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Built from 1817, for D’Arcy Boulton Jr., (1785-1846) and his wife Sarah Anne Robinson (1789-1863). He is not to be confused with his son, another D’Arcy, who built The Lawn in Cobourg. The Grange is one of the grandest estates of old Toronto and one of the city’s finest architectural gems. It is the oldest brick house in the city, followed by Campbell House. Four-and-a-half acres of the original gardens now constitute Grange Park and in 1913 The Grange became the first home of the Art Museum of Toronto. Today, it is an important part of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)....
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Boulton, a successful dry goods merchant and land speculator, was the son of the Attorney-General of Upper Canada, D’Arcy Boulton Sr. (1759-1834), and a grandson of James Forster (d.1781), Chief Justice of the Isle of Ely. The family were old Lincolnshire gentry but in 1797 a business venture went wrong which necessitated a fresh financial start in North America. Boulton’s wife, Sarah, was the elder sister of Sir John Beverley Robinson (1791-1863), 1st Bt., Chief Justice of Upper Canada. In short, the Boultons were among the best-connected families at the heart of Toronto’s elite, the “Family Compact”.
The 100-acres of land on which Boulton chose to build his home was originally granted to The Hon. Robert Isaac Dey Gray (1772-1804) as an associate of the Provincial government after the founding of York (Toronto). In 1808, Boulton paid £350 to Gray’s heirs and in 1817 started work on the home he designed himself. It was one of only a few residential houses back then that was built of brick - Moss Park was not built until 1827. Boulton named the house "The Grange" for his grandfather’s home near Lincoln.
Taming the Wilderness
The Grange was built in a clearing of what was otherwise still very much viewed as untamed wilderness, far from the centre of town. The gatekeepers lodge was a familiar landmark on Lot Street and marked the entrance to the property from which the carriage-drive started before terminating in an oval before the house. D’Arcy’s father, who also lived at The Grange, kept his horses in the field by the gate lodge. In about 1830, these horses were involved in an unusual event, reminding us just how untamed it was:
Mr Justice Boulton drove a phaeton (carriage) of some pretensions… his horses, “Bonaparte” and “Jefferson,” (!) were the crack pair of the day at York… Old inhabitants say that Bay Street… was at first in fact “Bear Street,” and that it was popularly so called from a noted chase given to a bear out of the adjoining wood on the north, which, to escape its pursuers, made for the water along this route. Mr Justice Boulton’s two horses… were once seen, we are told, to attack a monster of this species that intruded on the Grange property a little to the west. They are described as plunging at the animal with their fore feet.
If the area was uncivilised, the house was most certainly not: In typical neo-classical style, The Grange is fronted by a central Doric portico with six columns. Internally, it followed the popular pattern of the period with a centre-hall plan off which came to either side the drawing and dining rooms panelled in local black walnut. Directly ahead, halfway up the curved, self-supporting staircase is a tall Palladian Arch stained glass window displaying the Boulton coat-of-arms. The bedrooms were on the second floor and the servant’s rooms in the attic.
In the early 1840s, Boulton added a two-story wing to the west that housed an office and indoor plumbing. To the east, he attached a wing in the form of a glass orangery with a domed roof. Internally, ionic columns were placed to delineate the vestibule from the hall. Some say the changes were made by one of Boulton’s sons-in-law, amateur architect The Hon. William Cayley (1807-1890), who also happened to be President of the Bank of Upper Canada etc., whose family were part of the all-powerful extended clan of Boulton, Robinson, Cartwright, Gamble & Macaulay.
Guzzling Billy (1846-1874)
After D’Arcy died in 1846, his widow continued to live at The Grange but she deeded the house and its twenty acres to her eldest son, The Hon. William Henry Boulton (1812-1874). On paper, he was a lawyer, a politician and two-time Mayor of Toronto, but he was known as “something of a prankster and a bit of a blade” who the voters (he was loved by the working class) referred to as “Guzzling Billy”.
William was already heavily in debt and unbeknown to his mother he was also
in the process of selling the estate when his younger brother, Lt.-Colonel D’Arcy Edward Boulton (1814-1902), got wind of what was going on and intervened. He paid off his brother’s creditors and returned the estate to his mother’s name.
As this crisis was being addressed within the Boulton family, in the same year William was preparing to get married in Boston to the intelligent and refined Harriet Elizabeth Mann Dixon (1825-1909) whose sister-in-law, Mrs Catherine Chew Dixon, was a daughter of George Mifflin Dallas (1792-1864), Vice-President of the United States. Had the scandal been known, the wedding would probably have been called off: It was no secret in the Boulton family that Harriet came with an healthy income of $10,000 a year.
Despite all this, William continued his carefree lifestyle. His wife moved into The Grange and almost certainly with her money he wasted no time satisfying his lavish tastes for entertaining: Having no children, he converted three of the former nursery rooms on the first floor into one spectacular ballroom/music room; and, the drawing room on the ground floor was almost doubled in size. In the grounds, he laid out both cricket and lacrosse pitches as well as building his own racecourse - perhaps unsurprisingly, he coached the Canadian cricket team and was Secretary of the Toronto Turf Club.
It wasn’t long before William was in trouble again: In 1848, the Bank of Upper Canada sued his law firm for misrepresentation right at about the same time that their book-keeper disappeared overnight with thousands of their pounds.
William and his legal partner, Clarke Gamble (1808-1902) now owed the bank £16,000, but this time The Grange was safe: By the terms of William’s marriage contract as dictated by his mother, the title deeds to the house and its immediate twenty acres had been placed in Harriet’s name and at her discretion. She was not for selling. As for Boulton’s debt, it became “shrouded in a great mystery” as he and his equally well-connected partner somehow managed to avoid legal proceedings and even continued as the Bank of Upper Canada’s go-to solicitors.
Despite his faults, William with his head gardener, John Gray, did much for the aesthetics at The Grange. “The Grange Conservatories” won prizes not only at the local Horticultural Society Show, but internationally too. In the 1850s, prizes for Canadian grapes were dominated by those from The Grange and Rosedale.
In 1846, Gray wrote of two new species of roses (Baltimore Belle and King of the Prairies) that he was he was sampling at The Grange: “Perfectly hardy, well adapted for planting in front of houses or to train up a veranda”. Gray also developed a geranium that he named for the family: Pelargonium Boultonianum; and, in 1860 to commemorate the Prince of Wales’ visit, walnut and elm trees were planted on the front lawn, now part of today’s Grange Park.
The Goldwin Era (1875-1911)
William Boulton died in 1874 and the following year his widow married the English academic, Goldwin Smith (1823-1910). Educated at Eton and Oxford, he was a nephew of General Henry William Breton (1799-1889), Governor of Malta, and a step-grandson of Sir Nathaniel Dunkinfield (1746-1824), 5th Bt. He was Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford but resigned due to a family tragedy that led to his arrival in America. He was given a Professorship at Cornell but came to Toronto in 1871 to live with his much-attached cousin Elizabeth Jane Morris (1845-1897) and her husband Charles Colley Foster (1839-1925).
Goldwin Smith was Toronto’s only internationally acclaimed academic and during the Smith’s tenure the drawing room at The Grange was the epicentre of Toronto’s intellectual and political elite. One visitor of note (less to the Smiths but more to us) was the young Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) who back in England became “one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre”. There are some claims that he worked here for Smith, but this is not the case, although he did become good friends with Smith’s personal secretary and later biographer, Arnold Haultain (1857-1941). Another visitor from England was the constitutional theorist Albert Venn Dicey (1835-1922) who remarked,
Here (at The Grange) one is suddenly set down in an old English house, surrounded by grounds, with old four-poster beds, old servants, all English, and English hosts… An English mansion in some English county.
In 1885, Harriet and Goldwin made the last set of domestic improvements to the house. They replaced the wooden portico with the Doric stone one seen today. On the east wing, they converted the domed grapery into a slate-roofed greenhouse supported by stone columns. The largest change was the addition of the second west wing: this housed Goldwin’s two-story high library complete with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a billiards table that also doubled as a second large table.
Aside from taking an active role in the civil and political reform of Canada, Smith was also the President of the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club and had a grass court laid out at The Grange. The Smiths also built several cottages behind the house for the gardeners and servants. Goldwin lived in domestic bliss with Harriet for 35 years. In his memoirs written from his desk in the library, he recalled,
The Grange at Toronto with its lawn and its old elms, is the counterpart in style and surroundings of a little English mansion. It is the only specimen of the kind that I happen to have seen on this side of the Atlantic… The great elms are a special feature of the place… In summer, only chimes were wanting to make me fancy that I was in England.
Harriet died in 1909 and Goldwin succumbed just a year later. Arnold Haultain, Goldwin’s secretary and literary executor, recalled that his servants were devoted to him. In his will, Goldwin gave each of them $500 (or more) but moreover, he made sure that each of them received life-tenancies in the cottages on the estate.
William Chin (1834-1934) had been the devoted butler to Harriet and both her husbands for fifty-four years. He came from England to Toronto in 1856 and joined the Boulton’s staff in 1858 as a coachman. He later became their butler and lived with his wife and seven children at the Gatehouse. He entered the final note into the household ledger on 30th September 1910: “Left dear old Grange at 1.00pm to be a wanderer”. This closed the chapter on The Grange as a home.
Art Gallery of Ontario (1912-present)
From 1900, a movement had started to establish an art museum at Toronto. It was spear-headed by the banker and patron of the arts, Sir (Byron) Edmund Walker (1848-1924). In 1903, he suggested to Harriet that she might like to bequeath The Grange to the Art Museum of Toronto. Both she and Goldwin supported the idea, her only stipulation being that nothing of her gift was to be mentioned in the papers. So, it was that in the year after Goldwin’s death (1911) The Grange became the Art Museum of Toronto and its 4.5 acres of front lawn became Grange Park, a public park managed by the City of Toronto.
In 1913, The Grange opened its doors once again, exhibiting the Boulton-Smith collection. In 1965, the museum was renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and two years later a thorough restoration project was started on the house. In 1970, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Today, The Grange serves as the Norma Ridley Member’s Lounge with various exhibition space. Unlike the Campbell House, it is not a House Museum, but it retains its period feel and visitors to the AGO are free to enjoy both the house and its grounds.
Main Image (Cropped) Courtesy of Tom Flemming, DSCN6666, Creative Commons, on Flickr; Art Gallery of Ontario; The Canadian Journal of Science, Literature & History (1873), Volume 13. Pages 93 & 103; A Heritage of Roses (1989) by Hazel Rougetel Gardeners Monthly & Horticulturist (1859), Volume 1, by Thomas Meehan, p.61 & 62; Dixon Family; Inside the Museums: Toronto’s Heritage Sites & their Most Prized Objects (2014) by John Goddard; Bank of Upper Canada (1987) by P. Baskerville; The Estates of Old Toronto (1997) by Liz Lundell – 29; House Guests: The Grange 1817 to today (2001), by Jennifer Rieger, Jessica Bradley & Charlotte Gray; The Grange – Heritage Property Search & Evaluation Report; Haunted Toronto (1996) by John Robert Colombo.