Originally published on Torontoist on June 4, 2013.
Portraits of Harriette Boulton Smith and William Henry Boulton, two of the few pieces shown in 1913 that are still exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Images courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
“Toronto some day may have an art gallery equal to Tate’s or the National in London, that is, if the plans of the Art Museum should materialize,” the Worldo bserved on June 5, 1913. The paper, along with most of Toronto’s media, was confident that the art exhibition that opened that day in the Grange was the seed from which a great institution would grow.
Grow it did. Tomorrow marks a century since the first exhibition was held on the site that became the Art Gallery of Ontario. It wasn’t the institution’s first display, though. Founded in 1900 as the Art Museum of Toronto (AMT), the gallery held shows in various locations before settling into a temporary space in the original Toronto Reference Library, at College and St. George streets (now the Koffler Student Service Centre).
In 1902, AMT president Sir Edmund Walker convinced Grange owner Harriette Boulton Smith to will her historic home to the institution. Following her death in 1909 and the passing of her second husband—journalist and intellectual Goldwin Smith—in 1910, the house was renovated and wired with electricity to prepare it for its new role. AMT officials saw the Grange as a starting point for building a larger gallery, and began acquiring land to the north along Dundas Street (then known as St. Patrick Street) for future expansion.
The space’s first exhibition centred on the Smiths’ art collection, some of which was acquired by Harriette’s first husband, William Henry Boulton. The chair he used during multiple terms as Toronto’s mayor during the mid-19th century was one of the main attractions. Goldwin Smith’s additions included copies of European paintings like Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, a series of watercolours depicting Reading, England (his childhood home) and portraits he commissioned of dour 17th-century Puritans.
Toronto Star, June 6, 1913.
Around 550 visitors passed through the Grange on opening day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Works were displayed in the hallway, dining room, drawing room, and a space on the second floor converted into a print room. Dignitaries on hand included Mayor Horatio Hocken, AMT Vice President Sir Edmund Osler, and Ontario Lieutenant Governor Sir John Gibson. Hocken hoped the home’s name would be retained as the museum’s. As the World declared: “Other cities can have art museums, but only Toronto can have ‘The Grange.’”
Newspapers predicted great things for the gallery. The Telegram felt it would be one of “the most interesting show places in the city.” The Globe saw its location as “a bulwark against the upward sweep of business” from the south. The Worldforesaw a time when it would be regarded as “a national treasure house.”
To mark the centennial of its first on-site exhibition, the AGO will display and provide guided commentary on three of that show’s paintings tomorrow near Walker Court. Restoration efforts on a Klaes Molenaer work from the 17th century will be shown in the Grange (which still exists as an exhibit space). Throughout the month, the gallery will offer tours that will celebrate the growth of the AGO’s collection and offer visitors glimpses at the work of artists who were active in 1913. Hungry visitors can buy cookies made from a recipe taken from 1913’s most popular cookbook, the Five Roses Flour Cookbook.
Additional material from the June 6, 1913 edition of the Globe, the June 5, 1913 edition of the Telegram, and the June 5, 1913 and June 6, 1913 editions of the World.
Goldwin Smith with dog in front of the Grange, 1905. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
A slice of life photograph at the Grange in the years between the house was willed to the Art Museum of Toronto (as the AGO was originally known) by Harriette Boulton Smith in 1902 and the opening of its first onsite exhibition.
As for the man in the photo, here’s a sketch John Lownsbrough wrote for his history of the home, The Privileged Few (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980):
From outward appearances, Harriette chose as her second husband a man quite dissimilar from her first. William Boulton had been outgoing, somewhat brash, essentially non-intellectual. Goldwin Smith, on the other hand, possessed qualities that stamped him aloof and austere. He was also avowedly cerebral. It is entirely possible that outward appearances magnified actual differences between the two men. Then again, it is possible they did not. In any event, a library soon replaced the grapery that had been added to the west wing of the Grange. From here, Goldwin Smith would devote himself to turning out reams of opinion on crucial concerns of the day. Not least among the subjects which attracted his attention was the political and social development of his adopted country. As a transplanted Englishman of strong liberal bias, suddenly relocated at the very epicentre of Tory Toronto, Smith perceived only too readily the deficiencies of the new Confederation. The remnants of a colonial heritage appeared to belie the proclaimed nationhood and gave offence to his philosopher’s sense of neatness. As much as the citizens of Toronto enjoyed basking in reflected glory while world notables in politics and letters came to pay their respects to the Sage of The Grange, not a few took umbrage at his suggestion that Canada’s destiny lay in continental union with the United States.
The Globe, June 6, 1913.
Newspaper coverage of the opening of the Grange as an art gallery was good, if repetitive, among the city’s dailies. Unless it was mentioned in a late edition that wasn’t microfilmed, the Mail and Empire was the only paper to ignore the event. Editorials ran the day after the exhibition began in the Globe (above) and the World (below).
The St. Patrick Street mentioned in the Globe editorial is present-day Dundas Street, as is Anderson Street. Both were among the many small streets stitched together to extend Dundas east from Ossington a few years after the gallery opened (originally Dundas followed Ossington south to Queen Street). Both Lownsbrough and AGO Historic Site Coordinator Jenny Rieger (who was interviewed for the Torontoist article) can’t find any good reasons why Harriette Boulton Smith sold the land adjoining the Grange along St. Patrick Street, given that she and Goldwin Smith were already wealthy, and that they would gain new, close neighbours.
Toronto World, June 6, 1913.
The News, June 6, 1913.