Arts & Entertainment
1 min

Downton Toronto

Costumes from popular British TV show come to Spadina Museum

The Dowager Countess

While Downton Abbey’s Crawley family struggles with endless historical-event-inspired crises, their clothing — including, perhaps, the outfit worn by Lord Grantham when he stood up for the homosexual Thomas and one of the large purple hats the Dowager Countess wears when going into battle against Isobel — is making its way to Toronto. 

Built in the mid-to-late 19th century and restored to how it looked in the 1920s and ’30s, the charming mansion known as the Spadina Museum is the ideal setting for a Downton Abbey exhibit. 

Last year the museum started doing Downton Abbey–themed tours. Museum administrator Karen Edwards explains: “As you went through the house with a staff person, they would link the themes and stories of the fictional Crawley family with the real-life things that were happening in Toronto and at Spadina Museum in the same time period, including the changing roles of women, increased technology and the impact of the First World War.” 

Linking the museum to the show turned out to be a great way to get people interested in Spadina House and in Toronto’s history. “It operated as a way to start a conversation with people that isn’t very threatening and made people feel like they didn’t have to be history nerds to visit the museum,” Edwards says.

The tours were such a success that it was decided to put on a full-blown Downton Abbey exhibit, featuring 20 costumes actually worn in the first three seasons of the show (complete with stains, aka “real Downton Abbey dirt”), period-appropriate dresses and accessories from the City of Toronto collection, and the now-quite-popular themed tours.