Toronto’s Downton Abbey: Spadina Museum

This is a belated post for my Canadian and American readers who are currently enjoying the final series of Downton Abbey on PBS Masterpiece, which will run until Sunday, 6 March. (I should have posted this two weeks ago when I had finished it but couldn’t decide if I should post it at the end of February or now.) I visited Spadina Museum: Historic House & Gardens in June 2014 with my friend, @Royal_Diary. There was a special tour at the time on how Spadina is Toronto’s Downton Abbey.

Spadina Museum

For the Anne of Green Gables fans, you might recognise Spadina as the home of Aunt Josephine Barry (read article here). Spadina House was built in 1866 but had gone through several renovations to reflect the changing architectural styles from the late 19th to early 20th Centuries. Spadina comes from the Ojibwa word ‘espadinong’, meaning hill. In terms of pronunciation, most Torontonians would say Spa-dinah (i as in mine). I mispronounced it as Spa-dee-na, which turned out to be the way the upper class would pronounce it back in the day. Nevertheless, it appears that it ought to be pronounced with i as in mine.

Although the three-storey historic manor is much smaller than Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is shot, the Austins of Spadina shared many similarities with the fictional aristocratic Crawleys of Downton.

“They faced many of the same Downton issues at Spadina, including a shell-shocked son returning from the First World War, the changing role of women, and new technology from the radio, to the automobile to the telephone. The presence of servants to cook, clean and uphold the high standards of Spadina was as prominent in the everyday life of the house as it was at Downton.” – John Ota, Spadina House is Toronto’s Downton Abbey (Toronto Star)

Three generations of Austins have lived in Spadina, beginning with James Austin, his wife Susan, and their three sons and two daughters. James was the founder of the Dominion Bank (now the Toronto-Dominion Bank, or TD). The home later passed on to his son, Albert, who lived there with his wife Mary and daughter, Anna. (Please note that I do not know if he had other children.) The last tenant of Spadina House was Anna, who continued living there from 1942-82. Rather than sell the house to a private owner, Anna and Albert donated the house to the City of Toronto. The museum today reflects what the house would have looked like during the 1920-30’s when Albert and Mary lived there.

The Dining Room

IMG_7551

The Music/Drawing Room

In many of the rooms we visited, there was at least one historical dress from the Austin family collection or City of Toronto’s collection. (Earlier in 2014, Spadina Museum had hosted the Downton Abbey costume exhibition.)

For those of you interested in visiting Spadina, consider planning your day around visiting Casa Loma too, just next door. You’ll need more time for the latter so make sure you have enough time for both!

By the way, did you know Hycroft Manor (now the University Women’s Club of Vancouver) is Vancouver’s Downton Abbey? Read Miss 604’s article on KCTS9!


Address: 285 Spadina Rd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Hours: Mon-Sun: 12:00-17:00 * times vary; please check schedule.

Entrance: C$7.96 or $8.85 (mid-Nov to early-Jan) (C$11.30 – guided tour for special Downton Abbey exhibition)