July’s prompt for Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up is Sculpture.
These photos are from a park in Toronto called Guild Park and Gardens. This is a special place that has gone through many transformations since its inception over 100 years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a couple of times (once for a wedding), and it’s one of my very favourite places in the city. These pictures are from a visit in September 2009, when I didn’t have a lot of time to get properly stuck in to document the many artworks in the gardens. Now that I’ve done my homework and know so much more about the place, I will certainly go back soon!
Nestled in the centre of the park is the Guild Inn, a Period Revival mansion with Arts and Crafts detailing. (During WWI, Period Revival was a popular interpretation of medieval architecture using Tudor-derived elements.) It was built in 1914 as Bickford House. The 33-room manor house, perched atop the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario, is surrounded by an area of gardens and woodlands originally known as Ranelagh Park. After the first owner moved away, the grounds were used variously as a Christian mission seminary and boarding school, and a private residence, then lay vacant for several years.
The property was purchased in 1932 by Rosa and Herbert Spencer Clark, newlyweds with a passion for the arts. It was this socially-conscious and idealistic couple who gave the property an exciting new life. Inspired by New York’s Roycroft, a utopian artists’ colony and centre of the Arts and Crafts movement after the teachings of William Morris, the Clarks wished to establish a similar cooperative in Canada. They opened their home, free of charge, as the Guild of All Arts, a sanctuary for around 100 painters, sculptors and artisans to create, display and sell their works. Some of these artists were contemporaries or students of the Group of Seven, who so skillfully captured iconic images of the Canadian landscape. Over the years, the Clarks acquired more land and added offices, a pottery kiln, a sculpting studio, a farm, and a hotel block for their residents and visitors.
The government requisitioned the Guild property during World War II. It was used as a training base as well as a veterans’ rehabilitation hospital; the patients’ treatment included art therapy in the workshop spaces.
The Clarks finally got their property back in 1947. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when rising costs and taxes forced the couple to cater mainly to tourists (and change the artists’ cooperative to paid membership), they began amassing an extensive collection of art which they erected in the gardens. This included statues and sculptures, and dozens of architectural fragments rescued from 19th and early 20th century buildings that were being demolished in Toronto and other cities to make way for modern skyscrapers. In this way, Rosa and Spencer rescued many fine examples of Gothic Revival, Victorian, Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne architecture from obscurity. Some refer to this architectural museum as the ‘Graveyard of Lost Buildings’.
Aging and in ill health, the couple sold the property and its collection to the Toronto Conservation Authority in the late ’70s, three years before Rosa died. The Guild continued as a hotel – run by Spencer Clark until shortly before his death – and restaurant, changing hands several times until it was finally closed in 2003. For years the abandoned building lay crumbling in a dangerous state of decay as developers and the community argued bitterly over its fate and that of the sculpture gardens and the woodland upon which they sat.
Thankfully, sensible heads prevailed. The Guild Inn was recently purchased, restored, extended and redeveloped as a restaurant and event centre, and the estate is open once again. The original house, although expanded, remains intact, still retaining its historic and artistic spirit.
Fortunately for the public, the 88-acre parkland, with over 70 relics dotting the lawns, gardens and wooded trails, has always remained accessible. It’s a pleasure to wander amongst the marble columns, terra cotta turrets and sculpted stone, ranging from small remnants to massive structures of several tonnes. Ensconced in the grass, huddled amongst trees and open to the air, all are in remarkably good condition thanks to the Clarks’ loving conservation – and that of the Friends of Guild Park and Gardens, a volunteer group. And I’m sure the faeries creep out of the woods at night to render their magickal protection, too!