Navy Hall (1792–1793)
Ontario’s first Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, and Mrs. Simcoe arrived at Newark, the original capital, (now Niagara-on-the-lake) in July 1792. Navy Hall was the first official residence, even though it was also used as the original meeting place of Upper Canada’s legislature.
Castle Frank (1795–1796)
In July 1793, Simcoe sailed to the town of York (now Toronto) to establish a new capital for Upper Canada. For two years, he took up residence in a tent or canvas house in the neighbourhood of the old fort at the entrance to the harbour.
In 1795, he Simcoe built a summer home, naming it Castle Frank to honour his eldest son and heir, Francis. No public money was expended during the construction. The cottage was built of of logs covered with clapboards, built along the Grecian temple plan, which was a style popular at that time.
The drawing by Mrs. Simcoe shows that the residence must have commanded an impressive view of both town and the Don River. Castle Frank stood until 1829, when, deserted and uncared for, it was destroyed by fire.
Russell Abbey (1796–1799)
Simcoe’s successor, Peter Russell, occupied his own house, Russell Abbey, located at the south-west corner of Princess and Front streets.
New Government House (1800–1813)
In 1800, the first public funds were expended for a new Government House. This U-shaped one-storey structure was designed by Captain Robert Pilkington, and was situated near the French Fort at the western end of the town.
This residence was occupied by Peter Hunter, Alexander Grant, Francis Gore, Sir Isaac Brock, and Roger Hale Sheaffe.
In 1813, the residence met its demise by an explosion during the American invasion of York.
Elmsley House and Beverly House (1815–1841)
Beverley House was, for a time, an official residence. It had been purchased in 1817 by Sir John Beverley Robinson, and was occupied by Lord Sydenham from 1839 to 1840 when he came to Toronto to implement the union of the Canadas. This residence was later turned over to the Robinson family, who occupied it until 1912 when it was demolished.
Following the war, the government purchased Elmsley House, the residence of Chief Justice John Elmsley, converting it into the official residence of the province. It was located at the south-west corner of King and Simcoe Streets.
It served as Government House until 1841 and had been used by Francis Gore, Sir Peregrine Maitland, Sir John Colborne, Sir Francis Bond Head, and Sir George Arthur.
Elmsley Villa (1849–1851)
Elmsley Villa was occupied by the Governor-in-Chief, Lord Elgin, from 1849 to 1851.
Old Government House (1870–1912)
Upon Confederation in 1867, the government saw the need for a Government House in the “grand manner”. What has now come to be called “Old Government House” was erected at the cost of just over $100,000. Its modern French style was designed by the Toronto firm of Gundry and Langley, and was occupied in 1870 by William Pearse Howland.
It was situated on the site of the old Elmsley House at King and Simcoe Streets. On alternate corners were Upper Canada College, The British Saloon, and St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Not surprisingly, the area came to be called “Education, Damnation, Legislation, and Salutation”.
The house remained the official residence until the area was deemed inappropriate in 1912, due to the surge of commercial structures and railway tracks in the area, and the fact that the legislature had moved into the new building at Queen’s Park. The site was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway and was demolished in 1915.
Cumberland (Pendarvis) House (1912–1914)
Pendarvis House at St George and College streets was briefly occupied by Sir John Gibson and Sir John Hendrie until the new residence was opened in 1915.
Chorley Park (1915–1937)
Chorley Park, Ontario’s last Government House, takes its name from a tract of land in north Rosedale on which this impressive mansion was built. Designed by the provincial architect, F. R.Heakes, in the Loire Valley Chateau style of architecture, its cost was well over $1 million.
Its history was brief—barely 22 years—when it was deemed too great an expense on the provincial government and sold. Its content was auctioned at a massive sale in 1938.
The official receiving rooms for the Lieutenant Governor were then made available in the west wing of Queen’s Park, an area previously designated for the Speaker of the House. These rooms are still used today for official receptions, but are modest when examining Ontario’s past sumptuous residences.