The University of Toronto president’s residence is in Rosedale, perched high on a bluff overlooking one of the many ravines that snake through midtown Toronto. The appropriately named 93 Highland Ave. has a restrained grandeur. Built between 1908 and 1910 by Toronto architects Wickson and Gregg vaguely in the arts-and-crafts style, it served as the home of gold-mining magnate David Dunlap (at one time vice-president of Hollinger Inc.) and his philanthropist wife, Jessie (who donated the David Dunlap Observatory to U of T in 1935 in honour of her late husband). After Jessie’s death in 1946, the house went through one set of hands before being purchased in 1956 by U of T as a suitable residence for its president. The price was $150,000, a large sum in those days and $50,000 over budget, but laughably minuscule in the carriage trade that defines Rosedale real estate today.
For nearly the past half-century, a succession of U of T presidents has made 93 Highland home. Each has put his stamp on the place, often in eminently practical ways. Upon moving in with his wife, Mary, James Ham, president from 1978 to 1983 and an engineer, was aghast that much of the heat was escaping up the chimneys because none of the six fireplaces had dampers. Dampers were duly installed. More recently, thanks to the generosity of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, the house was air-conditioned.
Despite its role as a public place (there are some 60 university events each year), 93 Highland is the rambling kind of place that Harry Potter could inhabit quite nicely. Big rooms dominate, but nooks and crannies are many.
From U of T’s flag snapping in the breeze beside the porticoed entrance, to the attached conservatory, 93 Highland Ave. looks, smells and feels like a university building. That it is more than that, that it is the home of the president and his family, is a tribute to their willingness to make it something other than a temporary residence. “You move in knowing you’ll move out,” remarks Mary Ham. You’re at once a guardian and a resident; hence, personalizing the house is tricky. Still, the house wears its age well, nicely symbolic of U of T itself.
Brad Faught (PhD 1996) is a regular contributor to University of Toronto Magazine.