• March 24, 2017 / 

    Moving the Charles Horace Gooderham House:

    a photographic document

    by Douglas Worts

    1. The Selby Hotel was the most recent use of this building at Sherbourne and Selby Sts, in Toronto. Built by the Gooderham Family in the late 19th century, it was the home of Charles Horace Gooderham – son of William Gooderham.

    Perhaps best known through the 20th century as the Selby Hotel, this grand old mansion in downtown Toronto took a little trip in 2015!  As part of a dramatic transformation of the Sherbourne/Bloor area of Toronto, this house, was moved eastward about 100 feet from the place it was built, in order to create enough space for a new 50+ storey apartment tower being inserted behind it. It is no easy task to take a brick and stone building that was built in 1884, lift it up and set it down again with all its bits still intact. But engineers can do some amazing things!

    This house was originally occupied by Charles Horace Gooderham, son of William Gooderham, of the Gooderham & Worts Distillery fame. Over the years, this residence played numerous important roles, including providing a home for Branksome Hall, a private school for girls, as well as the Selby Hotel, which functioned both as a hotel and as a long-term residence for some of Toronto’s most colourful citizens – including Ernest Hemingway! One of my great grandmothers, Mary Worts, lived at the Selby for some years in the early-mid 20th century.

    The attached photos capture some of the stages of preparing the building for its journey, as well as the move itself. Highlights have been:

    • the demolition of all the additions to the house that happened over the years, as the house became a hotel,

    • the preparation of the site for the staging of the move,

    • the insertion of large steel girders through the building – like swords through a magicians box after a volunteer from the audience has been put inside,

    • jacking up the building so that the building could be separated from its foundation

    • rolling the building, with the help of two giant tow trucks – first rolling westward, so a new foundation pad could be constructed beside Sherbourne St, then rolling back eastward until was positioned on the new foundation pad.

    The system of criss-crossed girders was key to the mechanism that enabled the workers to roll the house.

    Two side notes: 1) the James Cooper House, immediately south of the Gooderham house, went through the same process a few years ago and seems to have survived the process quite well – and the building has been preserved.
    2) the massive intensification that is associated with the building of these sorts of 40 to 50 storey towers along subway lines is indeed increasing populations in the downtown core – even though the City has not yet improved the transit systems. I do hope that the desired dynamic balance does in fact reach some kind of functional equilibrium.

    August 15, 2015


    19. The girder structure needed to support the house during the move is fascinating!

    September 19th, 2015 – the project continues

    I have added a few more pictures today. The girder structure that will support the building during its move has become much more elaborate! But it isn’t ready yet. As yet, the building still seems to be connected to the foundation. I don’t know how they will physically disconnect it. Will it involve a big, horizontal saw? I also don’t see any apparatus for the girder system to roll on when they finally are ready to roll the building backwards. These are some of the interesting questions that may be revealed in the coming days or weeks. Stay tuned!


    28 Twin tow trucks – ready for the move. On Tuesday night, October 6th, 2015, two massive tow trucks were in place behind the building. They were tied to anchor points in front, with long chains reaching inside the building to the steel girder structure that now holds up the building.

    October 8th, 2015

    The house has now been moved – at least a little bit. One might say that 40 feet is not a great journey, but for a large Victorian house, it is no triffling matter! The move of the house has captured the interest of many people in the neighbourhood, both for its technical complexity and for what it says about how the city is valuing (at least some) of its built heritage. On the street, many stories are being told about how people are connected to the house, and the Selby Hotel, and what folks know about it. I have found it pretty fascinating, on many levels. That all of this is being done to make way for a 50 storey building of high-end rentals is a discussion for another day. For now, this first phase of the building move is complete.


    35. Pouring concrete pad onto re-bar grid -1

    Dec 4, 2015

    Today, the Charles Horace Gooderham house, also known as the old Selby Hotel, was finally moved to its approximate final location close to the sidewalk on Sherbourne St, at Selby Street! It has been an impressive piece of engineering to raise the building while keeping it intact, then moving it backwards far enough so that other construction folks could build a proper foundation for the building to be set upon in its new location. The overall effect will be to preserve an historical structure while making way for a high-density apartment building, to be built behind the old Gooderham house. I have uploaded another group of photos that give some idea of the process that has been undertaken over the recent weeks. There is still more to come as the building is actually settled back down onto the ground, as opposed to being supported on large steel girders. But the most dramatic work has now been accomplished. It has attracted much attention over the past few months – and for good reason!