Visited Toronto and Buffalo

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, August 19, 1914:  We got up pretty early this morning, so as to be in time for the train at Lewistown. As I walked down the gangplank, I caught sight of the boat that was to take us to Toronto. Thought it was a fine one. The Chippewa was soon steaming down the river, and e’er long, we were on the broad bosom of Lake Ontario. The ride proved to be delightful, even though I did get a little chilly.

We arrived in Toronto about eleven, and were conveyed around the city in an automobile. We passed many beautiful places. There seemed to be a great many banks in the city. They must have lots of money there. We stopped at the State House, and were allowed to spend ten minutes within the building. I was impressed with the beauty of the architecture. Pillars of marble reached from ceiling to floor. Many paintings of men were suspended from the walls. These we could only glance at for our ten minute stay was soon up.

We took dinner at a restaurant after which we left at once for the dock. We did not have to wait long for a returning boat. Came home on the Cayuga, a larger boat than the Chippewa. We arrived in Lewistown late in the afternoon. There we took the train and went on to Buffalo. We arrived there about six, got our supper and started out for the home of a friend. It was dark when we reached our destination. This friend is a governess in an Orphan’s Asylum. She showed us her kids that evening. She has about thirty. Nearly all of them were fast asleep, but she woke them up any way. Thought it was rather hard on the youngsters, but it seems they were used to it.

This friend secured us a boarding place, and we left for it at eleven o’clock. I was ready to go to sleep when my head touched the pillow.

Old Ontario Government House postcard

Old Ontario Government House postcard

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Wow, what an adventure! Grandma and the “gang” sure crammed a lot into one day.

I think that the “State House” that Grandma visited in Toronto was the Fourth Government House of Ontario (Chorley Park). According to Wikipedia, it was the home of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Upper Canada. It was built between 1911 and 1915, and was “one of the most expensive residences ever constructed in Canada at the time.” Wikipedia continued:

During the Great Depression, Mitchell Hepburn made it a key component of his party’s election platform to close Chorley Park, promising that an opulent palace would not be maintained by the taxpayers of Ontario; Chorley Park used 965 tons of coal to operate, whereas the average Toronto home used only six to seven. After Hepburn was appointed Premier, following the Liberal Party’s victory in the 1936 provincial election, he was as good as his word and ensured that Albert Edward Matthews would be the last Ontario Lieutenant Governor to live in an official residence; in 1937, after only 22 years and seven viceroys, Chorley Park was closed. The contents of the house were auctioned off in 1938, bringing in a profit of $18,000.

The estate was bought by the federal government and served various functions including as a military hospital during World War II, the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Toronto, and residence for refugees of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

Under Mayor Nathan Phillips in 1960, the City of Toronto bought the house for $100,000 in order to destroy it and create municipal parkland. At the time, Chorley Park was considered dilapidated and outmoded, and municipal dollars were being spent demolishing heritage structures throughout Toronto to make room for modern buildings. The building was demolished in 1961, and the grounds of the estate were added to the civic parks system.

The Buffalo Orphan’s Asylum may have been St. Vincent’s Female Orphanage Asylum. According to the Buffalo Spree:

At the turn of the century and for at least forty years afterwards, St. Vincent’s Female Orphanage Asylum was a thriving institution—it did not just house orphaned girls; it educated them and provided them with technical training so that they could become self-supporting. In the nineteenth century, this was considered an innovative concept. Their dressmaking school often provided ballgowns and trousseaux for Buffalo’s wealthiest women. But as the twentieth century progressed, government assistance for dependent children increased, and the new trend of foster care emerged, so in 1948, after housing and training 10,000 young women, the orphanage closed.

Source: Buffalo Spree

Recent photo of building that once housed St. Vincent’s Female Orphanage Asylum  (Source: Buffalo Spree)


36 Responses

  1. Wow, great account!!

  2. Good heavens, they packed a lot into one day! I lived for years in Buffalo so the story about the orphanage is particularly interesting. Buffalo would’ve been at its considerable best when Helena visited.

  3. They are on a grand tour!

  4. Helena is a travel writer! And a good one :)

  5. Isn’t it brilliant that she’s writing so much when so busy. If only she could be as chatty at home and tell her innermost thoughts etc. Wonderful post.

  6. This is so exciting. It reminds me of my student tour of Europe after college graduation — such adventures!

    • I picture parents being very strict with their daughters back then. It’s been a wonderful surprise that her parents allowed her to take this trip.

  7. It does seem rather hard on the kids to wake them up in the middle of the night to meet people. I wonder why she would do that.

  8. How awesome to be able to read about Helena’s exciting trip in Helena’s own words. I’m glad 100 years later to hear her voice and feel her reactions to each leg of the journey.

  9. The mention of the orphanage asylum was a poignant reminder to me of my wife’s grandmother Mary, who was herself an orphan. Mollie was her first granddaughter and they always shared a special bond. Mollie even looked like her.

    Mary’s parents were entertainers, said to be in vaudeville and the like. The mother died when Mary was 3, probably of tuberculosis, and her father left her at an orphanage, promising to return for her. He never did and we have been unable to trace his fate or circumstances.

    I can think of little more important for a child than to have a stable family and safe environment for growing up. One wonders how such things as orphanages functioned a hundred years ago in an era with, probably, little official regulation.

    • It had to be rough for your wife’s grandmother. It’s hard to imagine how a parent could never return. Both then and now it is so difficult for kids who can’t live with their families–neither the orphanages of yesteryear nor the foster care situation of today seems ideal.

  10. Wow, this is an amazing trip, and what fun to read the details so many years later.

  11. I was thinking Helena was few of words but I see she is wordy. I am enjoying the details she’s sharing.

  12. I can just imagine how tired Grandma was – this was so different from her normal quiet country life!

  13. I laughed out loud reading: There seemed to be a great many banks in the city. They must have lots of money there. Haha!

    I am really enjoying the detail in these last couple of posts. :D
    Diana xo

  14. Wonderful time they had! And she writes so well, letting the reader know exactly what they saw and how it felt. What a privilege to read all this.

  15. […] The early portion of the day was spent in Buffalo with a friend who worked at an Orphans’ Home—probably St. Vincent’s Female Orphanage Asylum. The previous day Grandma wrote: […]

  16. Wow, I love it when Grandma gets long winded. lol Reading her adventures in her own words is wonderful.

  17. Your grandmother is having an exciting, busy time! The boats between Toronto and Lewiston is interesting and love her quaint terminology – “the broad bosom of Lake Ontario” …

  18. Sounds like a great time! Toronto is a couple of hours from our house but then add border crossing and it can be 3+ hours!

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