Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, November 2, 2012

History for Sale

"If I had a million dollars" the song goes. No more Kraft Dinner. No more watching this worthy and well-connected house age ungracefully.

The former Couldery home on Dundas Street West in Belleville (I like the street's former name, the Old Trent Road) is for sale by owner. The porch is tilting, the plantings are overgrown, the windows are empty, and for some time I have been worrying about its future.

It's no country for old houses. Another very significant early house, the Ponton-Hutton house was lost on this stretch of road in favour of suburban sprawl.

The house is still impressive. An ornate chimney, the irregular massing, verandahs and mixed fenestration of the Queen Anne style still give it presence. The property is large and treed, preventing a closer look. Glanmore NHS Curator Rona Rustige and Marketing and Education Coordinator Melissa Wakeling got that closer look a few years ago. They tell the story of visiting the house one morning, and being invited in by the woman of the house, encountering only later the man of the house, en deshabille, who had no idea of (and little enthusiasm for) the visit!

Now why would these women want to visit? That's the best part of the story, and for it I turn to 'Glanmore', a little book published by the Friends of Glanmore in 2003. This house was purchased in the early 1880's by visitors from England, Bertram and Cecilia Couldery. "A train delay in Belleville resulted in the Coulderys spending the night at the Docter's Hotel* , located across the road from the train station. William Docter, the hotel proprietor, gave the Coulderys a tour of the area and they decided to establish a second home in Belleville.

The Docter and Couldery families became close friends. Ann Susanna Docter (1868-1956), the eldest of the Docter's eleven children, accompanied the Coulderys on their return to England in 1891."

Ann married well, and when Bertram and Cecilia died, "part of their estate, which consisted of fine European antiques, paintings, ceramics, and decorative objects, was bequeathed to Ann." Ann donated this astonishing collection  - which includes a large collection of Bertram's brother Horatio's internationally significant animal paintings - to the City of Belleville in 1955. These items (including Bertram's painting of the house above) are housed in Victorian splendour at Glanmore National Historic Site. What a great multilayered house story.

"If I had a million dollars...I'd buy me a house."

*Sadly, the Docter's Hotel is now an embarrassing wreck tainted with nasty associations, slated for demolition.


  1. My cousin, Charles Heintzman, worked for the Heintzman Piano Company for many years following his mother’s (My Mother’s cousin) retirement from running the business. She had rescued the grand old venerable Canadian firm after her husband (Charlie's father) died at a very young age in the late 1960s.

    Alas, by the 1980s, quality built pianos were beginning to lose their mass appeal, partly because they were beinng replaced with electronic keyboards. The company was sold in the late 1980s.

    But Charlie was/is a keen highly qualified craftsman, having learned the art and skill of piano building beginning as a very young teenager at their factory in Hanover Ontario. He kept the firm’s famiy name and went on to establish and operate a very successfull piano restoration business out of Toronto until he retired two years ago.

    I once accompanied Charlie to this very house sometime in the early 1980s where he had been asked to provide a quote on either selling or restoring the owner’s older Heintzman Piano - can’t remember which. I also can’t remember if he got the contract or not. But I sure do remember this remarkable house and property. I clearly recall agreeing with Charlie "If only these walls could talk".

    At the time, the place was a bit rundown. But I could definitely imagine the potential. I also remember thinking that industrial park development would eventually spread west on Hwy 2 and the house would probably not survive. I see now, thanks to your photographs, it has survived!

    More; Thanks to you, I now know a bit of the history of the house - history which I had whimsically wished for all those years ago when only by chance, I visited the place!

    I thought that you might find this bit of useless information amusing.

    Cheers, David
    Frontenac Heritage Foundation

  2. Great story David...let's hope the house not only survives, but regains its former glory.