Architectural History of the Annex

The Annex is so called because it was one of the first districts north of Toronto as it existed in the mid 19th Century to be added (“annexed”) to the City. In 1886 Simeon Janes, a land speculator, had purchased an area from Bedford to about Spadina Roads and from Bloor to Dupont Streets from James Austin (founder of the Dominion Bank) who previously had acquired the land from the Baldwin family (of the famous Reform leader of Upper Canada, Robert Baldwin). In the subsequent year Toronto City Council agreed to extend the city limits to include this area in accord with a petition from Janes. The streets of the area and beyond had for the most part already been laid out and many named by the Baldwins.

Toronto's gentry rushed to build large houses in the new neighbourhood. Among others were those of Timothy Eaton at the corner of Spadina Rd. and Lowther Ave., Senator Sir Allen Aylesworth at 21 Walmer Road, and the Masseys at Madison and Lowther Avenues. Houses in the Eastern part of the Annex at this time were generally smaller and attracted business people and professionals in the service sector. Working class homes were few and far between, though some of the small houses on streets East of Bedford Rd., now among the most expensive real estate in Toronto, were designed as housing for servants. Later the “Annex” designation was extended to its current boundaries of Bloor St. to the railway tracks, and Avenue Rd. to Bathurst.

The most famous architect of the grand houses was Edward James Lennox, who, as in the case of Old City Hall, which he also designed, largely appropriated a Romanesque style evident in some still standing buildings, for example at 37 and 69 Madison Ave. Other prominent architects followed suit. When, early in the 20th Century, the most wealthy families began moving further north, some of these houses were divided, and after World War II many were converted into rooming houses to accommodate returning veterans and new immigrants, just as after the repression of the 1956 revolt in Hungary a number of refugees from that country moved to the Annex. In 1966 a group of Catholics and former Catholics dedicated to psychotherapy in and through communal living, purchased 55 Admiral Rd. and subsequently over 30 more houses in the Annex for this purpose.

During the 1950's and 1960’s several of the original houses were torn down to be replaced by apartment buildings. For the most part these were low rise and nondescript, but some reflected unique design, such as those of the Estonian-Canadian architect, Uno Prii, whose sweeping-walled high-rise apartments include the Vincennes at 34 Walmer Rd. and the Prince Arthur Towers at 20 Prince Arthur. Currently gentrification is certainly evident, especially in the east portions of the Annex, and many of the rooming houses are being restored to single-family dwellings. However, the area remains diverse. By contrast to an earlier era (a 1910 study showed that of the 2300 heads of households polled in the Annex over 80% were Protestant the largest number Anglican), the area reflects Toronto’s multicultural diversity, and it includes a mix of residence types and income levels that differentiates it from, for example, Rosedale or Forest Hill.

Prepared by Frank Cunningham

For a personal account, see Jack Batten’s The Annex: The Story of a Toronto Neighbourhood (Boston Mills Press, 2004), which includes references to several other pertinent histories.

For a more formal study, refer to James Lemon's pamphlet The Annex: A Brief Historical Geography