History: The Annex and the Annex Residents’ Association
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 St.
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 non descript, 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.
The predecessor to the Annex Residents’ Association originated in an effort that in 1925 succeeded in preventing building a Catholic boy’s school on Prince Arthur St. This was not the first time that residents of the Annex had attempted to stop a school. In 1889 they had tried but failed to stop the construction of the Huron St. School (rebuilt on its current site in 1956). Opposition could not have been to schools per se, since some were built without opposition, but these were private girls schools, such as the Anglican St. Mildrid’s College at 36 Walmer Rd.
The successful 1925 campaign against the Prince Arthur school emboldened Annex residents also to prevent construction of an orthopedic hospital on the same site. At that time residents of the street formed the first Annex Ratepayers Association largely to draw others into this effort. Subsequent to these “victories” this association, along with one in the West part of the Annex merged. In 1960, three years after tenants gained municipal suffrage in Toronto, they were granted membership into the Association.
The Annex Ratepayers’ Association was eclipsed at the end of the 1960’s mainly in the course of a campaign against the construction of an expressway on Spadina, which would have linked the 401 and the Gardiner Expressway. A coalition of activists in the Annex, prominently including Nadine and David Nowlan and also the urbanist, Jane Jacobs who had moved to a house on Albany St. in 1967, mobilized against the expressway that in 1971 was stopped by the Provincial government of Premier William Davis. This campaign was instrumental in electing a reform municipal government, with David Crombie as Mayor. It also brought into the Annex Ratepayers’ Association younger and reform-minded members, including some tenants from the many apartment and rooming houses in the area. The association’s orientation came largely into alignment with values of the City’s reform movement. In 1975 it changed its name to the Annex Residents’ Association.
Prepared by Frank Cunningham
For a detailed account see Jack Batten’s The Annex: The Story of a Toronto (Boston Mills Press, 2004), which includes references to several other pertinent histories.