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The Grange Staircase

August 30th, 2010

The Grange Stairs - Historical

The Grange Stairs - Contemporary

In the main hall of The Grange today (the first home of the AGO), visitors can appreciate the elegant lines of the staircase that sweeps up to the second floor. However, this staircase was not original to The Grange when it was built in 1817 for the family of prominent local lawyer and politician D’Arcy Boulton.

In 1885, Harriette Bolton Smith and Goldwin Smith replaced the Georgian style staircase in their main hall, with a heavy, angular Victorian staircase. By the late 1960s, The Grange was restored to how it would have looked in the 1830s. The restoration architect replaced the Victorian staircase with the current free-standing style, reinforced with steel and decorative brass balusters.

More information on The Grange can be found here.

This week at The Grange

August 27th, 2010

An update on the ongoing repairs at The Grange.

Portico Assessment

One of our concerns is that the front portico is shifting. The spaces between the treads of the steps has increased and some of them are sloping slightly. Ten years ago, we investigated the front of the portico and found that it was sitting on old brick. We were able to stabilize the steps then, but knew that more work would have to be done. The original portico was made out of wood and was replaced with the present stone version in 1885.

Being a designated heritage site means that we are required to do archeology before we do any excavation. Archeological Services Inc., with a team led by archeologist Eva MacDonald, dug two pits, each 1 meter square and 4 meters deep, at the side and the front sections of the steps. They found that the area had been too disturbed during previous construction of air ducts and service lines to be informative. Other than a few shards of glass and pottery and a 1961 penny, no artifacts were found. This cleared the way for Heritage Restoration to excavate the test holes further so that we can assess the foundations and make a decision on the best way to proceed. What we found was that the portico is sitting on a stone foundation. At one point, the stones were mortared with a lime rich mortar; however, over time, the lime has leached out leaving only sand. Given the condition, it was decided that we would restore the stone foundation rather than remove it and pour a concrete one. This, while being more time consuming, is the appropriate approach as it maintains the heritage integrity of the portico.

Our Heritage Architect—ERA Architects Inc.

ERA Architects Inc., has been in business for over twenty years and is based in Toronto and Prince Edward County. With a staff of 30, the firm specializes in heritage architecture, landscape and planning, and provides services for both the public and private sectors. Recent and ongoing architectural projects in building conservation and adaptive re-use in which ERA has been involved include Toronto’s Distillery District, 51 Police Division, Renaissance ROM, Transformation AGO, the Evergreen Brickworks, the Artscape Wychwood Barns, Union Station and Bridgepoint Health (the Don Jail).

Edwin Rowse, the founder, developed his interest in heritage architecture while studying at the University of Edinburgh. Walking the narrow winding streets of the medieval city, he became fascinated with the idea of how to introduce new uses into old buildings. A passion that has continued.

ERA’s core interest is in connecting heritage to wider considerations of urban design and city building, and to a larger set of cultural values that provide perspective to their work at every scale. Their core values are in generating professional integrity and expertise through research, education and mentoring. To that end ERA frequently works collaboratively with other firms to engage in city building, conserving heritage architecture and improving the built environment. They also generate publications and exhibitions related to Toronto and to Canada’s built environment.

A Heritage Construction Moment

I spoke to Andrew Pruss, our architect on the project, about when someone should hire a heritage architect. He noted that anyone with a listed or designated building should definitely choose a heritage architect. Other than that, it really depends on what the owner is planning. Today’s architects focus on the most up-to-date practices and standards whereas a heritage architect must look to the past for standards. While we no longer build with heavy masonry supports or wooden timbers, houses that have these need to be restored or repaired using the same techniques as in the past. An example with The Grange is replacing the portland cement mortar with lime mortar to protect the softer bricks. Heritage architects have a love of the older building techniques and understand traditional construction methods.

Generously sponsored by:

What has happened this week at The Grange?

August 18th, 2010

Chimney Repairs

The first task that has been undertaken are the repairs to the chimneys. At least two chimneys will have to be taken down to roof level and be rebuilt. As much as possible, we are keeping the original brick. When we have to use new brick, we have matched it to the old and will integrate the new with the original so that it will blend in. The chimney flues are clay and appear to be in good condition. Most of them will be sealed as they are not in use and, being open, effect the humidity and temperature in The Grange. The hearth and bake oven chimney will remain open for use. We are using lime mortar (hydraulic lime mixed with sand) for the joints. A test sample was done to determine colour match and mortaring technique.

Our Heritage Contractor—Heritage Restoration Inc.

I asked co-owner Alfred Huntley how he got into heritage restoration work. Here is his reply:

“When I was twelve years old, my Father took my brother Bruce and myself to Centre Island to work with him tearing down a 250 foot smoke stack, we were hooked after that. We spent two weeks on the island while my dad and his crew tore the stack down and we had the run of the island. Every summer past that, he would take us to the cool jobs and that is when we started to learn about brick laying, tuckpointing and painting, he taught us about rigging, swing stages and how to set up scaffolding.

“In my Fathers era, his job was called a steeplejack, a term that has since been lost to restoration technician. My brother Bruce and I have since taken the business over making us the third generation running the company and Bruce’s son Chris is now in the field as a project co-ordinator making him the fourth generation.
Both Bruce and I have had several opportunities to work at other jobs but we stay in this field because we have a passion that runs deep in both of us to carry on in the trade which is our family business.

“Heritage Restoration was my father’s company that he started in 1968 and we at the time thought the name sounded odd but he told us that it was his heritage as his father had run his company as Huntley Steeplejack and Chimney Service, it’s in our blood and the knowledge of the two previous generations that has been passed onto us is priceless.”

Along with specializing in all branches of heritage restoration, stone, masonry, wood, glass, slate and copper work, Heritage Restoration has a history of restoring and maintaining water towers.

A Heritage Construction Moment

It’s important to understand that masonry in historic buildings is very different than modern buildings in several key ways:

  • Historic brick is softer than modern brick because modern brick is fired at a much higher temperature than was possible in the past.
  • Portland cement is used in most modern buildings–but it wasn’t even available until 1871 long after The Grange was built.
  • Historic masonry buildings were designed to absorb water and then release it, as opposed to modern building technology, which emphasizes waterproofing.

Quite often, and this is true of some of the mortar in The Grange, portland cement mortar has been used instead of historic lime mortar. Portland cement is quick-setting, inexpensive, and strong. However, it can do a lot of damage to a historic building that was originally pointed with lime mortar. Portland cement is generally more rigid and less permeable than the historic brick, and will cause damage to the brick during the natural cycle of expansion and contraction. Lime mortar, on the other hand, is more accommodating, and its lower compressive strength allows the brick to expand and contract without being damaged. This also means that the mortar will deteriorate but the brick will not—a much easier repair. Lime mortar also allows water to pass in and out of the joints, which means that water does not get trapped in the brick or the stone. Portland cement mortars are unable to wick water out of the walls, so water gets trapped and instead escapes through the historic stone or brick. This damages the bricks as the water pressure builds up in the masonry until the face of the brick or the stone pops off (spalling), exposing the inside of the brick and making it more vulnerable to continued deterioration.

Generously sponsored by:

What’s Happening at the Grange?

August 6th, 2010

The AGO was the recipient of a grant from Parks Canada to do some much needed repairs to the house, which is a national historic site. While The Grange was carefully protected through Transformation AGO, obviously we couldn’t do needed repairs. This grant will allow us to rebuild two of the chimneys and repoint much of the brick; repair the foundation of the front portico; repair the soffits (near the roof) and paint. We are working with ERA Architects, a heritage architect firm and Heritage Restoration Inc., a heritage contractor and will have archaeologists on site for the portico repairs. We are hoping the job will be finished by the end of September.

Stay tuned to this blog for weekly updates on the repairs and for information on what we are finding and the differences between working on an old house versus working on a new one.

The Boulton Family Crest

August 2nd, 2010

Boulton Family Crest

In 1817, D’Arcy Boulton, his wife Sarah Anne and their children moved into their brand new home at The Grange. This family of British origin was part of the aristocratic elite in early Toronto and as such, had their crest painted on the leaded glass window in The Grange.

Interestingly, the crest is a visual play on the name Boulton. It features an arrow, also known as a bolt, piercing a barrel, or hogshead of wine, also known as a tun. The family motto is written below the crest in Latin and reads: Dux vitae ratio or The guide to life is reason.

The fact that the Bolton family featured this crest prominently in their home suggests they were keen to show off their British ancestry and assert their aristocratic status in local society.

More information on The Grange can be found here.

Goldwin Smith: an influential opponent of slavery

July 5th, 2010

Goldwin Smith

The Grange was built in 1817 as the home of D’Arcy Boulton Jr., his wife Sarah Anne, and their eight children. Over the next 94 years, The Grange was both a vibrant family estate and a hub of Toronto’s social and political activities.

When in 1875 Goldwin Smith took up residence in The Grange as Harriette Boulton’s new husband (Harriette being the first wife of Henry Boulton, D’Arcy’s eldest son), he was already a towering presence in England and the United States, loathed or admired for his political views and for his opposition to slavery. An eloquent speaker and forceful writer, it is said that he personally persuaded the British public that the North, rather than the South, deserved their support in America’s Civil War.

In his widely read book, “Does the Bible Sanction American Slavery?” (1863), Smith debunked a pernicious theory, and railed against the slave-owners who he thought had poisoned the political and social system of the Confederacy in a country he otherwise admired.

More information on The Grange can be found here.

“The Sage of The Grange”: Goldwin Smith’s final rest 100 years ago

June 7th, 2010

Goldwin Smith

When Goldwin Smith died on June 7, 1910 at age 86, tributes and remembrances poured in from political leaders, diplomats, the academic world, and well-known literary figures living in England and the United States as well as Canada. A throng of over 5000 ordinary citizens viewed the body which was laid out in his library in The Grange where he had lived for 35 years after marrying the widow Harriet Boulton. A private funeral was held in the historic house followed by a public service in the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall.

The mourners, led by Sir Henry Pellatt, the representative of the Governor-General, included the Lieutenant-Governor, provincial and civic leaders, and representatives of innumerable organizations, charities, clubs, and the Press. Braving a fierce rainstorm, crowds lined the route followed by the funeral cortege to St. James’ Cemetery where the remains of “The Sage of the Grange” were buried beside his beloved Harriet.

The Grange Park

May 17th, 2010

The Grange

The park that currently sits to the south of the Art Gallery of Ontario was once the front lawn of The Grange, the original home of the AGO. The Grange Park was part of a 100 acre lot running between Beverley and McCaul Streets, and from Queen Street (then Lot Street) all the way up to Bloor Street. The British government colonized the land as their own, and then sold it in the early 1800s to D’Arcy Boulton Jr. for 350 British pounds.

Boulton built his family home on this site, and his estate also featured flower and vegetable gardens, an orchard, stables, and servants’ cottages. The Grange became a hub of British aristocratic social life in Toronto, with this park being home to many community picnics and garden parties hosted by the Boultons throughout the 1800s. Today, The Grange Park is at the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood featuring many residential homes, the AGO, the Ontario College of Art and Design, and is within the Kensington-Chinatown city district.

More information on The Grange can be found here.

Grange Park Annual Spring Cleanup: April 23 2010

April 15th, 2010

Grange Park Trash

It’s that time of year again! Join the staff and volunteers of the AGO, OCAD and University Settlement at the annual spring cleanup of Grange Park on Friday, April 23, from 2 to 4 pm. This year, we’re really going to take on the challenge and dedicate two hours to the cleanup.  

We will gather by University Settlement (at the south end of the park) to distribute gloves and garbage bags. The City Parks department will also lend us a few rakes and some paper bags to clear up the dead leaves – this will make a big difference!

The spring clean-up of Grange Park is part of Mayor Miller’s Toronto Makeover initiated by the Mayor’s Clean and Beautiful City campaign.

Take a Walk, Hear the Talk

June 4th, 2009

[murmur] in the Grange

Last week, ArtsAccess celebrated the completion of its four-year run that involved a successful partnership among four Ontario art galleries and numerous artists, funders, community partners and participants. To commemorate this venture, the AGO launched its own ArtsAccess legacy project called [murmur] in the Grange, in partnership with [murmur], a Toronto-based oral history project.

“[murmur] in the Grange offers a compelling, immersive experience that unites the Gallery and the Grange neighbourhood through storytelling,” said Colin Wiginton, manager of Education Programs at the AGO. “It is fitting that the legacy project has brought us right back to our own neighbourhood.”

Catherine Campbell on behalf of ArtsAccess and Robin Elliott on behalf of [murmur] worked together to identify and contact local residents and to record their stories related to the Grange neighbourhood. More than 50 stories were gathered as told by 30 different contributors who either live, work or have strong connections to the neighbourhood in and around the AGO.

These stories are now accessible via cell phone across 18 different story locations in the Grange neigbourhood as well as online: When walking the neighbourhood the story locations are designated by a green, ear-shaped sign that includes a telephone number and location code. Simply dial the number, enter the location code and experience the Grange from the unique perspective of those who know it best.

ArtsAccess was a multi-year community arts initiative that involved a partnership between the AGO, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Thunder Bay Art Gallery and Woodland Cultural Centre. Its goal was to unite artists, community members and cultural organizations, and engage communities in conceptualizing art projects that mattered to them. Together, ArtsAccess and Collection X – an interactive website that enables users to showcase their own content and connect with other users – promoted creativity and built relationships through a combination of community-based and online experiences.