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A “sign” of the times

July 20th, 2018

A street sign reading, "Harriet Boulton Smith Way - John Street"

Image by the AGO.

On July 12th, Grange community members, AGO staff, City Councillor Joe Cressy and members of the Boulton family gathered at the south end of Grange Park for the official unveiling of Harriet Boulton Smith Way. The honourary street name stretches along John Street between Stephanie Street and Queen Street West, ending right at the base of Grange Park.

At the turn of the 20th century, civic leaders decided that Toronto needed an art museum to become a truly great city. They just needed a space. Thanks to Harriet Boulton Smith, who bequeathed The Grange (her family home), the art collection it contained, and surrounding park to the cause, the Art Museum of Toronto found a home. In 1966, the Art Museum of Toronto became the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Four people unveiling a street sign

The unveiling of Harriet Boulton Smith Way. Image by the AGO.

The Grange, Toronto’s oldest remaining brick house, was built in 1817 by the Boulton family. One of the Boulton sons, William, later married a wealthy young American girl born Harriet Elizabeth Mann Dixon.

Harriet Dixon became Harriet Boulton, and in 1852 she was gifted The Grange and seven acres of surrounding land by William’s mother. In her lifetime, Harriet was involved with a number of charities and won prizes at fairs for her lace making skills. She held a number of balls and garden parties at The Grange, and was described in local newspapers as an excellent hostess.

Following William’s death, she married a well-known British scholar named Goldwin Smith. Harriet had inherited a significant collection of mainly European art from the Boultons, which quickly became even larger due to her new husband’s love of portraiture.

In June 1913, the Art Museum of Toronto held its first exhibition of the donated Boulton and Smith collections in The Grange. The Toronto Daily Star described the museum as “the nucleus of an art museum which will doubtless grow, as time passes, to be a national treasure house.”

A Painting of Harriet Boulton Smith in a wedding dress

George Theodore Berthon, Portrait of Mrs. William Henry Boulton (Harriette), 1846. oil on canvas, Overall: 59.1 x 44.5 cm. Goldwin Smith Collection, Bequest of 1911

And grow it did. The AGO now spans a city block and has a collection of close to 95,000 works. Since 1911, Grange Park has been operated by the City of Toronto as a public park and was revitalized just last year. As part of the park’s revitalization, the local Grange community petitioned City Council to bestow this honour in recognition of Harriet’s generosity, and the ceremonial dedication was approved by City Council in 2017.

Feel like thanking Harriet? You can pay a visit to her portrait, painted by George Berthon on the occasion of her first wedding, in our newly reopened J.S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art. Be sure to enjoy a visit to Grange Park afterwards.

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