Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, December 16, 2011

down on the farm...

I love farms in towns...farms that have stood far longer than the towns or villages which now surround them. They are islands in time, gently revealing stories of our rural past as modern-day commerce swirls around them...a reminder that this land was once deep forest cleared at great effort to establish a homestead, and a living for a family. Gerry Boyce's book Hutton of Hastings chronicles that transition from bush to settlement so well - and the hopes and heartbreaks associated. These days, in many communities, early farms are being eclipsed by the growth of our urban way of life.

Until recently, Napanee has had a working farm with a proud red barn and black and white cows standing stalwart near Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons. I always wondered how long THAT would be allowed to continue. My neighbour recently showed me the shiny new barn that has been built in the countryside nearby to entice the cattle (and their people) to leave their traditional territory in town, no doubt to free up the property for a big box store. Bloomfield village in PEC also has a working farm just west of the posh boutique downtown, which occasionally perfumes the air with something not quite potpourri.

I have loved the homestead in this photo for ages, catching glimpses of the front of the house, its unpretentious low limestone profile and its inviting verandah, set on a hill above the main road in Cannifton village. Just recently, I headed up a small side-street at the south of the property to effect a u-turn, and came upon this wonderful view - a page wire fence woven with grape vines, a lush and lovely, but empty pasture, a grouping of barns, a limestone building at the back of the house and the charming brick addition on the south side.

The discovery made me think of my grandmother's stone house on Royal Street, and took me back to magic sunshiny days of exploring - the cathedral-like stone wood-house, the deep window seats, the early 'transparent' apple tree inviting hungry kids up into its comfy branches, the shadowy woods where we found the cows in the hot late afternoons, the creaky mysterious windmill - all features of that farm which we didn't have at home.

Mary Plumpton, in her lovely book The Rambling River (1967) tells the story of the Canniffton farm. It is associated - as are many of the buildings in this lovely stone village - with the founders, the Canniff family. Interesting, Ms. Plumpton records that in 1860, there were said to be 90 people by the name of Canniff in this important community! The lovely farmhouse in the photo was built by Joseph Canniff (b.1798), son of the first Canniff in the area. There is another fine stone house and store adjacent to the farm property,which I must get back to, also associated with that family.

In fact, one day soon, I hope to capture all of the wonderful stone buildings in Cannifton - have to wait for the right light to warm their beautiful river-stone faces.


  1. Another place to drive around, instead of through on my way home. Thanks!

  2. My 4th great grandfather, James C. Caniff, is the brother of John Canniff. James also emigrated to Cannifton. His family is part of the Canniffs that you mentioned living in the area. I need contact with a Canniff historian. I can only trace the family back to 1837? in New York.

  3. Michael, I suggest you get in touch with the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, who are likely able to give you leads. Their number is 613-967-3304. Their website gives other contact options. There's also the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre in Ameliasburgh at (613)967-6291.