William Dummer Powell, the builder of Caer Howell, was born in Boston in 1755, the son of Loyalists In 1776, William left America for England, where he studied law and was called to the bar at Inner Temple. In London, William married Anne Murray. They returned to British North America, first to Montreal, then Niagara, arriving finally at York, where John Graves Simcoe appointed Powell a judge. Powell was a successful lawyer, who by 1816, had become Speaker of the Legislative Council. The same year, he was appointed Chief justice of Upper Canada. He was granted Park lot 12 and other property in York Township. Mrs.Powell was a very strong woman and the story is told that she refused to leave her house during the American invasion and watched the whole war from her front porch.
His first house was constructed, circa 1800, in what is now The Royal York Hotel block near the northeast comer of York and Front. It was a small of log building covered with painted clapboard. Around 1812,. he added a frame addition of two storeys with a verandah. This rather plain but imposing Georgian house fronted on York Street and had a curved driveway.
In 1810. he built Caer Howell, a large country home, second empire style, south of present-day Orde Street. Both properties were named after the family seat of his Welsh ancestors, the Ap Howells. He lived in the country house from 1810 to 1820. The large house faced south to the bay and Taddle Creek ran through the property. Powell also had a private burial vault built nearby. In 1828, Powell sold fifty acres to Bishop Strachan for King’s College (now The University of Toronto).
After 1820, The Powells lived mostly in their town home until William died in 1834. After his death, the family started subdividing the property. Mrs. Powell died in 1849, in her ninety first year. She was buried with her husband in the vault on the Caer Howell property, but in 1869 the was deconsecrated and the dead were reinterred at St. James Cemetery. She remained in the house after her husband’s death in 1834 until her own in 1849. Dr. Gwynne next occupied the house. Later the house became a cheap lodging house and was eventually demolished.
In 1837, Henry Layton bought the Powells’ country home and converted it into an elaborate Club, with bowling greens and racket courts. Caer Howell later became a hotel and tavern, frequented by high spirited varsity students. The property degenerated, and the building was demolished in 1915. Mount Sinai Hospital stands on the site today.
This information on William Dummer Powell and his homes came from “The Estates of Old Toronto” by Liz Lundell, which is recommended as a source of interesting information on early Toronto, and “A Glimpse of Toronto’s History” (MPLS # 243) produced by the Toronto Historical Society etal. for the City of Toronto in 2002.