History of DX


Design Exchange opened in the autumn of 1994, but its origins are rooted in the 1980s. At that time, the design community was concerned regarding a lack of support for design on the part of the Canadian government and cultural institutions. This belief was underlined by the closing of the federal agency, Design Canada, in 1985, followed by the University of Toronto's announcement in 1986 that it intended to close its school of architecture (fortunately this was soon rescinded).

In 1983 the Toronto Stock Exchange had abandoned its historic home of the last 46 years at 234 Bay Street. Olympic & York (O&Y) purchased the building which was designated a heritage property. In return for the air rights to build an office tower on the site, O&Y agreed to retain and restore the building. O&Y also commissioned a study to consider the idea of using the trading floor as a public facility.

The study indicated that Toronto designers from all disciplines represented an enthusiastic audience for a cultural design centre. Indeed designers were quick to lobby City Hall in support of the initiative. Their first gathering in January 1986 was a standing-room-only event. City officials were so impressed by this response that they immediately recognized a body of ten citizens as the "The Group for the Creation of a Design Centre in Toronto" (incorporated on February 6, 1987 and hence the birth of the organization which came to be known as Design Exchange).

This citizens' group included:
+ Linda Lewis, Ryerson University (as of 2003, Prof. Lewis is still an active member of 
   DX Board and its Permanent Collection Committee)

+ Dr. Earl Berger of Environics
+ Alison Hymas of ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario)
+ Lee Jacobsen of AREA Design
+ Robert Jekyll of Visual Arts Ontario
+ Keith Muller of Keith Muller Ltd.
+ Alison Parsons of the Ontario Crafts Council
+ Tiit Telmet of Telmet Design Associates
+ Vincent Tovell of the Canadian Society of Decorative Arts; and freelance curator
+ Virginia Wright, curator

This citizens' group persuaded the City to hold another feasibility study which concluded that a design centre in the old Toronto Stock Exchange "was both possible and desirable." [Lord Cultural Resources Planning and Management Inc., "Design Centre Feasibility Study" (Toronto: report prepared for City of Toronto Economic Development Committee, 1987)].

In 1986, O&Y sold the old stock exchange property to Cadillac Fairview and The Toronto Dominion Bank (Toronto-Dominion Centre West Limited). The sale was conditional on the design centre concept being retained. The new owner was also required to provide $500,000 to the City for 25 years, which would in turn would be passed along (minus a 10% holdback) onto the design centre to offset operating costs. This agreement, in effect, gave Design Exchange operating rights in the historic building.

In 1988 the design centre was named Design Exchange and the original citizens' group was made the founding board. The group established a Board of Management (which included the founding board and citizens and a couple of city counselors). Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects was commissioned to renovate and enlarge the non-heritage-designated spaces (exhibition spaces, administrative office space, the resource centre and meeting rooms).

In 1988 Design Exchange (The Group for the Creation of a Design Centre in Toronto) began a capital campaign drive aimed at both the private and public sectors. All three levels of government sent signals that they were not interested in funding another museum. In 1993, after years of arduous lobbying, the federal and provincial governments finally confirmed funding for capital expenses in the sum of $6.3 million. Design Exchange was now viewed by all levels of government as a component of Canada's economic recovery and renewal. In 1994 The Group for the Creation of a Design Centre in Toronto became the sub-tenant with a long-term lease (December 1, 1994 – May 30, 2001).

On September 21, 1994 the Design Exchange was officially opened by Prime Minster, The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien. The mandate for a permanent collection was established in 1996: to collect the best Canadian materials designed since 1945. Today the collection has over 450 industrial design objects and over one thousand paper archives and continues to grow. Design Exchange has mounted over 300 exhibitions, organized numerous seminars, lectures, international conferences and educational programs and publications stimulating the debate over the role played by design in culture, industry and business. In addition, the organization runs the only national design awards program in the country, which receives hundreds of entries from all design disciplines. In recent years, Design Exchange has published various design books and has worked closely with Industry Canada and other government branches to research, inform and implement a Canadian Design Policy Initiative.


Founding Partners


Design Exchange was the product of collaboration between a number of individuals who were passionate about the important legacy of Canadian design. The role that design played in the Canadian economy was an important one, yet the feeling was that the public was not aware of the contribution made by design. The group worked with designers, industry and government to develop the concept of Design Exchange as a museum, as an educational and research centre and as an organization that understood the contribution that design makes to business's competitive edge. The following is a list of the Founding Board, and Founding Partners and Associates whose time and financial support has enabled Design Exchange to expand on their vision and make a difference in the world of design.


Alison Hymas
Alison I. Parsons
Bradley A. Dalgleish
Dr. Earl H. Berger
Dr. Brian Segal
Edmund C. Bovey, Q.C.
George F. Plummer
Keith N. Muller
Lee Gary Jacobson
Linda Lewis Founding President
Robert G. Jekyll
Tiit Telmet
Vincent M. Tovel
Virginia M. Wright


Apple Canada Inc.
William and Nona Heaslip


Bell Canada
Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited
Canon Canada Inc.
Clarice Chalmers
Cott Corporation
Gardiner, Roberts
Gordon Capital Corporation
Inco Limited
King Products Limited
Northern Telecom Limited
Steelcase Canada Ltd.
Steelcase Design Partnership
Teknion Furniture Systems Limited
The Toronto Dominion Bank


Dover Corporation (Canada) Inc.
Hussey Seating Company (Canada) Inc.
The Jackman Foundation
The Henry White Kinnear Foundation
The McLean Foundation


Thomas Bjarnason
Bombardier Inc
Bunting Warburg Inc
Camco Inc
Colour Your World
Engle Canada
First Canada Securities International Limtied
Global Upholstery Co Inc
Harry Rosen Inc
Interior Dimensions
Kraft General Foods Canada Inc
Kuwabara Payne McKennaBlumberg Architects
Keith Muller
Oshawa Foods
Price Waterhouse
Richardson Greenshields of Canada Limited
Roots Canada
Sayers & Associates
ScotiaMcLeod Inc
Spar Aerospace
Toronto Life Fashion
Transport Canada



Design Exchange currently receives an annual operating grant from the City of Toronto, this grant was awarded in 2015.

From time to time, DX is also fortunate to receive project assistance. The following represent those partners who have provided us with support over the years.

City of Toronto Economic Development
City of Toronto Better Building Partnerships
Toronto Arts Council
Ontario Arts Council
Ministry of Culture
Ministry of Citizenship & Immigration
Ministry of Economic Development & Trade
Department of Canadian Heritage
Canada Council for the Arts
Telefilm Canada
Industry Canada
Ontario Media Development Corporation
Natural Resources Canada
Human Resources Development

DX Headquarters is
located at 234 Bay Street, Toronto

Please note DX will be closed on May 20 for Victoria Day
Call 416.363.6121


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Design Exchange acknowledges the support of: