With its history and environment, the storied Guild Inn is one of the most unique places in Toronto. Its ninety-year history has evoked a lot nostalgia, both for its visitors and the city’s built heritage as a whole.
The Guild Inn sits on a tract of land that was known as Lot 13 Concession C on Scarborough’s waterfront. It was part of the Scarboro Village Post Office Community. The lot was owned, among others, by the Humphreys family in the 19th century.
The Guild Inn story begins in 1914 when the property came under the ownership of General Harold Child Bickford. He built a 15-bedroom, two-winged house on the parcel, naming it Ranelagh Park. The home would later go on to be known as The Bickford House.
The Guild of All Arts
In July 1932, Rosa Breithaupt Hewetson bought the Bickford House and the 40-acre property. Together with her new husband H. Spencer Clark, they began to transform it into The Guild of All Arts.
The Toronto Daily Star described its early concept:
“A unique venture into realms of co-operative living will shortly be attempted by a group of Toronto writers, artists, professors and business men, in protest against the standardization of art, education and industry in modern life….
‘The movement is not communistic” was the first declaration.”Toronto Daily Star, August 27, 1932
Two notable artists who worked at the Guild of All Arts at some point were English sculptor Dorothy Dick and Hungarian-born Torontonian Nicholas Hornyansky.
The Guild of All Arts was accessible south of Kingston Road via a side road (possibly today’s Livingston Avenue) that “twisted into a low forest and glided least into a clearing 1,000 feet from the edge of the cliffs”.
A column by ‘The Homemaker’ in the Daily Star in April 1933 set the scene:
“About forty acres of beautiful countryside, bordered by steep cliffs running down to the water’s edge, surround the house and the barn, which members of the community have been making over into homes, studios, and workshops.
Everywhere there were fine stone fireplaces. In one upper room, beautifully proportioned, we found, under the rafters, a large loom set up, and the weaver ready to talk to us of the possibilities of Ontario wool and Ontario flax – possibilities still, apparently, in the infancy of their development.
About twenty-two residents are not on the place, including a goodly number of children, and visiting children were fascinated by the perfect playhouse that had been built for them. It did seem a fine atmosphere for children, with so much of the real country about them and the real fundamental activities of life from which to learn their lessons, tangible and otherwise.”Toronto Daily Star, April 29, 1933
The Guild Inn began as this artists’ colony, a legacy that is perhaps not as visible in the current incarnation of the property. The Osterhout Log Cabin — along with The 1940 Sculptor’s Cabin near the north entrance of the property — is one of those remaining markers. The Osterhout Cabin came with the Bickford property when the Clarks bought it. It later served as the work place for sculptor-in-residence Elizabeth Fraser Williamson. A plaque dedicated to her is displayed nearby. A marker about the log cabin itself places the construction as the oldest building in Scarborough dating to 1795, but further research has rather placed its origin to the Humphreys family in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Guild Inn
By the end of the 1930s, the Clarks began to make The Guild of All Arts into The Guild Inn, running it as an event space and country inn, a rural getaway atop the Scarborough Bluffs. In the following decade, they expanded the building and its operations, making it a vacation destination for bridal couples and more.
In the latter part of and following the end of World War II, the Guild Inn’s operations were interrupted to aid in the war effort and recovery. Its building and grounds were leased by the Clarks to the Department of Pensions as a ‘convalescent home to restore the health of men nerve-shattered in the Canadian armed services”. The arts were part of the process.
In the 1950s, the Clarks sold the hundreds of acres they acquired near the Guild Inn to a developer to build a new planned community. Spencer Clark managed the project. The new community was called Guildwood Village and opened in the late 1950s.
Guildwood Parkway runs through the centre of Guildwood Village, curling south from Kingston Road. Part of the road was renamed from Eglinton East, a severed section of the main road to the west. The neighbourhood entrance at Kingston is adorned by the salvaged former gates of the Stanley Barracks (New Fort York). Running off the side of the parkway were curving, tree-lined residential streets, one of which is Toynbee Trail, which hosted a series of model homes collectively called the Avenue of Homes.
Several landmarks opened in the early years along Guildwood Parkway: the Guildwood Presbyterian Church, the Guildwood Village Shopping Centre, and Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate. Interestingly, the school’s opening in 1965 seems to have coincided with the closure of four streets east of Livingston and south of Guildwood Parkway. These streets, particularly Woodvale Road, ran right up to the Bluffs.
The Sculpture Garden
On the Guild’s grounds themselves, the Clarks had great plans as well. In 1958, The Globe reported that “a funicular railway, an outdoor Amphitheatre that will seat 1,500 persons, and a copy of the Hampton Court maze” were part of “the third stage of Spencer Clark’s dream”. The incline railway would have ran 300 feet from the top of the bluffs to the base where a cabana night club would be located. It was never built. The maze, however, did become an attraction in the early 1960s and onwards. The amphitheater would have to wait. In 1965, they also added a six-storey hotel addition.
Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of a unique sculpture park. In the 1960s, Spencer Clark began to collect architectural fragments from demolished buildings in and around Toronto. His method was laborious:
“Sometimes it meant standing all day long, often in a bitter winter wind, cajoling, begging and bribing workmen to bring them down, from some great height, in one piece. This would be after Mr. Clark had arranged with the wrecking company for the purchase of the piece. But the final arbitrator was the man swinging the wrecker’s ball, he discovered. And once down, these enormous pieces – each weighs anywhere from half a ton to six tons – had to be carted many miles to the collector’s Scarborough property.”The Globe and Mail, August 6, 1970
More than just preserving the intangible heritage of the buildings, Clark’s goal was to save the craftmanship and skill inherent to the buildings, an objective which directly fit in with the initial vision of The Guild Of All Arts. The collection is a notable what’s what of iconic former Toronto landmarks:
The Banker’s Bond Building, formerly at 60 King Street West
The Temple Building, formerly at Bay Street and Richmond Street West
The Old Toronto Star Building, formerly at 80 King Street West
The Old Globe and Mail Building, formerly at York Street and King Street West
Victoria Park School (S.S. 23), formerly at Victoria Park Avenue and Highway 401
The Granite Club, formerly at St. Clair West near Yonge Street
The Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, formerly at 90 Albert Street
In 1977, with the Clarks growing older and business costs rising, the couple sold the Guild Inn to the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Metro Toronto City Council. The goal was to protect the site by keeping it in the public trust. Spencer Clark had been thinking about how to best ensure the Inn and its grounds’ future, including a plan in 1971 to bestow some lakefront parkland to the province.
Clark continued to manage it for another five years, however. In 1982, in time for the The Guild of All Arts’ fiftieth anniversary, they added the park’s centrepiece: The Greek Theatre. The sculpture was made from salvaged columns of the Bank of Toronto building, formerly at King and Bay Streets, which was demolished to make way for its ambitious successor, the Toronto-Dominion Centre. The theatre is located on the former spot of the Hampton Court maze. It serves as a backdrop for performances and photoshoots.
A Future Uncertain
From the 1980s, the prevailing theme surrounding the Guild Inn was its future. In an interview with the Globe and Mail in 1981, Mr. Clark himself expressed his desire to “make sure they don’t change this place into just another commercial motel or glorified hamburger stand.” Rosa Clark died in that year, followed by her husband five years later. The City of Toronto leased the site to a developer who managed and operated the Inn. It was a money-losing operation in need of repairs until its closure in 2001. Although the park remained opened, the Inn was boarded up while proposals came through about how to revitalize it.
In 2017, the Guild Inn finally reopened as an event venue to much adulation. The 1965 hotel was demolished and in its place a new modern entertainment space was established. The Clark Centre for The Arts opened in 2022 as cultural facility in a 1960s era storage building on the property.
The City of Toronto continues to manage the grounds with the advocacy, help, and promotion from The Friends of Guild Park. The group’s motto for the park is ‘Where Art Meets Nature’, which neatly captures intersection park and its great trails with the artistry all over the grounds and its in history. Today, The Guild Inn Estate is a marvel for visitors old and new who may get a taste of its past and present.