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We are introducing a brand new series of Photo Essays! Have a look at amazing Photo Sets all shot by talented photographers. Explore the vibe of the city, its hidden treasures, meet the Torontonians! This time, let’s have a look at Toronto through the lens of Roland Shainidze!
The Spadina Museum is a must-see location in Toronto for all who are interested in how people used to live decades ago. The museum was home to three generations of the Austin family, and almost all of the original furnishings have been left untouched since this historic manor was generously donated to the City of Toronto and turned into a historic museum in 1978. Spadina Home is often overlooked by the large groups of tourists who flock to the magnificent Gothic Revival castle, Casa Loma, that’s also located on top of Davenport Hill, just around the corner, and takes all the fame. However, this museum’s significance lies in its preservation of a complete and unique collection of one notable Toronto family’s belongings, reflecting the styles of the 1860s through to the 1930s. The eclectic mix of architectural and decorative features from Victorian, Edwardian, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Colonial Revival styles reflects the passing time and tastes of the three generations of the Austin family that lived here. Crystal chandeliers, grand stairs connecting the 55 rooms spreading across three floors, and Asian carpets in the halls reflect the luxurious lifestyle of Toronto’s upper middle class. Most of these rooms’ furnishings were made in Toronto, making them a very valuable collection. Besides the opulently furnished rooms, you’ll see also smaller servant rooms; Spadina House had a small staff including two maids, a cook, a chauffeur, a gardener, a part-time laundress, and a seamstress.
Let’s look at a little bit of Spadina House’s history. The house you see today is actually not the first or only building on this property. A magnificent estate called Spadina was built on the 200-acre property of Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818. The original name was inspired by the native word espadinong, meaning “hill.” But after this house burnt down with a devastating fire in 1835, Baldwin decided to build a smaller country estate in its place, which was then acquired by financier James Austin (founder of The Dominion Bank and president of Consumers Gas) in 1866. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, this part of the city dubbed with the name Millionaires Row attracted the rich and wealthy, soon brimming with large estates of Toronto’s most prominent families. When Baldwin died, his son, Albert William Austin, inherited the house. After that, Spadina House belonged to the third generation of the family, represented by Austin’s daughter, Anna Kathleen Thompson, who was the last member of the family to live there, from 1942 to 1982.
After her donation to the city, the museum opened its doors in 1984 and is now operated by the City of Toronto Cultural Services. The mansion has been restored, recreating the chosen period of the lives of Albert and Mary Austin during the 1920s amongst the family’s timeline in this estate. Spadina House is also famous for the beautiful Victorian-Edwardian gardens surrounding the property; stroll down the large orchard, visit the grape arbour, or picture the perfect family afternoon in 1913 spent in the kitchen garden.
The newest feature at Spadina House reflects the world-wide success of the highly popular British period drama TV series Downton Abbey, which follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family. For those who were also enchanted by the grandeur of the 1920s and impressive interiors reflecting the wealth of their owners, Spadina Museum is launching the very special Toronto’s Downton Abbey tours. The tours are run Thursday evenings from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. For the total experience, bring some Downton Abbey period clothing!
Location: 285 Spadina Road
Contact: (416) 392-6910
Check out their website for more information about admission, group bookings, or renting for special occasions. If you have a passion for the past or want to learn about Toronto’s history, have a look at our previous photo essay about Toronto’s other historic landmarks; Black Creek Pioneer Village & Osgoode Hall.
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Meet the Photographer
Roland Shainidze is an amateur photographer in Toronto. He is a graduate student in humanities at York University and his photography is focused primarily on architecture, both interiors and exteriors. He has taken photographs in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa as well as his native Georgia. Roland uses HDR tools to transform the presentation of the imagery of architectural elements. Self-taught, he takes every opportunity to take pictures and experiment with them; playing with lines, patterns, light and selective colour.