It seemed like a return to old times as a Salvation Army band attracted a crowd of curious onlookers in the central court of the Toronto Eaton Centre on Tuesday, April 25, 2006. For Salvationists the event marked a moment of pride as city officials gathered with Army leaders to unveil a plaque marking the site of the former territorial headquarters.
In her remarks, Patricia Malcolmson of Heritage Toronto thanked the staff of the Army’s territorial archives for providing the information and pictures for the plaque, and for giving a significant amount of time and effort into making this dream become a reality. The plaque itself was a historical first, as it was the first of its kind prepared in a special format that allowed pictures to be scanned in and preserved for prosperity, with the help of modern technology.
Representing the City of Toronto, Councillor Kyle Rae noted that the Army opened its first headquarters on this very site in 1886. “Though the intersection has radically changed and that original building is long gone,” he commented, “The Salvation Army’s tradition of service continues.” He also mentioned that the corner had been officially renamed Salvation Square by the city in 1987, to honour the Army’s presence on that location for more than a century.
Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan, territorial commander, spoke of 24-year-old Commissioner Thomas B. Coombs, Canada’s first official Salvation Army leader, who purchased the site for $7,000. She noted how the original building, replaced in 1956, was built for $27,000—a far cry from what the property is worth today. Referring to three words on the facade of a nearby bookstore, the commissioner credited the “imagination, creativity and inspiration” of those early-day Army pioneers, and challenged her listeners to continue in their footsteps today.
Major Malcolm Robinson, divisional commander, Ontario Central Division, praised the ministry of the Toronto Temple Corps, who shared the headquarters building and ministered to the surrounding community for 109 years. Susan Allen, general manager of the Toronto Eaton Centre, recalled how the Army was given special accommodation when the mall opened in 1977, and expressed her delight in working with Heritage Toronto to acknowledge the history of the site for future generations.
Following the unveiling, an ensemble from the Ontario Central Reservist Band played a rousing rendition of O Boundless Salvation as those present took time to view the plaque and share their own memories from years gone by. With the help of the city, the plaque will receive a permanent place just outside the doors of the Eaton Centre where the headquarters building once stood. It will stand as a permanent reminder of The Salvation Army’s presence and ministry in this part of the city for many years to come.
by Major Ken Smith
Associate Editor, Salvationist