Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Plays nicely with others

I knew there was something special about the place. One side of the block felt like Evelyn Waugh's England. The Sumach Street side felt 1920's.

Turns out I'd come upon Spruce Court, in my wandering about Cabbagetown. Remarkable architectural styling for what was clearly low-cost housing complex: Tudor Revival/English cottage style, with craftsman inspired steep pitched roofs, tall chimneys, banks of casement windows. Courtyards, green spaces.

Spruce Court was the creation of Eden Smith, an enormously influential architect in Toronto in the early decades of the 20th century. Of Birmingham, England, Smith was one of the founding members of the Arts and Letters Club (just mentioning the name conjures that iconic photo of the Group of Seven members  in the club's Edwardian splendour).

The 1913 addition - cricket anyone?

Spruce Court was the first social housing complex in Toronto (Regent Park, you missed something).
Later, this  block-square enclave of well-designed homes was converted to a co-op housing complex. Still looks like a pretty good place to live.

Eden Smith designed an astonishing number of houses, churches and libraries in Toronto. He created Lawren Harris' 1912 home at 18 Clarendon Avenue, and the famous Studio Building, a non-profit home/studio to several Group of Seven artists, in the Rosedale Ravine. (Interestingly, the rustic Tom Thomson eschewed its relative luxuries for a cabin in the ravine, which was later relocated to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg).

The Studio Building, 1914
Canadian Encyclopedia - Doug Brown photo

The Canadian Encyclopedia considers Eden Smith "one of the most original and artistic architects working in Toronto in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the 20th." Who am I to argue?


  1. After you posted the first entry on Cabbagetown I was going to say something about Spruce Court (but didn't). My partner lives there, and is on the heritage committee. Her sister lives there too...her place is visible in one of your pictures. I'm there very frequently.

    There was an interesting connection to the Eaton family in that they contributed somehow when the place was first built. The heritage comm. is currently getting a plaque manufactured as it is the 100 yr. anniversary. I once saw an old picture of the other, more westerly courtyard, with the old hospital rooftops looming in the background...neat shot. Few people seem to know about the old hospital there...kind of a shame. I'm not sure, but I think this was it:

  2. Here's a better picture of the hospital and grounds: