This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on February 19, 2013.
Ardwold, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3087.
Things were going well for John Craig Eaton as the first decade of the 20th century ended. He inherited ownership of the family department store following the death of his father, Timothy, in 1907. His wife, Flora, was developing a reputation as a cross-Atlantic socialite. With his elevated social status and growing family, Eaton decided to build a grand mansion.
In January 1909, he purchased an 11-acre estate on Spadina Road north of Davenport Road that possessed a great view of the city and lake. Wanting to keep the purchase price discreet, he delivered a valise filled with $100,000 worth of bills to the bank to close the deal. His new home joined a collection of neighbouring fine residences, including Rathnelly, Spadina, and the under-construction Casa Loma. Eaton hired A.F. Wickson to design a 50-room home inspired by English and Irish country homes of the early Stuart era. The residence was dubbed Ardwold, which was gaelic for “high green hill.”
Entrance to Ardwold, Eaton family residence, Spadina Road, September 18, 1929. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2072.
Built between 1909 and 1911, Ardwold included 14 bathrooms, an elevator, Italian-inspired gardens, and an indoor swimming pool connected by a basement tunnel. The centrepiece was a two-storey great hall outfitted with a pipe organ that Eaton frequently played. When Eaton introduced the family to the completed home upon their return from a long European tour, his two-year-old son John David moped at the bottom of the grand staircase. “I don’t like this hotel,” he cried. “I want to go home.” Perhaps the boy reacted to what architectural historian William Dendy described as the home’s “air of empty pretentiousness.”
When the family fell ill, they used the on-site hospital room, which could be converted to an operating room during emergencies. Unfortunately, Eaton spent much of the last two months of his life there before dying from pneumonia in March 1922. His wife, by now Lady Eaton, spent little time at Ardwold afterwards, preferring to reside in Europe, Muskoka, or in Eaton Hall near King City.
Wedding fashion parade at Ardwold, circa 1926. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1855.
By 1936, Lady Eaton thought it was “wasteful” to maintain the property. Telling the Star that it was “too large for the needs my family,” she demolished the house. Eaton family biographer Rod McQueen believed that “such a destructive approach can only be described as desecration, or at best, wildly eccentric.” Dynamite was required to bring down the thick walls. While some furnishings were moved to Eaton Hall, the rest were auctioned off. Only elements like a stone-and-wrought-iron fence survived.
After considering an apartment building, real-estate agent A.E. LePage subdivided the property along a new road, Ardwold Gate. “We plan to develop the whole 11-acre area with homes of Georgian design to harmonize, as is done in many of the finer residential sections of England,” LePage told the Star in 1938. The average cost of the new homes was $30,000, or just under $500,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation.
Toronto Star, May 20, 1938.
The community became an exclusive residential enclave for well-heeled businessmen. Among them was George Beattie, an Eaton relative whose career with the department store ended over an expletive-filled argument. Nursing a grudge, Beattie watched gleefully when Ardwold was demolished. Soon after buying a home on Ardwold Gate in 1947, he peed on one of the remaining cornerstones of the old house.
Residents engaged in several battles to maintain their peace during the 1970s. After initially approving the nearby placement of the Spadina Expressway, they joined the opposition against the freeway. As construction began on the Spadina subway line in 1973, they feared their homes would be damaged by vibrations similar to those that inconvenienced home owners along the recent extension of the Yonge line north of Eglinton Avenue. (The problem was reputed to be thin tunnel shields.) In April 1977, residents pressured City Council to reject a proposal to build non-profit housing units for 14 families along Ardwold Gate on land that had been reserved for the freeway; those who feared that the project would ruin the neighbourhood jumped into full reactionary mode. One complaint the City received observed that such housing “contributes to the general weakening of our democratic system.” The proposal was defeated and, as a Globe and Mail editorial observed, residents could sleep easily without worrying about sharing the neighbourhood “with people who didn’t own even one Mercedes.”
The street remains a quiet residential cul-de-sac. Among its notable homes is the Brutalist concrete residence designed for Harvey’s founder Richard Mauran at 95 Ardwold Gate. The home was the final project of architect Taivo Kapsi, who was killed in an encounter with trespassers on a friend’s property near Lake Wilcox during the summer of 1967. Finished the following year, the heritage-designated site includes impressions left in the concrete by construction boards.
Additional material from Lost Toronto by William Dendy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993), The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the April 14, 1977 and April 18, 1977 editions of the Globe and Mail, the June 2, 2012 edition of the National Post, the February 26, 1936, July 3, 1936, May 20, 1938, May 4, 1970, and February 10, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star, and the March 1999 edition of Toronto Life.
Ardwold, circa 1920. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3016.
Lady Eaton’s description of the area which surrounded Ardwold, from her book Memory’s Wall (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956):
We had agreeable neighbours around us at Ardwold, and several of them became our good friends. Probably we came to know each other better because of the rather isolated community we formed. St. Clair Avenue was not paved, of course, and often vehicles sank down to their axles in the mud. A very rickety old bridge crossed the ravine on Spadina Road, which was the street giving main access to Ardwold, and the few other big houses on “the hill.”
Toronto Star, April 14, 1977.
Globe and Mail, April 18, 1977.
Two editorials on the failed subsidized housing proposal – an issue still playing out in neighbourhoods across the city.