E. J. Lennox, the son of an Irish immigrant, discovered his architectural talents at an early age and pursued them relentlessly, ridiculing his rivals and demanding the notice of the powerful. Although he designed some of the great buildings of Toronto, it wasn’t until the end of his career that he built his own dream home, a retirement haven he called Lenwil.
Lennox had been building his reputation with smaller constructions when he won the contract to build Toronto’s new city hall (1887-1899). After travelling the continent to view other municipal buildings, he was inspired to adopt the Richardsonian Romanesque style, with terra cotta brick, hipped roofs with multi-gabled dormers, rounded arches, turrets and towers. Lennox added Italian, Spanish and French elements to create a fantastical fortress. Now known as the Old City Hall, it was declared a National Historic Site in 1989. Based on this great success, Lennox created some of Toronto’s signature buildings, including the Bank of Toronto on Yonge north of Queen, and Casa Loma, the remarkable mansion he built for Sir Henry Pellatt. Lennox also helped to define a distinctive style of Toronto house now known as the “Annex Style.”
After a great rush of construction, Lennox finally, in his fifties, built a 21-bedroom mansion he named Lenwil: Len for Lennox and wil for Wilson, his wife’s maiden name. It was among his last designs, and he lived there remarkably quietly for his last 25 years.
By Dennis Smith