Hidden Toronto: The story behind the Grange

The early 19th-century manse would end up being dwarfed by Frank Gehry’s Art Gallery of Ontario redesign, but the result is stunning nonetheless


What

The Grange

Where

317 Dundas West, behind the Art Gallery of Ontario

Why you should check it out

When renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry revealed his ambitious design for the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004, it’s safe to say that many were not impressed.

Amid the backlash over the scale of the project was concern from locals on the fate of the Grange. An agreement signed by the City of Toronto and the AGO in 2005 required that certain elements of the Grange be retained.

The early 19th-century manse that housed the first Art Museum of Toronto – and later, the Ontario College of Art – would end up being dwarfed by Gehry’s redesign. The result is stunning nonetheless, with the circa-1817 Georgian manor incorporated as a wing of the gallery in one of the better examples of facadism in the city.

But you’d hardly know that the Grange is a national historic site sitting there almost inconspicuously underneath Gehry’s masterpiece while flanked on the east by another architectural landmark – Will Alsop’s “flying table” at OCADU.

The Grange is one of the oldest buildings in the city, originally built on 100 acres for D’Arcy Boulton, heir apparent of the influential Boulton family.

Boulton left the property to his son, William Henry Boulton, a future four-time mayor of Toronto and Canadian MP. Additions to the manor would be built in the 1840s and again in 1855. After Boulton’s death ownership passed to his widow, and she bequeathed it to the Art Museum of Toronto, which would later become the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The 100 acres on which the house was built would be sold off or donated by then. The north section of the property was sold to Bishop Strachan in 1828 for the building of King’s College. In the 1840s, property to the south was donated to St. George the Martyr Church and St. Patrick’s Market. The grounds around the Grange would be used as a park starting in 1910.

The space has undergone a revitalization in recent years with additions of a playground, fountain and more famously Henry Moore’s Large Two Forms. The statue was moved into the park from its spot at Dundas and McCaul in 2017.

The Grange’s place in more recent Toronto history will be marked this week as part of the 40th anniversary of Pride festivities. It was at the Grange on June 28, 1981 that the first official Pride was held. More than 1,500 people attended, and there were tables and displays. And The Red Berets, a political feminist choir, performed.

Read all of NOW’s Hidden Toronto stories here

Hidden Toronto is a weekly feature exploring the city’s alternative history through contemporary landmarks. Read it online each Sunday.

@enzodimatteo

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