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.
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.
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.