Sunday, December 12, 2021
Windfields Estate is one of several grand estates that were built for the wealthy when Bayview Avenue north of Eglinton was home to those who could afford to escape the city. Windfields Estate is now home to the Canadian Film Centre who invite the public to enjoy the grounds. It is also connected to Windfields Park and to check the two of them out we took advantage of parking at York Mills Arena and walked down through the park system until we reached Windfields. There isn’t really any public parking on the grounds so unless you live in the area, this is likely your best option.
The site amounts to 20 acres of an original 200-acre lot. Peter Whitney was a United Empire Loyalist who cleared the land for farming. His family would sell the west half of the farm to William Bell in 1873 and the County Atlas from 4 years later shows where it was located relative to modern Bayview Avenue and York Mills Road. Wilket Creek has been highlighted in blue while the area that would become Windfields Estate is outlined in green.
From the parking lot, you can follow the paved trail or walk closer to Wilket Creek. If you take the lower route you will come to a set of stairs that lead back up to the main trail.
The park is fairly narrow as it follows the creek south toward Windfields Park. Where the greenbelt widens out into the park there is a buried culvert that used to carry a private road across the creek. The road has been removed but it followed the depression toward the modern subdivision in the distance.
There is a small dam on Wilket Creek that would have retained a pond of water for the horses to enjoy. Currently, there are still a couple of layers of wood in the bottom of the two sluice gates and by adding additional ones the farmhands at Windfields were able to control the size of their pond.
As long as Bayview Avenue crossed the Don River on a single lane bridge it remained a farming area. With the development of the high-level bridge over the river in the late 1920s, the area opened for the development of estates for the wealthy who were looking for places to indulge their horse riding pleasures. The farm was bought by Bayview Heights Limited in 1928. The 20-acre estate lot was then bought by Edward Plunkett (E. B.) Taylor in 1932 so that he could develop an equestrian estate for his wife Winnifred. She apparently gave the name Windfields to the estate while walking through the fields on a windy day. It is interesting to note that the apple orchard which is shown on the count atlas is still in place. The smaller trees set in between the apple trees are plums and pears.
The estate property was landscaped with two hedgerows to compliment the existing three small woodlots. There are 55 gardens and more than 200 trees outside of the main woodlots. There is also a row of about 15 Japanese Cherry Trees that will be interesting to observe in the spring rather than trying to get into High Park to see their Japanese Cherry Trees. The grounds were laid out in the typical estate style of the times and the worker’s cottages, stables and greenhouse estalished a pattern simular to a small English village. The gardens behind the house transitioned to the pool at the back of the yard.
The mansion is in the process of having some restoration work done on it. The north end, at the left in this photo, was added after the Second World War.
The most attention to detail was given to the front door. There’s a Palladian window in the gable above the door and a swan’s neck pediment above the door.
In 1946 three workers’ cottages were added to the property creating a little cluster of buildings which included the stables and the greenhouse. The one below was known as Cottage C.
Each of the three cottages has its own design with the one below having two mirrored units. They were added in 1946 and built to a design by architect Earl C. Morgan and referred to as cottage AB.
Cottage D is the smallest of the units. Just to the west of the cluster of cottages are two buildings that were added by the City of Toronto after they took over maintenance of the parklands. There’s a garage and a workshop which have been built to blend into the style of the cottages and stables.
The stables were designed at the same time as the house and also in the Georgian Revival style of architecture. The side of the stables that faces the house is adorned with a portico with columns. The stables housed the Taylor family’s personal horses that they would ride around their estate and very like the estates of some of their horse-loving neighbours. You can read about several of them in our feature Bayview Estates.
The estate was even provided with its own greenhouse so that fresh flowers and garden plants could be grown year-round. It was added in 1952 and built from a kit sold by Lord and Burnham who have been designing premium greenhouses since 1849. The small building at the end closest to the house was used as a potting shed.
The gatehouse was also designed in 1946 at the same time as the workers’ cottages. A swimming pool and cabana, or change room, was also built behind the main house that same year. The gatehouse is set apart from the other buildings and was used by E. P. Taylor as his office. In 1969 the Taylors bequeathed the property to the borough of North York although members of the family continued to live there until 1987. The next year the Canadian Film Centre was founded by Canadian film-maker Norman Jewison. What started as a film school has grown into a training facility for people involved in many aspects of film, television and other digital media.
In 1961 on Edward Taylor’s breeding farm in Oshawa, known as Windfields Farm, Northern Dancer was foaled. After being named “Canadian champion two-year colt” in 1963 he went on to have an even bigger year in 1964. This is when he won the Kentucky Derby, among other prestigious races, becoming the first Canadian bred horse to do so. He was retired to stud work and sired some other famous racehorses including Nijinsky who won the English Tripple Crown. The newest building on the site was opened in 2014 and is named the Northern Dancer Pavillion. It was built over the old swimming pool and cabanas.
The Canadian Film Centre provides an interactive map that will allow you to explore the site and even lets you identify the types of trees on the grounds.
Google Maps Link: Winfields
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