Archives for May 2013

McCausland Stained Glass

 

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends in Toronto.  The occasion was the annual Doors Open.  For historians it’s a great opportunity to venture inside some of Toronto’s oldest and most well preserved buildings.  This year however, there was one offering that was of particular interest to me.  I was delighted to find that Canada’s oldest family run and one of its most historically significant businesses, which I have had the pleasure to deal with on many occasions, was on the list of participants.

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Robert McCausland Limited was founded in 1856 and since that time the business has created an enormous number of the stain glass windows in Toronto, an estimated 32,000 have been recorded in the company’s books since its beginnings.  These windows are predominantly found in religious contexts but can also be found in many homes and commercial buildings throughout the city.  The company has been run by a long line of McCausland men over the years, the most recent of which is the very affable and the fifth in succession, Andrew McCausland.  While visiting the company’s glass studio I learned that Robert McCausland Limited has not only been handed down from generation to generation, but has also changed locations approximately 4 times since its inception.  Its most recent location is in Etobicoke.  Andrew also proudly informed visitors to the studio that during the period since 1925 the company has employed a total of only 4 artists/designers and approximately 5 bookkeepers/receptionists.  I was indeed in the heart of a very special place, a place where this one family has for so long proudly operated its business and created beautiful stained glass.

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What made my trip to the McCausland studios all the more meaningful was that I have been in touch with Andrew on several occasions while researching the history of houses that had McCausland stained glass.  Each time I was pleasantly surprised that, after having sent a email and picture of the window, I  quickly received confirmation that the stained glass  was indeed  created  by the McCausland clan.  The fact that the windows in the historic houses that I was researching were all indeed created by the McCauslands was of no great surprise to me.  Between 1856 and 1923 when Robert McCausland died, a extremely significant percentage of the stain glass manufactured in Toronto and many other parts of Canada, was made by the McCauslands.  While visiting the studio last weekend I learned from talking to Andrew that the business did not have extremely detailed records of each commission over the long length of its existence.  However he could tell, particularly in the case of the secular work, by the design whether or not it was one of the company’s creations.

One client for whom I wrote a house history has meticulously restored their beautiful Annex Queen Anne style house, and as part of the renovations restored the stain glass windows.  They were McCausland windows, likely made by Robert McCausland himself and installed in 1897 when the house was built.  The restoration of the windows was done by Andrew, Robert’s great, great, great grandson, in 2008.  Talk about coming full circle.  This was not the first time however, that Andrew had followed up on the work done by his illustrious ancestors.  For instance,  several years ago  Andrew restored the magnificent dome located in what was known as the most impressive commercial building of its time, the 1885 Bank of Montreal building, now the Hockey Hall of Fame.  The dome is also deemed to be one of Robert McClausland’s most impressive creations.

After having visited the studio it is evident to me from the way that Andrew talks about his work that he is extremely proud of what he does and the legacy of his family.  It is the revelation of these connections that is one of the things that I enjoy most about my job.  Finding those ties between the past and the present which manifest themselves in very tangible ways, is not only intriguing and a lot of fun, but it is also gratifying, through my work, to be able to pass it on to others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Henry Pellatt and the mystery of Spadina Gardens

Lady Pellatt

I was recently invited to a gathering at 45 Spadina Rd, once known as the Spadina Gardens Apartments. This impressive building is one of a pair of Victorian apartment buildings, constructed in 1906 by Sir Henry Pellatt, wealthy entrepreneur and builder of Casa Loma.  My hostess, when I told her what I did for a living,  engaged me in the story of the history of the building as she knew it.  Apparently, when Pellatt went bankrupt, lost Casa Loma, and had to sell its contents, (an interesting aside: I once found a detailed newspaper listing of the items sold at this bankruptcy sale, in which there was reference to the occupant of one of the houses that I was researching, purchasing a elaborate chandelier), he and his wife Mary Pellatt (nee Dodgson) went to live at 3 Spadina Gardens.  My hostess further explained that it was her understanding that the Pellatt’s did not share the same apartment but rather, lived across the hall from one another.  The story was that the death of Lady Pellatt in the apartment building in 1924 was in fact suicide.

Of course when I returned home from the gathering, my curiosity got the better of me.  Did this poor woman really commit suicide while living in the beautiful building that I just visited?  I set out to find out whether there was truth to this story.  I found one reference to Lady Pellatt’s death written by Charles (Carlie) Oreskovich  http://www.kingofcasaloma.com/ghosts.html  in which the author indicated that Lady Pellatt may have “shot herself ‘accidently'”.  However, there are other sources, for example, the death registration obtained from ancestry.ca, which list death to be a result of a heart attack brought on by long-term diabetes.

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The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail both also described Mary Pellatt’s death to be a result of a heart attack.  The question then is whether or not the circumstances surrounding the death of Lady Mary Pellatt was the subject of urban myth or if in fact, there was what we would now term a “cover up”.  Perhaps my meanderings will lead me to find the absolute truth or perhaps not.  But that is the often the case with history, sometimes the absolute truth can be elusive.  I think in this case I may carry on and try to find it.