The Baldwin Steps are located at Spadina and Davenport Rds in the Casa Loma neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Baldwin Family, The Staircase & Spadina Houses
William Warren Baldwin was born in Ireland in 1775. He was educated as a doctor and emigrated to Canada in 1799. In 1818, Baldwin built a home on the land near the top of today’s Baldwin Steps and called it Spadina House. When the house was named, it was pronounced “Spadeena” which comes from the Ojibwe word “ishpadinaa”. It means high hill or ridge.
When the Baldwin family’s first house was destroyed by fire in 1835, they built a house in the city (at Front and Bay Sts, northwest corner) which became their permanent home. In 1836, Spadina House was rebuilt and his son Robert lived there. That same year, Dr William Baldwin who was also an architect, lawyer and politician, laid out Spadina as a grand boulevard from Queen St W to Davenport Rd (the portion of Spadina Ave, south of Queen St W was called Brock St until 1884). To accommodate the steep slope of the escarpment, wooden steps were built from the base at Davenport Rd up to the top of the ridge.
William Baldwin passed away in 1844 however when his son Robert died in 1858, the Spadina House and land were sold to the Austin family. While they demolished most of the house in 1866, they did use the foundation to build what is the present-day Spadina Museum.
In 1913, the original steps were replaced.
In the 1960s, the Ontario government planned to build the Spadina Expressway through the area. In 1971, after much opposition from citizens, plans for the highway fell through but not before the land surrounding the steps and a number of homes had already been expropriated.
Today’s Baldwin Steps
In 1984, the City of Toronto leased the land from the Government of Ontario. The Baldwin Steps we know today officially opened in 1988. Made of concrete, they rise to a circular landing that is flanked by retaining walls and pillars and contain a small amphitheatre. With metal railings, the 110-steps zigzag from landing to landing up the steep hill all surrounded by beautiful trees, plants and flowers.
Baldwin Steps Photos
- The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary: ishpadinaa
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography: William Warren Baldwin
- Toronto Star: Ghost of Spadina Expressway Haunt Us Still: Micallef
- The Cultural Landscape Foundation: Baldwin Steps
- Toronto Street Names: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins by Leonard Wise & Allan Gould
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library