Robert John Fleming, one of the city’s most popular mayors, lived from about 1900 until 1927, in a large house that once stood north-east of Bathurst and St. Clair. He sold it to the Sisters of St. Joseph, who used it as an orphanage until 1948 when they sold it to the Basilian Fathers to become part of the campus of St. Michael’s College School.
This house was immense with many verandas, surrounded by extensive lawns, gardens and orchards and stood well back from the intersection of Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West. We don’t know who built the house, though early atlases show it as the property of someone named Rembler Paul. Around the turn of the century we do know that it became the home of Robert John Fleming, who in the 1890’s had been elected Mayor of Toronto by the widest margin in the city’s history. He served four one-year terms. Fleming resigned before the end of his last term to take on the job of the city’s assessment commissioner.
When he requested a salary increase after a few years, the city refused, so he left to become general manager of the Toronto Railway Company operator of the city’s streetcar lines. During this period, he was associated in business with men such as Sir Henry Pellatt and Sir William Mackenzie, whom he had often opposed as mayor of the city. In 1921 the Toronto Railway Company’ contract with the city expired, and with it Fleming’s position. Once more he ran for mayor, but lost by a very small margin. He sold the house in 1923 for $250,000, and retired to a thousand acre estate on the Don River called Donlands. He died two years later.
The purchasers of the grand house were the Sisters of St Joseph who had been looking for a new home for Sacred Heart orphanage which they had been operating at Sunnyside on the lakeshore. They needed a new location to make way for a new hospital, St Joseph’s Hospital. The sisters lived with 24 girls in the old house, and quickly put up another building called Maple Crest to house as many as 56 boys. the orphanage . As group homes were replacing large orphanages, the sisters closed it in 1949 and sold the property to the Basilian Fathers, then looking for a new campus for St. Michael’s College School.
Thanks to Terry McAuliffe for this information.