The Theta Xi Chapter of the Zeta Psi Fraternity stands boldly within a vibrant Toronto neighbourhood known as The Annex. Located just a short stroll away from The University Of Toronto (also known as one of the country's most venerated institutions of higher learning) this massive mansion houses multiple post-secondary students as an off-campus residence. The Theta Xi Chapter's most notable alumna is Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae who wrote the famous poem "In Flounders Field" (a poem often recited on Remembrance Day to remember all our fallen soldiers during World War 1), inspired by the death of his best friend in the Battle of Ypres in 1915.
The Annex is considered one of Toronto’s most venerated neighbourhoods - with an eclectic mix of students, celebrities and the cultural intelligentsia, which includes faculty at the University of Toronto. It's also steps away from Bloor Street West, an area filled with daily amenities, bars, restaurants, indie bookstores, and lots of coffee shops. Literally, The Annex is in the centre of the city near the Royal Ontario Museum, the popular Lee's Palace rock concert venue, and the Hot Docs Cinema.
Over the years, The Annex has been home to multiple Greek Letter Organizations that were created to serve social, literary and philanthropic purposes. And while the students living in these, and other student housing nearby, occasionally cause a lot of traction in the community due to disruptive behaviours and loud noise, student life and their occasional troubles has long been part of the history of this neighbourhood and, in many ways, part of its charm.
The mansion, located at 180 St. George Street, is the current location of the University of Toronto’s first fraternity which dates back to 1898 (they were originally at 118 St George until the University of Toronto expropriated the mansion and built the Robarts Library). The facade of 180 St. George is built in the Richardson Romanesque style, which is specific to this neighbourhood, such that it's often referred to as the “Annex Style”.
Constructed in 1898 by architect Fredrick Henry as a residence for Thomas Horn, a member of the merchant class and owner of Luxfer Prism company, the exterior facing is entirely made of sandstone. Made of deep earth tone bricks that are further decorated with intertwining vines, along with its grandeur, round arches, dramatic forms, thick walls, and towers, it's built with all the right parts that are associate with castles! In fact, many castles were inspired by this art style (the Richardson Romanesque Style) because of the way it celebrates grand architectural features.
Zeta Psi is composed of four floors and consists of 12 bedrooms, (3 doubles and 9 singles) with shared communal spaces like a lounge, billiards area, chapter room, library and cooking facilities. Like many houses built within this time period, there is a grand staircase and complimentary smaller servant staircases throughout the infrastructure, which merits the house with multiple ways of getting around the house.
The mansion’s rich history is still apparent behind the original facade of this elegant residence. I absolutely love admiring this fraternity home while walking through the Annex. Its architectural style and facade make Zeta Psi stand out from the rest of its neighbouring homes, but its sandstone exterior helps gives it a complementary Annex charm.
And if you are curious about what it must have been like living in this beautiful building, read A Band Of Brothers written by James McGrath.
Interested in learning more about the “Annex Style” House? Check out these articles on Houseporn.ca:
Photos courtesy of Emily Eng and James McCreath
Researched and written by Guhar Ullah, Specializing in Architecture at the University of Toronto's John H Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.