Edmund Burke

Plot S, Lot DS
Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Born in Toronto on October 31, 1850, Edmund Burke’s father, William Burke, was a local lumber merchant and builder who founded Burke, Smith & Co in 1850 (ceased operations 1967) that supplied timber to build important structures in Toronto like the Crystal Palace at the Provincial Exhibition Grounds and Gooderham and Worts Distillery. His mother, Sarah Langley, was sister to architect Henry Langley, with whom Burke later trained. Burke attended Jesse Ketchum School, Upper Canada College and Toronto Mechanics’ Institute before apprenticing as an architect with his maternal uncle and forming the firm Langley and Burke in 1873. Burke contributed to Canadian architecture in three ways. He was instrumental in founding regulatory organisations, which led to legal recognition of professional status for Canada’s architects, by codifying standards of practice and education. He proposed the resolution that established the Ontario Association of Architects in 1889, he then served as president in 1894 and 1905-07. Later, he was among those who constituted the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, to which he was elected as one of the regional vice-presidents in 1908. Burke also introduced new vocabularies and technologies then current in the United States, to the practice of architecture in Canada. His Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto (1874-75), was an early exploration of the church amphitheatre based on American models, a plan-type which became common across the country in the last two decades of the 19th century. Similarly, Burke’s Robert Simpson store, Toronto 1894 (destroyed and rebuilt 1895), was a notable early study in curtain-wall construction in Canada. The latter was the benchmark for retail department stores across the country in the decades to follow. Finally, Burke was active in urban planning initiatives for the city of Toronto in the opening years of the 20th century. He served on a number of committees established by the Ontario Association of Architects and Toronto’s Guild of Civic Art, and designed the architectural portion of the Bloor Viaduct (1915-17), in collaboration with the city engineer’s office in Toronto. Burke apprenticed with his uncle, Toronto architect Henry Langley, and later became Langley’s design partner, before purchasing the practice of the late William George Storm in 1892. After two years as a sole practitioner Burke took John Batstone Horwood, a former student of the Langley office, into partnership. Another Langley student, Murray White, later joined them. Most of Burke’s professional career was in Toronto and he lived a little more than a decade after his uncle’s death. Burke died in the city on January 2, 1919 at the age of 68, and was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where he had designed the mortuary chapel in 1893.

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