Wednesday, 11 January 2017





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:

Now, without further ado, object stories from Lambton House.



Have you ever gone treasure hunting in your home? Toronto's history may be buried there. It may sound silly, but you'd be surprised what you might find. As a city created from former townships and villages, Toronto's heritage is made up from the histories of these old municipalities. What may seem like an ordinary object to some may actually have great story to tell about one of Toronto's neighbourhoods. This was the case for the old sign that hung outside of Lambton House, a historic hotel and tavern in Toronto's west end community of Lambton Mills

Lambton House operated as a tavern and hotel for 140 years (photo credit: Anthony Badame, 2015).
The wooden sign hung outside Lambton House from around 1950 until at least the 1960s (the exact dates are unclear) and welcomed weary travelers from all over Ontario to the hotel. By this point, Lambton House was well established and respected in the community. Like the sign says, Lambton house is An Old York Landmark, referring to the former municipality of York which encompassed Lambton Mills. York legally became part of Metropolitan Toronto in 1953- around the time the sign was in use. Known for its good food and entertainment, Lambton House opened in 1848 and became a stop on the stagecoach route from Toronto to Dundas. The painted horse on the sign is a reminder of this period in Lambton House's history. Lambton House operated for 140 years until its closure in 1988. It was transformed into an interpretive centre by Heritage York in the early 1990s.

It was at some point between the 1960s and the closing of the hotel that the sign mysteriously disappeared. Madeleine McDowell, Membership Secretary for Heritage York and lifelong resident of Lambton Mills, recalls that many things went missing or were taken as souvenirs during this time. Years passed and the sign became a distant memory; but, as luck would have it, the sign returned to Lambton House.

Now residing in an upstairs room, this sign hung outside of Lambton House in the 1950s 
(photo credit: Anthony Badame, 2015).
McDowell remembers the call she received one summer a few years ago from a man in Perth, Ontario. The man grew up in the area and wanted to bring his granddaughters for a tour of Lambton House to learn about her family history. Gladly, McDowell accepted. After the tour, the man presented McDowell with the sign. "I thought he was just showing it [to me]", she remembers. However, the man returned the sign to Lambton House, because he felt that's where it belonged. For preservation reasons, the sign now sits in an upstairs room in Lambton House. Excitingly, Heritage York is planning on recreating the sign in order to hang it outside. The Lambton House sign will once again welcome visitors to this treasured spot in Lambton Mills.

It is thanks to residents and former residents of Toronto, like the man from Perth, that Toronto's history is so rich. So what bits of Toronto's history are hiding in your house? You'll never know unless you look!

Works Cited

City of Toronto. (2015). A History of Toronto: An 11000 Year Journey. Retrieved from: M10000071d60f89RCRD.

Harris, D. (2014). Etobicoke History Corner: Lambton Mills Named for the Earl of Durham. Inside Toronto. Retrieved from: story/4576117-etobicoke-history-corner-lambton-mills-named-for-the-earl-of- durham/.

Heritage York. (2015a). Lambton House [website].

Heritage York. (2015b). Heritage York [website].

"Lambton Mills". (2015). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: _Mills.

Magel, R. (2008). 200 years Yonge: A history. Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc: Toronto.

McDowell, M. (2015). [Interviews October 13 October 27]. Lambton House, Toronto.

"York, Toronto". (2015). Wikipedia. Retrieved from:,_ Toronto.



Do you remember the anticipation surrounding Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage back in 2011? Perhaps you even bought a special commemorative memento. Even if you weren’t among those who did, the royal wedding wasn’t the first time Toronto obsessed over a royal event. Flashback to 12 May 1937 - Toronto was abuzz with coronation fever! From rallies to decorated shop windows at the Eaton Centre, no area of the city was bereft of celebratory spirit for the coronation of George VI and the Queen consort, Elizabeth. Needless to say, Torontonians embraced that coronation just as enthusiastically as they did the recent 2011 royal wedding. In honour of the 1937 coronation, a variety of bric-a-brac souvenirs were produced and sold, ranging from textiles to ceramics, but the most notable were commemorative plates.

The Lambton House, a small hotel along the Humber River, was not left untouched by the coronation fever gripping Toronto to the south. To commemorate the royal event, Louis Epstein, owner of the Lambton House at the time, commissioned Alfred Meakin, a manufacturing company in Britain, to produce porcelain plates depicting the newly minted royal couple to gift to his visitors, guests, and staff.

1937 Commemorative Plate from Lambton House celebrating the 1937 Coronation, Photograph. (2015). 
Photography by Bridget Collings.

According to local historian Madeline McDowell, Mr. Epstein gave this particular 1937 commemorative plate to the cook, Mrs. Shaw, to show his appreciation of her services to Lambton House. The plate depicts colour-transferred images of the royal couple amidst a crown, flags, and an English rose on the front with the manufacturer stamp and an inscription that reads “courtesy of Lambton Hotel” on the back.

‘Compliments of Lambton Hotel’ inscription on back of the plate, Photograph. (2015).
Photography by Bridget Collings.
In Fifty Years of Royal Commemorative China 1887-1937, M.H. Davey and D.J. Mannion explain that “royal souvenirs were made to be kept as a reminder of the event and reflect the popularity of the monarch of the day…they not only chronicle our national heritage, but represent, through their designs and inscriptions, part of our social history.” The Lambton House’s plate also commemorates a time in history when Toronto was part of the British Empire. The plate, with its depictions of English symbols and portraits of George VI and Elizabeth, would be proudly displayed in Torontonian homes and serve as a constant reminder of Toronto’s British cultural heritage.

Collecting royal memorabilia continues to be a passion for some Canadians to this day. Do you remember the excited Torontonians who were celebrating Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton by holding tea parties and buying souvenir china, and cooking dinner menus inspired by the wedding? Although the British monarchy doesn’t hold as much sway in the governance of Canada today, they remain an important icon in the lives of many Canadians.

One mystery yet remains to be solved regarding the 1937 commemorative plate at the Lambton House: How many were actually produced by Alfred Meakin for Louis Epstein to ‘dish’ out to esteemed guests, visitors, and staff?

To learn more about this 1937 commemorative plate, please visit the Lambton House.

Works Cited
Davey, M.H. & Mannion, D.J. (1988). Fifty Years of Royal Commemorative China 1887-1937. Hemel Hempstead: Dayman.



Before GPS, Google Maps, and Siri, other objects guided travellers on their journeys: plaques, signs, landmarks, and even trees. Instead of Siri’s voice giving travel directions, these objects would act as physical indications that travellers were on the right path. One such marker unique to Toronto and the greater area of south-western Ontario was the Horsechestnut tree. Commonly used in the 19th century to outline stagecoach routes, Horsechestnut trees lined the once main east-west highway for Southern Ontario and stood in front of stagecoach stations such as the Lambton House. 

Horsechestnut tree in spring. Source: [Horsechestnut tree in spring, Photograph]. (n.d.).
Retrieved from:
According to local historian Madeleine McDowell, Horsechestnut trees were presumably planted in a certain vicinity of stagecoach stations to inform the driver that he was close to a stop, and therefore it was time to slow down. Horsechestnut trees can still be found on streets that were once part of the old stagecoach route that ran east - west throughout Southern Ontario, particularly in front of old stagecoach stations.

The Lambton House was one such station along south-western Ontario’s old stagecoach route. Opening in 1848, Lambton House operated as a stagecoach station on Dundas Street until the advent of the railroad in the 1880’s. As one of the major stagecoach stops for Toronto, Lambton House had Horsechestnut trees lined along Dundas Street and in front of the house. Based on McDowell’s recollections, the last Horsechestnut tree on the street stood in front of Lambton House until it was hit by lightning in 2006. While this resulted in the tree’s demise, a piece of the tree is displayed in front of the entrance to the house to tell the story of Lambton House's history as a stagecoach station in south-western Ontario. 

The piece of the Horsechestnut tree on display at Lambton House. 
Source: A piece of Lambton House’s Horsechestnut tree, Photograph. (2015). Taken by Bridget Collings.
But why Horsechestnut trees?

McDowell recalls that the tree was used as a marker because it was not indigenous to Ontario, thus making it easy for drivers to spot amongst the foliage. Another reason is its very distinctive look: the tree boasts candle-like formations of white flowers in the spring and spiny husked chestnuts in the fall. Besides its looks, the history of how the tree came to Ontario is also pretty neat. 

Illustration of a Horsechestnut tree’s candle shaped blossoms and spiny husked chestnut.
Source: [Aesculus hippocastanum, Illustration]. (n.d.). Retrieved from: 
The story goes that in the early 19th century, British settlers planted the trees in Ontario to recreate the landscapes of their homeland. When Edward VI, the Prince of Wales, came for the ceremonial opening of Queens Park in 1860, he was greeted by over 500 Horsechestnut trees, icons of the British landscape, lining University Avenue, College Street, and Carlton Street.

Horsechestnut trees, like the one that once stood in front of Lambton House, was the original “GPS” and a prominent feature of Toronto’s natural landscape. While there are not as many Horsechestnut trees in the city today, see if you can spot a Horsechestnut tree while wandering around Toronto!

To see Lambton House’s Horsechestnut tree and learn about its role in Toronto's transportation history, please visit the Lambton House.

Works Referenced
Lambton House (n.d.). History of Lambton House. Retrieved from:

Canadian Tree Tours. (n.d.). Horsechestnut in Toronto. Retrieved from: 



Men’s Beverage Rooms, once a popular space in Canadian hotels, usually served working-class men as middle-class men often had their own liquor cabinets at home. [1] Lambton House, operating as a hotel from 1848 to 1988 in the former village of Lambton Mills, currently York, Ontario, featured one of these rooms on its main floor. Here men could come to eat, drink, and socialize.

The Men’s Beverage Room (Howland Room) at Lambton House, set up for the monthly Community Pub Night.
Image taken by Taylor Noble.

Local farmers would go to the Beverage Room for a celebration meal after receiving pay for their harvest. Farmers operated on credit and when they took their grain to the Lambton Mill, they would take some flour, the amount specified by their wife for home, pay off their credit debt, and have a celebration meal in the Lambton House Men’s Beverage Room. While there, these farmers would interact with a wide range of men, including teamsters, travelers, as the House was a stop for stagecoaches and others, fellow farmers, working men, veterans, and more.

Two men local farmers might have seen were Mr. Ostrander and a local veteran. The Ostranders of Brantford both came from loyalist families who received crown land grants and travelled through Lambton Mills often. Local historian and Membership Secretary of Lambton House, Madeleine McDowell remembers the Ostranders coming to town. When they arrived, Mrs. Ostrander, also known as Granny, would appear in fine clothes, every inch a lady. She and the children would eat in the dining room while her husband went to the Men’s Beverage Room. Women were not permitted, by law, to enter a Men’s Beverage Room and could be arrested if they did. Those who did, or attempted to, were seen as having low morals or were prostitutes. [2] As a result, if a family or couple was passing through, the man could go to the beverage room and his female companion would go to dining room.

Therefore, the farmers may have rubbed elbows with a man of a higher status, like Mr. Ostrander. However, he also could have socialized with veterans from the Boer or Crimean War. McDowell recalls the story of a veteran riding his horse to Lambton House, a common sight. What was unseen was that this man had lost both arms in the cavalry. Although McDowell is not sure in which war he was injured, she did recall that he would enter the hotel and go to the Men’s Beverage Room to socialize. He would grip his mug in his teeth, lift it up, and tip back his head to drink. When finished for the night, he would mount his horse and ride home. Although Men’s Beverage Rooms seem outdated now because they did not permit women, they show how men socialized at the turn of the century. The Lambton House Men’s Beverage Room hosted teamsters, farmers, travellers, and the bourgeoisie. It was a place where men of different backgrounds and occupations could meet, eat, and drink.

1. Heron, C. (2003). Booze: A Distilled History. Toronto: Between the Lines, 284.
2. Ibid., 289.



It’s 1954. The children of King George Public School have been waiting all week for this moment. Their principle, Mel Bryce, enters the classroom, a large brown case in hand. The room, which had been buzzing with excitement, falls silent. Mr. Bryce walks to the back of the classroom, all eyes on him. He opens the case and places a large metal device on a back table. A few students whisper as he searches for an outlet and organizes his materials. Finally, he signals for the lights to be turned off and the students roar with applause.

What could cause so much excitement? Believe it or not, it is a history lesson…with a new twist!

But let’s start at the beginning.

Mel Bryce began his work at King George Public school in the York Township Board of Education in the 1930s. A lover of history, he wanted to find a way to bring history to life for his students. So he did what many today are using to engage the younger generations – he used the latest technology.

Delineascope Slide Projector, circa 1940s. Photo credit Taylor Noble.
In the 1940s, Bryce acquired a Delineascope slide projector made by the Spencer Lens Company. He believed that pairing local history lessons with images would be a more engaging experience for the children. Bryce put a call out to his colleagues and consulted various public and private collections, many of which are now in the City of Toronto Archives, to compile a large collection of historical photographs of York Township. He then went to Ryerson Press and had the images turned into glass mounted slides. By the time of completion, his collection had several hundred slides featuring images of historic buildings, landscapes, people, and events.

Lambton House membership secretary Madeleine McDowell describes how Bryce’s slide collection and presentations became a prominent fixture of the York Township community. During his tenure as principal, he helped hundreds of children learn more about their local heritage and roots. Bryce also gave lectures to adults outside of the school, and even had his images featured in J.C Boylen’s York Township: An Historical Summary 1850-1954.

In the early 2000s, Bryce’s daughter donated both the projector and slides to Lambton House. The slides are still used for children’s programing in their new home at Lambton House, as their educational value is twofold. McDowell observes that children are “absolutely fascinated” not only with the images on the slides, but the slides themselves. The collection is thus useful for teaching the history of York Township, and the history of media and technology.

It is amazing to think that after all this time the slide collection is still being used as an aid to help children engage with their local heritage. What is even more compelling is that Bryce’s project reflects many of the values of the Myseum of Toronto itself – using different forms of media to engage with Toronto’s heritage.

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