Home on the Grange

If you’ve read this post here at the Hogtown Crier, you know that once the land for the city of Toronto was “purchased,” it was surveyed by one John Graves Simcoe in 1793. Soon after, he went about dividing the area north of the city limits into park lots, which were narrow, 100 acre lots going from Lot St (now Queen St) up to what is now Bloor St. Those park lots were then granted to some elite, land-owning white men, who could do with them as they pleased. A few years later, in a case that smells a little bit like some mild nepotism, a young man named D’arcy Boulton Jr. bought one of those park lots for 350 pounds (roughly equivalent to about $9000 in today’s money). Let me say that again. 100 acres from Queen to Bloor. 350 pounds. Really makes me want to take out a loan and buy up some real estate in a really remote area, and just sit there hoping a huge city will grow around me. This guy Boulton Jr. was just 23 when he made the purchase, and was able to retired from merchanting at the ripe age of 37 to be a full-time landowner, a truly 19th century profession.

D’arcy and his wife Sarah Ann built a house on their 100 acres in 1817, and not just any house. They built a giant Georgian manor for them and their soon-to-be-8 kids. I couldn’t find out exactly why it was named The Grange (though it was commonplace to name your house at that time), but my guess is that there was some familial association, given the Boultons had very recently come from England, and there are a number of places/buildings called “Grange” back in the motherland, close to where D’arcy’s ancestors lived.

“Oh good show, Harriet! Excellent shot! Your croquet game is on point!” “Why William, I do believe we have guests!” “So we do! Jeeves, put down your old-timey lawnmower and help our esteemed visitors!” (Typical life at The Grange in 1867)
The Grange. - 1909
The house as it stood in 1909. It looks a little different that it would have when it was built in 1817, but not any less stately, I assure you!

The house had a couple additions and renovations in the 1840s, mostly to accommodate the rising political activity of the eldest son, William Henry Boulton, who was “elected” mayor of Toronto three times (dude needed more office space and a meeting hall in case his aldermen buddies wanted to come over). In addition to being super fancy looking and being surrounded by beautiful grounds, The Grange boasted a glass conservatory that was renowned for its excellent botanical selection. Actually, William Boulton won a bunch of prizes at the 1844 Toronto Horticultural Society Show. William Boulton was a celebrated (and also maligned) politician, but unfortunately was in rather dire financial straits by the time he died. He had married Harriet Dixon, who came from a super wealthy family, and during his life had transferred ownership of The Grange to her.

The entrance to The Grange – at the head of John St. Circa 1913.
View from The Grange! Circa 1920

The Sage of the Grange

In 1875, a year after William Boulton passed away, Harriet married Goldwin Smith, who became a bit of a legend as a resident of the Grange. He had gone to Oxford, apparently he tutored King Edward when Eddie was a kid, he had been a fellow at University College in London, taught at Cornell, and was well known for his publications and his letter-writing, as well as his strong stance on a number of hot button issues of the day. He had all sorts of interesting and thoroughly antiquated ideas (some even antiquated by his time!) about a whole range of subjects; anti-colonialism, capitalism, labour & unions, denying women suffrage, and the superiority of Anglo-Saxons, among many others.  One of his most infamous works was a book entitled “Canada and the Canadian question,” in which he passionately delineated why Canada simply could and should not be a nation because it “lacked cultural homogeneity.” Simply put, he claimed, “Canadian Nationality [was] a lost cause.”

Grumpy fringe politics aside, Goldwin Smith was mostly beloved by the community.  While him and his wife were there, The Grange was host to a whole bunch of important visitors to Toronto, including ambassadors, and his good friend, the University President of Cornell. The Grange grounds were also well-used – Harriet Smith also hosted lots of parties and encouraged the use of the grounds by the local church, for community events, and also for lectures and art classes for children. Goldwin was influential in the development and expansion of the University of Toronto, and was a strong supporter of the arts in the city.

Grange 1923
Kids hanging out on The Grange Grounds on fall afternoon in 1923.

Not so long AGO

At the beginning of the 1900s, Harriet and Goldwin Smith partnered with George Reid and his buddies at the Ontario Society of Artists , who wanted to get a legit art gallery going in Toronto. Unfortunately Harriet passed away in 1909, and in her will she said this:

“From and after the death of my husband … I give, devise, and bequeath my said residence and grounds and the other lands hereinbefore described unto “The Art Museum of Toronto” and their successors, in fee simple, for the purpose of an Art Gallery and Art Museum, and for the purposes of the said ‘The Art Museum of Toronto’ … provided, nevertheless, that the said ‘The Art Museum of Toronto’ or their successors shall not have power, directly or indirectly, to alienate, mortgage, hypothecate, or pledge the said lands and premises.” [The Globe, Oct 14, 1909]

And with that airtight legalese, the plans for the Art Gallery of Ontario were born. The upper floor of the house at the Grange was used as the Art Gallery of Toronto starting in 1919, and used as the classrooms for the Central Ontario School for Art and Design even earlier than that. That school became the Ontario College of Art, which became The Ontario College of Art & Design, which is now technically OCAD University.  OCAD moved over  to McCaul Street, just beside The Grange, and more additions in the 20s and 70s were added to and around the original Grange building. In 1966, it was renamed Art Gallery of Ontario.

Harriet Smith and her dog (cat?) in 1895. She may not have gotten a cool nickname, but she’s the real hero of this story.
Life drawing class at the Ontario School of Arts inside the Grange in 1911

Circling back for a second to Goldwin Smith (who really was called “The Sage of The Grange,” I guess for his penchant for intellectual discussion and also for his white hair), he died a year after his wife, in 1910. Here’s a quote from a newspaper a few years before his death that I think typifies his relationship with those in the political & journalism scene:

“Dr. Smith holds opinions that are distasteful to the majority of us, but to conclude from that fact that he has had no influence in Canada is to show a woeful lack of discrimination” [The Globe, Oct. 24th, 1904]

If you’re looking for a name for the tone of that quote, I think I would go with “begrudgingly reverent.” Goldwin Smith actually still has a hall named after him at Cornell.

Professor Goldwin Smith in his study at The Grange. - [ca. 1909]
One of the last portraits of Goldwin Smith in his study at The Grange. Man…dude may be a curmudgeon, but he just looks downright sad here.

Grange park still exists, and you are more than welcome to sit on a bench and imagine you’re part of the 19th century Torontonian gentry. Or that you’re taking an outdoor art class. The original Grange building has been revitalized, and is now integrated with the much bigger, modern building of the AGO.

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