The beauty of homes is that they don’t just provide shelter - they also serves as a means of self-expression! Our residences are the canvas upon which we paint our personal tastes, but they're also expressive of the aesthethics popular during the time of construction.
Take for instance, this Enchanting Victorian Cottage In Little Italy in Toronto, offered for $999,000. This sweet cottage has an ethereal charm, made even more evident by its picturesque Gothic Revival qualities. The influence of this bygone architectural style is evident in the classic gables, the red brick façade adorned with yellow brick quoining, the wide porch with curved gables, and the intricately ornate brackets connecting the posts.
From the middle of the 19th century through to the 20th century, Canada slowly evolved from a British colony to a country with our own sense of self. During that emancipation of identity, British architectural styles - like Gothic, for example - had a big influence on the scope of housing in this country. It's easy to identify this Gothic influence in numerous iconic Canadian structures, including the notable example of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, which were built in the late 19th century. Interestingly, evidence of Gothic Revival architecture can most prominently be seen in Ontario, more than other provinces.
Check out this piece from BlogTO that covers the history of Toronto decade by decade - Toronto of the 1880s - and gives great visual reference for what the city looked like architecturally, during that time period.
From a residential standpoint, the popular Gothic Revival style morphed to embrace smaller homes, like the urban 'cottage', reminiscent of a rural residence that you’d likely spot somewhere in the rolling hills of the British countryside.
The inspiration for the Gothic Revival Cottage is drawn largely from opulent details of Gothic Architecture in the Middle Ages, that were mostly constructed with stone; when transplanted as “the” housing fashion for nearly a century in Ontario, it was modified with materials (often wood, brick or both) to suit the period, the size of the dwelling and the climate in Ontario.
The Gothic Revival Cottage in general is noted by some key identifiers: a steeply pitched roof and gables with decorative bargeboard (which give the trademark “gingerbread” appearance); these gables usually appeared at the center of the front façade and/or over arched windows. Usually there was a window over the front entrance and often the front door has transoms either on the side or on top. Gothic Revival Cottages also commonly had wide gabled porches, often with many elaborate details, like turned posts, arches and patterned brackets connecting the posts.
Cottage dating to 1860
The aforementioned cottage on Clinton Street is very much reflective of how this pastoral design was transplanted into the urban setting with success. Dating back to 1880, the cottage reflects what was popular and 'on point' among housing styles in Ontario in the 19th century - Gothic Revival. In Canada, it lasted as the dominant aesthetic well into the 1950s, in fact. While it was most commonly seen in rural areas with country homes, the Gothic Revival cottage also dotted the streetscapes of big cities like Toronto and Ottawa, though few examples have been as lovingly-maintained as on Clinton Street.
Even in the 1880s, as is still the case today, the media was playing a large role in helping to shape trends. A notable periodical of the era, the Canadian Farmer, promoted the Gothic Revival Cottage as an "ideal home" for a small family. In a subsequent issue, they even published architectural plans for the home! Originally, they were mostly built around a center hall plan with the central hall being 6 feet wide. Typically, on the left was the living room, and on the right were two bedrooms. The kitchen (and pantry) are located at the rear of the house, connected to the home, but almost separate. The kitchen would sometimes also house additional sleeping quarters, but, unfortunately, there was no indoor bathroom initially.
Here is a great piece from OntarioArchitecture.com that has some excellent photos of the Gothic Revival Cottage, as well as some additional background history.
There's a second, more pragmatic reason why the Gothic Revival Cottage was popular in Ontario. When it really emerged as a fixture in the period’s architecture in the late 19th century, property taxes in Upper Canada were based on how many storeys a home had; this smart blueprint capped at 1.5 storeys to take advantage of a cheaper rate. A steep roof with a large window allowed for additional living space, without raising the taxes. Clever!
Houses of all kinds mark the evolution of history, like adding chapters onto a book. It’s fascinating to see how this particular style - which was so popular over a century ago - is still relevant, charming, and coveted. It’s a testament to timeless design. And, by my good fortune as both a social historian and housing expert Celebrating Twenty-Five Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor, I'm delighted to be showcasing this Enchanting Victorian Cottage In Little Italy - featured in some of the photos above - currently offered for sale at $999,000!
As the purveyor of houseporn.ca, I find it fascinating how dwellings - as meaningful objects and settings - are non-verbal signs defining and communicating who we are as a culture during a particular time and in a specific place. Because we know the dwelling place and our identity, whether social or personal, are inevitably linked through its form, style, interior and exterior decorations, each shelter ultimately conveys its own kind of domestic bliss. Which begs the question, What Does Your Home Say About You?
~ Posted by Steven Fudge, founder of houseporn.ca and proprietor of urbaneer.com, a division of Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage.