When the principals of the Canadian Birkbeck Investments and Savings Company decided in 1907 to build their new office building, they chose a highly desirable site. 10 Adelaide Street East was a stone's throw from Yonge and King streets. A busy streetcar ran along Adelaide and the new location would benefit from the daily traffic of the nearby Post Office, Courthouse and several other financial institutions.
The Canadian Birkbeck Investment and Savings Company was the initial owner of what is today the Ontario Heritage Centre – the Ontario Heritage Trust's headquarters. The Company was one of a group of financial institutions that emerged in the late 19th century to provide mortgages and debentures. In keeping with a common practice of the day, the Company required a building that would house not only its banking services and corporate offices, but would also include several floors of rental office space that could be used as a source of revenue and future expansion space.
Award-winning Toronto architect George W. Gouinlock had just achieved prominence when he was commissioned to design the Company's new headquarters. He already had three bank buildings to his credit by this time. The Birkbeck Building represents Gouinlock's earliest use of the beaux arts style of architecture that was becoming popular with financial institutions for the image of stability and prosperity it projected. Built between 1908 and 1909, the building is a fine example of beaux arts architecture and construction methods considered to be state of the art at the time. The building's fireproofed steel structure with terracotta infill was no doubt a response to the Great Fire of 1904 that had devastated much of downtown Toronto. Gouinlock's initial design called for a seven-storey building. For reasons unknown, the additional storeys were not built.
10 Adelaide Street East remained the property of the Company and its successor, the Canadian Mortgage and Investment Company, until 1927 when the building was sold to the Standard Bank. Ownership of the structure subsequently passed to several corporations and individuals before the Ontario Heritage Trust purchased it in 1985.
The building has been designated a National Historic Site for its historical and architectural significance. It is owned and operated by the Trust. In addition to serving as the offices for the Trust, the building also provides conference and reception facilities.
After its acquisition, considerable work was done to restore the building and demonstrate the adaptive reuse of a heritage office building. The Trust has maintained and re-instated original details, especially in the public areas of the lower two floors, allowing a genuine understanding of Edwardian architecture during one of Canada's most significant periods of growth. The restoration of the former banking hall (The Gallery) in 2002 incorporated traces of the many changes to the room while recovering the 1909 decorative scheme of the Birkbeck period.