Built around 1912 as a major renovation to Spadina House, the new garage replaced the old drive shed heralding the arrival of the automobile. Consumer demand was driving the change from solid fuel to oil-fired burners bringing with it a cleaner, less labour intensive lifestyle.

The Spadina Museum Garage illustrates this evolution in heating systems.

Due to the preservation of many elements of the system, this is an outstanding example of the adaptation of technology that was being driven by market forces and consumer demand.

Overview

The Spadina Museum Garage is one of the three outbuildings that, together with Spadina House, form the main built resources of the Spadina Museum in Toronto. The Spadina Museum is administered by The City of Toronto Museums and Heritage Services (Culture Division).

The main residence today is quite large, with three floors and a basement, each floor perhaps 3,000 – 4,000 sq. ft.

A couple of quotations from the Lost River Walks website serve to sketch in the history of the property:

In 1866, James Austin, founder and president of the Dominion Bank and President of Consumers Gas, demolished the second Spadina house and built the grand Victorian home surrounded by Gardens, groomed lawns, and majestic oaks which still stands today. The new house incorporated the fieldstone foundations of the 1818 Baldwin house. The most visible relics of the original house are the former front door, sidelights, and fanlight, which now form the back entrance. In 1889, James Austin subdivided the forty acres west of Spadina. Three years later he deeded twenty acres and the house to his son Albert.

Albert added to the house several times including: a billiard room, ground floor kitchen, palm room and glassed porte-cochere. In 1912, the north part of this property was sold to the city for a reservoir. Albert died in 1933. His second daughter, Anna Kathleen Thompson, lived in the house with her family from 1942 until 1982. Anna presented Spadina and its six acre property to the city to be used as a historic house and museum. Spadina House opened in 1984, complete with much of the Austin furnishings, and it is maintained today by Heritage Toronto.

The Spadina Museum Garage is a considerably grander affair than its name would imply. Built around 1912 as part of the third major renovation to Spadina House by Albert Austin, it replaced the driving shed that had housed the family’s horse drawn carriages. The new structure, in the words of Austin Seton Thompson:

Finally acknowledged the arrival of the age of the automobile. (Spadina: A Story of Old Toronto)

The building was also the residence of the chauffer, with rooms on the ground and second floors. The garage section, itself, is on the ground floor and is large enough for three or four of the largest passenger vehicles, with access via three large double doors. Although it has more the dimensions and appurtenances of a coach house, the building does indeed seem to have been built for horseless carriages, as the partial basement includes a mechanic’s pit beneath the northern third of the garage area.

The heating equipment appears to be of industrial rather than domestic dimensions, perhaps similar to what would have been installed in a small plant or apartment building. Like the main house, the garage was also heated originally by a hydronic system and a coal-fired boiler. Each floor of this building is about 1,200 sq. Ft. The coal-fired boiler was eventually converted; first to an oil burner and later to a gas burner.

View of the south side of Spadina Museum Garage
Detail of second floor, south side of Spadina Museum Garage
West side of the Spadina Museum Garage, showing garage doors and second floor dormer
The Museum Grounds
Ground level entrance to the chauffeur’s apartment, beside the garage doors.
Back (east wall) of the Spadina Museum Garage, showing position of the chimney.
North side of the Spadina Museum Garage, showing basement windows at grade level.