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6 Homes of the Century

Designed in 1837 by John Howard, an architect who became Toronto’s first surveyor and engineer, Colborne Lodge is a picturesque Regency-style cottage. Howard and his wife, Jemima, founded High Park and lived in the lodge. The house boasts the city’s oldest existing indoor washroom, plus an impressive tomb—a Scottish cairn in homage to Jemima’s roots—enclosed by what is believed to be Sir Christopher Wren’s famous railing from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

What to do? On Sunday, February 10 and 24, take a walking tour of the park, departing from nearby Grenadier Café.

When: Fri.-Sun. noon-4 p.m.

The oldest remaining brick house from the original Town of York and a classic example of Georgian architecture, Campbell House was built in 1822 for Lady Hannah and Sir William Campbell, the sixth chief justice of Upper Canada. In 1972, this neoclassical brick home became one of the largest recorded objects transported across downtown when it was moved to its current location. Restored to its former elegance, it’s an excellent model of York circa 1825.

What to do? Enjoy enlightening tours by staff clad in epoch attire and baking demonstrations on Wednesdays.

When: Tue.-Fri. 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

In delightful contrast to the urban opulence of downtown homes, Gibson House, an 1851 Georgian farmhouse in the city’s north end, offers a fascinating glimpse of upper-middle-class country living in the mid-19th century. Costumed interpreters tell the tale of Scottish immigrant David Gibson, a land surveyor who mapped early Toronto. Gibson co-led the Upper Canada Rebellion, then fled to the U.S.

What to do? View the exhibits, which change regularly; children’s activities include dressing in clothing of the era and playing vintage games.

When: Tue.-Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Purportedly haunted, Mackenzie House, a Greek Revival rowhouse, was bought in 1859 for the feisty figure William Lyon Mackenzie—leader of the failed 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion—by his political supporters after his return from a 12-year exile to the U.S. A controversial newspaper publisher and Toronto’s first mayor, he was also the grandfather of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s 10th prime minister (1921–1948).

What to do? Try your hand at working the period printing press in the recreated print shop and pick up a “Rebel with a Cause” or “Haunted House” T-shirt. As part of Black History Month this month, see the exhibit “A Glimpse of Black Life in Victorian Toronto 1850–1860” on weekends, noon to 5 p.m. Enjoy a walking tour of the site on February 16 or 17, from 1 to 3 p.m.; call to reserve a spot.

When: Sat. & Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Financier James Austin’s 1866 home evolved from a Victorian country estate to an Edwardian city mansion filled with elegant furnishings and fine art collected by three generations, before becoming Spadina Museum Historic House & Gardens. All of the decor, such as the Palm Room’s Tiffany lamp and the impressive plaster frieze in the Billiard Room, belonged to the family.

What to do? Check out the exhibit “Remembering John McCrae 1872–1918″—a profile of the WWI physician and poet who wrote “In Flanders Fields.”

When: Sat. & Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Scenes from the movies Cocktail and X-Men were shot at Casa Loma, the country’s best-known Gothic Revival–style castle. Completed in 1914, the property was originally home to Sir Henry Pellatt, a great Canadian entrepreneur, stockbroker, major general and the first person to bring hydroelectric power to Toronto from Niagara Falls. Don’t miss two secret staircases, the 240-metre underground tunnel to the stables and potting shed, or the panoramic view from atop the Scottish or Norman towers.

What to do? Learn about Pellatt’s fascinating rags-to-riches-to-rags story through a self-led audio tour. Dance the night away to hits of the 1930s and ’40s with Masquerade Jive at Casa Loma, featuring the Toronto All-Star Big Band on Friday, February 1, 7 p.m., $35.

When: Daily, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

TIP! Many historic homes look modest in size, but guided tours can take 30 to 60 minutes. Allow ample time after to explore exhibits, secret passageways and hidden rooms.

To learn more about the city’s milestones, please see Toronto Timeline

.—Viviane Kertész

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