Monday, March 22, 2010

The Annex / South Annex

The Heritage of The Annex / South Annex

The first use of the word “Annex” was by a land developer named Simeon Janes. In 1886, he owned a good portion of the land between Bedford and Spadina – Dupont and Bloor. His property was not part of the Toronto District at the time, and when he applied to the City Council to have his new divided parcel taken by the city, his residents started to use the term “The Toronto Annex” when speaking of his land. Two years later, some other lands were annexed to Janes’ property adding to the area Torontonians were already calling “the Annex”.

Simeon Janes used huge profits from his 1880s upscale neighbourhood to build a decadent mansion on Avenue Road. This house, named Benvenuto Place was purchased and demolished in 1927. Photo credits: Toronto Archives

The area quickly became one of the Toronto’s elite neighbourhoods. Businessman George Gooderham, of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, was one of the first residents of the fashionable Annex. We could find on these streets the best houses, decorated with the latest trends and some outrageous interiors too! Timothy Eaton’s wife had the Eaton Mansion decorated in a style that made the entire city talk!

George Gooderham residence, located at the northeast corner of St.George and Bloor streets, still stands today. Photo credits: Toronto Archives

Stemming from the popularity of the Annex, nearby land owners were claiming to be a part of the area. This area, housing the University of Toronto, coined itself “South Annex”. The presence of the U of T propelled the area to the list of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the city.

Thimothy Eaton, one of the most famous resident of the golden years of the Annex. Circa 1890. Photo credits: Toronto Public Library

The golden years of the area ended somewhere in the 1920’s, when the rich upper class started moving into new hip north communities such as Lawrence Park and Forest Hill. However, some of the original families stayed and lived with the new middle class that started to find homes on the Annex streets. It’s these people who lobbied to stop the “Spadina Expressway”, a large highway project that would have split and destroyed the Annex as we know it today.

A rendering of the "rejected" Spadina Expressway, at Spadina and Davenport. We can see the famous Casa Loma in the middle... Photo credits: Toronto Archives

Navigating the Area

The limits of the Annex / South Annex (including the Yorkville area) nowadays are bound by Yonge Street to the East – College Avenue to the south – CPR railroad tracks to the north – Bathurst Street to the west. Although some people do like to say that the Annex stretches all the way to Christie, this area between Bathurst and Christie is actually Seaton.

The best way to get around the Annex is by foot with many shops, restaurants and grocery stores at your doorstep. With many of the university set residing in the area, cycling is also a popular mode of transportation. While Bloor Street is the main thoroughfare, one can find dedicated bike lanes on the less travelled Harbord Street.

There are many small independant grocery store in the Annex. Photo credits: M.V. Jantzen

The Annex is also one of the best served neighbourhoods by the Subway and TTC. The University-Spadina line runs to Dupont, Spadina and St-George Stations. The Bloor-Danforth line runs east-west under Bloor Street with stops at St. George, Spadina and Bathurst Stations.


During the 1960’s, many artists made the Annex their home. Writers, poets, actors and musicians became regular customers at various “hangouts”. Some famous people are still living in the Annex, such as Margaret Atwood and former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
The focal point of the Annex is Bloor Street West, where it became vibrant with unique stores and upscale restaurants. The selection here is very eclectic, going from the original Hungarian stores all the way to the fine cuisine restaurants. For those who like to spend some time at a local pub, the area has a couple, such as the Brunswick House and the hugely popular Madison Pub.

The Brunswick House Pub, on Bloor Streeet West.Photo credits: Gbalogh

Of course, the proximity of the University is attracting a very creative artsy community who enjoy the many affordable dining venues, bookshops, theatres and the ROM. The Tarragon Theatre is celebrating over 38 seasons and 170 new works premiered.


The “Annex look” finds it’s roots in the work of architect Edward James Lennox who was better known as the man behind the Old City Hall and Casa Loma. His work established the Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne styles as the most wanted designs of the area. He designed three houses in the neighbourhood. Two Hundred Eighty Bloor Street West is now demolished. Thirty Seven Madison Avenue currently in it’s original state and Two Thirty Four St. George Street serves as the front façade of an apartment complex.

The Arthur R. Boswell House (1895, 1900), 69-71 Spadina Road.
Photo credits: John Fitzgerald

Of the few houses inspired by the Richardsonian architecture, the York Club is probably the most impressive. Formerly the Gooderham’s house, it was sold in 1909 and became the quarters of the then Nascent Club. Situated at the corner of St. George and Bloor Street, the house features an harmonious stone and brick façade, gables and a corner tower with bowed windows.

The St. George St. elevation of the George Gooderham house (1892, David Roberts Jr.).
Now the York Club. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald

Extensive use of shingles, terracotta brick details, uniquely ornate porches and eccentric roof décors can be seen throughout the area. Some of the oldest houses, built during the time of Yorkville Village, exemplify historical elements such as charming carriageways and gables.

The neighbourhood today: a mix of old and new. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald

The dicotomy of the architecture in the area is prevelant if one were to consider the 1960’s Uno Prii design. Prii was an architect from Estonia who studied in Stockholm before emigrating to Canada in 1950. He changed the landscape of the neighbourhood by designing a half dozen apartment buildings featuring modern swooping curved balconies, circle & whimsy details and all-white façades. Other architects followed the Prii’s new wave and built interesting and handsome buildings in the Late Modern Look.

A characteristic work of Uno Prii's, although the balconies have been much altered.
Opened in 1969. Photo credits: John Fitzgerald

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