RSS

Tag Archives: Clarence Square Toronto

The Gordon House, Toronto’s lost mansion

c. 1900  pictures-r-5407[1]

The Gordon Mansion on Clarence Square (Toronto) in 1900. Toronto Public Library, r-5407

On the east side of Spadina Avenue, between Front and King Streets, there is a small green space named Clarence Square. During the early 19th century, it was part of the military reserve attached to Fort York. The square was laid out in the 1830s by British engineers to complement the lakeside promenade, a green area near the lake where citizens were able to enjoy strolling and picnicking during good weather. In those years, Lake Ontario was directly to the south of it. The shoreline was eventually pushed further south by dumping landfill into the harbour, so today, Clarence Square is isolated from the water. However, it remains a quiet retreat in the heart of the city, where mature trees provide shelter from the heat of the summer sun.

DSCN7044   s0372_ss0052_it0198[1]

Clarence Square in the spring of 2014 (left) and in 1913 (right). The right-hand photo is from Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, Item 0198.

Clarence Square is reminiscent of squares created in London, England during the 1820s. Referred to as Regency-style squares, they were generally enclosed on three sides by stylish homes, with one side facing a wide avenue. The green space within them was usually open to the public, although sometimes, particularly in Britain, it was private. Regent Square Gardens in central London is perhaps one of the best-known examples.

The design was promoted in Canada by amateur architects such as William Warren Baldwin. When Clarence Square was built, its counterpart in Toronto was Victoria Square (old Garrison Cemetery), on the west side of Spadina Avenue, at Portland Street. The squares were like bookends, with Wellington Place (now Wellington Street) in between. Wellington Place was viewed as an ideal site for grand mansions and stately homes as it was a wide tree-lined avenue. Clarence Square was nearby, so it too was deemed to be a prestigious location.

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,d9ZELueiA3KSO1iO_ewCkml0PeJizHUz6W0UeK-m2qdISirKk1La82OHEwHG6UwdPCYdcovLzM-R3CQasRmzlfLU1_bDPTsgayMwqIf[1].png

            Clarence Square, in today’s Fashion District, Toronto

Clarence Square received its name from the third son of King George III, Prince William Henry, born in 1765. In 1789, he was granted the title Duke of Clarence and St. Andrew’s. The Duke served in the Royal Navy and became Admiral of the Fleet in 1811. The Duke of Clarence ascended the throne as King William IV, and died on June 20, 1837. This was the decade when Clarence Square was created by the British troops from Fort York. William IV was succeeded on the throne by his niece, Elizabeth Victoria, and the Victorian era began.

Because of the location of Clarence Square, for a few years it was viewed as a possible site for a new Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor, Queen Victoria’s representative in the province. However, about the year 1853, the square was no longer considered suitable for this purpose, so the land surrounding it was opened for development. John Gordon purchased property near the southeast corner of the square, and about the year 1874 built a palatial mansion. Its postal address was 303 Clarence Square. Gordon was businessman, born in Scotland in 1828, who arrived in Canada with his family in 1841. He became a partner in a wholesale importing company, and later, the president of the Toronto, Bruce and Grey Railway.

Gordon chose the architect John Browne to design his 2 1/2-storey residence. Browne decided on the Italianate style, with ornate trim and intricate classical detailing. The pediment on the north facade contained two gables. The heavy cornice below the roof was supported by large scrolled brackets (modillions). In the centre of the roof, at the summit, was  a structure referred to as a monitor, with its own roof that was parallel to the roof line of the house. The monitor contained windows that illuminated the central staircase located directly beneath it. The porch had two sets of narrow double columns, with arches above them, the columns supporting an impressive roof. The east and west facades of the house possessed rounded extensions with windows that allowed extra light into the interior, similar to the bay windows in Toronto’s Bay and Gable homes.

The mansion, near the southeast corner of the square, was an impressive sight. Its location added to its appeal since the mature trees and gardens in the square, as well as the ornate fountain in the square’s centre, created a setting that was almost rural, yet near the heart of the city.

Gordon lived in his mansion until 1879, when he departed Toronto to take up residency in Paris, France, where he died in 1882. He had retained ownership of the house while abroad, but after his death it was offered for sale. It remained empty for two years before it was purchased by his brother-in-law William Mortimer Clark. Clark maintained it as his residence until 1903. In that year he was appointed lieutenant governor of Ontario and moved to Government House at Simcoe Street and King Street West. When his term as lieutenant governor ended in 1908, he returned to his home on Clarence Square and lived there until 1912.

By this year, the area was no longer deemed prestigious due to the construction of CPR railway sidings on the land to the south of Front Street. In 1913, the Steele Briggs Seed Company purchased the property, demolished the house and erected a large warehouse on the site. 

TRL,   c. 1900  pictures-r-6486[1]

The Gordon House on Clarence Square c. 1900 (Toronto Public Library r-6486)

drawing room  pictures-r-6491[1] 

The drawing room in the Gordon House in 1912 (Toronto Public Library r-6489). The rounded shape from the exterior extensions provides extra depth and added light during daylight hours. The ornate plaster designs on the ceiling add dignity to a room that was already impressive. The large mirror above the marble mantel of the fireplace reflects the intricacy of the patterns on the ceiling

drawing room, 1912,  pictures-r-6490[1]

Drawing room in 1912, the year William Mortimer Clark departed the property. Toronto Public Library r- 6490

dining rom, 1912  pictures-r-6489[1]

Dining room of the Gordon home in 1912, Toronto Public Library, r-6489

drawing room, 1912  pictures-r-6488[1]

      Dining room in 1912, Toronto Public Library, r-6488

library. 1912  pictures-r-6493[1]

The library in the Gordon mansion in 1912, Toronto Public Library r- 6493

The north facade of the Steele Briggs Warehouse at 49 Spadina Avenue, which is today on the south side of Clarence Square, where the Gordon mansion once stood.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

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.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852_thumb

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

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)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

History of Toronto – Clarence Square on Spadina south of King St. W

DSCN7044

The land occupied by Clarence Square was at one time a part of the military reserve attached to Fort York. It was laid out in the 1830s by British engineers to form an important part of a lakeside promenade. During those years, the shoreline of Lake Ontario was on the south side of Front Street, but in the years ahead landfill pushed the lake farther south. Today Clarence Square is isolated from the water, but remains a small charming park, its giant trees providing a quiet retreat in the heart of the city, secluded from the heat of the summer sun.

It is reminiscent of squares created in London, England, during the 1820s. These Regency-style squares possessed wide avenues, with vistas terminating in large spaces that were open to the public. Regent Street in central London is perhaps the best known example. The design was later promoted in Canada by amateur architects such as William Warren Baldwin.

Several sources I consulted stated that Clarence Square was named after Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence (1864-1892) eldest son of Edward VII. However, the name Clarence Square appears on the city maps of the 1850s, before Albert Victor was born. It is more likely that the square received its name from the third son of King George III, Prince William Henry, born in 1765. In 1789, he was granted the title Duke of Clarence and St. Andrew’s. The Duke served in the Royal Navy and became Admiral of the Fleet in 1811.

he Duke of Clarence ascended the throne as King William IV, and died on June 20, 1837. This was the decade when Clarence Square was created by the British troops from Fort York, and it was likely named in his honour. William IV was succeeded on the throne by his niece, Elizabeth Victoria, and the Victorian era was born.

Most sources that record the history of Clarence Square and Wellington Place (now Wellington St. West) offer the opinion that they fell short of their potential and never developed as they were envisioned. However, examining old maps of the city, it seems that this is not truly accurate. Mansions and estates did indeed appear on Wellington Place, lining both sides of the avenue. These grand homes were surrounded by spacious grounds and ornate gardens. Unfortunately, they were destroyed in the twentieth century during the street’s transition from residential to industrial/commercial.

The same is true for Clarence Square. Two of the grandest houses ever constructed in Toronto were situated on the square. On the north side at number 304 was the home of Hugh John Macdonald, son of Sir John A. Macdonald, the nation’s first prime minister.

On the south side of the square at number 303 was the residence of John Gordon, a magnificent mansion in the detailed Italianate style. Gordon was a very wealthy man who had acquired a fortune importing dry goods. He became the president of the Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway. These two houses had sufficient space surrounding them that it was not possible to build more houses on the square. In the centre of the square was an ornate fountain. It was truly a prestigious area during those years.

The extensive land owned by John Gordon, to the south of his residence, was purchased by the railway to allow train tracks to be laid on the south side of Front Street. Within a year or two, because of the noise and soot of the steam engines, Clarence Square was no longer viewed as a desirable residential location, so the house was sold and eventually demolished.

Macdonald’s home, on the north side of the square, disappeared in the late 1870s and in its place row houses was built, in the Second Empire style. The bricks of these historic residences are today hidden beneath grey stucco. Most of them are now offices.

It is a pity that there is no historic plaque to commemorate the history of the square. The plaque that exists in the northwest corner honours Alexander Dunn, who in 1854 was the first Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross. There is a plan to redevelop this old square, and perhaps this deficiency will then be corrected.

The above information is from the book, “The Villages Within,” short listed for the Toronto Heritage Awards.

s0372_ss0052_it0198[1]

                Clarence Square, 14 October 1913 – City of Toronto Archives

DSCN7043

    Row houses from the 1880s on north side of Clarence Square (May, 2012)

DSCN7053

                      Mature trees in Clarence Square today

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous posts about movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its heritage buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                           cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

                To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

      Theatres Included in the Book

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

 

Tags: ,