a bit of downton abbey in toronto
With a new year comes the anticipation of things to come along with new starts. Including the long-awaited start of the fourth season of Downton Abbey for North American audiences, finally arriving with the broadcast of the season’s first episode this coming Sunday January 5th at 9pm ET on PBS.
When it comes to envisioning and visiting a local setting and social structure similar to the era portrayed in this popular British television series, many Torontonians may automatically think of Casa Loma, while its smaller neighbour, Spadina Museum: Historic House and Gardens may not immediately come to mind. I am guilty of that – in all my years living in Toronto I had yet to visit Spadina House until a few months ago when I finally explored this gem.
Built in 1866, renovated and expanded in 1898 and 1913, and recently re-restored to the period of the 1920s and 1930s, a tour of the house provides a glimpse into the life of the upper middle class Austin family and this opulent time.
Located at 285 Spadina Avenue and operated by the City of Toronto, this historic house illustrates the evolution of styles from mid-Victorian to 1930s Colonial Revival and includes items from both the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements, as well as items in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. The rooms contain furniture purchased by the family, much of it made in Toronto.
While obviously much smaller than Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey), there was a staff that kept Spadina House operating in good order including two maids, a cook, a chauffeur, a gardener, a part-time laundress-washer, and a seamstress. The call-bells in the kitchen remain.
The top floor (added in renovations to provide a calm and healing space for an ailing Austin family son) holds the servants quarters, which are presently open for viewing. The other side of the floor is set to open to the public for the first time ever sometime in 2014, and includes a beautiful 180 degree glass bay seating area only visible from exterior currently.
The basement excavations reveal foundations and windows from previous construction at the site.
The grounds are worth a wander too, which include extensive flower and vegetable beds, an orchard, and grape vines, with some of the produce available for purchase at local farmer’s markets in season.
Beyond visiting the beauty of this elegant home and gardens, Spadina Museum: Historic House and Gardens offers numerous special tours, programs, and lectures, with plans to bring an exhibit of the upstairs and downstairs costumes of the Downton Abbey series to the house sometime soon.