Description of Historic Place
The building at 186 Beverley Street, known as the George Brown House, is situated on the northwest corner of Beverley and Baldwin Streets in Toronto. The three-storey red brick building was designed in the Second Empire style by architect and builder Edward Hutchings according to earlier drawings by architect William Irving and to specifications issued by George Brown. It was constructed between 1874 and 1876.
The house was designated as a National Historic Site in 1976 by the Government of Canada. The property is also designated by the City of Toronto under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 585-77). The Ontario Heritage Foundation, now the Ontario Heritage Trust, acquired the property on December 2, 1986 and the building has since undergone extensive restoration.
The original address of Lambton Lodge was 154 Beverley however, in 1889-90 the street numbering system changed with the current address of 186 allotted to the residence. The neighbourhood changed in the early 20th century, as Toronto's wealthy began moving west and north to the suburbs of Parkdale and Rosedale. Today the house is situated within Chinatown and to the south of the University of Toronto campus.
George Brown House is significant for its association with Father of Confederation, The Toronto Globe founder and leading abolitionist, George Brown (1818-1880). Brown was born in Alloa, Scotland and immigrated to New York City in 1837, then to Upper Canada in 1843. In March of 1844, George Brown launched the first issue of The Toronto Globe, forerunner of The Globe and Mail, supporting ideas of Responsible Government. Brown played a major role in both the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences, two crucial events in which Canada's leaders met to execute plans for Confederation. In March of 1880, Brown was shot in his office by a disgruntled employee, although his wound was not severe, he died on May 9, 1880 of an infection.
Duncan Coulson purchased the home in 1889 for $31,000 and after making improvements, he and his family moved into the home in 1891. Duncan Coulson worked as the General Manager of the Bank of Toronto and served as its President from 1911 until his death in 1916. From 1920 to 1956 the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) used the house as its headquarters. A three-storey addition was built onto the rear of the house during this period and functioned as a skills training centre for the blind. Since 1986 the house has been owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust. Much of the original architecture and interior fabric has been restored, and improvements were made between 1987 and 1989 to support its current use as a conference centre and office space
George Brown House is significant for its Second Empire design with Italianate detailing. Although Brown had retained William Irving to design his house, it was modified by Edward Hutchins, architect and builder. George and Anne Brown named their three-storey, 9000 square foot, red clay brick house Lambton Lodge. Second Empire features include the grey slate mansard roof and pavilion massing. The interior of the house follows the common Georgian centre hall plan, with room placement of public rooms on the main floor and private rooms on the second and third floors. The house has 12 of the original 15 fireplaces, some with elaborate mantels, the most notable being the morning and drawing room's polished marble mantels with the initials of George and Anne Brown entwined on the cartouche. Remnants of George Brown's library show the built-in dark walnut cabinets that used to house his collection of books.
The Coulson family made a number of changes to the house, hiring Toronto architect David Brass Dick to design the Art Nouveau dining room and the ornate front hall fireplace. Cast iron radiators were installed throughout the house to replace the earlier air duct, gravity-based heating system. A five-bay veranda was also added on the facade by the Coulsons in 1890 and a single-window dormer on the front facade was enlarged to a triple-window dormer.
In 1987 and 1988 archaeological excavations uncovered over 5,000 artifacts providing insight into the construction of the George Brown House as well as the landscape surrounding the house. Structural evidence was discovered below ground of a unique architectural feature, a “shell” wall, which functioned as a double foundation. Highlights of the artifact finds include a collectible pint corker containing the letters “William Robertson”, a silver ring and amber bead attributed to the Coulson period, and an 1850s St. George penny token.
Source: Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the George Brown House include its:
- Second Empire design with Italianate details
- red clay brick laid in English common bond
- buff limestone trim, front steps, window and door surrounds
- rough-hewn coursed stone of the foundation
- third floor dormer windows framed in wood
- window wells and wrought iron grilles that make the basement bright, airy and secure
- grey slate of the mansard roof which displays a fish scale pattern in its middle section
- surviving bay and joist pockets of the Coulson era veranda on the north facade
- brick retaining wall built approximately four inches from the stone foundation around the entire perimeter of the house to provide a drainage space for the site's unusually wet conditions (at that time)
- symmetrical Georgian centre hall plan, on all floors, connected by a formal stairwell and a servants stairwell
- black, cream, red encaustic tile floor in the vestibule and hall
- four massive walnut door frames and hoods in the main hall
- walnut balusters, railings, newel posts, pendants and finials that form part of the main stair
- remnants of the library's built-in bookcases made by Jacques and Hay of Toronto
- 12 George Brown-era fireplaces made of white Italian marble or faux-finished slate, including the drawing room's polished marble mantel with the entwined initials of George and Anne Brown on the cartouche
- servant bell pull at the side of each fireplace
- highly ornate ceiling cornices and medallions
- built-in interior window shutters in the formal rooms
- rotating covers that conceal the wall pockets for the sliding doors between the morning and drawing rooms
- circa 1890 Art Nouveau dining room refitted by D.B Dick with mahogany panels on the walls, a built-in china cabinet and rope trim mouldings on the coffered ceiling
- five-piece 1880s leaded glass sidelights and transom windows in the main hall, removed in 1984 and returned in 1989 after they were discovered hanging in a Toronto home
- 1876 stained glass window in the main stair dormer
- 1880s textured glass in the back hall window
- original plain pine floors and later parquet floors with inlaid borders
- Coulson-era fireplace in the front hall with its Renaissance balusters, scroll panels, reeded pilasters, and mirrored overmantel with attached seats which display an aesthetic value over practical use
- recreated servants stair that allowed them to travel through the house without being seen; this was an extension of each floor's room to room circulation system designed for the same purpose.
- archaeological evidence of double foundation walls and original landscape features
- over 5,000 artifacts
- fragments of the collectible pint corker containing the inscription “William Robertson”
- fragments of a silver ring and amber bead attributed to the Coulson period
- 1850s St. George penny token
- location in one of Toronto's quiet residential, fashionable 19th century neighbourhoods
- brick and cast iron fence along Beverley and Baldwin Streets
- tall century-old horse chestnut trees along Baldwin Street