May 18th, 2022
Arts & Crafts Architecture in the Beaches

Q1. Who brought arts & crafts architecture to Toronto?
Q9. Name two features of early 1900's architecture in the beaches?

Arts & Crafts Architecture in the Beaches

From cottage style to the grand Glen Manor

By Beth Parker

Glen Stewart Ravine Bridge 1912/2007

Toronto is a city defined by neighbourhoods. Although each has a distinctive feel, certain styles of architecture tell you that you are in neighbourhoods built during a specific period, such as the 1920s or the '30s.

In the Beaches, architecture before 1900 was mostly small beach cottages, occupied by seasonal residents. As the community expanded, however, it became possible to live in the area 12 months of the year. Many cottages were renovated to become year round residences and larger, permanent buildings were constructed.

A stunning new development called Glen Manor

In 1923, the development of one of the most beautiful residential areas was well underway. This was the Stewart Manor property, developed on the former Ames Estate on both sides of Glen Manor Road. Alfred Earnest Ames was the youngest president of the Toronto Stock Exchange, and one of many successful stockbrokers and business people who lived in Toronto mansions but owned summer homes in the Beach.

The developers promised that the Glen Manor development would compare with the “older, most noted residential districts in Toronto.” The stunning streetscape was laid out in harmony with the existing topography of woods, water and the ravine.

In 1931, the 11 acre Stewart Manor (Glen Manor) Ravine was acquired by the city. Although many features of the area have changed, the main house with its backyard arbours and pathways still remain.

Eden Smith brings Arts & Crafts architecture to Toronto

The older architecture in the Beaches is typical of many old Toronto neighbourhoods. Our buildings were constructed in the early 20th century, during a time in which the Arts and Crafts movement from England was having its full effect on Canadian urban architecture. One of the most important architects of the time – and indeed, in Toronto’s history, was Eden Smith. Smith was the first architect to introduce the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement to Canadian architecture, a direction that influenced domestic architecture in Ontario over the next quarter century.

Eden Smith was born in Birmingham, England. He became familiar with Arts and Crafts ideals because of his father’s association, as a builder with William Morris and his circle. Smith moved to Toronto in 1887 and soon opened his own architectural office. Eden designed an estimated 2500 houses, churches, and public buildings before retiring in 1920. During his life in Toronto, he lived in Wychwood Park, a neighbourhood that remains the best example in Toronto of arts and crafts architecture.

It soon began to be “fashionable” to live in an Eden Smith home, and his influence certainly spread to the Beaches, as well as High Park, Forest Hill and Moore Park. His designs cover a wide range of buildings, from large to modest and includes the first pubic housing in the city, as well as some of our most beautiful libraries and churches.

Externally, an Eden Smith house generally falls into the category of "English Cottage Style.” In reality, the style he developed was a unique Arts and Crafts house especially suited to the particular environmental, climatic and social conditions of Toronto and southern Ontario. This is why when you walk about our neighbourhoods, you can spot his influence.

Eden Smith

Simple, functional, innovative design

“He believed a house should be designed from the inside out, and if the plan is molded to the activities of the owner, the exterior will reflect his personality” said A.S. Mather Sr. of his former employer.

Smith’s designs were truly original. He liked free-flowing open plans, built-in cupboards, verandas, and irregular central halls shaped by the size and optimal layout of the surrounding rooms. This is why many of his houses “turn the house” around, so that the entrance is by the side, near the garden, or to take advantage of the best natural light and sight. So innovative were his designs that in the 1920s, sightseeing businesses would deliberately drive by to show visitors the designs. Smith’s designs also were functional and simple, hence the motto he adapted for himself: “Individuality in simplicity.”

Affordable housing with style

Another outstanding achievement was the design of the Riverdale and Spruce Courts, a co-op housing complex at the corner of Spruce and Sumach Streets in Cabbagetown. It was begun in 1913 and flourishes to this day as a model of successful co-operative housing. The Spruce Court Housing Co-op and the Bain Apartments Co-op were the first public housing projects in Toronto and a fine example of successful undertakings in the field of providing affordable housing. Today, both are resident-owned and managed housing co-operatives.

The Spruce Court Housing has 78 various-sized fats in two and three-storey buildings. All the fats have a front door and porch to the outside. The Sumach Street courtyard, built in 1913, was first half of the project. The Spruce Street courtyard was built in 1926. The Bain Apartments Co-op, 100 Bain Avenue in Riverdale, was built in 1914 and now contains 260 units, ranging from one bedroom units to as large as four bedrooms. These projects represent the first deliberate attempt to create low- income public housing in Canada.


Inglenook: a space or nook beside a fireplace.

Doglegged stairs: a half-turn stair, the successive fights of which are immediately side by side and connected by an intervening platform.

Newel posts: Decorative posts at the end of a staircase.

Arts & Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts style originated in the 1880s and was led by English poet, author, designer and social reformer William Morris. The style was a reaction to the dehumanizing aspects of the Industrial Revolution. It was quickly picked up by famed US architect and designer Gustav Stickley, and inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School.

In Canada, the Arts and Crafts style was adapted to housing by English architect Eden Smith, who moved to Toronto as a young man and lived in Wychwood Park.

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