Friday, January 20, 2012

A Victorian Soul

Once, a dear friend told me I had a Victorian soul. I think it was her poetic way of saying I loved old things. I do ... very much so.

As you enter ...
Our Victorian era house in Riverdale, a neighborhood in the east end Toronto, was built in 1889 according to, a provincial government website that assesses the value of your home and tells you how old it is (contact me if you'd like to know how to use the website). Even though the configuration of the house is not the most convenient - it is long and narrow with three stories - but its shape appeals to me greatly.

In the tiny hallway ...
When our realtor first found this house in 1999 it was a near shambles ... the house had an unhappy history. The mother had abandoned the family (husband and young son) to run off with an Italian film producer. I'm really not making this up. I think the father had experienced a kind of breakdown. The house was dirty, literally flea ridden. The poor dog, a family pet, had obviously been locked in the kitchen for great lengths of time alone (the huge scratches on the back of the pretty French doors in the kitchen offered sufficient proof). The large, leafy yard was a rocky pit of weeds. The porch was in shambles, coloured a hideous peach, and needed a good coat of paint.
The best feature of the house ... the fireplace
The walls of all the rooms were a dirty beige (literally); the carpet was filthy. The son's room on the second floor was a dark, dank, messy hole with so many things on the floor - clothes, books, garbage - that you literally could not step into the room without stepping on his things. The poor kid had scribbled obscenities about his parents on the white ceiling that we had to paint over ... a few years later when J was learning to spell we realized that the print was now showing through and she was making out the letters ... ("Mommy, what does F ... U ... ?")

The attic (the master bedroom on the renovated third floor) was actually the most habitable room in the house - even if the carpet was a bit threadbare.

R has a great eye for the potential of houses. My first reaction was no, absolutely not. It smelt horribly; it looked disastrous; there were fleas in the house but he said, "Look, really look at it, look past the messiness and the lack of paint, it's a beautiful house. It has great bones!" I did. It does.

The stained glass in the front door

The stained glass above the window in the main room

Here are some of the traits to be found in a traditional Victorian: patterns in the brickwork; decorative wooden panels (bargeboards) on the front of the house; stained glass in doorways and windows; roofs made of slate; glass transoms. Our house has many of these features ...

The French doors into the dining room
There is pretty stained glass in royal blue and poppy red in the uppermost section of the front door with a transom. The house has a beautiful fireplace on the right as you enter and stained glass in the large window on your right facing the street. There is a glass transom of white and silver design as you enter the dining room and wooden French doors. The glass in the doors looks like the original glass - it is yellowed and brittle looking - and has tiny imprints of the fleur-di-lis on the glass. The ceilings are 11 foot in the main room. The kitchen faces a meager but pretty garden now.

A thing about sparrows ...
So many tiny, very pretty details that I entirely missed when I first entered the house. All I saw was the dirt and the chaos and, of course, the smell knocked me out!

A number of years ago I went to the the Toronto Reference Library and accessed the Toronto Directories. These listed addresses, names and occupations of those houses that existed starting from 1890 onward in Toronto until about 1915. I checked out the address of our house to determine who lived there.
  • 1890: listed as vacant
  • 1891: George D. Waddell, traveler, P. McIntosh & Sons
  • 1892: no listing
  • 1893: no listing
  • 1894: Frederick H. Ross (no occupation listed)
  • 1895-98: Thomas A. Bryant, pressman, Hough & Harris Company
  • 1899: William J. Gill, proofreader, Warwick Bros. & Rutter
  • 1900 - 1914: William Roberts (no occupation listed)
  • 1915: John M. (Marchant) Whyte (no occupation listed)
The glass transom above the dining room
The thing that I found interesting was that the occupants were sometimes either involved in the printing (my husband's related occupation as a graphic designer and as the son of a printer) or publishing (my sometime occupation as a writer). 

VW above my writing desk ...
My work space
I love this heap of bricks with its sometime leaky basement, periodically leaking roof, ludicrous tax bill, difficult to garden, sunless garden. I love it, old Victorian bones and all. 

The Buddha of Riverdale

A cozy pocket of the house ...


Cheryl said...

OK I am completely jealous and I really really really wish I could see it!!!

Michelle said...

Hey Cheryl, so good to hear from you! I asked my daughter to photograph some features of the house today ... I think she is doing it as we speak. I will add the pics tonight!

Cheryl said...

I can't wait to see them! TOTALLY jealous!

Christine said...

Your home sounds lovely. I can totally understand why you love it so.