Building Blocks of the ROM

Posted: March 5, 2012 - 10:52 , by royal

Submitted by Vincent Vertolli, Assistant Curator Geology

Detail of Rotunda doors displaying wooden doors, relief and stained glass

Opened in 1933, the addition facing Queen's Park features materials found in Ontario quarries.

The Rotunda part of the familiar west wing of the ROM facing Queen’s Park Drive was, for many years, the main Entrance Hall. For countless visitors the Rotunda was the first introduction to the displays and collections held within the Museum. Work began on this west wing of the ROM in the early years of the Great Depression in 1931 and under the direction of the provincial government, the ROM’s expansion became a make-work project. The government insisted that wherever possible Ontario labour and materials be used. Excavations were done using pick and shovel rather than tractors and men worked half-day shifts to employ as many as possible. Officially opened in October 1933 it is still considered one of Toronto’s architectural show places and remarkably all of the stone both building and decorative used in its construction were obtained in Ontario.

Designed by the architectural firm, Chapman & Oxley, the Rotunda space was itself based on a concept provided by Dr. Trick Currelly, the first Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology. With its glittering golden mosaic ceiling adorned with patterns and symbols representing cultures throughout the ages and around the world. The floor of the Rotunda is a mosaic of various Ontario marbles. Dominant features are the giant central sunburst and the corner designs depicting various legendary animals. Also of interest are the four pillars by the crest poles which were turned from single blocks of marble. These green, buff, pink, white and brecciated marbles and blue sodalite in the centre of the sunburst all came from quarries near the town of Bancroft. The walls of the Rotunda are made of dolostone, known as “Queenston Limestone” from quarries near Queenston Ontario. This stone was also used on the outside façade from the base to up to the first floor window sills. All trim is also of this material while the rest of the wall is of brownish red, mottled and light grey sandstone known as “Credit Valley Stone”. This sandstone came from a quarry near the village of Terra Cotta, north of Georgetown, Ontario.

Bancroft was an important centre of marble quarrying for about 30 years from 1908 to 1938. Marbles from these quarries can also be seen in a number of buildings throughout Canada among which are, the Parliament Buildings in Toronto and Ottawa, The Vancouver Court House, Government Buildings in Hamilton and Windsor, and the Railway Station in St. John New Brunswick. About 70 years later staff from ROM’s Earth Sciences department decided to locate, photograph and document these abandoned quarries which can be seen below;

View Royal Ontario Museum: Mines that built the ROM in a larger map

Image of the floor mosaic in the Rotunda at the Royal Ontario Museum.

View of the “Sunburst” on the floor of the Rotunda with the legendary animal motifs in the corners.

Looking west from the Rotunda through Samuel Hall/Currelly Gallery

View from the Rotunda into the Currelly Gallery with the four marble pillars.

Black and white photo of workers in the quarry.

Archival Photo of the Barker Marble Quarry, near Bancroft, Ontario. (c. 1930s)


Overgrown with greenery, large rocks are the only reminance of the quarry.

The Barker Marble Quarry today, near Bancroft, Ontario.

Black and white photo of workers in the Quarry.

Archival photo of the McMillan Marble Quarry, near Bancroft, Ontario. (c. 1930s)

Lush and green, today the quarry buried below a small pond of water.

The McMillan Marble Quarry today, near Bancroft, Ontario.

A cut rockface is exposed, but the forest has begun to cover much of what remains of the quarry.

The Stewart Marble Quarry today, near Bancroft, Ontario.

The quarry closed in the 1930s, but a rouch rockface still emerges from the greenery today.

Princess Sodalite Quarry today, near Bancroft, Ontario.

A blue colour stains large portions of the rocks.

Close up view of blue sodalite in nepheline syenite.

Black and white photo of men at work in the quarry before it closed.

Archival photo of the Queenston Dolostone (Queenston Limestone) Quarry, Queenston, Ontario. (c. 1930s)

Pools of water scattered along the quarry floor, some grasses have begun to grow through the cut rock walls.

View of the Queenston Dolostone (Queenston Limestone) Quarry, Queenston, Ontario.

Sandstone slabs are left behind today.

Syks Sandstone (Credit Valley Stone) Quarry, near Terra Cotta, Ontario.