Holland House is one of Toronto’s lost mansions of the past. Built in 1831, it survived into the 20th century, but was demolished about the year 1905. The photograph below (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 3257) was taken from the roof of the Queen’s Hotel on Front Street, after the disastrous fire of 1904. Holland House is the castle-like structure in the centre of the photo, surrounded by the surviving walls of the buildings gutted by the fire. It was this photo that captured my interest in the lost mansion of Holland House. Because the entire site is today occupied by the Royal York Hotel, for the first time I was able to envision exactly where the mansion once stood. The far (north) side of the mansion was on today’s Wellington Street West.
Holland House hearkens back to the early days of Toronto’s history, when the town centred on the area around King Street East and Jarvis Street. The mansion was built by Henry John Boulton, born in 1790 in Little Holland House in Kensington, London. His family had close connections with the immensely wealthy Fox family, which resided in the larger and more palatial estate home of Holland House, constructed in the 1600s by the first Earl of Holland. By contrast, “Little” Holland House was a more modest structure, situated on the same estate. Henry John Boulton’s boyhood home was the inspiration for the name of the home that he was to build in later years in the town of York (Toronto).
About the year 1800, the family of Henry John Boulton immigrated to North America, settling in Renssekaer County, in the Hudson River Valley in New York State. Henry John was about 12 or 13 years of age at the time. In 1802, seeking better prospects for advancement, the family relocated o Upper Canada (Ontario), settling in Augusta Township in the eastern part of Upper Canada, near Ogdensburg. It is thought that he attended the school of John Strachan in Cornwall. His father petitioned the government for a land grant and received 200 acres, as well as an additional 200 acres for each of his three children. However, in 1804 Henry John Boulton’s father, a lawyer, was called to the bar and shortly after became part of the government of Sir Peregrine Maitland. The family now moved to the town of York.
Henry John Boulton was the second-oldest son in a family that eventually included eight children. At 17 years of age, he commenced studying law at York (Toronto). His education continued until 1811, when he journeyed to England for further studies. He returned to Upper Canada in 1816 and commenced practising law. He was readily accepted into prominent social circles and became a member of the influential group that became known as the Family Compact. In 1818 he was appointed the solicitor general and in 1829 became attorney general for the province.
Being financially secure, he purchased a large lot on the west side of Bay Street to construct a family home. The lot extended from Wellington Street to Front Street, an area that in the those years was considered suburban, as York was clustered around the east end of the harbour. Holland House was erected in 1831, in a style similar to the Grange, which his older brother had built in 1818. Both houses were Georgian in design, with plain symmetrical facades. Holland House faced Front Street, but was set back a distance from the roadway, possessing a circular carriageway with well-maintained gardens on either side. In that decade, the shoreline of the lake was on the south side of Front Street. During the years ahead, landfill pushed the water’s edge further south.
In 1832, Boulton contracted John G. Howard, who built Colborne Lodge in High Park, to implement extensive renovations to the mansion’s south facade, which faced the lake. Henry John Boulton was an admirer of the Regency style, becoming familiar with it during his student days in London. After his return to Canada, he kept in touch with the latest fashion trends in Britain, even his attire reflecting the style. Colborne Lodge in High Park and Dundurn Castle in Hamilton are two examples of the Regency style of architecture.
The term Regency refers to the styles that were popular during the early half of the 19th century. It began during the years 1811 to 1820, when Britain was under the “regency” of George, Prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. Regency architecture, extravagant and whimsical, was much favoured by the king-in-waiting. Regency’s height of popularity was between the years 1820-1860.
Regency architecture originated with Britain’s ex-colonial officials and military officers. When these men returned to England from warmer climates, they attempted to replicate the homes they had possessed during their privileged lifestyles abroad. Thus, motifs from the Far East and Middle East were favoured, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton an excellent example as it resembled an Indian palace. Symmetry was important, and those who built in this style sought locations with a commanding view of their surroundings. The location chosen for Holland House was typical, as it possessed an unobstructed and expansive view of Toronto Harbour.
Holland House in 1904, photo from the collection of the Toronto Public Library r-2100
John G. Howard renovated Holland House to resemble a small castle, adding a tower to the south facade that overlooked the garden. It appeared as if the tower were cylindrical, but its north side was embedded in the roof. The tower was topped with battlements, the second-floor level containing Gothic windows, and a rounded balcony with more battlements. The house was of brick, covered with stucco on which lines were etched to imitate stone blocks. Four pepper-pot chimneys, as Boulton referred to them, accommodated the large fireplaces within. The north side of Holland House was also altered. Because a new entrance was built on the east side, its facade was no longer symmetrical. During the renovations, a pedestrian gate and a carriage entrance were constructed on the west side of the mansion.
Boulton lived in the house for only two years, as he was removed from office by the colonial secretary for criticizing the British government. To clear his name and petition against the arbitrary decision, he journeyed to England. He was successful in his quest but it was little comfort, as his successor had already departed for Canada. Instead, Boulton was appointed chief justice for Newfoundland. He arrived in Newfoundland in 1833, but in 1838, he returned to Holland House in Upper Canada. Shortly afterward, he was elected to the legislature representing Norfolk, but remained in residence in his house.
It was around the year 1838 that Boulton sold a portion of his holdings on Front Street to Captain Thomas Dick, who erected four townhouses on the property. In the years ahead, Boulton sold more of his land to allow the townhouses to be converted into the Sword’s Hotel, which later became the Queen’s. Further land sales allowed the hotel to expand, and part of the garden of Holland House became the garden of the Queen’s.
People relaxing in the garden of the Queen’s Hotel in 1880. Holland House is visible in the background. In this photo, it almost resembles Windsor Castle in Britain. Toronto Public Library, r-6689.
A watercolour of the north facade of Holland House c. 1890. Toronto Public Library, r-2122
The north facade of Holland House in 1890, Toronto Public Library r-2122
As Holland House became increasingly isolated from Front Street, its north side on Wellington Street became its main entrance. Land surrounding the house was sold and warehouses erected on the properties. The land sales and investments allowed Boulton to live comfortably in his retirement. He died in 1870 and the house was sold to Alexander Manning, a Toronto alderman. In 1872, the Earl and Countess of Dufferin resided in the home for a few weeks and entertained lavishly. The house was later occupied by the Ontario Reform Club.
Holland House was not damaged during the Great Fire of 1904, but during the reconstruction of the area it was demolished. Warehouses were built on the site.
The north facade of Holland House on Wellington Street in 1885. The large pepper-pot chimneys are visible on its east side. The chimneys resemble defensive structure built on Spanish fortifications in the 16th and 17th centuries. Toronto Public Library, r-6761
Sketch of the north facade of Holland House, dated 1912, depicting the entrance of the left (east side) and a carriageway on the right (west side). Toronto Public Library, r-2123.
Watercolour dated 1912, Toronto Public Library, r-2129
The address where Holland House was located is today 61 Wellington Street West.
I am grateful to the following sources for information for this post:
“Toronto of Old,” Henry Scadding, Toronto Oxford University Press, Toronto, published 1873
“The Ancestral Roof, Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada,” Marion MacRae and Anthony Adamson, Clark Irwin and Company, Toronto, 1963
“Toronto, Romance of a Great City,”Katherine Hale, Cassell and Company Toronto, 1956
“Toronto, No Mean City,” Eric Arthur, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1964.
Lost Toronto,” William Dendy, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1978
To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.com/
A link to view previous posts about the movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern.
A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:
The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
To place an order for this book:
Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)
Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.
A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016.