)

SPARLING, MARTIN & FORBES (works in Toronto unless noted)

OSHAWA, ONT., Christ Church (Anglican), Mary Street at Hillcroft Street, 1928; extensively altered c. 1980 (C.R., xlii, 16 May 1928, 65; Christ Memorial Church 25th Anniversary, 1953, illus.)
PIERCE ARROW AUTO SHOWROOM, Yonge Street at Marlborough Avenue, 1929, and later used as studios for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; later converted to retail use, and still standing in 2023 (C.R., xliii, 24 July 1929, 876, illus.; and xliv, 15 Jan. 1930, 57-8, illus. & descrip.; Toronto Star, 10 Jan. 1930, 34, descrip.)
YONGE STREET, near Granby Street, office block, 1930 (Toronto Star, 31 Oct. 1930, 33, illus.)