Toronto’s semi-detached houses (part 1)

Montreal has it’s three storey triplex row houses. Toronto has an abundance of what we call “semi’s” – two houses that are semi-detached, i.e. share a common central wall. These are iconic to many of the inner neighbourhoods of Toronto, and prior to 1945 may have been the predominant type of house in the city (According to the 2006 census, there are 139,350 semi’s in Toronto).  There are of course many different styles, which can be found in different pockets of the city. In the inner suburbs of the downtown core there are three-storey Victorian era semi’s, as well as Gothic Revival and Queen Anne. Further north in the midtown region, which was likely hailed the “suburbs” in the post-WW1 era, there are “working class” semi’s, and suburbs like Leaside, evolved in the 1930s and included more “modern” semis. Two of the more profuse styles of semi were built as working class semi’s.


From: Report of the Toronto Housing Commission (Toronto, 1920)

Many of these homes were built in the years prior to WW2. In the years after the First World War, many of these houses were built as inexpensive housing. There are also differences in how they were built. There are those that are double brick on both storeys, and others where the ground floor is double brick, and the upper floor is covered with cedar shakes, or siding of some sort. Some of these semi’s have elements of Craftsman-style. The exact configuration sometimes depended on the year they were built in, and by which builder. Kitchens are generally at the back of the house, and some had windows on the side of the house, others had a side door leading into the basement stairs. Here are some of the general characteristics of these house:

  • Porches – all these semi’s traditionally have a full width front porch. Some of the front living rooms have bay windows that project into the porch, others (as in the examples shown) do not.
  • Roof – some form of gable or hip roof in the front, traditionally coupled with a flat roof on the rear half.
  • Bedrooms – most semi’s have three bedrooms, but there are also shorter ones with only two bedrooms.
  • Size – 900-1200 ft², not including basement.
  • Basement – generally 5.5-6.5 feet in height, the basements were not made as living space… they were where furnaces lived… usually  gravity-fed octopus furnaces.
  • Mechanicals: electricity was knob-and-tube, the plumbing stack cast, iron, and the sewer pipes were clay.

From: Report of the Toronto Housing Commission (Toronto, 1920)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.