From the vision, to the planning process, to construction and completion, the pace of Toronto's development can leave little room for reflection and review. By the time new buildings are actually lived in—whether by residents, office workers, or schoolchildren—they might quietly slip off UrbanToronto's radar as we look forward to the next big project, and the however many dozen that follow it. Airing on June 18th, HGTV's Great Canadian Homes offers a very different perspective, taking viewers on a series of intimate tours through some of the most architecturally significant private residences in the country. 

Earnscliffe Manor, image via GATEarnscliffe Manor, image via GAT

Hosted by the endearingly energetic Tommy Smythe, the one-hour program showcases 13 residences across the country. Spanning from coast to coast and from 1867 to the present day, Great Canadian Homes opens with an exploration of Earsncliffe Manor, the Confederation-era home of none other than Sir John A. MacDonald. Retaining original design elements, a rare glimpse into the stately house means an uncommonly intimate glimpse into Canadian history. 

Tommy Smythe, image via GATTommy Smythe, image via GAT

In Nova Scotia, the Bienn Breagh estate is another historic highlight. Completed in 1893, the home was built by Alexander Graham Bell, who spent the latter years of his life on the coast, and is buried on the estate with his wife. Designed by Art Deco pioneer René Rodolphe Tourville, Montreal's 1935-built Grassi House is also among the older properties featured, along with a converted dairy barn in Calgary, and Vancouver's Arts & Crafts-style Disher House, which dates to 1912.

Habitat 67, image via GATHabitat 67, image via GAT

Touring the homes, Smythe is joined by the home's current occupants, who complement the host's design-oriented eye with personal experience and historical background. To that end, the show avoids the velvet ropes and hushed tones of the museum house tour, instead offering intimate looks at how these landmark homes continue to live and breathe along with their residents. 

Inside Frank Motter's suite at Habitat 67, image via GATInside Frank Motter's suite at Habitat 67, image via GAT

In Montreal, Smythe takes in a suite at Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67. It's engaging—and fun—to see the place through the eyes of long-time resident Frank Motter, who describes the tangible day-to-day experience of living in the legendary housing complex. While Smythe makes sure to provide the requisite architectural context, Motter describes the "sound of the rain" as it falls in his solarium. For a work of architecture so often dissected in classrooms and lectures, it's refreshing to see it as what it is—a place to live. 

Abbey Church Lofts, image via GATAbbey Church Lofts, image via GAT

Here in Toronto, two homes are featured. Just east of High Park, the Abbey Church Lofts are an "really sensitive and well-executed conversion project," Smythe notes. In Rosedale, meanwhile, a walk through the much-vaunted Integral House sees Smythe joined by architect Brigitte Shim, while a nephew of Arthur Erickson similarly enriches the architectural tour of Vancouver's 1979 Hugo Eppich House. 

Integral House interior, image via GATIntegral House interior, image via GAT

Ultimately, HGTV's one-hour program isn't an exhaustive catalogue of Canadian design, or a historically far-reaching overview of built form, nor does it aim to be. "Canadian homes have been around for much, much longer than 150 years," Smythe explains, "and in the time since Confederation, there are many more incredible homes that we could have featured," he adds, stressing the importance and richness of Canada's pre-colonial history. 

Still, the show presents a worthwhile window into some of the country's most architecturally and historically significant homes. "Ultimately, I think a great home is one that tells the story of the people who live there, and who have lived there in the past," says Smythe. And as we approach our Sesquicentennial celebrations, telling the story of Canada's homes is as appropriate a medium for telling the story of the country as any.


Great Canadian Homes airs on HGTV on June 18th. It was produced by Carolyn Meland of HeartHat Entertainment.