Home » North York school was originally a mansion, home to a historically controversial Canadian millionaire and politician

Sifton House, built in 1923, later bought by the Toronto French School. - Toronto Star photo

North York school was originally a mansion, home to a historically controversial Canadian millionaire and politician


The Toronto French School at the northwest corner of Lawrence and Bayview avenues in North York originally was “Armadale,” the 22-room abode of one of the most contentious figures in Canada’s history.

Sir Clifford Sifton lived there during his waning years with his wife Elizabeth Armanella after whom he named the mansion.

In 1923, Sifton, then 62, bought 30 acres on the crest of the Don Valley and built three grand houses: Armadale, and two somewhat smaller houses for members of his family. Since they all loved horseback riding, he built stables and a riding school.

On Sept. 1, 2012, Toronto Star architecture critic Christopher Hume wrote: “With its chunky double-gabled front faҫade, and substantial entrance portico, Armadale was designed with the idea of the English country house in mind. The architectural influences — Tudor and Romanesque — are also very English, as is the general symmetry and uprightness of the building.

“Unlike, say Glendon Hall, just east, Armadale is more practical than picturesque. Certainly, it conveys an image of wealth and prestige. But not of beauty. The intention was more to dominate the landscape than complement it.”

Sifton, a multimillionaire who owned the Manitoba Free Press, was federal minister of the interior in charge of increasing prairie settlement, 1896 to 1905, in the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

“Sir Clifford Sifton was, and remains, a controversial figure,” the Dictionary of Canadian Biography says about this phase of his life. “Lost in his push for immigration to Western Canada and for economic growth were the native peoples. He approved the ‘surrender’ of what had been their land. He never grasped the legitimate ambitions of French Canadians for equality of status. Charges of corruption — if never proven — dogged his entire career.”

Sifton retired from politics in 1911, feeling he could no longer serve because of near deafness. He was knighted in 1915 for his work on conservation. He died in 1929, six years after Armadale was completed.

The family sold Armadale in 1947. It passed through several other families until 1980 when the Toronto French School, established in 1962, acquired it.

Susan Goldenberg is a director and membership chair of the North York Historical Society, which preserves North York’s heritage.