Scar­bor­ough’s lit­tle-known trea­sure

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO - Royson James

Con­sid­er­ing Scar­bor­ough’s place in the psy­che of Greater Toronto, the mag­nif­i­cently un­known Guild Inn is ap­pro­pri­ately po­si­tioned — a trea­sure of su­perb value mys­te­ri­ously un­der­ex­posed to the point of anonymity.

Locked in a lan­guorous land­scape above the breath­tak­ing views along the Scar­bor­ough Bluffs, the grounds, the gar­dens, the ar­chi­tec­tural “ru­ins,” the her­itage and the essence of the Guild Inn has cried out for ex­po­sure since its founder Spencer Clark died in 1986.

Alas, an un­likely her­ald showed up this week on the wings of the gala open­ing of The Guild Inn Es­tate, a first-class spe­cial events des­ti­na­tion venue that prom­ises to blow the cover on one of Toronto’s best-kept se­crets.

“I never thought I’d see this,” said Mayor John Tory, at­tend­ing the gala.

“Af­ter so many false starts, it took some­one with courage to take a huge risk. And they’ve done a classy, beau­ti­ful job.

“This will be a mecca for peo­ple to come to and see what Scar­bor­ough is about,” Tory said, no doubt nod­ding to his Scar­bor­ough vot­ers.

Brian Ash­ton, a for­mer city coun­cil­lor who once rep­re­sented the area off Kingston Rd. near Eglin­ton, toured the re­vi­tal­ized en­clave and wasn’t at a loss for words.

“This is a spe­cific ex­am­ple of her­itage preser­va­tion and part­ner­ship with the pri­vate sec­tor,” said Ash­ton.

“It’s redis­cov­er­ing the Gar­den of Eden in Scar­bor­ough.”

It’s near im­pos­si­ble to sat­isfy the en­vi­ron­men­tal, her­itage, cul­tural, neigh­bour­hood and con­ser­va­tion needs of this ex­tremely sen­si­tive jewel of a site. Ev­ery would-be pro­po­nent — and there have been many — mar­vel at the bal­anc­ing act needed for suc­cess. The fact that Dy­namic Hos­pi­tal­ity and En­ter­tain­ment Group man­aged to achieve it, with­out com­mu­nity protest and con­flict, is a near mir­a­cle.

For the thou­sands who at­tended Wed­nes­day night’s gala in a newly con­ceived restau­rant-ban­quet-an­de­vent space, the ex­po­sure re­leased a burst of pride and mem­o­ries and hope for a fu­ture open to the rest of the city.

David Arnold, pres­i­dent of the Guild­wood Vil­lage Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, is pleased with the start of the Guild’s re­nais­sance.

“It’s come a long way. It took a lot of work by the city, the com­mu­nity and a lot of groups. This is a great day, to see it come to fruition,” Arnold said, rub­bing shoul­ders with friends of the Guild.

But it’s only a start, he ac­knowl­edged.

“They said we need this part first. Then we can get the cul­tural precinct. We are go­ing to hold them to that,” Arnold said, adding that the city has $5 mil­lion for the plan.

This was once a bustling artists’ colony. Roy­alty slept here in the old Bick­ford Inn, built in 1914. Wed­ding night mem­o­ries abound. Teenage tales of dis­cov­ery and de­light beckon from bush and trails. Sculp­tures still speak of awe and hu­man in­ge­nu­ity. The gar­dens are awak­en­ing again. And rem­nants of Toronto’s sig­nif­i­cant down­town build­ings still stand erect in their Guild Inn grave­yard.

The crowd at the open­ing of the new Guild Inn en­joyed the food in the ban­quet hall, spilled out into the new gazebo, lin­gered on the mas­sive ve­ran­dah-like ter­race with views of the re­stored Bick­ford House that were enough to prompt a sec­ond look to see if the re­stored inn was, in fact, new.

The buzz and at­mos­phere was one of redis­cov­er­ing an old friend. Some at­ten­dees strug­gled to lo­cate spe­cial spots where EB Cox’s sculp­ture rested or Em­manuel Hahn’s horse was quar­tered.

The great Spencer Clark bought the prop­erty and sur­round­ing land in 1932. He sold off much of it to de­vel­op­ers, with strict covenants re­gard­ing de­sign. He kept 36 hectares of wood­land and spec­tac­u­lar views atop the bluffs and turned it into an artists’ colony.

When old down­town build­ings were be­ing de­mol­ished to make way for the cur­rent bank tow­ers, Clark waged a one-man res­cue mis­sion, of­ten sav­ing gar­goyles, fa­cades, cap­i­tals, re­liefs, col­umns and other frag­ments. These he re-erected on the Guild site. Some he buried for fu­ture use. Oth­ers, such as the col­umns from the Bank of Toronto build­ing de­mol­ished in 1966, he used to con­struct the fram­ing of an out­door Greek theatre.

In ad­di­tion, Clark of­ten bought sup­plies, gave them to artists, then pur­chased the fin­ished work. He started a rudi­men­tary out­door sculp­ture gar­den, but ran out of steam and en­ergy. One of his big­gest coups was to con­vince the gov­ern­ment to pur­chase the site. It has been main­tained as a park, but lit­tle else. The old inn, in effect, closed in 2002 and ev­ery ef­fort to re­pur­pose the her­itage site has failed.

The main his­tor­i­cal orig­i­nal Bick­ford House had fallen so deeply into dis­re­pair it was a “rat-in­fested hole with dead cats and squirrels” when Sam D’Uva of Dy­namic Hos­pi­tal­ity made the site visit in re­sponse to the city’s re­quest for pro­posal.

“My re­ac­tion was, ‘Wow, what a gem. Shame on me, I didn’t even know it ex­isted,’ ” D’Uva tells The Star. “There’s noth­ing like it in the city. Eighty-eight acres to bring back Toronto’s his­tory. This is the pre­mier spe­cial events venue east of the city. Come and com­pare.”

With­out com­pro­mis­ing the her­itage and artis­tic el­e­ments of the Guild, Dy­namic has set it up for an idyl­lic fu­ture. The Bick­ford House is reimag­ined as a 60-seat restau­rant with orig­i­nal art work, wooden beams and pan­elling and stair­well and fire­place. It’s framed by a gazebo on one side and the new events space able to house 1,000 guests or more in­ti­mate events. And the en­tire effect is one of el­e­gant re­straint that’s re­spect­ful of the his­tory and the sur­round­ing nat­u­ral beauty.

The chal­lenge for the ar­chi­tec­tural team led by Peter Pas­caris was, “This is a big, beau­ti­ful park. Where do you put a big build­ing? Some­how, we hit the right note. Once in a while you get a pretty job. We want to take pic­tures of this and say, ‘I did this.’ ”

The city of Toronto has a cul­tural precinct plan for the Guild that in­cludes restora­tion of the two long cab­ins, one the old­est build­ing in Scar­bor­ough, and the cre­ation of the Clark Cen­tre for the Arts, a com­mu­nity arts space in Clark’s old of­fice.

If Friends of the Guild or the thou­sands of Guild Inn lovers were wise, they’d be lin­ing up at the mayor’s of­fice to push him to find the kind of deep-pock­eted donors who can pump the mil­lions needed to turn this nat­u­ral sanc­tu­ary into the sculp­ture gar­den and park that Spencer Clark en­vi­sioned.

More on that later. Royson James’ col­umn ap­pears weekly. rjames@thes­


With­out com­pro­mis­ing the her­itage and artis­tic el­e­ments of the Guild Inn, Dy­namic Hos­pi­tal­ity has set it up for an idyl­lic fu­ture, Royson James writes.

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