Monthly Archives: August 2011


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City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1253 – photo taken Aug. 9, 1928

The grandstand in the above picture was constructed in 1901 to replace the original structure built in 1894. The 1901 grandstand was destroyed by fire in 1946. The quote below is from the book “There Never Was a Better Time.” It is the tale of an immigrant family, with seven mischievous sons and a rascal of a grandfather, arriving in Toronto in the 1920s, from an isolated village located on the rocky coast of Newfoundland in the days prior to confederation. Toronto, with its bright lights and array of sinful burlesque houses and vaudeville stages, delighted them and horrified their mother. It is an amusing tale of a family struggling to survive in “the big city,” while enjoying the attractions of the diverse life that Toronto offered.

The first time they visited the CNE is chronicled in the book, but the passage below tells about one of the sons, Jack, taking his girlfriend Mary to the Ex and attending a spectacular show in the grandstand pictured above.

From the book “There Never Was a Better Time”

The Grandstand show of 1922 was called “The Prince of Wales’ Durbar.” It was a royal spectacle of pomp and majesty portraying scenes from exotic India, jewel of the Empire. Mary was surprised when they joined the line, as she was well aware of the price of the tickets—fifty cents each. Jack smiled with a touch of pride. He was pleased to have the funds.

While they waited in line, Mary explained to Jack that a “durbar” was a tradition that had originated among the Mogul emperors of India, and was a ceremonial council or court levee. The events eventually developed into gala festivals presented by ruling princes to entertain royal guests. Lord Lyton had held a durbar in 1877 to proclaim Queen Victoria Empress of India. The Delhi Durbar of 1911 celebrated the ascension of King George V and Queen Mary, and was perhaps the most famous durbar of all time. Jack smiled when Mary completed her lecture. It was then that she realized that she had slipped into her role as a teacher. They both laughed, and Jack politely said, “Thank you, Miss Gillard.”

For the citizens of Toronto, the very word durbar conjured visions of imperial splendour and eastern wealth. Each night, the Grandstand at the CNE attracted huge crowds, and newspaper reviews had hailed the show as the best in over ten years.

Jack and Mary were among the twenty-five thousand spectators who gasped in wonder as the larger-than-life scenes unfolded on the gigantic stage. A cast of fifteen hundred was required to populate the extravaganza. Arcs of colour swept the stage, and flashes of light induced magical moods that seized the imagination of the audience, stimulating heights of emotion that most of the audience had rarely experienced. Regiments of soldiers strutted and paraded with exacting precision across the gigantic stage. Richly attired eastern potentates perched regally on the swaying backs of majestic elephants. Even the supposedly intimate scenes were massive in scope when compared to those on normal-sized stages.

The grand finale almost catapulted Jack from his seat. “The Charge of the Dragoons” was a musical ride featuring soldiers displaying scarlet-red tunics trimmed with silver and gold. They galloped their noble steeds in a dramatic cavalry charge, their glistening swords brandished high in the air. Lances fluttered with pennants, adding to the epic battle scene. The martial music engulfed the stadium to create a spine-tingling experience that caused the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck to stand on end.

At the climax of the cavalry charge, the deep-throated shouts of the mounted warriors drowned out the music of the orchestra as the men raised their voices in a unified cry of victory. Cannons exploded, rifle shots cracked in the night air, and the clash of steel on steel echoed across the stadium, conjuring a panorama of militaristic pomp and knightly battle. The audience knew that it was witnessing the very essence of the conquest of the Empire.

When the din of conflict had ended, silence reigned for a long moment. It was as if the viewers were in shock. When the spell was broken, waves of thunderous applause reverberated across the stadium, the acclamation lasting two or three minutes. People jumped to their feet and cheered enthusiastically. When all was again quiet, the orchestra struck the opening notes of “God Save the King.” Everyone remained standing and, with throats tight with emotion, sang the great anthem. Some people in the crowd were familiar with a particularly meaningful line in one verse of the song, words that the composer had penned especially for Canada: “Our loved Dominion bless, with peace and happiness, from shore to shore.”

Within seconds of the final note, fireworks exploded across the pitch-black sky, illuminating the entire grandstand. The faces of the crowd were as visible as if it were daytime. People rushed out of the other exhibition buildings as they heard the bursts echo like crackling thunder across the wide expanse of the CNE grounds. The splashes of light reflected from the turrets and domes of the ornate buildings, making them appear as if they were the spires of magnificent palaces of faraway India. The celestial display electrified the crowd, creating a magical illusion that no one there ever forgot. For Jack and Mary, the memory of a lifetime had been enshrined within their souls.

A link to the novel “There Never Was A Better Time

A link to other posts about Toronto and its history,

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Toronto



The pictures below are from a postcard folder that was mailed in 1948, so the photographs were likely taken in 1947. It is also possible that they were taken prior to the Ex closing for the war years in 1942.


         Cover of the folder of postcards that was mailed in 1948.


The Food Products Building, constructed in 1921 and demolished in 1954.


The Art and Crafts Building constructed in 1912. Today it contains Medieval Times


                         The Electrical Building (now demolished)


Princess Boulevard, looking east toward the Princes’ Gates, with the Automotive Building (built 1929) on the right


The Horticultural Building, constructed in 1907 to replace the Crystal Palace that was destroyed by fire in 1906.


The Coliseum, completed in 1922. At the time, it was the largest structure of its kind in North America.


                                                           A section of the midway


The Princes’ Gates, opened in 1927 by HRH Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (King Edward VIII)

A link to more postcard photos of the 1947 CNE –

Links to novels about Toronto that include stories about the CNE during the 1920s and the 1940s –

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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Toronto



Although few of us can remember the opening of the CNE following the Second World War, the pictures below might being back a few memories for those who can recall the Ex during its golden days, when it was the greatest event of late-summer in Toronto. The postcard views are from folder of postcards that were mailed in 1948, so were likely taken the previous year, 1947. It is also possible that they were taken prior to 1941, before the Ex closed to be used as a training camp for troops who were being sent overseas.


Cover of the folder of postcards mailed in 1948. In that year, postal codes were unnecessary.


Province of Ontario Building, built in 1926 (now the Liberty  Grand )


       Open space in the interior of the Ontario Government Building


                    The Bandshell, built in 1936 at a cost of $47,000.


The Gooderham Fountain, built in 1911, a replica of one of the fountains in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. It was demolished in 1958 and replaced with the Princess Margaret Fountain.


The Dufferin Gates, built in 1910, and demolished in 1959.


The Manufacturers’ Building that burned in 1961. The Better Living Centre now occupies the site.

A link to novels about Toronto that include stories about the CNE –

A link to a novel about Toronto during the 1920s, which includes information about the CNE during that decade –

A link to a book about a boy growing up in Toronto during the 1940s, which tells about his first visit to the CNE in 1947 –

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Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Toronto




My memories of the CNE began in 1947, when my dad took my brother and me to the fair. It was the first year that it was opened after the Second World War. It was amazing world of colour and action, and perhaps most of all, a world of food. In the year following the war, few families possessed the resources to eat in restaurants. An order of take-out fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper, was our only experience with foods prepared beyond our family’s kitchen. The Pure Food Building contained an array of delicious treats and free samples that to my brother and me was a gastronomic delight beyond our wildest dreams.


The Pure Food Building, built in 1921. It was demolished in 1954 and replaced with the present-day Food Products Building.


                           City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1118, Series 377, Item 6045

The Dufferin gates, built in 1910, freshly painted and cleaned for the opening of the 1947 CNE. They were demolished in 1959 to allow for the construction of the Gardiner Expressway.

Stories about the 1947 CNE are contained in the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a book about a boy coming of age in Toronto in the years following the Second World War. The link below allows access to information about the book.

For other novels about Toronto:



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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Toronto




It was a great privilege to attend the funeral of Jack Leyton. Several of the thought that were expressed remained with me as they rang true.

‘If the Olympics can make us proud Canadians, perhaps Jack’s life can make us better Canadians.”

Jack’s letter to Canadians was a manifesto for social democracy. (Stephen Lewis)

One word summed up Jack’s ideals – generosity.




Post about the reaction in Nathan Phillips Square in the days preceding his funeral

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Toronto




Under sullen skies, people gather on Friday August 26th to pay respects and say farewell to Jack Leyton. The colour orange, the traditional colour of the NDP, was either worn or displayed by those who wished to remember the ideals and principles that Jack brought to Canada’s political scene. When a person passes away, people often offer kind remarks, sometimes simply because it is the right thing to do. However, I knew Jack Leyton and had observed him during both private and public moments, and was aware that he was the real McCoy.

Jack was always gracious and a true gentleman. He brought civility to the political scene in Ottawa, fought for “the little guy,” and sought to dispel nastiness and narrow minded actions that divide Canadians into groups for partisan advantage. Jack tried to do the right thing for everyone, not just those who  agreed with him politically. It is sad to watch politicians now shed crocodile tears and try to gain advantage by riding on the coattails of Jack.

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                                     The colour orange worn for Jack.

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             A young woman sketches the CN Tower, and colours it orange.


A mounted policeman stands guard as people enter the City Hall to pay respect.


                            Entering Toronto’s City Hall

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The lines stretched from City Hall Square, down the west side of the building, and across the back as far as Bay Street. This was at 10:15 Friday morning.

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Olivia Chow thanks people who are in line for their kindness and support.


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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Toronto



My visit to the CNE this year was enjoyable, though I was aware that it has changed greatly since the days of my youth. In previous years ,I entered the CNE grounds from the Eastern Gate, travelling on the Bathurst streetcar. This year I entered via the Princes’ Gates as I wanted to photograph the magnificent structures. It is no longer possible to enter the grounds via the Dufferin Gate, as that area is fenced off and is no longer part of the CNE grounds.

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                                       THE Princes’ Gates

Designed by the architectural firm of Chapman and Oxley, they were opened by Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, in 1927.

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                                                The Automotive Building

Inside the grounds, on my left was the Automotive building. Designed by the architect Douglas Kertland in 1929, for years it showcased new cars and trucks. The building is now the Allstream Centre, and is employed for other purposes. Its design is a blend of modern and classical styles, and its detailing is superb.

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                                            The Direct Energy Centre

To the right as I strolled westward, was the Direct Energy Centre, previously the National Trade Centre. Other than BMO Stadium, it is the newest building at the CNE. It contains a million square feet of display area, and is the largest convention centre in Canada. It is a stunningly beautiful building.

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                              Displays in the Direct Energy Centre.

Even thought the stalls inside the Direct Energy Centre are from different countries, I think it is a glorified flea market. However, I admit that is is popular with shoppers.

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        Many of the colourful food stands have been the CNE for years.

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                                                                       Midway Rides

Though it was only 11 am, the midway was already springing to life. Teenagers and youngers were having as much fun as ever, thoroughly enjoying the last days of summer before the rigors of the new school year descend.

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                                            The Food Products Building

The Food Building, constructed in 1954 to replace the previous building from 1921, is as wondrously tacky and gut-wrenchingly gastronomic as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed consuming foods that the rest of the year I avoid for health reasons. After all, I was at the Ex.

Next post will continue to tour the 2011 CNE.

Novels that include stories of yesteryear at the CNE – – and


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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Toronto


Remembering the passing of Jack Leyton–the young man who became a Canadian statesman

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This month (August 2012), it has been a month since Jack Leyton passed away. He never knew me, but I knew him. Many people have made similar statements, as Jack reached out to everyone as a friend, creating the feeling that you knew him personally.

When I moved to downtown Toronto twelve years ago, because I was the only person in our condo who was retired, I attended a City Hall meeting about a change in a parking by-law that affected our building. Because of constant delays, it was two days before the by-law in question was finally addressed by council. As a result, I observed the meetings for two days. This was when I first experienced Jack Leyton in action.

On the second day I was there, an irate woman addressed the council and demanded a change in a by-law. Her request was totally unreasonable, but she insisted that she represented her neighbours and that her entire community wanted the change. Jack politely asked her who these neighbours were, as the previous week he knocked on doors and was unable to find a single person who wanted the change that the woman was demanding. He informed her that if she gave him the names of her supporters, he would visit them and seek their opinions. The woman slinked away in defeat. It floored me that Jack would check with the people who would be affected to allow council to make the right decision. During my two-day stint as City Hall, I saw how Jack researched issues carefully, sought compromise, and  voted accordingly. I realized that I was watching  an exceptional man.

Several years later, in community meetings, I met Olivia Chow. She was instrumental in affecting positive changes in our community. One Christmas, I attended a Christmas party in the Layton/Chow home on Huron Street. At one point during the evening, I observed Jack talking to an elderly man who was showing him several photographs. There were over two hundred guests in the house, but Jack treated the man as if he were the only person there. His kindness and patience never waned, and when the elderly gentleman was ready to depart, Jack went to the third floor of the house to retrieve his coat.

The image that Jack projected was real, not a contrived personae for political gain. He marched in the gay pride parades when it was considered political suicide. He championed the white ribbon campaign to draw attention to violence against women. He urged the city to go green at a time when no one cared about environmental issues. Jack Leyton was the real thing. It has been a year now since his death, and I still miss him. He made the harshness of the political scene appear human, and proved that not all politicians are motivated by personal gain. 

The photos below were taken the week that Jack passed away.


                              Floral tributes placed outside the Leyton home.

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Messages of tribute written with chalk on the ramp and cement slabs at City Hall


                                                 Tributes to Jack at City Hall


                          People wait to sign the condolence book inside City Hall

Among those who wrote in chalk at City Hall, many said that he caused them to vote for the first time in their lives. What an amazing and meaningful tribute.

Remembering Jack. A rare man – great Canadian.

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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Toronto



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The Dufferin Gate of the CNE in the 1920s. It was built in 1910 and demolished in 1959 to allow for the construction of the Gardiner Expressway. 

The “grand old lady of Toronto,” as the Canadian National Exhibition is sometimes referred, has opened for another year. Those of us who knew the Ex in previous decades, lament how much it has changed. Last year as I observed the crowds milling about the midway and flowing into the Food Building, I realized that it remains a place where memories are created. Young people who visit the late-summer fair today are creating their own memories, which in the years ahead, will be as golden for them as our remembrances are for us. My personal memories of the Ex go back as far as 1947, when the Ex reopened after the Second World War. However, I can vividly recall stories of even earlier yesteryears that my dad and grandfather related about attending the great fair.

My father arrived as a young immigrant in Toronto in 1921, and was enthralled with the CNE. Arriving in Canada from a remote coastal village in Newfoundland, prior to the days of confederation, he was overwhelmed by the vast site, enormous ornate exhibition buildings, throngs of people, and variety of foods offered. It was an experience he never forgot, and rarely missed a chance to tell my bother and me about his glorious days at the “wondrous Ex.”



The quotes below are from the novel “There Never Was A Better Time,” a story about my dad, Jack Taylor, and my Uncle Ernie. It tells about their first visit to the CNE in 1921.

In some ways, Jack and Ernie were not to be mere observers at the Ex, but suitors romancing a woman who possessed everything a young man could desire—mystery, beauty, and excitement. Indeed, in this decade, this was the way many people viewed the CNE. It was the highlight of the summer, and perhaps the most singularly important event of the year. By the time the Ex opened, children had grown tired of their rough games in the empty lots and back alleys, and adults were also ready for a more exciting venue. The fair’s arrival made the end of summer seem bearable—perhaps even worthwhile. For schoolchildren, the Ex was a thrilling ritual that would create wistful smiles and dreams that lasted through the first few weeks’ drudgery of the new scholastic year.

As a backwater city of the Empire, Toronto lacked the sophistication of London, Paris, or Rome. Toronto was unable to boast of great cultural institutions or exotic pleasure palaces, but it was still home to the “World’s Largest Annual Exposition.” No citizen questioned this extravagant claim or inquired as to who had compiled the statistics to verify it. All who attended the fair felt capable of assessing it, and there were no doubts in their minds that it was indeed the largest and greatest in the world.


The Toronto Star was on the table in front of Jack, and he eagerly read out details about the Ex to Ernie. The fair had opened its gates at eight o’clock that morning. It would cost $600,000 to pay the expenses for the full run of the great exposition. The CNE advertised a “Baby Show” on Labour Day featuring three pairs of identical twins. Other attractions included the “Biggest War Photograph Exhibition in the World.” The Transportation Building was unable to contain the motor exhibition, and thus it had been supplemented with two acres of tents. The Motor Show promised to be a “record-breaker.” Because of the ever-increasing crowds, officials had added three hundred street signs to help people find their way around.

At the Exhibition Art Gallery were numerous treasures, the masterpieces including George Bellows’s The Knock Out, a painting depicting the boxing ring, and A Child and a Dog by John Russell, a sentimental portrayal of youth. The Band Contest would feature seven bands performing classical and modern music. The Business Exhibition highlighted the latest machinery and up-to-date methods for commercial enterprises.

In the old Ontario Government Building, slated to be demolished after the fair closed, were live beavers, moose, fishers, and pheasants, along with an Algonquin Park exhibit. Many a prim and proper elderly woman, after observing the youth among the crowds, remarked that there were perhaps even more animals on the midway. They felt that, since the war, the conduct of the younger generation was not in keeping with the standards of their beloved Queen Mary. They remarked that young people had been more respectful in the days before the war, referring to the Boer War in Africa, which had started in 1899.

The Government Building contained a detailed model of a rural Ontario community, with farms, barns, and fields of pasture and grain. It also depicted a village with houses, a community centre, and shops. All roads, streets, and highways were accurately laid out. The carefully crafted model was certain to amaze everyone.

Although the new livestock building—the Coliseum—remained under construction, there would still be an enormous livestock display. It would include fifteen hundred cattle, nine hundred horses, seven hundred and fifty sheep, five hundred swine, and over sixty-five hundred poultry. Almost every domesticated animal on earth would be exhibited, whether two-legged or four-, surely an accomplishment that rivalled Noah’s Ark.

Jack continued reading aloud other details, but Ernie said nothing in reply, as he was more interested in seeing the events, not reading about them. He knew that if they hurried, they would see the Warriors’ Day Parade. Perhaps they might even catch a glimpse of Lord Byng, who had been sworn in that very month as Governor General. He and Lady Byng were to be present at the CNE’s official opening ceremonies in the afternoon. They were scheduled to review the troops at the Band Stand. With these thoughts in mind, Ernie insisted that his brother eat faster and read less.


At the Grandstand at 9:15 pm was a show entitled “Over Here,” a tribute to Canada’s history. Advertisements stated that the show portrayed the founding of Canada, the triumph of civilization, and a nation’s progress. This was no small feat to accomplish within a two-hour presentation, even assuming that civilization had actually triumphed within the borders of the Dominion. A large orchestra had been assembled in front, below the stage, and it provided the music for the extravaganza. There was a community singsong included with each performance, and a giant screen flashed the lyrics to the audience. One of the best-received songs was “Home Sweet Home.” Jack and Ernie longed to attend the show, but lacked the fifty-cent admission. For the remainder of the Saturday evening, they returned to the midway to admire the girls, deciding that this activity was really the best fun of all, and cost nothing.

Shortly after 11 pm, the Grandstand show ended with a dazzling fireworks display that, although it originated south of the stadium, was visible throughout the entire CNE, bursting above the midway and the exhibition grounds. It was Ernie’s and Jack’s first experience of such an event, their previous acquaintance with exhibitions of fire confined to the flames atop the hills on bonfire night in Burin. There was no comparison. The fireworks illuminated the skies in a sparkling array resembling millions of diamonds scattered across the black dome of the universe. The dazzling light reflected off the waters of the lake and illuminated the domes and turrets of the ornate buildings as if it were daytime. The deafening echoes of the explosions reverberated like thunder as they rolled across the grounds.

The downtown towers of modern-day Toronto with their numberless illuminated windows did not exist, and thus the fireworks were the sole man-made lights in the night sky. People gasped and shrieked, their faces reflecting the flashing colours of red, orange, and gold. The evening’s fireworks finally climaxed in a cataclysmic explosion of fire that made it seem as if the end of the world had arrived. In truth, the only thing that had ended was another day at the fair.

At the Grandstand, the words “Good Night” flashed on the giant screen.

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                                             City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1253

The Grandstand where the 1921 Grandstand show was held. It was destroyed by fire in 1946, and a new grandstand opened for the 1948 season. The new 25,000-seat 1948 grandstand has since been demolished.

The links below lead to further tales of the history of Toronto and the CNE

The book that includes the CNE of 1921

Other posts about historic Toronto:

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Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Toronto


A glimpse at the Interior of Campbell House at University Avenue and Queen Street

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Today a tour guide named Tim provided me with an excellent tour of Campbell house, at the corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West.

The following quote is from the book “The Villages Within.”

This 1822 home was originally on Adelaide Street, near Frederick Street. It was relocated to its present site in 1972. It was the home of Sir William Campbell (1758-1834), sixth chief justice of Ontario.

Born in Caithess, Scotland, Campbell fought in the American Revolution, and was a prisoner in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. After the war, he settled in Nova Scotia, and practised law. In 1811 he moved to Upper Canada (Ontario). He was appointed to the King’s Bench as a judge, and in 1825 was speaker of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. In 1829 he was knighted, the first such honour bestowed on a member of the judiciary in Upper Canada.

The neo-classical home, with its nine windows in the façade, has been faithfully restored. Its impressive appearance reflects the important position Campbell held in the town of York. It is of red brick, on a stone foundation. Four Ionic pillars support the graceful porch that protects the doorway, with its fanned-shaped transom window and small sidelight panes of glass. The triangular pediment is a classical Greek design.

                  Interior views of Campbell House

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Interior staircase that is original to the home, and the 19th century clock beside the stairs.


Because the house was built as a retirement home, after the Campbell children had grown up and departed, there are only two bedrooms – the master bedroom and a guest room. This is a view of  the master bedroom.

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Ballroom on the second floor, and the ornate fireplace. The room accommodated about thirty dancers.


Dining room on the first floor. At the back of the room, the door on the left is where the servants entered with the trays of food. The door on the right leads to the butler’s quarters.

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Individual bowls used for rinsing wine glasses (left) when a different wine was served, and a view of a dinner plate (right).


Withdrawal room opposite the dining room, where women “withdrew” after dinner


Kitchen in the basement to prepare the family meals. The Campbells employed ten servants.


Modern dining room in the basement that is open daily to the public. The menu changes constantly. Reservations are recommended – 416- 597-0542. I intend to lunch here in the near future and will report on the experience.

Posts about other Toronto historic homes and novels about Toronto –

The book “The Villages Within” provides a walking tour of Queen Street West, which includes Campbell House.


Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Toronto