Like the Australian bower bird that prepares a cosy nest to attract his
mate, Robert Sympson Jameson put up an urbane little villa on Front
Street, Toronto, in 1836-37 in anticipation of his wife's joining
him in Canada.
He had arrived here in 1833 to take up an appointment
as attorney-general for the Province of Upper Canada following
a four-year term in the West Indies as chief justice for Dominica. His cultured
but headstrong wife, Anna Brownell Murphy, stayed behind in England
when he went to the tropics. To his dismay, she hung back again
from coming with him to Canada. Building a house for her was a last ditch
bid to save his marriage
Jameson bought land for the house for £534 in November, 1833, when
the Crown auctioned off a number of lots on the Garrison Common.
Today The Globe and Mail occupies much of the site bounded by Front
Street, Spadina and Wellington.
His letters to his wife in 1834
and 1835 tell of landscaping and planting the ground. They also
explained he had been forced to delay building by a shortage of money. However,
construction was well under way by Fall, 1836, when a labourer was reported
to have been hurt after scaffolding broke during work on the building.
Mrs. Jameson arrived in late December, 1836, and found little to like in
either Toronto or the house, which was a few months short of completion.
She moved into her new home in March, 1837. In a letter to friends back
in England she offered an opinion on the house that turned into
a biting criticism of her husband:
The new house which he is building
from plans I have seen must be a nice, comfortable place. I remarked
that there was no arrangement for... any friend who might stray
this way, but I thought the omission characteristic.
Little about how the house appeared and was laid out internally was known
until recently, when plans and specifications for alterations to
the residence made in the 1850s for Frederick Widder were found
to include much information.
A drawing of the front elevation made
circa 1854 shows the original building as a two storey brick structure,
four bays wide, with a flat roof. On the left of the drawing is
the proposed addition. The two centre bays are recessed slightly,
while above the eaves of the flanking bays run decorative, panelled
parapets. On the ground floor, four pairs of French doors open
on a covered verandah with its bow-roofed canopy carried on decorative
wooden posts or pilasters.
A site plan shows that the verandah
looked south over the lake. The main entrance was on the east side.
Other plans give the disposition of rooms: a kitchen in the basement;
a drawing room, dining room, breakfast room and entry hall on the
ground floor; two large and two small bedrooms on the second floor;
and two servant's bedrooms in the attic.
The specifications show the house was clad in stucco scored to
Architecturally, the buildingís style is unusual enough to mark
it as the work of an experienced designer, prompting interest in
the now-anonymous hand that drew the plans.
Toronto's leading architect
at the time, John G. Howard, is ruled out by his own account: his
detailed journals for 1836 make no mention of the project. The
only other qualified candidate, Thomas Young, taught ornamental
drawing at Upper Canada College, but had not yet begun to practice
architecture. For reasons that follow, however, Robert Wetherell of Hamilton
is suspected of being Jameson's architect.
Clearly, he and Jameson were acquainted and shared an interest in architecture.
In a letter to the lieutenant governor's private secretary in July,
1835, seeking the commission for a vice-regal residence rumoured
to be in the works for a site near Clarence Square, Wetherell wrote
....For testimonials as to my competence to take charge of the
work I beg leave to refer to Robert S. Jameson Esquire, Attorney
General, and to Allan N. MacNab Esquire, M.P.P. That I possess
abundant matèriel for design, in the most
elaborate and costly Architectural engravings, books and published designs,
treatises etc. is well known to the former gentleman, whose
intimate knowledge of the Fine Arts is the more surprising, that
it is accompanied by the most profound legal research.
A second reason is the evidence found in the architectural style of the
house. Though Yorkshire-born, Wetherell trained in London where
came to greatly admire the designs of Sir John Soane. While he
is not known to have worked in Soane's office, he did own copies
of his books and incorporated Soanian motifs in his work. Jane
Flatt has drawn attention to similarities between two of Soane's
country houses and Dundurn,
Hamilton, built to Wetherell's plans for Allan MacNab in 1834.
Kalman also noted the tower Wetherell designed for Christ's
Church, Hamilton, included elements that appear to have been taken
Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone. Typical of Soane's work too is
the pair of panelled parapets on Jameson's house.
A third reason for recognizing Wetherell's hand in Jameson's
house is the architect's fondness for stucco. While Dundurn is
brick and Christ's Church was frame, both were rendered in stucco,
then a surface treatment seldom found in Canada. The stucco on
both Dundurn and
Jameson's villa was scored to resemble stone.
Mrs. Jameson remained in Canada for barely eight months before separating
from her husband permanently and returning to England. During much of that
time she was travelling and gathering materials for her well known work,
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles. Jameson himself stayed on in the house
only four more years until the seat of government was moved to Kingston
and he was required to follow. He then advertised the property for sale:
CITY OF TORONTO
Valuable Property for Sale
To be sold - entire or in Lots to suit Purchasers -THAT highly
improved and Valuable Property consisting of the Dwelling House,
Grounds and Premises situated on ONTARIO TERRACE, Garrison Reserve,
lately in the occupation of His HONOR THE VICE CHANCELLOR.
The Dwelling House is of solid Brick - handsomely and most substantially
built. It is in complete order and suitable in every respect
to a gentleman's
family. It commands a fine view of the Lake, and in point of
beauty and salubrity of situation cannot be surpassed by any residence
in or about the City. The Grounds contain about FIVE ACRES and
are enclosed by a handsome, solid fence. They have been laid
down and planted with the utmost care and at a very heavy expense. These
plantations are in very fine order. There is a large Garden well
filled, Outhouses, Wells, &c. &c. &c.
This Property only requires to be seen to be fully appreciated.
The above will be disposed of entire or in Lots to suit Purchasers.
On the Bay Shore Seven or Eight Building Lots of about one-third
of an acre can be obtained, and on Brock Street and Wellington
Place, several others, leaving the Dwelling House with a large
Garden and space around, unimpaired.
The above property is well worth the attention either of a Gentleman
desiring a handsome residence or of a Capitalist wishing to build.
Terms exceedingly liberal and long Credit (secured on the Property)
will be given. Title in fee direct from the Crown to present owner.
For particulars apply to the Proprietor, Kingston, or to MR. HAGARTY,
Solicitor, 12 Wellington Buildings, King Street, Toronto.
Nov. 29, 1841.
The estate was sold in 1844 to Frederick Widder, chief Commissioner of
the Canada Company, who had been renting it at the time. It was
the Widders who named it Lyndhurst, and Mrs. Widder who nurtured
its reputation for legendary hospitality. In March, 1844, she held
Musicale, perhaps as a housewarming, that has been the subject of scholarly
Beginning in the mid-1850s they made a series of alterations
and additions to the house. Perhaps to finance this work, the frontage
on Brock [Spadina] Avenue was sold to Alfred Brunel, superintendent
of the Northern Railway Company, who built a house at the corner
of Wellington Place and subdivided the land south of it into twenty
or so small lots for workers' houses.
But when the subdivision attracted little interest, he sold some
of the land instead to his employers who in 1862 erected an office
building at the Front Street corner.
Not long after the Widders, both of whom were in poor health, moved out.
Lyndhurst was rented again until February 1867, when it was sold to the
Sisters of Loretto, who needed more room for their Toronto girls'
school. Renamed Loretto Abbey, Lyndhurst echoed to the sounds of
young voices until 1928, when the school moved to Armour Heights.
this sixty-year interval several additions were made, notably a
magnificent chapel in a coffered Italianate style designed in 1897
by architect Beaumont Jarvis. Following the Sisters' departure,
the Abbey became a Jesuit seminary until 1961, when it was demolished
to make way for Peter Dickenson's
modern printing house for The Telegram, now the home of The Globe