A Brief History

The Historical Evolution of the Faculty Club at 41 Willcocks

The Faculty Club is located on land originally granted to William Willcocks when he arrived in Upper Canada (Ontario) from Cork, Ireland in the early 1790s. A pioneer colonizer and public official, Willcocks bestowed part of his estate to his son in law Dr. William Warren Baldwin after his marriage to Margaret Phoebe Willcocks in 1803. Dr. Baldwin emerged as a prominent political reform leader in Upper Canada during the 1820s and 1830s. He and his son, Robert, are historically recognized as principal architects of responsible government in the late 1840s, a vital step in Canada’s evolution from colony to nation.

Meanwhile, by 1818, Dr. Baldwin had built a country house on his 200-acre estate, which he called Spadina, derived from a native word for “hill” or “sudden rise of land.” He designed an extra wide road that led from his house at the top of the hill (next door to the future Casa Loma) and extended three miles south to Queen Street West, then the northern boundary of the Town of York (which became the City of Toronto after 1834). He included along the road that would later be named after his estate a circle intended to be a fine English country garden now known as 1 Spadina Crescent. Dr. Baldwin named a connecting street just north of the circle Willcocks in honour of his wife and her family lineage.

1910 Survey Map 50th anniversary 1923 survey map

Neighbourhood development in the area known until 1859 as the “Liberties” did not advance north of College Street until the 1880s when the Honorable Sir Adam Wilson, a partner in the law firm of Robert Baldwin and eventually a municipal councillor and provincial cabinet minister, resided at 41 Willcocks Street along with his wife Emma. Ìn July 1888, the Wilsons sold the house for $5,625 to Elizabeth Prudence Campbell, “widow,” who resided there until her death in 1916. The Campbell estate sold the property to The Primrose Club for $17,250 in October 1919.

Originally called the Cosmopolitan Society when founded in 1907, the Primrose Club was a private meeting place for Jewish business and professional men. Prominent Jewish architects Benjamin Brown and Arthur W. McConnell redesigned 41 Willcocks by merging it with the attached homes at 37-39 Willcocks to create the current Georgian Revival-style building, featuring an elegant lounge, dining room, and ballroom that placed it among the city's most prestigious clubs. The Primrose Club remained at 41 Willcocks until 1959 when the University of Toronto acquired the building for its new Faculty Club.

Previously, male and female members of the University`s Faculty Union customarily met separately – the men at Hart House and the much smaller contingent of women at the University Women’s Club on St. George Street. But at the insistence of some professors, including German scholar Barker Fairley and his wife, Margaret, who offered the Club a collection of Group of Seven works on the condition that it welcome women as members, the Faculty Club opened its doors in the summer of 1960 to faculty and senior administrators of both genders. This impressive collection of Group of Seven art is open for public viewing in the elegant Fairley Lounge on the main floor of the building. In 2009, the Faculty Club celebrated its heritage by renaming one of its upstairs meeting halls “The Primrose Room.” For more than a half century, the Faculty Club has served as an important social centre for the University of Toronto community, including faculty, administrative staff, alumni, and has been one of the most successful university faculty clubs in Canada and North America. 

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