Spadina House – Downton Abbey Exhibit
I believe, The Embroiderers’ Guild of Peterborough first heard of the exhibition of Downton Abbey costumes being held in Toronto through the ONN on-line newsletter. It was decided that it would be interesting and make a good road trip for us. The planning began. Both Deb and Wenda volunteered to drive, a date was chosen and tickets were bought.
None of us had previously visited Spadina House (Museum) and had no idea it was so grand. The costumes were the initial draw for us but we received much more as a tour of the home was also included in our ticket price. Dresses and accessories worn by the Austin family and from the City of Toronto of the same era were also available.
Twenty costumes were on display from the series of Downton Abbey including day and evening attire, both men and women’s costumes including servant examples. The aristocracy would dress for dinner every night, donning gloves and jewellery. During the day they would wear something very plain.
Although the Austins were not as aristocratic as the Crawly family of Downton Abbey they did face many of the same challenges including a shell shocked son returning from the First World War. The museum, by having this exhibit at Spadina House, showed the connection to reality of life during the 1920’s to 1930’s. This was a transformative time that changed the City of Toronto. Increased immigration, the vote for women, stock market crash, prohibition and new technology were all happening during this time frame.
Spadina House and surrounding property was purchased by auction in 1866 by Irish immigrants James and Susan Austin for a price of $14,000.00. Mr. Austin apprenticed to William Lyon MacKenzie to learn the printing trade. He became a successful wholesale merchant, was a director with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada and later became the president of both Consumer Gas Co. of Toronto and the Dominion Bank.
Three generations of the Austin family covering the period from 1866 up to 1980 lived in Spadina House, at which time it was transformed into a museum. Albert, son of James and Susan with wife Mary carried out extensive construction in the late 1900’s and early 20th century. The Ontario Heritage Foundation acquired the property from Albert’s daughter Anna Thompson and her son Austin Seton Thompson in 1978. The City of Toronto restored the property and opened it to the public in 1984.
We could not leave until we checked out the gift shop which carried interesting and well priced items.
A visit to a close by pub for lunch was the finishing touch for a day well enjoyed.
Note of interest – Casa Loma is right next door to Spadina House.
Submitted by Linda Vassiliadis
** Photographs of costumes from March 10, 2014 Edition of Toronto Star (The Star.com Entertainment)