We think of the Edwardian period as the time when King Edward VII, Victoria’s son reigned. That is the period from 1901 to 1910. For Riverdale Gardens, this is the period when Albert Wagstaff and others opened brick yards along Greenwood near the railway tracks. William Prust, Riverdale Garden’s founder, retired from his positions in Haliburton during this period and moved to Greenwood Avenue in Toronto. Let’s be clear, I love this neighbourhood and it is very different from anything else in our area. Some of the words to describe these Edwardian homes are quite technical and, if you don’t know them, don’t worry, I didn’t either — at least when I began researching many years ago. I have added a section at the end with definitions of the various technical terms used.
But Edwardian architecture, including the house style that dominates Riverdale Gardens, began earlier in the dying years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The change from the Victorian architecture of the 1890’s to the new style was dramatic. In the earlier Victorian period there were many more varieties of house design. The Edwardian era featured simpler designs and fewer styles, chiefly the Edwardian Classic house and the Arts and Crafts bungalow, both of which are found in Riverdale Gardens.
While technically the Edwardian architectural period coincided with the end of World War One in 1918. But Edwardian houses continued to be built in Riverdale Gardens up until the end of the 1920s, no doubt because William Prust himself preferred this style.
At the beginning of Edwardian era, most of the East End was still not subdivided. The Hastings and Ashbridges farms had not been sold to developers and the Toronto Golf Club’s course from Coxwell to East Toronto was in operation until 1912. Gerrard Street from Greenwood to Main was not opened until 1912.
Greenwood Avenue was widened in 1909. Gerrard and Greenwood was a major streetcar junction with Greenwood cars going north-south to Danforth and Queen and Gerrard cars going east-west.
We may chuckle now, but it is important, I think, to remember that the architects and builders, be it 1917 or 2017 consider their work “modern” and “state-of-the art”, but certain periods featured such dramatic technological and social change that they stand out.
With the advent of cheap hydro-electricity after 1907, industry was expanding along key East End streets, particularly Carlaw, Eastern and, to a lesser extent, Coxwell Avenue. Virtually the only industry on Greenwood in this period was brick making. These new plants provided employment for managers, foremen, and skilled tradesmen such as lithographers and engravers who followed their employers from downtown to the East End. Toronto’s growing middle class embraced change, including electricity, the expansion of public transit, and the new architectural styles.
The middle class begin to move farther away from downtown to new “streetcar” subdivisions such as Riverdale Gardens. This accelerated in the 1920s as the automobile became cheaper and more accessible, offering another transportation option. In the “The Roaring Twenties”, Gerrard Street and Greenwood Avenue were built up all the way from the Don to Main Street and from Queen past the Danforth. As the population of Toronto boomed, real estate along Gerrard also boomed.
The Edwardian era featured apartment buildings built with plumbing and electricity, such as Albert Wagstaff’s Vera Apartments at Wagstaff Drive and Greenwood Avenue. Wagstaff build it as a modern building, in the latest style, and as a practical investment allowing his managers and foremen to live right next to their workplace. He may even have subsidized some of the rents, but this remains to be documented. Wagstaff built a number of apartment buildings in the East End, but apartment buildings were very controversial at the time. They were often and unfairly labelled “tenements” with all the associations to over-crowding, unsanitary conditions and poverty. The new type of apartment building pioneered in Toronto by Wagstaff and others made these buildings socially acceptable and even fashionable.
Prust was careful to include shops in Riverdale Gardens. Shopfronts were simpler than their Victorian predecessors. Glazing now featured broad panes of plate glass instead of the smaller-paned windows. Although merchants could buy machine-made plate glass from as early as 1800, it was very expensive and did not come into common use until later and only became relatively common by the 1890s. These show windows featured fresh fruit or vegetables, hardware, shoes or other merchandise.
The Isaac Price house at 216 Greenwood stands out both because of its size and its style and would have been considered slightly old-fashioned by many even when it was built. The Queen Anne house featured asymmetrical; textured surfaces; classical ornamentation; often towers/turrets; wraparound porches; balconies; art glass; and high brick chimneys. The Isaac Price house is a more restrained rendering of the Queen Anne style and includes some Arts and Crafts elements. It might better be considered a “vernacular style”, but does feature a vertical orientation, asymmetrical massing, projecting gables, and contrasting materials, particularly brick and wood. Of course, the brick it featured was Isaac Price’s own high-quality face brick, virtually identical to his brother’s “John Price Red”.
Most of us see Edwardian Classic houses each and every day and don’t think much about them. But they, and Prust’s guiding hand, are what makes Riverdale Gardens unique and beautiful. So let’s take a second of many more long looks at the houses and neighbourhood of Riverdale Gardens.
The typical Edwardian house of Toronto’s suburbs has a gable front, three or four bedrooms upstairs, and a big front porch. Most have lots of windows, often with Indiana lime stone sills, and a smooth brick walls on a high cement or field stone foundation. The wide porch usually was painted white and has clustered columns.
Many Edwardian houses are basically rectangular brick buildings with classical elements drawn on the architectural vocabulary of “classical” Greece and Rome. (Personally, I would like to see more homes today build on the not-so-classical vocabulary of the wigwam but is another story.)
Many have modified Doric columns. The architrave is usually quite plain. The cornice maybe exaggerated and with dentil blocks. The window surrounds are large but not ornate. Some area owners have retained the original windows with storm windows added, preserving the original design. The front door is important and many Riverdale Gardens home showcase the front door with the house’s most prominent Edwardian features.
Many verandas span the whole front façade and have a simple pediment over the staircase, as in this example above. Above the smooth tapered Doric columns, a plain architrave supports the porch. Under the soffit of the roof, a plain frieze board would have repeated the design of the architrave, subtly unifying the building while referring to the classical ideals that were so much a part of the middle-class education of the day.
Examples of original Edwardian Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts art glass still survive to grace Riverdale Gardens. Some owners such as those who own the house in this photo have preserved their art glass, and, incidentally, improved the value of their house.
This Edwardian house features the clean lines and solid massing of the Edwardian style but also presents some Arts and Crafts elements. The gable has half-timbered effects. The simple brown and white painting of the timber is, as with many Edwardian touches, restrained and subtle compared to Victorian paint schemes.
This is a typical Edwardian verandah with Doric colonettes on brick posts. The stairs are wide and simple, welcoming, and there is lots of room for the wicker chairs they loved so much.
Some Edwardian homes sometimes have half-timbered exteriors, in what has sometimes been jokingly referred to as “Tudorbethean” or a fabricated mixture of Tudor and Elizabethan architecture. Sometimes the fill between the timbers is stucco and occasionally “pebbledash”.
I think of the Edwardian houses or Riverdale Gardens as neatly-wrapped presents. They look good, really good, on the outside and you just can’t wait to get into them. And what is inside them is treasure. Prust’s lay-out of the streets and houses and his insistence on “trees, trees, trees, if you please”, add to this feel that characterizes Riverdale Gardens. But, like a wrapped present, there are goodies on the inside.
The front door of an Edwardian house made a statement. It was panelled and sometimes incorporated Masonic symbols or images and stained glass. Walk through the front door of these Edwardian homes and you found paintings (albeit reproductions or prints), sparkling tileworks, stained glass and decorative features inspired by both the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements. To get an idea of the fashionable home interior of the early 1920s and the clothing of the men and women who lived when most of Riverdale Gardens was built, one of the best places to look is the Eaton’s catalogue. These are from the Eaton’s Fall and Winter catalogue of 1920 to 1921.
Prust houses often had piping for gas lighting, stoves and fireplaces, but all had electricity. This was one of those revolutionary technological changes we take for granted until a transformer somewhere on the grid goes down and the lights go out. As electric lights brightened interiors, those interiors opened up, creating a very different interior from the larger hall to the bigger rooms, with larger windows and taller ceilings. The living-room replaced the parlour. Simple replaced the fussy. Light colours replaced the dark colour schemes of the Victorian interior.
This was a new vision of the living space: light-filled, with open, airy rooms, considered far more healthy especially at a time when the “white plaque”, tuberculosis (TB), killed so many. Incidentally, this term is not a reference to race, but to the ashy paleness of those eaten up or consumed by “consumption”, another term for TB.
Women had more say in how homes were designed. These Edwardian houses and their Arts and Crafts contemporaries featured the first built-in kitchen cabinets, the first built in kitchen sinks and stoves, as well as bedrooms with a closet in every room, even though those closets seem small to us today. Servants no longer looked after the middle class and these houses were made easier to clean – especially with the electric vacuum cleaner.
The floors would be dark, polished wood as would be the staircases, posts and banisters. Persian-style rugs broke up the expanses of bare floor with splashes of colour and texture. Walls were often white downstairs, but wallpaper was frequently used in the bedrooms. Walls could be white when they were lit by electricity. Gaslight, oil lamps and candles made walls sooty and dark Victorian paint and wallpaper concealed this. Now wallpaper was softer and easier on the eye than Victorian wall paper. It often featured delicate floral patterns in pastel shades.
Many homeowners in Riverdale Gardens have renovated their Edwardian homes with extensions, skylights and additional windows, very much in the spirit of the original design with its emphasis on light, airy space. Riverdale Gardens is a very attractive location, part of Leslieville with its very desirable “location, location, location”. Properties gain both aesthetically and in value when homeowners understand more about the Edwardian nature of their houses. These gracious understated houses were built with the highest quality materials and workmanship especially when someone William Prust controlled the development of the subdivision. The bricks were the best, usually Price bricks. The timber was the highest quality, old-growth pine for framing and quarter-sawn oak, American chestnut or other fine wood for floors, interior moldings, doors and windows. These houses, detached, duplexes, triplexes and a few terraces, if lovingly maintained, will last for centuries, long after hastily-constructed condos will be nothing but dust and rust.
Even the roads of Riverdale Gardens were better maintained that Greenwood and even Gerrard. The brick wagons with their heavy loads cut deep ruts into Greenwood Avenue. To avoid the bog, motorists detoured through Riverdale Gardens. This went on for at least a decade, but probably more. At the time that Prust Avenue was built, Alton Avenue did not extend all the way to Gerrard but stopped before the steep drop-off that was the north face of the clay pit where Greenwood Park is today.
The traffic, even when not befuddled [or inebriated] was not welcome.
For more info about the Edwardian house see:
Some terms defined:
Architecture: The art of designing and building according to the rules regulated by nature and taste.
Architrave: The lintel or flat horizontal member which spans the space between columns; in classical architecture, the lowest member of an entablature.
Aspect: The direction in which a building faces.
Balcony: A projection from a wall of a building. It is usually placed before windows or openings.
Balloon framing a method of wood framing (begun in the 19th century) where the exterior walls are continuous from foundation to roof plate, and all the framing members are secured with nails.
Baluster: Any of the singular posts of a railing, one of a series of uprights, often vase-shaped, used to support a handrail.
Balustrade: the low wall made up of a series of balusters and railings, a row of columns supporting a railing.
Bargeboard: fancy, wooden ornately carved scrollwork, attached to and hanging down under the eaves of the projecting edge of a gable roof
Base: The architectural element on which a column or pier rests. See also column, pier. Other parts of columns and piers: abacus or impost block, capital, shaft.
Baseboard (skirting board): interior finish trim hiding the wall and floor junction.
Bay Window: A window forming a bay or recess in a room or an alcove projecting from an outside wall and having its own windows and foundation.
Bay: A unit of interior space in a building, marked off by architectural divisions; sections of a building, usually counted by windows and doors dividing the house vertically.
Bond: the pattern in which bricks are laid, either to enhance strength or for design.
Bracket: historically, a support element used under eaves or other overhangs. In Edwardian architecture, exaggerated brackets used under wide eaves are decorative rather than functional. A projection from the face of a wall.
Builders: trained as apprentices with master builders who were themselves usually carpenters or masons.
Bungalow: The Arts and Crafts bungalow in its purest form didn’t work for cold climates like Toronto, Detroit or Chicago. So, designers reconfigured the bungalow, creating a new style of bungalow that was raised on a stone or concrete foundation with a basement and the most modern furnace available. Nevertheless, they built in elements that emphasized the horizontal vs. vertical even when, as in our neighbourhood, the bungalow was perched half-way up a hill. This new bungalow, sometimes called a “semi-bungalow”, was usually a storey and a half with a dormer, not a full two stories. Although small by today’s standards, often between 800 and 1200 square feet, they were considered spacious at the time. The typical six-room house had two or three bedrooms, one bathroom, a livingroom that flowed into the dining room, kitchen, and a full basement. It often had a second floor with additional space, but was usually only a storey and a half. It had large porches covered by the overhanging roof and eaves and supported by generous columns. Columns were designed in such a way as to break up the vertical line using groups of columns, a column split into two parts (a bigger base with a small pedestal on top) or so-called elephant columns that were wedge-shaped, narrow at the top and widened like an inverted elephant’s trunk at the ground. By 1923, there was a building boom across Toronto as prosperity had returning following the brief depression of 1919. The area along Gerrard filled in with rows of brick bungalows, detached, duplexes and triplexes. Riverdale Gardens is exceptional in being mostly Edwardian villas with only a few bungalows.
Capital: top part of a column, decorative element that divides a column or pier from the masonry which it supports.
Cladding: exterior surface material that provides the weather protection for a building.
Classical Orders: Doric (earliest and simplest) Doric columns usually have no base; the shaft is thick and broadly fluted, the capital is plain. Ionic (second) Ionic columns are usually slender, with fluted shafts, and prominent volutes on the capital. Corinthian (latest and most ornate Order) Corinthian columns are slender, usually fluted, with capitals elaborately carved with acanthus leaves.
Colonnade: Series of columns set at regular intervals or a row of columns which support horizontal members, called an architrave, rather than arches.
Column: Cylindrical support consisting of base, shaft and capital.
Coping: a cap or covering on top of a wall, either flat or sloping, to shed water.
Cornice: The top section of the entablature; a horizontal molding projecting along the top of a building or wall.
Course: a continuous horizontal row of brick or stone in a wall.
Crenulations or battlement: A parapet with alternating openings (embrasures) and raised sections (merlons), often used on castle walls and towers for defense purposes.
Decorative Wooden Trim: Most homes include a street-facing gable decorated with wood trim such as brackets, patterned millwork, bargeboards, or shingling; this decoration is also occasionally used on the porch gable.
Dentils: small, oblong blocks spaced in a band to decorate a cornice.
Doors and Windows: Front facades of homes in this district are typically wide, which allows architectural elements like windows and doors to also be wider.
Doric: The oldest architectural style of ancient Greece; characterized by simplicity of form; fluted, heavy columns and simple capitals.
Dormer: an upright window projecting from the sloping roof of a building; also the roofed structure housing such a window.
Early roads: Queen Street was the baseline (with the land beneath it becoming known as the “broken front”). Surveyors ran their lines north from Queen Street with the Danforth eventually becoming the first concession. Farms were oriented north-south along Queen Street in 200 acre lots. Villages sprang up at the toll gates along the road — Norway at the Woodbine toll gate; Leslieville at Leslie Street and Don Mount (later renamed Riverside) at Mill Road (Broadview).
Vernacular style: many houses exhibited a mixture of several styles. Many Edwardian architects and builders borrowed elements from different styles, particularly Neo-classical, Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts, to create their own designs.
Elevation: one of the external faces of a building; an architectural drawing (to scale) of a building façade.
Ell: an addition or wing to a house that shapes it like an “L” or a “T”.
Entablature: A horizontal superstructure supported by columns and composed of architrave, frieze and cornice.
Façade: the faces of a building, often identified by the cardinal direction (N,S,E,W) which it faces.
Fascia: a plain horizontal band; a fascia board will cover the joint between the wall and the projecting eaves.
Floor plan or ground plan: Horizontal cross-section of a building as the building would look at ground level. A ground plan shows the basic outlined shape of a building and, usually, the outlines of other interior and exterior features. The main floor and upper floor plans (if any) are always included. In addition, depending upon the scope of the survey, plans at the following levels may be required: foundation plan, reflected ceiling plans (crawl space, main and upper floors), attic joist plan, rafter plan and roof plan.
Foundation wall, beam, column, footing: Many of the homes of settlers sat directly on the ground. Masonry walls were used for footings from c. 1850 – 1900. Poured concrete foundations were new in the late 19th century and those with Portland cement, harder and more durable, in the 20th century.
Foyer: The entrance hall.
Framework, walls, floors: Wooden structural frame and light cladding. Clad in brick, stucco or wood.
Frieze: the horizontal band forming the middle section of the entablature; usually decorated with sculpture.
Gable: The end wall of a building, the top of which conforms to the slope of the roof.
Gambrel: a ridged roof with two different slopes on each side of the ridge, the lower slope having a steeper pitch (sometimes called a Dutch roof).
Glazing: the glass in a window.
Grand Trunk Railway (GTR): This railway was proposed in 1851 as the main trunk line through the United Province of Canada. It was formally incorporated in 1852 to build a railway from Toronto to Montreal. In 1856 the GTR reached the banks of the Don River in Toronto. The GTR became part of the Canadian National Railway (CN) and now GO Trains roar along it.
Half-timbering: wall construction in which spaces between wooden timber framing are filled with brick, stone, or other material; used decoratively in 20th century houses.
Head: the top of the frame of a window or door.
Header: the end of the brick seen in a brick course.
Industrialization There were a considerable number of highly organized and specialized plants located in the East End. These larger manufacturers were successful, and, with their state-of-the-art machinery mass produced goods, that outcompeted smaller factories. Many, like Palmolive or Wrigleys, were branch plants owned by American corporations who had to build here in Canada because tariff walls imposed high duties on American-made goods.
Jamb: A vertical element of a doorway or window frame.
Jerkinhead: a gable roof with a hipped end
Joist: horizontal structural members to which the boards of a floor or the lath for a ceiling are nailed.
Light (lite) : small panes of window set into an individual sash.
Lintel: A flat horizontal beam which spans the space between two supports.
Lozenge: A diamond shape.
Masonry: work done by masons, including brick, stone, or concrete block.
Massing: the expression of interior volume as form.
Mortar: a material used in the plastic state and troweled into place to harden; used to consolidate brick, stone, and concrete block work.
Newel: the principal post in a banister at the foot of a staircase and at the corners of landings.
Parging (pargeting): to coat with plaster, particularly foundation walls and rough masonry (see stucco).
Pediment: a triangular section, or gable end, often used above doors and windows or at porch entrances.
Pier: An upright support, generally square, rectangular, or composite.
Pitch: the degree of slope of a roof, usually given in the form of a ratio, such as 6:12.
Porch: a roofed exterior space on the outside of a building.
Portal: Any doorway or entrance but especially one that is large and imposing.
Portland cement: a high-strength material (commercially dating to 1824) used as a component of concrete and modern hard mortars.
Quoins: rectangles of stone or wood used to accentuate and decorate the corner of a building
Rafter: framing member supporting the roof.
Repointing: removal of old mortar from joints of masonry construction and filling in with new mortar.
Return: the part of a pattern that continues around a corner.
Ridge: the [top] line of intersection of the opposite sides of a sloping roof.
Riser: the vertical face of a step.
Riverside Missionary Church In 1902 this building was erected as a Primitive Methodist Church on the site of an earlier Church at 466 King Street West, at the corner of Bright Street and King Street.
Roofs: Gable, hipped (mansard included) and flat roofs.
Rusticated block: concrete block formed to replicate rough stone.
Sash: the moveable framework holding the glass in a window or door.
Shaft: The structural member which serves as the main support of a column or pier. The shaft is between the capital and the base.
Shingles: thin pieces of wood used in overlapping rows to cover roofs and exterior walls of houses; can be cut in decorative shapes.
Sidelights: windows at either side of a door; often in conjunction with a transom above door and sidelights.
Siding: the exterior wall covering of a structure. German : common 19th century wood siding pattern, with a combination of concave curve and flat profile novelty : general term for 19th century wood siding with a decorative profile.
Sill: the horizontal water-shedding element at the bottom of a window or door frame.
Site Plan: The site plan shows the legal boundaries; the topographical features, including contours, vegetation, trees, roads, walks, fences and other man-made features; and the buildings. If the grid system is employed, the baseline of the grid, including its true bearing and tie-in dimensions to permanent features, is indicated as well as the level reference datum. Included with the site plan is the location plan, which is a map enabling one to find the property with reference to main roads, towns or natural features.
Soffit: The underside of an arch, opening, or projecting architectural element.
Springer: The lowest voussoir on each side of an arch. It is where the vertical support for the arch terminates and the curve of the arch begins.
Stained Glass Windows and Transoms: Stained glass decoration is sometimes found used in homes, especially in large, arched windows in the front of the house, and in transoms over the front doors.
Streetscape: the combined visual image from all of the physical elements found on both sides of a street, including the property up to the building front Riverside Garden has a distinct, identifiable streetscape. Repetition of design features such as roof and porch trim, and gable shapes, create a sense of unity and rhythm as they are repeated throughout Riverdale Gardens. This gives an overall character, a sense of community, visually to Riverdale Gardens and, of course, those who live there give the rest to that very tangible sense of community.
Stretcher: the long side of a brick when laid horizontally.
Stringcourse: A continuous projecting horizontal band set in the surface of a wall and usually molded.
Studs: the upright framing members for a wall.
Transom window: a window above a door; commonly hinged for separate operation.
Tread: the horizontal surface of a step (see riser).
Trim: the framing of features on a façade which may be of a different color, material, or design than the adjacent wall surface.
Turret: a little tower, set at an angle to the main wall; often at a corner and projecting above a building.
Veranda or verandah: a roofed, open gallery or porch; a large covered porch extending along one or more sides of a building and designed for outdoor living. Verandahs and porches provided shade for the home and offered a sheltered place to sit, especially during warm summer evenings. They also gave homeowners a place to observe and interact with their neighbours. Porches were initially made of wood, which could warp, leak or rot if improperly constructed. By the 1910s, porches were constructed from concrete and brick. As the world became less rural, demand for porches declined; cars stirred up dust and people became more private, spending their spare time indoors with their families and televisions. Most pre-1914 homes in the East End were designed to have some sort of covering for the front door entrance, whether it is a front porch, verandah, or a small overhang. Homes built during the 1920s feature porches that are integrated into the roofline. Porches include a variety of features, including columns, spindles, and handrails.
Verge board: bargeboard.
Vernacular: used to describe buildings with little or no stylistic pretension, or those which may reflect an interpretation of high-style architecture of the day.
Villa: In Roman architecture, the land-owner’s residence or farmstead on his country estate; in Renaissance architecture, a country house; in early 20th-century Toronto, a detached house usually two or more storeys.
Voussoir: One of the wedge-shaped stones used in constructing an arch.
2 thoughts on “Riverdale Gardens & the Edwardian Dream Home”
You may be interested in the house where I grew up at 394 Leslie St. It is a tall brick house built by a stone mason named James Craig in 1904. Above the front door was a name carved into the lintel. It was called “Drumclog”. And at the top of the house above the attic window there was a second lintel with the date 1903. I have done some research on the house and the original owner that I could share with you. It seems to have a tie in with Scots Orange Protestant history of the area. I’d also love to ask you about the architecture of the house and where the original kitchen might have been.
Yes, I would love to talk to you. I have walked by Drumclog many times and have some info on James Craig as well. Joanne Doucette