The Grange: Vintage Photos of a Toronto House with a History in Art

December 4, 2020 | lfeesey

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The Grange was just another manor for Toronto's elite until 1911. It then became the property of the Toronto Art Society — home of the future Art Museum of Toronto, renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in 1965.

Let's look back at the history of The Grange with photos from Digital Archive Ontario, our database of over 170,000 historical photos, maps, artwork and more from Toronto Public Library's collections.

Large ivy covered mansion with men and women playing lawn sports on front yard
The Grange, 1867. From our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.


Early history of the property

The Grange was built on a 100-acre lot purchased by D'Arcy Boulton Jr., lawyer and merchant, and son of the Solicitor General of Upper Canada. It was completed in 1817 and involved clearing what was then viewed as untamed wilderness far from the centre of town. The property included Grange Road which opened onto a large park with the mansion at its north end.

The brick house was 4,800 square feet over two floors. Its symmetry reflects a Georgian sense of balance. The front door opens onto a central hall with the dining room on the left and a drawing room on the right. At the back of the first floor and on the second floor were bedrooms for the family. There were also four rooms in the attic for servants. The original kitchen, pantry and scullery can still be found in the basement. 

Vintage photo of large manor with large front yard
The Grange, 1885. From our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.


The northern portion of the property was sold in 1828 to Bishop Strachan for King's College, an Anglican University. A portion at the south end was sold to create St. Patrick's Market in 1840. Another parcel was donated around the same time to establish Saint George the Martyr Anglican Church after St. James Anglican Cathedral was consumed by fire in 1839.

Large religious style tower in park
St. George the Martyr, Grange Park, 1982. Courtesy Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


The west wing consists of two later additions. One from the 1840s and the other built in 1885 as a two-storey library with billiard table for resident of The Grange, Goldwin Smith.


Boulton-Smiths and the transition to a house of art

In 1875, Harriet Boulton, widow of Henry William Boulton, married Goldwin Smith, an eminent public intellectual. Smith had taught history at Oxford and Cornell before moving in with his beloved cousin and her husband in Toronto. He was a prolific and opinionated writer, and his publications include writings in his own periodical "The Bystander" and the book Canada and the Canadian Question (1891), which advocates for a commercial union with the United States.

Sketch of interior of residential library with man sitting at table
Goldwin Smith inside The Grange's library, 1909. Drawing from our Baldwin Collection of Canadiana.


Boulton and Smith were active among Toronto's intellectual and artistic elite. The Boulton-Smiths were persuaded to bequeath The Grange including land to the Toronto Art Society, who were, at the time, hosting art shows at the Mercer Gallery. 


A place of art

As the Art Museum of Toronto, The Grange underwent electrification. Several of the house's rooms were used as staff offices. Goldwin Smith’s old library became the museum's library and the drawing room was used as a tea room and breakfast parlour. The city agreed to take over the maintenance of Grange Park and open it to the public. Though The Grange was acquired in 1911, the art museum continued to hold exhibitions at the Toronto Public Library until 1913. 

Interior of gallery with tiled floor and statues
Art Gallery of Toronto, 1922. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


The first expansion, a pair of galleries adjacent to The Grange, was opened in 1918. The next year, The Art Museum of Toronto changed its name to the Art Gallery of Toronto to avoid being confused with the Royal Ontario Museum. In 1924, another addition opened that included a sculpture court and main entrance on Dundas Street. All of this was designed by the architectural firm Darling and Pearson.

Vintage photograph of large interior exhibit space with paintings on wall and chairs in middle of room
Art Gallery of Toronto, 1928. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


The Ontario College of Art (OCA) — now OCAD University — and the Toronto Gallery of Art have existed side by side at their present locations since 1921. The college was established by the Ontario Society of Artists in 1876. In 1912, it was incorporated as the Ontario College of Art, becoming the first school in Canada dedicated to the education of fine and commercial artists. The Toronto Gallery of Art allowed OCA to build its first permanent home on their property just east of The Grange. The school’s principal George A. Reid designed the building in the Georgian style.


In 1970, the AGO's Junior Women's Committee worked on a restoration of The Grange in the period-style of 1835, including decorations and furnishings. The women realized that the house could be made into an historic house museum. They raised over $500,000 for the project.

Front of old building with front door and columns
The Grange, unknown date. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


Present day

Today, the house still retains its historic roots and architectural integrity. It houses the Norma Ridley Members’ Lounge. Visitors to the AGO enter through what was the servant's entrance at the back of the house. The front windows look onto Grange Park. 

Grange Park was recently remodeled to include a refurbished children's playground, the Henry Moore sculpture, "Large Two Forms," and an off-leash area for dogs. The original circular driveway is still a prominent feature. From the park, you get a great view of both the old and new AGO buildings.

Vintage photo of park with children sitting
Grange Park, 1923. The park is located at the head of John Street in Toronto.
Photo of picnic table with people eating in a park with large brick building in background
The Grange and Grange Park, 1987. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.
The Grange old style building with a modern blue wall and jutting out staircase behind the Grange
Photo of The Grange by Leventio, 2019. Used on a Creative Commons licence.



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