When the Temple Building went up in 1895, it was among Toronto’s first skyscrapers. The ten-storey Romanesque Revival building dominated the skyline until 1905. In the Temple Building’s spectacular lobby stood a life-sized bronze statue of the man responsible for its creation, Oronhyatekha (pronounced oron-ya-TEK-a), Supreme Chief Ranger of the International Order of Foresters.
Born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Oronhyatekha (baptised Peter Martin) saw his life change at the age of 19. He was chosen to make a speech welcoming the Prince of Wales to the reserve. The prince was so impressed that he arranged for Oronhyatekha to study at Oxford. When Oronhyatekha returned to Canada, he earned a medical degree, the first by an Aboriginal Canadian, and entered practice.
But he set his sights even higher. An extraordinary individual who surmounted the commonplace racial barriers of his time, he joined the Orange Order, the Masons and other societies and then, in 1878, the International Order of Foresters - an organization for white males only - and his life’s work truly began. He soon became Supreme Chief Ranger and took the Foresters from near-bankruptcy to the leading fraternal society in North America. A tireless promoter of fraternalism, Oronhyatekha travelled the world, meeting heads of state and captivating audiences.
The Temple Building was demolished in 1970, after it had become too small for the ambitions of Bay Street. Parts of its exterior sit in the Guild of All Arts grounds. The statue of Oronhyatekha resides in the Foresters’ new headquarters in Don Mills.
By Dennis Smith