Home of the Week: A Toronto house that harkens back to the city that was, and what may be

The listing: 91 Glen Edyth Dr., Toronto Asking Price: $8,490,000 Taxes: $28,006.18 (2020) Story continues below advertisement Lot Size: 120 feet by 206 feet Agents: : Susan Bodie, Bosley Real Estate Ltd. The backstory In 1936, Marshal Stearns was a young lawyer practicing in New York when he married a […]

The listing: 91 Glen Edyth Dr., Toronto

Asking Price: $8,490,000

Taxes: $28,006.18 (2020)

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Lot Size: 120 feet by 206 feet

Agents: : Susan Bodie, Bosley Real Estate Ltd.

The backstory

In 1936, Marshal Stearns was a young lawyer practicing in New York when he married a Canadian named Helen Richardson.

The couple decided to make their home in Toronto and Ms. Richardson’s parents gave the newlyweds a large swath of verdant land near the top of Davenport Hill as a wedding present.

The land was carved from the grand estate of Samuel Nordheimer, which the city was gradually parcelling off. The businessman and music promoter had built the home he named Glen Edyth at the edge of a ravine in 1871.

The main floor has a gracious staircase to the second floor.

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Several years after his death, the house was demolished but the legacy of Glen Edyth was preserved in the name of the steep red brick road that wound up the hill.

Today the upscale enclave north of Davenport Road is known as South Hill, and the once-remote area is in a central part of the city. The house that the Stearns built at 91 Glen Edyth Dr. has a double lot backing onto the green space that is still called the Nordheimer Ravine.

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The house today

The Stearns built a home on the vacant lot and went on to have three children. Their daughter Nora was born in the large white house and still lives there today.

Ms. Stearns and her brother Marshal have fond memories of growing up in the area with their sister Linda.

The house’s traditional centre-hall plan has 4,688 square feet of living space in 2½ storeys.

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It has become part of family lore that when their parents took possession of the property they found an anonymous note attached to an apple tree.

The note pleaded with the new owners to preserve the tree because it had been the inspiration for the song In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, written in 1905 by a composer named Egbert Van Alstyne.

According to the note, Mr. Van Alstyne had been a visitor to the Nordheimer estate.

In the 1970s, the director of the Toronto Historical Board called the story “a romantic legend,” but Ms. Stearns says the tale is easily conceivable. The promoter brought many foreign stars to the city.

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“That had credence because Mr. Nordheimer had a huge music business.”

For decades the Stearns cherished the apple tree. They propped up its heavy limbs with poles and stabilized the trunk with cement. Eventually it couldn’t be held together any longer and everyone was crushed when it had to be cut down.

Several years later, however, a new shoot sprung up from the roots. Ms. Stearns has nurtured that sapling into a tree that still stands on the property.

The house their parents built has a traditional centre-hall plan with 4,688 square feet of living space in 2 ½ stories.

Ms. Stearns has updated the home with new heating and air conditioning systems and other maintenance over the years but she has done her best to preserve the romantic character of the house and gardens.

She chooses vintage wallpapers, paint colours and window treatments that fit the home’s era.

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The main floor has a living room, dining room, family room and kitchen, with a gracious staircase to the second floor. Her parents added the bow window to the living room many years ago.

“There’s a sort of New England look to the place,” she says. “It’s a beautiful family house.”

Ms. Stearns says the house feels bright and spacious because of the generous size of all of the principal rooms. The windows are deep and low, she adds.

“The dog can look out and see what’s going on.”

Upstairs, the house has a master bedroom with ensuite bath. Two other bedrooms share a jack-and-jill bathroom and a fourth bedroom is next to the third bathroom on that level.

The upper level has a fifth bedroom and a full bathroom.

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Looking back to their childhood, the Stearns recall a bucolic setting where foxes, rabbits, pheasants and songbirds frequently passed through. The remnants of the farm still had grasslands and Chestnut tree groves.

“There were only two or three homes on the street,” says Ms. Stearns, who grew up in the 1940s.

The covered veranda and swimming pool are surrounded by a stone patio with lilac bushes and magnolia trees.

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Ms. Stearns also recalls the grass growing so long that crews would arrive with horses.

“Teams of horses used to come from the city to cut the grass,” she says. “That was terribly exciting.”

Mr. Stearns, who was born a few years later than his sister, recalls lots of adventures in the ravine, which had a stream running through it in those days.

“We were going down to the ravine when we were six years old.”

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Mr. Stearns also recalls a pathway that led through to Ardwold Gate, which is the cul-de-sac built on the site of another opulent estate of the Toronto establishment. “Ardwold” was the home of Sir John Craig and Lady Eaton before it was sub-divided.

Mr. Stearns learned to ride a bike on Ardwold Gate because there was so little traffic.

“It was perfect for a friend and me to play ball hockey on for hours and hours,” he says.

Mr. Stearns also remembers how dark the skies were up on the hill at night because there was no light pollution from the city. Those early experiences sparked his love of astronomy, which he still enjoys today.

“The stars were unbelievable,” he says.

Ms. Stearns says more houses have appeared on the street over the decades but the property remains peaceful.

“It still is fairly private and remote, yet you’re still in the centre of the city,” Ms. Stearns says.

The best feature

The grounds surrounding the house have been lovingly cared for over the years.

In the 1950s, the Stearns family had a farm in Hockley Valley, which is north of Toronto. The parents grew tired of the drive, however, and decided to sell the farm.

“They sold the farm and built the pool,” Ms. Stearns says.

There’s a covered verandah and the swimming pool is surrounded by a stone patio with lilac bushes, magnolia trees and perennial gardens beyond. Three blue spruce trees were planted at the birth of each of the three siblings.

Ms. Stearns says the property continues down a steep slope into the ravine. She has worked with the conservation authority to remove invasive species such as Norway maples and replace them with native trees and plants.

She says her desire to protect the landscape is a trait that she inherited from her parents.

“Mom and Dad had a real love of gardening and nature,” Ms. Stearns says. “It’s almost like a country feel.”

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