May 17th, 2022
Toronto's Never Ending Romance

Q4. Where would you find a traditional open-air Greek Theatre in Toronto? (P12)
Q6. What does TV's Relic Hunter, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, and celebrity Kathleen Turner all have in common? (P12)

Toronto's Never Ending Romance

Guildwood Park on the Bluffs

By Beth Parker

You can make the trip by bike, by car, by transit—even by sail boat or canoe—but just 15 kilometres from downtown Toronto is an almost magical garden and historic site. For generations, families have gone there to picnic, individuals have walked the trails and explored the gardens, and artists have created their masterpieces on the site.

Welcome to the 88 acres of property known as Guildwood Park – still remembered by many long time Torontonians as the “Guild of all arts”. High on top of the Scarborough Bluffs in east Toronto, the site includes a lush forest, a panoramic view of Lake Ontario and a mysterious, almost ghostly garden of over 100 pieces of sculpture and building fragments. Guildwood Park is also the site of an historic building, the Guild Inn, The Inn has seen many, many memories. People have been married there, movies and TV programs like Relic Hunter have been filmed there, and famous guests including: Canadian PM Lester B. Pearson, Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Reeve have visited and stayed there. Although the Inn is now closed and in disrepair, you still can explore the property and be transformed back to romantic stories of Toronto’s past.

The "Ghosts" of the Sculpture Garden: Saving Toronto’s Past

On the property’s front lawn is a fascinating collection of columns and architectural details from some of Toronto’s historic buildings rescued during the city’s building boom of the 1950s and ‘60s. These fragments are the last representatives of a part of architectural history which was lost before heritage preservation laws existed to protect it.

Many longtime Torontonians might remember where the buildings once stood downtown, specifically in the area of Bay, Yonge, Richmond and King Streets. You actually, may have worked as a clerk at one of the many banks, or at the former Toronto Star building, or maybe you studied medicine at the University of Toronto. If you aren’t old enough to have lived during this time, you may in fact have had your first job working in one of Toronto’s modern landmarks, which replaced one of the original landmarks.

In the 1950s and 60s, Toronto experienced a renovation and building boom. It therefore was decided that many older downtown buildings decorated by master stonemasons had to be demolished to make room for more modern “practical” buildings. This horrified Spencer Clark, owner of the Guildwood property.

On his own initiative, Clark salvaged large, interesting architectural pieces from the ill-fated building facades and set them up on the grounds of the Guild Inn. These fragments became part of the sculpture gardens that remain today.

They include columns from the Bank of Nova Scotia that used to stand at 39 King Street West, and the Bank of Toronto at King and Bay, Iconic pillar tops from the old University of Toronto medical building, and part of the old Toronto Star building from 80 Yonge Street.

The Guild Inn’s Romantic History

The site of the Guild Inn and its property has a varied and romantic history. The land, then occupied by various owners, was originally surveyed around 1795 by John Graves Simcoe, the First Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada.

The building you see on the site was built in 1914 as Ranelagh Park for a retired American soldier, Colonel Harold Charles Bickford. Bickford wanted a country home for his wife and seven children. He built the multi bedroom, two-storey pseudo- Georgian manor with a grand staircase, balcony, veranda, and a stable full of polo ponies. When the family moved, the property changed owners a couple more times until it was bought by Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson. Rosa, another dramatic figure, was a widow with four children and her late husband's successful shoe company to run.

Toronto’s magnificent "Temple" Building

One particularly outstanding structure, the Temple Building, was the first skyscraper in Toronto. It was ten stories high and at that time it was the tallest building in the British Empire. Read Toronto's First Skyscraper, on page 35.

Take the Guild Sculpture Gardens – A walking Guide
(page 20) with you and stroll about the garden. Follow the fascinating walking tour through this architectural gem. You’ll see that each has a small plaque either on them or near them to tell you what they are – and to take you back in time.

Turning love of the arts into an arts guild

Rosa was very passionate about the arts; in fact, her cousin was A.Y. Jackson, one of the Group of Seven artists. Together with her new husband, Spencer Clark (see above), Rosa shared an interest " to encourage the Group of Seven and offer them a place to work." The couple formed the Guild of All Arts in 1932 as an arts and crafts collective to support artists during the Great Depression.

Artists and artisans came from far and wide to stay, working in exchange for room and board. Cabins were built to accommodate the artists, some of which are still there. In addition, visitors flocked to the Guild to watch artisans at work and enjoy the beautiful property. The Clarks offered meals and guest accommodations, turning the Guild of all Arts into one of most popular locations in the 1930s to stay and to enjoy fine arts and crafts.

The end of an era and new life

In 1979, the Guild Inn was sold jointly to the Province of Ontario and the Metro Toronto Region and Conservation Authority. The government assumed responsibility for the care of the grounds and artifacts but there it was no longer possible to keep the Inn, or the Guild of all Arts, in operation.

This past February, it was announced that the Guild Inn area is getting revitalized with a $4.2 million budget. Centennial College will lease the property in order to revitalize the Guild Inn and restore it to its former glory with a hotel and restaurant on the site.

Watch for another exciting event this summer. For the first time in many years, arts lovers will be welcomed back to the site with the first ever Guild Theatre Festival on the open-air Greek Theatre stage in the Guild gardens. The first play will be The Clouds by Aristophanes.

Watch for another exciting event this summer

For the first time in many years, arts lovers will be welcome back to the site with the first ever Guild Theatre Festival Theatre on the open-air Greek Theatre stage in the Guild gardens. The first play will be "The Clouds" by Aristophanes.

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