Layers of Hotel London’s past
Hotel London opened in 1927, at the southeast corner of Dundas and Wellington Streets and was demolished in 1972. In its place now stands TD towers. The site of conventions, dances and concerts; the eight story red-brick building housed businesses and restaurants on the main floor, as well as radio station CJOE during the late 1960s which later became CJBK. The hotel was often called “The Grand Old Lady,” hostess to the city.
Over the last few years, I became well acquainted with its history through my work as the editor on a book about Hotel London with author Vanessa Brown and the London and Middlesex Historical Society. The stories about the hotel quickly captured my attention. Each photo provided a window into the past, giving me a sense of what it would have been like to experience the hotel during its golden years. As someone who takes a hands on approach to history, I was even swept up in collecting the odd bit of hotel memorabilia.
During the course of this project I was excited to learn about a connection between the hotel’s biggest champion, George Reid, and the company that I work for, London Life. Reid was a board trustee for the company and was instrumental in the plan to build the hotel in the 1920s.
When I contacted the corporate archives department for help, I was simply hoping to locate a photo of George Reid, but I couldn’t help but ask whether the company had any records of events held at the hotel. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed. Not only was archivist Don Spanner able to provide a rare photo of Reid, but he also dug up images that gave new insight into the company’s connection to Hotel London. Early photos of London Life employee events showed that some were in fact held at the hotel.
I was interested to learn that the company’s annual Christmas party in London, now called the “Snowflake Serenade”, was previously called the “Snow Swirl”. During the 1950s the dinner and dance were held at Hotel London, likely in the Crystal Ballroom. Employees brought partners to the event and made a full night of the festivities. Some groups rented entertainment suites in the hotel’s upper floors which were designed for for this purpose. The suites were set up with a bar and seating area, providing party goers with a place to host before or after dinner drinks. They often used these rooms as a place to get ready, freshen up or simply escape the crowd during the event. The photos from the archives provide a glimpse of what those rooms were like and the social culture of these dances.
Other photos that were uncovered in the archives show insurance salesmen from the 1950s. This time the images were likely from one of the company’s conferences or sales meetings. These photos are interesting because they show angles of the ballroom not seen in photos from public archives. They also show some very classic images of men in suits, hair in a side part, drinking what might be scotch whisky, smoking cigars and cigarettes (indoors!). The archivist shared how he thought of Mad Men when he had seen these photos and I couldn’t have agreed more.
These rare photos show just how important it is to get creative when researching and consider alternate sources. Sometimes you may just confirm research you already have. Then again, you could get lucky and uncover unexpected gems like these. The Hotel London story is an important part of London’s heritage. Details like this allow us to throw back the curtains on these windows into the past. They provide an opportunity to learn more about the social history of such an influential place that would be otherwise lost to the layers of time.
Photos with special permission for this page, courtesy of London Life Corporate Archives.
Sincere appreciation goes to the company which provided generous recognition with a Volunteer Grant. It provided some bonus funding towards the book project for my work through the London and Middlesex Historical Society.