Lislehurst: UTM’s Heritage Moment

Lislehurst in winter with lights on
Friday, January 20, 2017 - 4:47pm
Christine Raposo

Tucked away at the end of Principal’s Road, and guarded by stone pillars and private property signs, stands an important marker of UTM’s – and Canada’s – heritage. Lislehurst, the home of UTM principals, is a three-storey, eight-bedroom, five-bathroom, over-12,000-square-foot, Tudor-style house.

Designated as a historic property, it was built by the Schreiber family in 1885. The Schreibers emigrated from England and settled in Toronto while Lislehurst was being built at the north end of what is now the UTM campus. The family also built three other dwellings: Iverholme, which burned down in 1913; Mount Woodham, later torn down so its building materials could be added to Lislehurst; and the Artist’s Cottage, which is still standing and currently used as the Forensic Crime Scene House.

The most notable member of the Schreiber family is Charlotte Mount Brock Schreiber. Considered one of Canada’s most influential artists, she was the only female council member of the Ontario School of Art and Design (now OCAD University), a member of the Royal Canadian Academy and a founder of the Women’s Art Association of Canada. Her original artwork is on display in the National Gallery of Canada and hangs on the walls of Lislehurst.  

In 1930, the Schreibers sold their extensive property to Reginald Watkins, a successful Hamilton businessman, who renovated Lislehurst and made it into the beautiful estate it is today. Watkins resided in the house until U of T purchased the property in 1963.

Nearly every principal has elected to live in the stately, elegant home. Inside, the ceilings are adorned with intricately carved wood beams imported from Britain, the original leaded stained-glass windows light the main floor and nearly every room has its own fireplace.

Professor Angela Lange, UTM’s vice-dean of faculty, lived in the house for eight years with her partner, former vice-president and principal Ian Orchard. “Living at Lislehurst has its perks like the beauty of the house and grounds, spacious rooms, the deer and the convenient commute to work.” Her favourite memory is the stunning Christmas tree that staff would erect every year for UTM’s holiday parties.

However, there is a “down side”, she notes, to living in the historic home – a lack of privacy. “You can’t live at Lislehurst if you’re a private person.” Although the house is a private residence, it backs onto a public trail along the Credit River. “Once,” Lange laughs, “we were having Thanksgiving dinner at the house when a man wandered right in, thinking it was a public museum.” Other times, she saw people press their faces against the windows to peek inside, hikers walk around the backyard and wedding parties take pictures on the front steps.

The house not only serves as a home for principals but also as an event space for faculty, staff, student, alumni and community group receptions. Lange particularly enjoyed having students visit because they were so fascinated with the house. In fact, the second principal of Erindale College, Professor J. Tuzo Wilson, often hosted tea parties for students in the home.

Currently, Lislehurst sits empty while UTM searches for its next vice-president and principal. But Lange hopes the new appointee will opt to move in – it is a house, after all, meant to be enjoyed by everyone.