The first Humewood House was built on this site in 1860 by William Hume Blake, named after the ancestral home of his wife, Catherine Hume, in Ireland. They emigrated to Toronto, where Catherine operated a finishing school for young ladies to finance her husband’s studies at law. Admitted to the bar, Hume Blake soon became a prominent attorney. In 1843 he was appointed crown attorney for the murder trial of Grace Marks, whose story is told in Margaret Atwood’s recent novel, Alias Grace.
Soon afterwards he was elected to Parliament, where his six hour speech on the Rebellion Losses Act sparked rioting in the house. While Hume Blake hid, the Parliament Buildings in Montreal were burned to the ground. Later, he was named Chancellor of Ontario, in which post he reformed the courts.
The Hume Blakes built their home here around 1860. The property stretched along St. Clair Avenue West from Wychwood Road to Arlington Avenue and north to Maplewood Avenue. It was surrounded by a six foot high picket fence, and was approached through impressive gates that stood opposite today’s Christie Street, past a lodge, up a wide avenue that followed the path of Humewood Avenue, to this point. The house, designed by Toronto architects Cumberland and Storm, included a conservatory and a bowling alley.
The Hume Blakes lived here until William’s death from diabetes in 1870, when Catherine returned to London to live with one of her daughters. Edward Blake, their eldest son, who grew up here, also became a lawyer and politician, and was briefly the second premier of Ontario and at the same time the second leader of the Liberal party in Ottawa. In the 1870s the property was sold to the Parkinson family; it suffered a major fire in the 1880s and was rebuilt. Over time the estate shrank as lots were sold off.
The remaining property was acquired in 1912 by a group of women from St Thomas Anglican Church as a home for unwed mothers. The property was still large enough to include an orchard, two acres for a vegetable garden, and room to raise a hundred chickens. The old house was demolished in 1924 and the first part of the present day building, designed by architect William Rae, took its place; a newer wing, designed by John C Parkin, was added in 1960. In 1973 Humewood House broadened its mandate to serve also as a group home for young women in crisis.
Thanks to Terry McAuliffe for this information.