Toronto has got to be one of my favorite cities on the East Coast….and I grew up right in the thick of Manhattan’s cultural hodgepodge. Zipping up to Canada for a weekend history fix was the perfect way to take advantage of my current upstate NY location before my impending move, and I regret not taking advantage of it sooner. I’ve already covered Casa Loma and Black Creek Pioneer Village, so I’d like to share the most wonderful house to close out the Toronto leg of my Back in Time Zone.
Tucked behind the famous and massive Casa Loma is the ever so lovely Spadina House. Curated to show what life was like in between the two world wars, this house museum is suspended in amber and has all its original furnishings.
Throughout my travels I’ve learned that having original items in historic homes isn’t as common as one would think. Typically, when the wizened and very old relative (or should I say, relic) that owned the grand home would pass, the items inside would be up for distribution amongst their surviving kin. Makes sense, right? Other times items were sold to settle debts, destroyed by natural disasters, or just fell prey to enthusiastic redecoration that would drastically alter interiors. Think about your modern day living space. If your mother is anything like mine, there have probably been a lot of changes leading up to the present.
Not in the case of the Spadina House! Thanks to some dedicated keeping by its last resident and meticulous records detailing every item ever purchased, the grand 55-room mansion is presently on display to vividly show life in the 1920s and 1930s.
Built in 1866 by financier James Austin, Spadina House (Ojibwe for “house on the hill”) is restored to reflect the lives of Albert and Mary Austin during the interwar period. Three generations of Austins resided at Spadina, along with a slew of staff that ran the home in the proper British way. If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, picture only the essential employees; while the house is quite large, it did not require nearly as many servants as Highclere Castle.
The house was donated to the city of Toronto after its last resident died in 1982 and the city has built it up to be a major destination for those craving a glimpse of the time period. Spadina has great programming and events showcasing life in the Edwardian era, including flapper-esque garden parties, speakeasy nights, orchestra concerts, and its most famous attraction: the Downton-themed tours comparing the lives of the Austins with that of the Crawleys…and their staff!
A guided tour takes you through the home and you learn about the changing world and how the Austins related to the war effort, women’s suffrage, and new technologies. Each room is stuffed with details and elaborate furnishings, and a kitchen has a full cupboard of canned goods with label reproductions. Time has faded some of the surroundings, so careful steps were taken to reproduce exact copies of the original wallpaper, drapes, and carpet. Top that off with original oil lamps and the house has a lot of nice touches that bring it to life.
You’ll find that Spadina has a lot of charm and a vibrant personality. It’s easy to let your mind wander as you try to picture what life must have been like for the Austins, especially since the house looks like they’ve stepped out for the afternoon…and haven’t thrown anything out in hundreds of years.
When visiting, check out tour times and allot yourself an hour. It’s also worth checking out their Facebook page to see what special tours or events they have going on since most require signing up in advance. I recommend going to Casa Loma when it opens at 9:30am and then heading over to Spadina House when it opens at noon to take the 12:15pm tour. That’ll leave you with plenty of time to adequately see both and work an appetite up for some poutine.
285 Spadina Rds, Toronto, Canada
Seniors (65 +): $5.75
Youth (13-18 yrs.): $5.75
Children (6-12 yrs.): $4.87
Children (5 yrs. and under): Free