Bruce Bell –
Two centuries ago north of Queen Street (then called Lot Street) was mostly forest complete with wild deer, hungry bears and fish-filled streams.
It would be in this idyllic woodsy enclave that the affluent citizens of York known as the Family Compact would build their magnificent estates.
Where Queen and Sherbourne meet today was once the home of William Allan and his family: Moss Park.
Their home sat on 200 acres of parkland in an area that encompassed Queen Street to the south, Bloor to the north and a few hundred feet on either side of present-day Sherbourne Street.
The house stood where Shuter and Sherbourne meet. It was the first of its kind in York to be built in the imposing Greek revival style.
This enormous 30-room-plus mansion, long ago demolished, could be seen in the distance at the end of a long and winding carriage ride from its main gates at the present-day Queen and Sherbourne.
Next to Moss Park was Hazelburn, the family manse of the Jarvis family which then stood just north of Queen, smack dab in the middle of present-day Jarvis Street at Shuter.
Then over at Queen and Church was McGill Cottage, the home of John McGill, a loyal supporter of Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe who, in recognition of his work as the Commissioner of Stores and Provisions of Upper Canada, was given land stretching from Queen to Bloor between Bond and Mutual Streets.
Even though they sat on enormous park-sized lots (hence the name Lot Street) some of these early homes were small like McGill Cottage.
All of these early homes that once stood in the Downtown core are gone now.
Their land long ago had been carved up and sold off as a modern-day Toronto with its streets, high rises, houses, stores and banks replacing a once idyllic setting.
All gone but one—the Grange—the home of the one-time powerful Boulton family.
The home still stands today behind the Art Gallery of Ontario at Dundas and McCaul streets.
Dating back to 1817—making it the 12th oldest surviving building in Toronto—this magnificent manor home was built by D’arcy Boulton with its sweeping lawn and long carriage drive.
It inspired awe and fear in the minds of the townsfolk of York. The Grange (whose carriageway leading up to the great manor home is now John Street) was for over 100 years the centre of social life in Toronto.
The Boultons were one of wealthiest and most socially prominent families in Toronto. The patriarch, D’Arcy Boulton Sr., came to York from England in 1797.
He and his sons D’Arcy Jr., Henry John and George were all prominent lawyers and very much at the hub of the Family Compact ruling over everyone and everything.
A new era was dawning when on March 6, 1834 the Town of York became the City of Toronto. But for a time at least the tranquil lives led by those who lived at the Grange remained virtually unchanged.
However it would be their conceit and arrogance that would lead to the Rebellion of 1837 when “we the people” under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie rose up against the Boultons and their cronies demanding land reforms, voting privileges and a voice without fear of imprisonment.
Nevertheless “we the people” lost and it would be another 10 years of harsh rule by the Boultons and their friends before we started down the road towards a true democracy.
As Toronto started to expand rapidly—due in part to the coming of the railroad in the 1850s—the great estates above Queen Street began to decrease in size with enormous profits being made by their owners as they sold off what became extremely valuable land.
The Grange, too, started to carve up its massive estate with D’Arcy Boulton Jr. selling off a good portion of his land holdings to King’s College, the forerunner to the University of Toronto and the current site of the Queens Park Legislature.
After D’Arcy Boulton Jr. died in 1846, the Grange was passed on to his son William Henry (the mayor of Toronto in 1845) and when he died in 1874 the great home came into possession of his widow Harriette Dixon.
It would be her, along with her new husband Goldwin Smith, who would later donate the Grange to the Art Museum of Toronto in 1911.
In 1966 that name would be changed to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and today after a colossal AGO makeover the Grange is now completely surrounded by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry’s umassive blue box.
In 1970, the Grange was designated a National Historic Site in recognition of the manor’s vital place in any writing of the history of Toronto.