Toronto

Hidden behind buildings, the last of Mimico's opulent lakefront estates is still standing

Blocked from view by apartment buildings, a piece of Mimico's history is sitting intact, evoking the area's glamorous past.

Myrtle Villa was owned by businessman James Franceschini from 1925 to 1950

Perched on the edge of Lake Ontario, Myrtle Villa was a sprawling estate complete with a main house pictured here, as well as houses for staff, a garage, greenhouse, swimming pool and stables. (Submitted by James McCreath)

Walking through a stone and wrought iron gate on Lake Shore Boulevard West, James McCreath steps back in time. 

Hidden inside a complex of mid-rise brick apartment buildings, he can still make out the key features of Myrtle Villa, his grandfather's expansive lakefront property. 

"It was a fabulous place," McCreath told CBC Toronto as he walked between the buildings, pointing out where the greenhouse, stables, and swimming pool once stood. 

"I can remember riding in the horse ring, I can remember running around the gardens... it was beautiful and lush." 

WATCH | CBC's Natalie Kalata tours the property of the last of Mimico's opulent lakefront estates: 

Hidden behind apartment buildings, the last of Mimico’s opulent lakefront estates is still standing

5 months ago
Duration 4:03
Nestled along Lakeshore Avenue in Toronto’s West end, lies a little known piece of history. Myrtle Villa — a series of buildings, some dating back to the 1890s — is now wrapped between apartment buildings along the waterfront. Natalie Kalata toured the property.

Though much of the estate is gone today, the main house, some gardens and fountains, and the garage — now a convenience store — are still standing. 

Together, they represent the last remaining evidence of what was once a string of luxury residences along Lake Ontario in the Mimico neighbourhood.

Music, entertainment, and a lakeside dance floor

McCreath's grandfather was James Franceschini, an Italian immigrant who founded Dufferin Construction and bought the Mimico property in 1925. 

Naming it Myrtle Villa after his only child — McCreath's mother — Franceschini made the estate an opulent hub for entertaining, complete with a dance floor on the edge of the lake.

"He would have bands play, and entertainers, so it was really an event when you came here," McCreath said. 

James Franceschini with his daughter Myrtle. Myrtle's son, James McCreath, described his grandfather as charming and funny, often seen with a carnation boutonnière from his own garden. (Submitted by James McCreath)

But despite the fortune he built up through his business, Franceschini's life wasn't easy, McCreath continued.

Moving to Canada at 15, Franceschini felt pressure to be accepted by the English-speaking business community in Toronto, and caused "quite a stir" when he married McCreath's grandmother, Annie Pinkham. 

When the Second World War broke out, despite re-tooling his businesses to help with the war effort, Franceschini became one of 600 Italian-Canadians placed in internment camps by the Canadian government. None were ever convicted of committing any crimes against Canada.

"He ended up in [an internment camp in] Petawawa, Ont. for a year, and he developed cancer there, so he was let out on humanitarian grounds," said McCreath. 

But Franceschini remained upbeat, he said, and would jokingly refer to the experience as his "year in college."

After his release and recovery, he set about rebuilding his business empire. In 1950, he sold Myrtle Villa and left for Quebec, building another estate on the shores of Lac Tremblant. 

Saved from the wrecking ball 

From there, the property went through what was a typical transformation for the area, said Mireille Macia, president of the Etobicoke Historical Society. 

"Between 1890 and the early 20th century, a number of prominent, well-to-do Torontonians built second homes along the waterfront," she said. "After the Second World War, many of these were torn down." 

McCreath's parents were married at Myrtle Villa. 'It was packed with people. The wedding of the century, they said,' McCreath told CBC News. (Submitted by James McCreath)

Apartment buildings were built on the site, with the complex once known as Amodeo Court now called Mimico Estates.

But several elements of Myrtle Villa were incorporated instead of razed, and in 2013, the site received heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act. 

In the years since, Myrtle Villa continues to attract interest from local historians and curious passerby, intrigued by the wrought iron "M" and "V" incorporated into the gate. 

For McCreath, stopping by for a stroll is a chance to sift through his own childhood memories — and to picture the glitzy parties, dinners, and gatherings his grandparents hosted. 

"What a fabulous place to grow up, and to party," he said with a laugh.

The original stone and wrought iron gate still stands between the apartment buildings and Lake Shore Boulevard West, hinting at the property's past life. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

With files from Natalie Kalata

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now