Toronto is a city of bungalows. Though we’d fancy ourselves as a city of tall and thin Victorians, tightly packed together on narrow streets, Toronto spreads low and humbly. Once you leave the older parts of the city and drive through the sprawling post-war neighbourhoods of Etobicoke, North York and Scarborough, more likely than not all you’ll see are neatly spaced bungalows row after row (with groupings of apartment towers thrown in). These houses encompass numerous styles — from Neo-Tudor to Contempo, Ranch and War Time — and they all have value as part of our city. However, these aren’t the bungalows I want to call to mind. The ones that I’m thinking about are the pre-war ones. Those which, unlike their suburban and younger cousins, were more an exception than the rule in Toronto’s housing.
The word bungalow derives from the Gujarati word bangalo and hindi bangle meaning “low thatched home.” It is used to describe the houses of the bengalese, or “house in the Bengal style.” In its simplest meaning, it is a single-storey house with origins in India. The style (and word) made its way to Canada via Britain and the United States, where it came to mean a one (-and-a-half ) storey dwelling. This usually creates images of small, identical shoe-box houses, but even early on bungalows in Toronto could be well-designed individual expressions ranging in size from small to palatial, usually having strong American Arts and Crafts influences.
While pre-war bungalows are not abundant in Toronto, they aren’t exactly scant either. They began to appear around the First World War, in the city’s emerging peripheral neighbourhoods. They represent a substantial part of the housing stock in areas like Davisville, Mimico, and the Beach, amongst many others. In Toronto, as in the United States, bungalows became a popular building style for all types of housing, from lower class to wealthy. Henry Saylor wrote his book Bungalows in 1911 as a result of the style’s popularity, and a second edition (followed by a third) appeared in Toronto as early as 1913. The style was used extensively in home magazines throughout the ’20s and ’30s, ensuring its ongoing popularity.
These houses were commonly one or a one-and-a-half storeys, with bedrooms concealed within large, high attics. The structural framing of the house was emphasized as exterior decoration with purlins, rafters, plates, braces, and posts highly visible in gable ends, under wide eaves, and on porches and verandahs. While building materials varied, rustic textures such as brick, stone, clinker brick, and wood shingles were preferred. One house would often involve elements of each. Similar to the Prairie style, the appeal of these houses lay not in their applied decoration, but rather from their openness, strong horizontal rooflines, and the rustic quality of their materials. Couple this with killer porches and a strong sense of shelter is what’s created — a sense that has held up well over time.
Photo of Kingston Road bungalow from Old Relic