Anyone who knows me knows that I love nostalgia. It’s the small trivial bits of history that build the bigger essential story of how we came to be and why we are as we are.
I’m also someone who loves games. Puzzles, word games, mind games. When you can combine the two into a single evening it’s my ideal of entertainment heaven.
So on the last dark day of March I grabbed my two besties (my husband Donald and my favorite gal pal Jill) and headed out to one of Toronto’s oldest mansions – Spadina House.
In the heart of Toronto’s Annex, this historic heritage home and museum pre-dates Confederation. Built in 1866 by Toronto financier James Austin, the home is now a treasured time capsule of Toronto during the interwar years, a transformative time in our city’s growth from its colonial roots to the cosmopolitan centre we are today.
Frozen in time, the house is modelled in the decorative Art Deco style that was popular in the affluent Roaring 1920s and Turbulent 1930s. Our very own Downton Abbey in the 6ix, if you will – surrounded by 6ix acres of maintained gardens.
As part of its mandate to engage visitors and connect them with the past, the Spadina Museum was hosting its annual 1920s Party Games Night:
Our tour and games hosts Cathy, Emily and Liza explained to us that people began to have more leisure time in the 1920s as the result of industrialization and the invention of many new conveniences that simplified day-to-day living. Popular parlour games and newly developed board games served to provide hours of home entertainment for families and friends.
Donald, Jill and I weren’t the only ones to venture to the mansion to play some parlour games. We met a young couple named Sara and Ibrahim and a pair of college professors named Kaylene and Jennifer. But it was the young group of 20-somethings who drove all the way from St. Catharines and Oakville dressed in their flapper finery who arrived en masse and really embraced the spirit of the event.
Together we played a number of fun, silly games taught to us by Cathy and Emily.
Simple games like Celebrities where you write down the name of real or fictional people and see how many you can guess in a minute, to Consequences where random words are dropped onto folded paper to create a crazy story were just some of the games that simply required a pencil, a bit of paper and a lot of imagination.
One of the sillier games we played was Pictures, an early forerunner to Pictionary and the Telephone Game. Here, the first person writes a sentence, the next person draws a picture that represents the sentence folds the paper and passes to the next person who only sees the picture and has to write a new sentence. The game continues until the paper gets back to the first person. Have a look below at some of the stories and pictures our team drew:
Another game we played was First Line Last Line where one person read us the synopsis from a book, then the first line of the first chapter and we had to guess the last line. We had to craft a credible last line that would earn us points for everyone who selected it.
With a standard deck of cards and a handful of spoons, we played Spoons, a card game that is reminiscent of musical chairs:
From card games to games of logic and creative word play, we spent an amusing few hours that resulted in hilarity, some hearty laughs and overall just plain silliness. Luckily for us, we were provided with instructions for the games we played and other games we could play with our own families.
As part of the evening we were able to tour all three floors of the mansion, including the upper floor with its views of the garden and city vistas that are usually not part of the museum tour.
A family home for three generations of Austins, the Spadina House was renovated and enlarged by James’ son Albert Austin and his wife Mary in the late 19th and early 20th century when they lived in the home with their five children. It was Anna Kathleen, Austin and Mary’s last surviving daughter who arranged for the home to become a Toronto Historic site in 1978.
A major restoration in 2010 illustrates the evolution of styles in this historic home reflecting the mid-Victorian to 1930s Colonial Revival styles and includes items from the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements, as well as items from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.
So what happens when you take 15 strangers and put them in a 150-year old mansion for the night?
You get one great evening of fun!
Before we left the museum, I purchased a small bar of lavender soap and a post card of the Spadina mansion to remember my visit.
The gift store also sold vintage toys and board games just in case we got tired of the parlour games we learned.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-392-6910.
In the spirit of the public art project #MyCityMySix where Torontonians tell their story in just six words, here’s mine:
Spadina Museum: Roaring 20s time capsule
Interesting side note – the word Spadina is an old Ojibwa word for high place or sudden rise in the land. It should be pronounced Spadina with the i as /i/ in ski but it is more commonly pronounced with the i as /ai/ in mine.