Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nobody Waved Goodbye

My most literate friend Brenda and I spent a golden October day along the Bay of Quinte shores. During our walk - and over the welcome tea and treats - she reminded me of Ben Wicks' book about the story of London's evacuated children during WWII. The title is Nobody Waved Goodbye. Despite the compelling stories of children in a war-time we poorly remember and scarcely understand, the title itself drew me to a very different tale.

This story is the long life and inevitable disappearance of a part of Belleville's history, the historic Hutton-Ponton house.As we walked through the noisy construction on Dundas Street (a detour in the lovely waterfront walk due to some suspected short-sightedness on the part of city government?) we encountered this monument standing in an empty grassy lot - Ponton Park as it turns out. The text on the stone tells a story many may have forgotten, others may never know.

The inscription reads: "Ponton Park was bequeathed to the city of Belleville by Enid Ponton Zimmele in 1964 through a land transfer as part of the sale of the Ponton lands for development. The land and premises were 'to be used as parklands and no buildings whatsoever are to be erected thereon'. Enid received this land, including the English Regency cottage style house from her husband, Col. William Nisbet Ponton, a lawyer and militia officer....Colonel Ponton was the last descendent of William Hutton who purchased these lands in 1834 and improved an original frame house built in the early 1800's by Dr. Seth Meacham'. A view of the lovely little home is etched on the stone.

I've just finished reading Gerry Boyce's masterful 1972 book Hutton of Hastings. Mr. Boyce weaves the story of Irish pioneer William Hutton and his struggles to establish his home, Sidney Cottage, and a profitable farm on this very spot, from his arrival in 1834 to his death in 1861, from letters written over that period by Hutton to his cherished mother back in Ireland. Sidney Cottage and its inhabitants are woven into the fabric of Belleville and Hastings County. William Hutton went on to a career in public service - as first county warden, first county school superintendent, and a founder of the Canadian Bureau of Agriculture. He was associated with notable figures in local and provincial history - Francis Hincks, Robert Baldwin, Egerton Ryerson and George Benjamin.

The book brings to life the daily details of homesteading, raising children to become successful citizens, and the constant struggle with finances, weather and pests that still bedevil farmers. William Hutton and his indomitable wife Fanny farmed the land on which housing, schools, and industry exist today, leaving not a trace. But because of this incredible book I feel the spirit of this home and this family to this day, on this location. Thank goodness somebody thought to place a monument at least. How wonderful it would be if that little limestone Regency cottage still stood where it was until its demolition in 1981.

Sincere thanks to Gerry Boyce for his permission to use the black and white photos from his book Hutton of Hastings.

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