This Week in History


Bringing the Beaux-Arts to Canada

For the week of Monday, November 9, 2015

Architect John MacIntosh Lyle was born in Ireland on November 13, 1872 and grew up in Hamilton, Ontario. He is credited with being one of the most influential Beaux-Arts architects in Canada. Beaux-Arts buildings feature a variety of historical styles, are symmetrical in plan, and include much ornamentation. During his long and successful career, John Lyle designed numerous types of buildings across Canada including banks, theatres, and gardens. In his mature work, Lyle went on to develop a distinctly Canadian style.

John M. Lyle
© Parks Canada
Lyle studied architecture at prestigious schools such as the Yale University School of Architecture and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was immersed in the Beaux-Arts. Troubled by what he believed to be Canada’s lack of a nationally representative architectural style, Lyle was instrumental in developing a unique strand of Canadian architecture. He melded the Beaux-Arts approach with the use of Canadian imagery, specifically Canadian flora and fauna, in the ornamentation of his designs. He believed that architects did not need to look to Renaissance Europe or ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration; Canada’s natural environment offered all the inspiration they needed.

Lyle was most active in the Toronto area. He was heavily involved with the "City Beautiful" movement, an effort to improve urban centres in the first half of the twentieth century. Lyle reached the height of his success in the 1920s. In 1926 he received the gold medal of merit from the Ontario Association of Architects, he was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy, and was President of the Art Gallery of Toronto from 1941-1944. Lyle left his mark on Canadian architecture by influencing young architects through lectures, publications, and exhibitions.

Interior of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto
© Tyson Williams

Lyle’s work has been recognized at National Historic Sites of Canada: Toronto’s Union Station and Royal Alexandra Theatre (designated in 1975 and 1985, respectively), and the Parkwood Estate’s Formal Garden in Oshawa (designated in 1989). John Lyle retired in 1943 and passed away two years later. For his achievements and influence on Canadian architecture he was designated a National Historic Person on April 11, 2008. To find out more about his work, visit There's No Business Like Show Business and Toronto's Union Station .

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