Historicist: An English Estate in the Heart of the City
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Historicist: An English Estate in the Heart of the City

Every Saturday morning, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters—good and bad—that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.
Photo of The Grange, 1907. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 304.
D’Arcy Boulton Sr. recalled his sentiments upon first arriving in Upper Canada in his reminisces, Sketch of His Majesty’s Province of Upper Canada. He wrote: “When I first…set my foot on British ground, after residing in the American states, I perceived sensations that were unexpected even to myself. I seemed at once to step home.” His response was common for English immigrants throughout the nineteenth century who were comforted by the continued British influence in places like Toronto. After studying law at Middle Temple in London, business reservals sent Boulton Sr. to the United States before he finally found refuge in Upper Canada in the early 1800s. The colony’s shortage of well-educated lawyers secured his appointment as Solicitor-General in 1804, as Attorney General in late 1814, and as a judge of the Court of King’s Bench in 1818. Quite rapidly he’d established himself as an important player in the Family Compact, and ensured his family a central place in Toronto politics and society.
His son D’Arcy Boulton Jr. expanded on this foundation by building a house, The Grange, which became the backdrop against which Toronto’s upper crust presented themselves as a social and intellectual elite in a new land. Over subsequent generations, some of the most prominent personages in Canada and the English-speaking world passed through its drawing room. Guests included: Queen Victoria’s youngest son, the Duke of Albany; writers Matthew Arnold and John Morley; Sir John A. and Lady Macdonald; the governor general, Lord Elgin; and even the Russian anarchist, Prince Kropotkin.

20080719Gardens.jpgBorn in England, D’Arcy Boulton Jr. was in his early twenties when he immigrated to Upper Canada with his parents. Like his father, he had studied law, but chose instead to open a store at the fashionable corner of King and Frederick Streets. He solidified wealth and prestige through his marriage to Sarah Ann Robinson, the daughter of John Beverley Robinson, one of the most powerful men in the province. When Boulton Jr. was finally able to indulge his interest in architecture by building a manor in 1817, he modeled it on the aristocratic residential estates of the English countryside. Choosing a location considerably west of town, he tamed one hundred acres of dense forest into a picturesque English garden. The house itself was designed in the Georgian fashion with, as the historical plaque erected in 1984 states, a “symmetrical five-bay facade and central pediment [reflecting] the conservative influence of the British classical tradition of the 18th century.” Even the name, The Grange, was intended to evoke the spirit of the English gentry. He succeeded in his purpose, as British law professor A.V. Dicey recalled on his visit many years later: “Here one is suddenly set down in an old English house, surrounded by grounds, with old four-post beds, old servants, all English, and English hosts…an English mansion in some English county.”
For Boulton Jr., The Grange became something of a life-long occupation. He continued to tinker with it by adding to the west wing, and expanding the main-floor drawing room until it became, in the words of local historian Donald Jones, one of the “greatest showplaces” in the city. After his children had grown, he turned their nursery into a second floor music room. Orchards were planted, and cricket and lacrosse fields, as well as a race course, were added to the grounds. Eventually, over-stretched in a 1820s recession, he was forced to sell the property’s northernmost extension, which eventually became a part of the University of Toronto. Unlike many of his siblings and relations, Boulton Jr. never showed a great interest in securing himself public office through Family Compact connections. Perhaps that is why The Grange’s builder, who died in April 1840, is barely remembered today, and isn’t even regarded as the most famous resident of the home he built.
His son, William Henry Boulton, who inherited the property, was much more publicly engaged. Banking on the continued influence of his family name, Boulton also astutely employed the rising influence of the Orange Order to build a political career. First elected to the town council in 1838, he was selected by his fellow councillors to serve as mayor from 1845 to 1847. He also sat in the provincial assembly between 1844 and 1853. His politics were a mix of traditional conservatism and populism. His traditionalism was reflected in his fervent opposition to the secularization of the University of Toronto; yet, his refusal to draw a salary while mayor, and proposals to make the Legislative Council—roughly the equivalent of today’s Senate—an elective body endeared him to the working class. After losing a bid for re-election to the provincial assembly in 1857, he returned to local politics to serve one more year as mayor in 1858. After losing that position the following year, he retired from public life. Upon his death in 1874, The Grange passed into the hands of his widow, Harriette Boulton. In 1875, she married Goldwin Smith, already one of the most famous—and controversial—writers in the English-speaking world.
Photo of Professor Goldwin Smith in his workshop, The Grange, December 1909. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2150.
As a young man, Smith had been a rising academic star with a prestigious academic post at Oxford University. But he was far more interested in embroiling himself in the political and religious controversies of the day than in being a scholarly historian. Spurred by the need to attend to his ailing father, Smith resigned from Oxford in 1866. By 1868, after meeting the president of newly-established Cornell University during a visit to the United States, Smith immigrated to Ithaca, New York, and assumed a professorship at Cornell. After visiting Toronto relatives for the first time in 1871, he became, in the words of local historian Michael Kluckner, so “enamoured of the place and its Englishness” that he decided to stay. His marriage to Harriette Boulton in 1875 and his move to her home put an end to his lifetime of restless wanderings. By all reports the couple were devoted to each other and enjoyed a great late-blooming romance.
In his library at The Grange, Smith wrote prodigiously for magazines and newspapers on a wide assortment of contemporary issues. His opinions earned him a reputation as a firebrand at home and abroad. At first, he praised Canadian nationalism. Then, as a strong advocate of free trade, he called for the country’s commercial union with the United States. Against the tide of popular sentiment, Smith’s deep aversion to militarism and imperialism led to his opposition to the Boer War. His contrarianism led historian Ramsay Cook to conclude: “Smith lived in Canada, but he was never quite of it.” Nevertheless, Smith never neglected involvement in local affairs or philanthropy. As the only internationally famous writer in Toronto, he and Harriette Boulton Smith continued to host politicians, intellectuals, and the city’s social elite in The Grange’s drawing room.
Photo of Crowds going to The Grange to see Goldwin Smith’s body, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2158.
At the urging of Sir Edmund Walker, a close friend and founder of the Royal Ontario Museum, Harriette Boulton Smith decided that—without any children—she would will their manor and grounds to the city for the establishment of a long-anticipated public art gallery. She died in 1909. Smith’s death came shortly afterwards in 1910 and was a major occasion. When he was laid in state, for four hours, an uninterrupted stream of mourners filed past the man whom The Star had called the “foremost citizen of Toronto.” Newspapers reported his death widely, even, according to Kluckner, dispelling rumours that his brain had been willed to Cornell. (In reality, Smith’s personal papers and fortune went to Cornell, while his immense library was donated to the University of Toronto.)
The Grange hosted the Art Museum of Toronto’s inaugural exhibit in June 1913 with Smith’s collection of paintings and etchings as the main attraction. Since then, The Art Museum has evolved into the Art Gallery of Ontario, and undergone numerous expansions and renovations, including an extensive restoration of the deteriorating structure in the late 1960s. When not buried behind the hoardings and protective covering of a construction site—as it is now for its massive renovation—The Grange still evokes the spirit of an English country manor. Of the numerous similar residential estates that once surrounded the city core, The Grange is one of the very few to survive.
Photo above of The Grange, Toronto [before 1940]. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 23.