Guild Renaissance Group

History of The Guild

From 1914 to 1921, General Charles Bickford owned the sprawling two-storey pseudo-Georgian manor then known as Ranelagh Park. This fine summer residence with lots of room for his seven children featured a balcony and veranda, polo pony stable and garage.  After an impressive military career, private life brought financial reversals and he and his family moved to Buffalo for a time. The property was sold to the St. Francis Xavier China Mission Seminary. They sold it in I923 to an American creosote industry executive, who spent very little time there before he sold it in I932 to Rosa Breit-haupt Hewetson, a widow with four children to raise and her late husband's successful shoe company to run.


Rosa and Spencer Clark met through their work with the Robert Owen Foundation, an organization that Rosa helped found, in the tradition of her birth family's values, "to promote ideas of social concerns." The two were nothing more than like-minded colleagues until 1932 when Rosa bought the Bluffs property for her as-yet-unformed co-operative experiment.


They honeymooned in upper New York State at Roycroft, an arts and crafts co-operative modeled on a William Morris innovation and supported largely by an inn, which survives to this day. Rosa was interested in and involved in the arts; Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson was her cousin. For his part, according to Scarborough archivist Richard SchofieId, Spencer ''wanted to encourage the Group of Seven and offer them a place to work.'' Artists can't be worried about earning a living if they are to nurture their talents.


When they returned from Roycroft, the Clarks began the Guild of All Arts, an arts and crafts collective, the fruition of their high ideals, in the middle of the Great Depression.


Artists and artisans of all types and from far and wide came to stay for varying lengths of time working in exchange for room and board. Employees were hired to ''do'' for the burgeoning community. Cabins were incorporated into the property to accommodate the artists. Many of their finished pieces were bought and added to the Spencer and Rosa Clark Collection, some of which are still in the Guild's collection.


In the 5O's and 60's Toronto was experiencing a renovation and building boom. Inevitably, some of the older buildings that were decorated by master stone masons were demolished. This horrified Spencer, so he began collecting interesting fragments from them and transporting them to the Guild Inn grounds where today they provide spectacular backgrounds to the thousands of wedding pictures taken there every summer. The most popular of these is the Facade that today is called the Greek Theatre.  Occasionally performances still take place on its stage. Visitors flocked to what was by then called The Guild of All Arts, to watch the artists at work and enjoy the beautiful location, amid the Carolinian woods overlooking Lake Ontario. Soon the Clarks began to offer meals and accommodations. As had been already learned at Roycroft, selling the artists' output was not sufficient to keep the Guild operational. Carole Lidgold, author of the The History of the Guild Inn, explains that the Guild Inn ''was very popular in the thirties, it was the only thing going.''


According to the son of a Guild Inn employee, the variety of homemade buns had something to do with the venue's popularity. So did the after-sleighing-party menus. As did the unique character of the rooms, each appointed with handmade furniture made by resident craftsmen including stylish wooden headboards carved with Canadian wild animals, and decorated with upholstery curtains and bedspreads created on the Guild's unique hand looms. The looms were designed or modified by Spencer and built by a German master cabinet maker, Herman Reidl, who worked at the Guild for thirty-nine years.


World War ll saw the Guild Inn and adjunct property put to work for the federal government. It was used to train WRENS (Womens Royal Navy Service) in highly secret telegraphy work, and as a hospital for veterans later replaced by Sunnybrook. All the while, the art struggled on, despite wartime privations.


Spencer Clark also had much to do with the Guildwood Village subdivision that grew nearby. His love of nature and aesthetic sensitivity determined that as many old trees as possible be preserved, and that there be no overhead wires or telephone poles to spoil the area's natural beauty. Thus Guildwood Village was one of Scarborough's first subdivisions with buried cables. Spencer also named many of the streets.


In 1979 the Guild Inn was sold jointly to the Province of Ontario and the Metro Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Private groups took over the running of the Inn while the Government took care of the grounds and artifacts.


The possibility that the Guild Inn might be torn down spurred caring citizens to action. They formed the Guildwood Village Community Association to help repel developers with undesirable intentions. They were successful.


Spencer died in 1986, predeceased by Rosa in 1981. In 1995, Ellzabeth Fraser Willamson moved from her cabin on the grounds into Livingston Lodge. That marked the end of the Guild Artists in Residence. 


Another group of volunteer citizens formed the Guild Renaissance Group in 1997 in the hope that they could assist the City to repair and upgrade the Inn and put the site back into operation as a place for arts and culture. They have worked with the City in connection with the design and tendering for consultants, to assess the feasibility of restoring the cultural life at the Guild.


Thanks to Anne Livingston and Lee Graves, who prepared this short history for The Guild Renaissance Group.