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The Grange Restoration

Why was The Grange restored?

In 1965, the City of Toronto proposed as its centennial project a plan to enlarge the Art Gallery of Ontario. Gallery director William Withrow approached the Volunteer Women’s Committee of the AGO to sponsor a feasibility study in connection with The Grange. Restoration architect Peter Stokes was hired to determine whether the house could be restored to its nineteenth-century splendour and also serve as an entertainment venue for the gallery — creating a “living museum.”

Stokes submitted his report in November 1967, estimating that restoration work would total $200,000. The building was structurally sound, with enough of the detailing still present to provide adequate evidence of what the original house might have looked like. Stokes proposed that The Grange be restored as it was in 1835, while allowing the later additions to the house to remain. The building would also require modern amenities.

Unfortunately, the city withdrew its support for the Gallery expansion, and the report languished for several years. Eventually, the AGO Board of Trustees agreed to a major rebuilding of the Gallery, including a new office wing, and the restoration of The Grange could proceed. Again, Withrow approached the Women’s Committee to provide the funds and to manage the project. The Committee members agreed, undertaking three major fundraising events as well as setting aside two thirds of all money raised by the various activities of the Committee in order to fund the restoration work.

A Grange Restoration Committee was formed to hire architect Peter Stokes and furnishing consultant Jeanne Minhinnick and to supervise their work. When the initial $200,000. raised proved to be inadequate, the Restoration Committee actively campaigned for additional funds — eventually raising over $600,000 (the restoration cost was approximately $500,000). The GRC also successfully lobbied the federal government to declare The Grange a national historic site. In 1973, The Grange opened to the public with a paid staff of fifteen.

What was restored?

In the original 1817 house, the rooms on the north side of the main floor were likely bedrooms and the circular staircase was likely a simple stair with a landing. The large drawing room was smaller, as there was a corridor separating it from the bedrooms behind. Evidence of this can be seen by the blocked door in the hall and the asymmetrical layout of the present drawing room. The rosette in the ceiling, for example, is not centred on the fireplace and the walls on either side of the mantel are different sizes. In the 1840s, when renovations were done to the house, the present room configurations were created. During the restoration, the bifold door separating the drawing room from the morning room was rebuilt to make it larger and decorative trim was added.

The sweeping circular staircase is a modern addition, replacing an angled oak staircase installed in 1885. The present free-standing staircase was chosen as an example of a neoclassical staircase and is actually wood over a steel structure.

To the west, the anteroom to the library was added in the 1840s and served as an office for William Boulton, four times mayor of Toronto and a member of parliament. The library was added on in 1885 by Goldwin Smith. Other than adding a washroom, few changes were made here.

On the second floor, changes to the earlier staircases and the creation of the present circular staircase have masked the original layout. It is likely that the room over the front hall was originally smaller and probably served as the dressing room to the bedroom adjoining it (they were once connected). The assembly room was likely several bedrooms that were no longer needed once the family became smaller. D’Arcy Boulton’s brother-in-law had a large assembly room on the second floor of his home, and this may have served as the model for the room in The Grange. When work was being done in this space, evidence of a blocked-up door and a stove pipe in the chimney were uncovered. The original floor had been damaged and there was evidence of dry rot in the ceiling.

In the basement, new ductwork and plumbing were installed in the ceilings and floors, drastically changing the heights of the rooms. The brick bake oven and hearth from the original house were uncovered in the 1817 kitchen.

What about the furniture?

We have only a few pieces of furniture owned by the Boultons, so the additional furnishings for The Grange were chosen by Jeanne Minhinnick. Her decisions were based on: archival research; an understanding that furniture in the 1830s would have come from the United States as well as from Toronto, Kingston and Montreal; and the availability of wallpaper and fabrics locally. All the furniture in the house was either purchased for or donated to the restoration. Consideration was also given to the fact that all the rooms were to be used for entertainment. Now that the Norma Ridley Members’ Lounge is housed in The Grange, most of the historical furniture is in storage.

What do we not know?

When the house was used as an art museum and, later, for offices, the basement areas became storage space. During the restoration, not all of the rooms in this part of the house became period rooms. We do not know what use these smaller areas served. Some would have been storage; some would have been work spaces (perhaps even the laundry); and some would have been servants’ quarters and a servants’ hall. We interpreted two different periods of cooking — open hearth and cook stove — but we don’t know how the family organized the space and how it changed over time.

The second floor housed bedrooms, but what was the layout? Stokes suggested that the assembly room might have been a nursery and a master bedroom, but we don’t know. There are also small rooms at the west end that have been used as offices, a washroom and storage but, again, the original function is lost.

Has the heritage of the house been damaged by the installation of the Norma Ridley Members’ Lounge?

Before the lounge was created, a careful audit of the heritage values and characteristics of the rooms was undertaken and these were protected. The view of the front door, for example, is a heritage value, so no tables were put in front of it. When the carpet was lifted, the 1880s oak floor was revealed. The modern floor was installed to “float” above the historical one.

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