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Home of the Week: History of Riverdale tied to Victorian-era abode

Home of the Week, 264 Bain Ave., Toronto.

Photos by Tom Woodside/


The listing

List Price: $879,000

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Taxes: $5,368.08 (2011)

Agent: Irene Kaushansky and Philip Trent Brown (Keller Williams Advantage Realty, Brokerage)

The back story

This restored Victorian-era home was built circa 1880 for the Robinsons, prominent members of Ontario's Family Compact of Anglo elites. The Robinsons early on influenced the development of Riverdale, the Toronto neighbourhood where this detached two-storey is located. According to agents Irene Kaushansky and Philip Brown, who investigated the home's heritage, the original owner, Christopher Robinson, received one of the four original land grants in Riverdale; Pape Avenue, located at Riverdale's eastern boundary, was originally called Robinson in his honour. His son was Sir John Beverley Robinson, Bart., Attorney General and Chief Justice of Upper Canada, and his granddaughter was Mrs. William Forsyth-Grant, after whom Grant Street was named. The original Mr. Robinson also had a daughter who married a General Lefroy after whom part of the present First Avenue was once named. The Robinsons were also friends of the Heward family, who lived at what is today known as Heward Avenue, also in Riverdale. They sold the Robinsons their land. The present homeowner, a recently retired professor of cinema studies, was made aware of the home's fascinating history when, shortly after purchasing the dwelling five years ago, the previous owner presented her with a vintage photograph of the original family standing in front of the house. She in turn will hand the photograph over to the next purchaser as a way of keeping the home's history alive.

What's new

Mindful of the home's special place in the history of Toronto, the present homeowner, who wishes to remain anonymous, renovated the interior to showcase some of the heritage details that have survived since the Robinsons' days while also adapting it to modern living. "It is a true mid-1880s Victorian," she says, "one of the original cluster of homes in North Riverdale, that came with an oval Gothic window and original doorway mouldings. It also has 10-foot ceilings, and eight-inch baseboards throughout. On top of that is the romance that came in knowing that one family, the Robinsons, had lived in the home for more than three generations.

"It was truly a well-loved family home. But, like many Toronto Victorians, the original house was dark on the inside. My first goal was to bring in some light."

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To that end, she tore down walls and enlarged windows to create what she describes as a feeling of openness on the interior. With the help of contractor David McCaulay, she also added a big, bright, modern kitchen featuring white Shaker-style cabinets, and Brazilian granite. "The kitchen was transformed from a dingy little room with little light and an entrance blocked by a badly placed radiator into something that one friend has called 'Zen Victorian,' " she says. The home also has a new hot water boiler and updated mechanics. The original hardwood floors are freshly sanded and the Victorian-era stained glass transom windows have all been restored to their former glory.

Best feature

The home comes with two-car parking, a rarity in Riverdale. But it's the vintage details that really make it stand out. In the living room is a wood-burning fireplace with marble hearth in addition to original crown moulding and nine-inch baseboards. "It's got lots of character," the homeowner says.

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