The Cabbagetown Historical Preservation Association takes the preservation of Toronto’s Victorian housing seriously and with good reason – Cabbagetown is the largest stretch of Victorian housing in North America. On their homepage they have made available the resource, “What Style is My House” which is good reading for anyone who can’t identify the historic home they live within.
This is an invaluable resource for those of us who had no idea they had bought a Century Victorian because there was little left to identify what the original house had looked like. For whatever reason, downtown homes, outside of the trendy preservation districts, tend to be hidden under layers of aluminum siding, inappropriate additions and a host of other measures over the years that often results in a house that stylistically “does not make sense”.
The Cabbagetown Preservation guide is oriented to Torontonian architecture with detailed styling points for Georgian, Queen Anne, Romanesque, Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles. Two styles of housing are unique to Toronto: The Bay and Gable and the Annex House. The guide, however, only identifies the Bay and Gable. The annex home is a unique combination of Romanesque and Queen Anne that is characterized by mass, permanence and the exuberance of Queen Anne features. These houses are seldom seen outside of Toronto’s Annex.
This guide may also be of interest to Americans who are curious how uniquely American styles departed from English architectural heritage.
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Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.
The Bay-and-Gable homes of Toronto are unique within the world of Victorian architecture, in part due to taxation laws of the time that assessed annual taxes based on the width of a lot’s frontage. Canadian pragmatism resulted in narrow lots, often between 15-20 feet in width and houses built upwards into usually three stories. Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.
According to McHugh (1989), early examples, beginning in 1875, have more Italianate features including round headed windows, angled bays, and steep gables. Those dating from the late 1880s have more of a Queen Anne influence with rectangular bays, straight window lintels and less steeply pitched gables.
Tons of variation exists and while most Bay-and-Gable homes abide by a typical floor plan, the dimensions of rooms and hallways can vary widely. Typical features include stained glass, tall 10-11 foot ceilings, ornate plaster work, detailed barge boards and ginger-breading, steeply pitched roofs, tall windows with low sills, and detailed millwork common in other Victorian revival styles. The style of exterior masonry, millwork, stained-glass and plaster work also varies tremendously producing few if any Bay-and-Gables that are the same.
McHugh, Patricia. (1989). Toronto Architecture: A City Guide. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc.
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