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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Toronto’s Twin Italianate Villas

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Toronto of the 1870’s was a booming Victorian city nearing a population of 80,000, alive with the smells of mud, livestock, and industry. The recent establishment of railways connected the city to regional markets, fueling rapid growth and helping spawn a host of profitable businesses. Wealthy entrepreneurs desired fine homes, often built on or near the sites of their livelihoods.

Many Torontonians will recognize the above picturesque old house on Augusta just north of Queen St West. Built for Edward Leadlay in 1876, the villa’s watchtower overlooked a complex of buildings that comprised Leadlay’s business based on sheep by-products. The house was purchased by the Felician Sisters in 1937 and remains a convent to this day. Beautifully maintained and carefully restored, it turns out this old Victorian lady has a long lost twin sister.

“Rivervilla”, northeast corner of Queen & River, photo: Toronto Public Library, B. Napier Simpson Collection

On the opposite side of town, beside the Don Valley, “Rivervilla” was built for Thomas Davies in 1878 on the northeast corner of Queen and River street. The house was situated in front of Davies’ bustling Don Brewery, which he operated with his brothers (his son Robert stayed in the beer making business and later opened the Dominion Brewery on Queen East near Sumach). A photo from 1910 shows the house without its tower. Presumably the building had been re-purposed and more mundane additions were built on the front. The lot was flattened in 1974 and is now the site of the Toronto Humane Society building.

Curiously, though identical in all but the smallest details, Rivervilla was an exact mirror duplicate of the Leadlay house. The architect is unknown, as are the whims and reasons for this act of architectural mirror-play. On a whim of my own I measured a map to see if the center line between these mirror houses landed anywhere meaningful, such as Yonge street. Close but not quite… does Victoria Street count?

A lithograph of the Don Brewery from 1887 by Peter A. Gross. I believe this image just predates the straightening of the lower Don, which would have moved the river’s edge a couple hundred feet or so to the east. The building on the left survives as a recent condo conversion. (City of Toronto Archives)

Rivervilla, less impressive from the rear, with Davies’ brewery building on the right, obscured by trees. (City of Toronto Archives)

Across the old Queen Street bridge in 1910, looking west. The Don Brewery is on the right, Rivervilla in the center. (City of Toronto Archives)

Special thanks to Stephen Otto.



  1. Great piece. I know these plots of land well and will now look at them in an entirely differnt way.

  2. These homes look like one of those 3-D puzzles you find in toy stores.

    Very nice architecture.

  3. Enjoyed this article much. Thanks Mathew.