A Tradition of Change: Explore Osgoode Hall with Doors Open Toronto

Posted: 01/29/2019

Osgoode HallOn a sunny day in Toronto, thousands of people hurry along Queen Street West without looking past the distinctive black iron gates that enclose one of Toronto’s oldest buildings. Behind the sprawling front lawn, canopy trees and cobblestone path sits Osgoode Hall, home to the Law Society of Ontario for almost 200 years.

In 1828, the Law Society purchased six acres of land to build Osgoode Hall, named after William Osgoode, the province’s first chief justice. The structure was built to house the law society and its library. It also became home to the highest courts of the province in 1846, but not before it served as troop barracks in the aftermath of the Rebellions of 1837-1838. Since then, Osgoode Hall has continued to serve as the home to the law society and the courts; it is one of the oldest buildings in the country that still serves its original purpose. Today, after more than fifteen major additions, navigating the hallways of Osgoode Hall is an adventure packed with history and architecture.

Each year, Osgoode Hall participates in the City’s Doors Open Toronto, which provides an opportunity to see inside some of Toronto’s most architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings. This year, volunteer Paul Mitchell filmed the experience of our staff, volunteers and visitors as they explored beyond the iron gates. The video captures the passion of those who work in the building, including Diana Miles, CEO of the Law Society of Ontario. “I like to see the faces, the astonishment because of the glass, the wood, everything about the building. It is just not something you run into on a daily basis.”

With roots deep in Canadian history, and housing the oldest and largest law society in Canada, Osgoode Hall also has its own in-house curator. The role is an important one as it manages art and artifact collections, provides research services, implements public programming relating to Osgoode Hall’s heritage and advises on construction projects. Elise Brunet has served as the curator at Osgoode Hall for over 27 years. “I didn’t expect to spend most of my career caring for a heritage site, telling the story of lawyers in Ontario. I sometimes wonder when I will run out of things to discover and stories to tell, but then I stumble upon a new thread that gets me going all over again.”

The commitment to preserve the legacy of Osgoode Hall goes beyond the people who work within its walls. Videographer Paul Mitchell, a volunteer at Osgoode Hall for Doors Open Toronto in 2017, was so inspired by his experience that he returned with a camera in hand to film last year’s event. “I was interested in filming Osgoode Hall because it’s a unique building with a lot of history. There aren’t many heritage buildings in Toronto, so it’s special in this city. I also suspected that the people who work at Osgoode Hall have strong feelings and a lot of pride about working there, and I was right. I’m thankful to have had this opportunity.”

There are many ways to learn about and explore Osgoode Hall. Options include booking an in-person or Skype group tour or dropping in for a self-guided tour using audio files or the free Osgoode Hall app, which features a tour of the portrait collection and one of the Gardens of Justice. The Law Society Archives and the curator’s office also provide online resources for the curious and for researchers.

Visit the Law Society website for more information.