Tuesday, January 21, 2014

# 42 ~ Toronto's Early Viceregal Homes, Then and Now

These days, Toronto is a pretty modern urban centre.  The last decade has seen some very contemporary architectural alterations to some of our most celebrated landmarks.  The Art Gallery of Ontario, which actually grew out of a home constructed in 1817, got a face lift by Toronto born architect Frank Gehry.  The Royal Ontario Museum got a similar treatment at the hands of Daniel Libeskind.  For a generation, at least, we've been constructing soaring towers of glass and steel that have changed our skyline dramatically.
The fact that we've lost so many graceful old buildings around the city is something that is much lamented by those of us that are more heritage minded.  It's a story that many are aware of.  Beginning in the early 1960s, the bulldozes swept through Toronto for about a decade.  Many old theatres, banks, public buildings and homes were buried under concrete.  Modernism was the goal of the day, and any old façade that was considered even slightly threadbare was at risk of being sacrificed to the new gods of concrete splendour.  Most would agree that the altar to this modernism is our "New" City Hall.  Officially opened in 1965, and replacing that great late Victorian building next door as city hall (which had itself been "new" in 1899), the "Soviet Chic" architectural style of the building is a testimony to the love of concrete that our urban planners must have had, fifty years ago.
THEN : Opening night celebrations for Toronto's City Hall, in 1965.
So many of Toronto's old buildings were destroyed that the list would provide hundreds of websites with thousands of articles.  Most of them were lamentable, and the contemplation of lost grace and wonder would just break your heart.  But, here in the fourth largest city (by population) in North America, we once had a series of viceregal homes that were set aside to house none other than the Imperial representative sent out to govern us.  In the last eighty years, the role of the Crown in Canada has been gradually muted.  It has also become increasingly misunderstood.  Despite the fact that, for many, any references to the Crown seem to hearken back to some long lost colonial era, Canada does remain a constitutional Monarchy, complete separate and devoid of any ties to the British government.  To some, this is an essential part of Canadian identity.  To others, the Crown is an anachronism to be done away with.  Say what you will, but the Crown and its representatives have left us with plenty of interesting history scattered throughout the country.
When Ontario was established as the Province of Upper Canada, all the way back in 1791, there was a provision that the province would provide a residence for whomever was currently serving as lieutenant governor at any given time.  These viceregal residences were each known as "Government House" while they stood in operation.  There were several in the province's history, until the tradition was obliterated nearly 80 years ago. 
Since Government House was, by definition, simply wherever the lieutenant governor happened to live, its earliest forms in Ontario were pretty basic.  John Graves Simcoe occupied a variety of homes during his term as our first lieutenant governor.  These included one of the buildings at Navy Hall, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the canvas tent in which he lived when he established York in 1793.
THEN : A man who needs little introduction, John Graves Simcoe.  As the first lieutenant governor of the newly created Province of Upper Canada, he began many legacies here.  One of them was the use of a viceregal residence, or "Government House".

When Simcoe returned to England in 1796, Peter Russell became the provincial administrator, but was never given the full title of lieutenant governor.  Simcoe's official replacement was Peter Hunter, who became lieutenant governor in 1799.  Hunter would have lived in the viceregal home that was built in 1800, on the grounds of Fort York.  It was a single storey building, built in a "U" shape.  Viceroys who lived in this Government House included Peter Hunter, Alexander Grant, Francis Gore, Sir Isaac Brock, and Roger Hale Sheaffe.  It would have been Sheaffe's official residence when it was destroyed during the American invasion of York in April of 1813.
THEN : A sketch of the Government House, or viceregal residence, that once stood on the grounds of the garrison at York.  It was destroyed in the American invasion of April, 1813.

THEN : A sketched floor plan of the viceregal residence built at the garrison at York.
Following the War of 1812, Elmsley House was purchased by the government and used as the next Government House.  Elmsley House was built in 1798 at the southwest corner of King and Simcoe streets.  Originally, it was the home of Chief Justice and Speaker of the House, John Elmsley.  As Elmsley was a government official, his residence was "fair game" during the American invasion of York.  American troops plundered and damaged the home, but not to the point of rendering it uninhabitable.  For many years after it became Government House, the residence was still known by the name of its former owner, with correspondence from the lieutenant-governor typically dated from "Elmsley Housse".

Elmsley House served as the colony's Government House from 1815 until 1841, and then intermittently from 1841 until 1858, during those times that Toronto served as the capital of the Province of Canada.  This was the period in which the capital moved between Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Kingston, before finally settling in Ottawa.
THEN : A painting of Elmsley House, which stood at the southwest corner of King and Simcoe streets, from 1798 to 1862.

THEN : Party at the viceregal palace ~ celebrations for Queen Victoria's birthday on the front lawn of Elmsley House in 1854. 
Another brief intermission to the use of Elmsley House as the viceregal residence came between 1849 and 1851, when Lord Elgin, the Governor General of the Province of Canada, lived in the similarly named Elmsley Villa.  This villa, which stood at the corner of present day Bay and Grosvenor streets, was also a home for John Elmsley.  The villa was built in 1837, and was eventually donated to serve as a home for Knox College.  It served as such from 1855 until 1875, when it was demolished.  Emlsely House, on King Street, was destroyed by fire in 1862, leading to the search for a new residence suitable enough to house a viceregal governor. 
THEN : Elmsley Villa, Bay and Grosvenor streets.
Four years after Elmsley House was destroyed by fire, plans were drawn up to build a new Government House on the same location.  Construction began in 1868, and in 1870, a new three storey home, built in the Second Empire Style, was completed.  The house featured a tower, steeply sloped mansard roofs, and large windows.  The main entrance and carriage porch faced Simcoe Street, while the first floor drawing room and the state bedrooms on the second floor looked out over a landscaped garden towards Lake Ontario.

THEN : Ontario's first grand Government House, built at the southwest corner of King and Simcoe streets and opened in 1870.

THEN : The southern exterior of Government House, showing the conservatory in the foreground and the southern tower of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in the background.

THEN : Lord Grey, the Governor General of Canada (seated at centre), and his wife, Lady Grey, visiting Sir Mortimer Clark (seated next to Lord Grey), the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, at Government House in 1905.

THEN : This photograph from 1901 shows a Royal Visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York.  Less than a decade later, they would ascend to the throne as Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary.  They are standing at far right in this photograph.  The Lieutenant Governor, Sir Oliver Mowat, is seated on the stairs at the centre of the photograph.

In the Autumn of 1901, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on York paid a Royal Visit to Canada, stopping in Toronto.  Engagements included attending a show at Massey Hall, and unveiling the Alexandra Gates, which originally stood at Avenue Road and Bloor Street but have since been moved to the top of Philosopher's Walk.  In 1910, the Duke and Duchess became King George V and Queen Mary.  It is profoundly lamentable that there is no centrally located official building, residential or otherwise, to host such grand diplomatic events in Ontario's capital today.  Official visitors to Toronto come from around the world and are whisked away from location to location.  There is no single established where they can mingle with the people of Ontario, or be seen to do so.

THEN : These two photographs, above, show the main staircase and front hall at the main entrance to Government House, located on the eastern end of the building, at Simcoe Street.  One can imagine being greeted by such splendour and how highly an invitation to a viceregal reception must have been sought after.

THEN : The dining facilities within the conservatory.
THEN : Another view of the Drawing Room.
THEN : The Morning Room, on the upstairs level of the house.  While the drawing room would be used for receiving visitors and serving afternoon tea, the morning room would be used for morning meetings or luncheon.  Usually, a drawing room and a morning room would be on opposite ends of the house, to take advantage of natural daylight.  So, the morning room faced east and the drawing room faced west.

THEN : The viceregal bedroom, located upstairs.

THEN : Above, two photographs of the lieutenant governor's office.
THEN : The dining room at Government House.  The walls were lined with portraits of past lieutenant governors and provincial administrators.  Many of these images have become iconic to those who study our provincial past, and many of the same portraits now hang in the hallways of the legislative assembly at Queen's Park.

Only a few decades after this Government House opened in 1870, the development of railways and industry in the surrounding area prompted the provincial government to search for a more gentile location for Government House.  The house was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1912 and demolished in 1915.  It's an unspeakable tragedy that this mansion, which was purpose built to house Ontario's representative of the King or Queen, and to entertain diplomats from across the world as well as the leaders of business, industry, culture and education here at home, didn't even last to see fifty years.  Instead, it fell victim to the industrial urban sprawl that had spread around it.
THEN : In this photography you can see the rise of the industry area that soon swamped Government House, looming in the background like some malevolent, untidy shadow.  As Government House fell prey to the industrialization of the local neighbourhood, it was deemed more and more unworthy, until it was finally demolished in 1915.  It ceased to exist after only a scant 45 years.

THEN : This photography from 1911 shows one of the last garden parties held on the front lawn of Government House.  The estate would close the next year.

THEN : This dinner party was held on April 29, 1912.  It was the last state dinner to be held at this Government House, before it was demolished.
NOW : Today, Roy Thomson Hall stands on the site formerly occupied by both Elmsley House, and then, the Government House that stood here from 1870 to 1915.
After the King Street Government House was closed, and while the government sought out a location to build a new home, a temporary solution was found by leasing a house at 33 St. George Street, just north of College Street. This house served as Government House for only three years, from the 1912 closure of the old residence, until a new one was completed in 1915. 

This St. George Street estate was dubbed "Pendarves" by its original owner, Frederick William Cumberland, although today it is more commonly known as "Cumberland House".  Cumberland was a senior partner in the renowned Toronto architectural firm of Cumberland & Storm.  He designed the home himself, and it was completed in 1860.  The Italianate style villa faced east, towards the University of Toronto campus.  When he moved into this house, Cumberland had just completed his work as principal architect for University College, which is now one of the oldest surviving buildings on the campus. 


THEN : "Pemdarves", or Cumberland House, 33 St. George Street.

Although it was only meant to be used as a temporary home for Government House, Cumberland House did serve for a few years as another link in the chain of viceregal residences, dating back to those basic barracks that housed Simcoe in the last decade of the 18th century.

THEN : Ontario's Lieutenant Governor, Sir John Morison Gibson, with American President William Howard Taft, on the steps of the St. George Street Government House in 1912.

Cumberland died in 1881, and his home was substantially redesigned in 1883 by his old partner, William Storm.  After the home's tenure as Government House, from 1912 until 1915, the house was eventually bought up by the University of Toronto, in 1923.  It now serves as the University's International Students Centre.

NOW : Cumberland House today, as the University of Toronto's International Student Centre.
The location for a new Government House was finally secured in Toronto's Rosedale neighbourhood.  A new house called "Chorley Park" was constructed between 1911 and 1915.  This new home would outshine even the old Government House at King and Simcoe streets, and bring all the Continental architectural styles of Versailles or Paris to early 20th Century Toronto.  It would go on to become one of  the most beautiful - and one of the most notoriously and tragically lost - old estates of Toronto.
But perhaps I will wait and give it is own article, in a "Part Two", coming up next.



  1. Hi
    Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interesting.dave burke

  2. So sad that so many historical buildings were demolished :(

  3. I suspect your reference to "Know College" is a typo for Knox College.

  4. Thanks Andy, just corrected it.