Skip to content

Remember This, Newmarket: AGO's The Grange has links with 2 prominent Newmarket families

In this week's column, History Hound Richard MacLeod highlights the Boulton and Robinson families' connection to the Toronto estate

On a trip to the AGO a few weeks ago, I visited The Grange and suddenly remembered its connection to Newmarket through the Boulton and Robinson families.

The Boulton family was closely associated with the early history of Newmarket, the street running west from Main and Church streets was known until the 1860s as Boulton Street, now D’Arcy Street. George D’Arcy Boulton, the patriarch, arrived from England and became closely associated with the ruling Family Compact, having been appointed as solicitor general in 1805 and attorney general in 1814. His son’s residence in Toronto, known as The Grange, was given to the City of Toronto to become part of the Art Gallery of Ontario.  

The first official map of the village, made in 1862, shows that the Boulton family owned a large block of land stretching along the north side of Eagle Street up to the western incorporation line (Yonge Street) and north to Timothy Street. 

Records also indicate E. Hunter and Mr. Alfred owned two sizable parcels of land along Boulton and, in the 1880s. J.C. Hogaboom acquired the entire block.

Those who read my article on the history of the Pioneer Cemetery on Eagle Street may remember that the Boulton family were involved in the establishment of the cemetery.  

Records show that in 1860, James Boulton sold the land to the Hon. Henry John Boulton. Then on Nov. 12, 1863, Henry John Boulton of Toronto transferred it to the Rev. Septimus Fowler Ramsay,  clerk incumbent of St. Paul’s Church in Newmarket, and church wardens Alfred Boultbee, barrister, and George Frederick Dawson, yeoman, of East Gwillimbury, “In Consideration of the sum of ONE DOLLAR, a portion of Lot No. 93 on the east side of Yonge Street, known as the GRAVE YARD, on a plan of a portion of said Lot surveyed and laid out by Dennis & Goppage, Surveyors, to have and to hold forever in trusts and uses therein contained.”  

Essentially, Boulton donated the land upon which the cemetery now sits to the town with St. Paul’s Anglican Church as the guardian.

D’Arcy Boulton maintained a store on Main Street and is recorded as a “volunteer in the York Militia.”  

We also know that the house, No. 202, on the west side of John Street was occupied by ‘Squire’ Boulton who later lived with his niece, Rachel, in a brick house at 371 Timothy St.

The Robinson and the Boulton families are both mentioned repeatedly in the annals of our local history.  James Boulton (the Eagle Street Burying Ground) was a son of D’Arcy Boulton of Toronto, who was the builder of The Grange.  

A barrister by trade, he was married three times, his first wife being Susan Robinson, daughter of Elisha Beman and Esther (Sayre) Robinson. They were married in Newmarket on May 20, 1823.  James Boulton would die in Toronto in 1878. 

It is said that a small yellow house once stood on the south side of Water Street opposite the Cawthra store where D’Arcy Boulton maintained his law office in 1852. 

The official records of D’Arcy Boulton Jr. indicate that he was a lawyer, held public office, was a politician, and a judge. We also know that he had six boys and two girls, and that he died on May 21, 1834 in Toronto.

When, in 1833, William Lyon Mackenzie was drawing up his list of Family Compact members, he began with the name Mr. D’Arcy Boulton, his four sons, who also held public office, along with one son’s brother-in-law (Peter Robinson), and his brothers. 

By highlighting the family connections and monopoly associated with their offices, Mackenzie was clearly characterizing the literal aspect to the political label ‘Family Compact’. Boulton’s place at the top of the list seems symbolically clear, in the early history of Ontario they were a quintessential political force.

The second son of an old family of Lincolnshire gentry, George D’Arcy Boulton enrolled at the Middle Temple in 1788 to study law. Law would take a back seat to a business career and Boulton became a partner in a Woollen Yarn Company. The enterprise encountered difficulties and, in 1793, the partners declared bankruptcy.  

Bankruptcy proceedings lasted several years and, in the end, Bolton’s financial problems may have had a bearing on his decision to emigrate first to the United States in 1797 and then to Canada in 1802.

Upper Canada offered Boulton a more congenial social and political climate in which to flourish. In 1802, his petition for a land grant was approved and he received 200 acres for himself and an additional 200 acres for each of his five children. 

The following year, in response to a dearth of accredited lawyers, Parliament empowered the lieutenant governor to authorize attorneys to practise by licence. Boulton and others were examined by Chief Justice Henry Allcock and Boulton was admitted to the bar in 1803. Thus, Boulton began his upward climb on the ladder of official government preference. 

The initial rung was provided by the death of solicitor general Robert Isaac Dey Gray in October 1804. The following February, Boulton assumed Gray’s position and also succeeded Gray in a byelection as the member for the riding of Stormont and Russell.

His next opportunity arose when judge Robert Thorpe was suspended by lieutenant governor Francis Gore in July 1807. Boulton began to carry out the business of the Court of King’s Bench on the circuit. He did suffer a setback when he was defeated in the general election of 1808 by John Brownell. 

In August 1813, he obtained a leave of absence from his duties in Upper Canada as solicitor general to ‘transact family business’. He was admitted to the English bar in May 1814 and immediately began lobbying for the vacant attorney generalship.  

Boulton would be successful, although his wish that son Henry John succeed him as solicitor general was frustrated by the ascending star of John Beverley Robinson, another powerful Newmarket boy.  Boulton was appointed attorney general on Dec. 31, 1814 and Robinson became solicitor general less than two months later.

John Beverley Robinson, the brother-in-law of D’Arcy Boulton’s eldest son and namesake, proved pivotal in the reshuffling in the colonial administration three years later when a vigorous young attorney general, namely John Beverley Robinson, was appointed. A chain reaction was then set in motion by chief justice Thomas Scott’s retirement in 1816.  

The resulting vacancy on the bench was filled by Boulton, who was appointed Feb. 12, 1818 having been replaced as attorney general by Robinson. Boulton attempted to make his appointment conditional upon Henry John’s succeeding Robinson as solicitor general. Henry John was named the acting solicitor general in 1818.

By the mid 1820s, the rigours of the riding circuit imposed a heavy strain on Boulton. In 1827, Boulton retired, and died seven years later at the Grange, the home of his son, D’Arcy Jr. His tenure on the Court of King’s Bench coincided with a period of extreme conservative politics that held sway and offered a case in point for reformers such as William Lyon Mackenzie concerning the province’s grievances.  Boulton represented the perfect characterisation of “the Family Compact.” 

Let us now turn our attention to the Grange itself. The land where the Grange is located was once part of a 100-acre park granted by governor Simcoe to solicitor general Robert I.D. Gray in the 1790s. In 1808, D’Arcy Boulton Jr. purchased 13 acres of Gray Park for 13 pounds and promptly renamed it Grange Estate, his ancestral home in Lincolnshire, England. As mentioned above, D’Arcy Boulton had married Sarah Anne Robinson, part of the influential Robinson family from Newmarket.

In 1818, he erected a residence on the property, which he designed himself, one of the first brick buildings in York. The original gates to the estate were at Queen Street West and John Street. Queen was the southern boundary of the property, and Boulton had a gatekeeper’s cottage constructed at John and Queen. Later, Boulton ordered that the gates of the Grange be relocated further north, closer to his residence. The Boultons raised their eight children within the home.

The structure remains the 12th oldest surviving building in Toronto and the oldest remaining brick house. Originally, it was considerably west of York, but over time, the town grew around it.

The house was inherited by D'Arcy's son and Toronto mayor William Henry Boulton. When he died in 1874, the house passed to his widow, Harriette Boulton. She remarried the prominent scholar Goldwin Smith, and the couple lived in The Grange for the rest of their lives.

Upon Smith's death in 1910, the couple bequeathed the building to the Art Museum of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), and it became the new home of the gallery. The building also served as the first home of the Ontario College of Art and Design, now OCAD University.

Since the early 20th century, the Art Gallery of Ontario has been expanded several times, the original manor making up only a small part of the structure.

The park in front was originally part of the Grange estate built in 1817 by the Boulton family. The carriageway, an elliptical path for carriages leading to the front door of The Grange, remains as a heritage feature today. This path led from The Grange south to Queen Street, becoming the northern section of John Street, named in honour of governor John Graves Simcoe. 

A street to the east of John Street also honoured the governor and was named Graves Street. However, it was eventually changed to Simcoe Street. 

The north section of the property was sold to Bishop Strachan in 1828 for the building of King’s College. In the 1840s, property to the south was donated to St. George the Martyr Church and the St. Patrick’s Market. The grounds around The Grange would be used as a park starting in 1910.

St. George Church, which was founded by the Boultons, burned down in 1956 with only the tower and original Sunday school building remaining.

The south facade of The Grange was neoclassical in design, symmetrical, with nine large windows facing the spacious grounds gently sloping southward to Queen and Lake Ontario.

The property saw two major expansions, the first occurring in the 1840s. Several additions were made to the house because of fire. The changes included the enlargement of the drawing room; the elimination of three bedrooms to create a large second-floor assembly room; and an addition on the west end to house an office. The front hall was also enlarged, and a new central staircase installed.

The painted glass window depicting the family crest was also added. This crest is a visual play on the name Boulton, as it shows a barrel pierced by an arrow, or bolt, with a hogshead of wine. The family motto — "Dux vitae ratio" ("The guide to life is reason") rests below the crest, reminding the Boultons of their British ancestry. The west wing of The Grange was expanded in the 1840s and 1885.

Upon the death of D’Arcy Boulton, The Grange was inherited by his son, William Henry Boulton, who was mayor of Toronto between the years 1845 and 1847, and again in 1858 and a MP when he died in 1874.

In 1846, William married Harriette Mann Dixon from Boston, the couple never having any children. William was fond of gambling and both Harriette and her mother-in-law, Sarah Anne Robinson,  were challenged with keeping The Grange in Boulton hands. William died in 1874, leaving Harriette as the sole owner of The Grange.

In 1875, Harriette married Goldwin Smith, British scholar and political writer. Smith was once regius professor of history at Oxford University and personal tutor to the Prince of Wales. However, he decided to settle in Toronto in 1871. Smith was a proud supporter of the arts in Toronto and founded journals and encouraged young artists to paint Canadian subjects.  

As I mentioned above, Sarah Anne Robinson was born in Newmarket in 1789 to a Loyalist family who had previously moved north from Virginia after the American Revolution. D’Arcy Boulton met Sarah Anne through her older brother, Peter, in Newmarket. 

Sarah Anne is said to have been a superior hostess and The Grange became a central site for the social and political happenings of early Toronto. Over the course of their lives, the Boultons had eight children. 

D’Arcy Boulton made his living running a dry goods store and obtaining three government posts. He died in 1846 after a rough decade of family deaths, a cholera epidemic and financial strain. Upon D’Arcy’s death, the house was left to Sarah Anne.

She put the house and the land around it in trust for her daughter-in-law, Harriette, as a marriage settlement. Thus, the house was under Harriette’s control, and it was Harriette who bequeathed the house to the Art Museum of Toronto.

As Toronto grew, the arts community grew, and there was a desire for a permanent venue for exhibiting paintings. Dr. and Mrs. Harriette Goldwin Smith bequeathed The Grange to the City of Toronto for this purpose, requiring that the facade of the house and the park surrounding it be preserved. 

Harriette died in 1909, and Dr. Smith in 1910. The house became the property of the Art Museum of Toronto, being used from 1911 to 1918 for art exhibitions and various administrative functions of the museum. 

To allow for expansion, the Government of Ontario purchased land on Dundas Street for the gallery with the first section of the new galleries opening to the public April 4, 1918. From its early beginnings in The Grange, the Art Museum of Toronto expanded and evolved into the Art Gallery of Toronto, now renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The Grange continues to serve as a members’ lounge with administrative offices for the AGO.

The Grange was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1970 as it remains one of the few surviving residential estates belonging to prominent citizens from the town of York and reflects the conservative influence of the British classical tradition of the 18th century. 

Its character-defining elements include its location in the heart of the city, sitting at the end of a green and treed park, its rectangular, two-storey massing; its early brick construction; the five-bay facade of its original block with it central entry under a portico, its pediment with oculus window, and its twin chimneys at each end. Its west wing has evenly spaced multi-pane sash windows and its main door with semicircular top light and rectangular sidelights.  Also of interest is the surviving evidence of its original interior layout, finishes and detailing.

The Grange underwent a variety of changes between the early days of the Art Museum of Toronto and the restoration project in the 1970s. These included the electrification of the building and the construction of an apartment for a live-in caretaker. 

By the early 1970s, a new path was forged for The Grange with additional expansions to the AGO.

Many will remember when renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry revealed his ambitious design for the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004.  It is safe to say that many were not impressed.

There was a backlash over the scale of the project and concern over the fate of the Grange as the early 19th-century manse could end up being dwarfed by Gehry’s redesign. An agreement signed by the City of Toronto and the AGO in 2005 required that certain elements of the Grange must be retained.

If you have visited the property, you will see that the results are stunning, with the circa-1817 Georgian manor incorporated as a wing of the gallery. The space has undergone a revitalization in recent years with the addition of a playground, fountain and, more famously, Henry Moore’s Large Two Forms. The statue was moved into the park from its spot at Dundas and McCaul in 2017.

If you have never visited The Grange, I urge you to do so and when you do, remember that it has links to two prominent Newmarket families, the Boultons and Robinsons.

Sources: The Grange – A House with a History; The AGO Website; Hidden Toronto: The Story Behind the Grange – Now Magazine; Grange Park – The History Online; The Grange National Historic Site of Canada; The Grange an article by Nathalie Clerk – Canadian Encyclopedia; Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1970; Toronto’s Architectural Gems—the Grange and AGO by John Doug Taylor; The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Volume VI (1821-1835); The History of Newmarket by Ethel Trewhella

Newmarket resident Richard MacLeod — the History Hound — has been a local historian for more than 40 years. He writes a weekly feature about our town's history in partnership with Newmarket Today, conducts heritage lectures and walking tours of local interest, and leads local oral history interviews.