Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Chaffey's Mill (1872-3)
So where did that year, and that promise, evaporate to? Over a year ago, I vowed to return to the places I love along the Rideau. Here's my promise to myself here.

This week I've been rereading Liz Lundell's fine article about Chaffey's Lock in the Fall issue of Acorn, the quarterly publication of ACO. The theme of the issue is Small Places Big Heritage.

Chaffey's Lock (along with other lock communities along the Rideau Canal) has been one of my favourite summer destinations for ages. Turns out Liz spent summers in the area as a kid, so it's even a bigger favourite of hers - and a place she knows much better.
the by-wash
the mill (clapboard facade)

The Mill art gallery, original stone facade
 I've tried for years to explain the attraction of these historic Rideau canal communities. Here's a previous effort. There's something unique about them - they're landscapes in miniature, rushing water of back channels balanced by serene domesticated canals, rock cuts long healed after the assault of canal building in the 1830s  (link to an 1833 Thomas Burrowes watercolour here shows the deforestation and rock moving - all by hand), softened by lawns and gardens. Old bridges, leafy streets and lanes, lots of hills and curves. 

These places tell political, military and social history tales to anyone who would listen. The engineering of the canal infrastructure is fascinating, the fact one can ramble back and forth across historic them along the lock gates astonishing.
Lockmaster's house (1844) now a museum)
Liz has done a brilliant job of uncovering the hamlet's multilayered history. I was amazed to learn that the old mill that we love is actually the second iteration of the place. Back in 1820, English immigrant Samuel Chaffey had built a substantial milling complex with "saw, grist and fulling-mills,carding-machines, stores, barns, distillery, etc." Shortly after his death in 1827, work began on the Rideau Canal, and Colonel By appropriated the land from Chaffey's widow, eventually constructing the canal and lock system we see today (a less bucolic version, to be sure.)

In the hamlet are early homes harkening back to the days when these dams and waterways worked for a living, structures whose use changed from hardy workingmen's houses to summer retreats.

A second  generation of guest houses and lodges arose out of the recreational steamer days, when the sport fishery became the attraction. The logging, mining and transportation days were gone.

The famous Opinicon Lodge began in those days; the centre section of today's resort was built in the late 1800s. The Opinicon was once a private lodge for American fishers. It's been wonderfully refurbished in recent years, and now admits Canadians.

We've ventured as far as the Opinicon icecream shoppe, but now that there's a pub...

The gorgeous forest crosses the bridge and swoops on up a hill on Opinicon Road. At the corner, across from the lovely art gallery in the former mill, is this great house. I fell in love with the setting, the simple farmhouse construction and covered verandah - and the delightful colours!

This is Fernbrae Cottage; historians assert it was a miller's residence in early days. Location makes sense, steps from work. Since the 1920's, it's served as a family cottage. When I see cottage, this is what I see (although a lake would be nice), not the monster second homes we seem to need in the new '20's.
of course a red fire ladder)

another genuine article cottage
lots of foursquare farmhouses 

and guest houses

The Celtic cross remembers the approximately 1000 Irish labourers who died while building the canal. several other memorials exist; here's a link. Today we cannot imagine the hardships.

Another group of community builders, the Women's Institute, established the community hall in 1932. It's still maintained as a community venue.

The iron bridge was built in 1912. Let these photos take you there. Now it's part of the 103 kilometer Cararaqui Trail from Smith's Falls to Strathcona, near Newboro. Bicycles welcome. Hmm.

A stroll around the hamlet offers sights like this - old summer lodges and cottage resorts, some converted to private homes, others still offering visitors a bit of shady summer beside an historic waterway. Is this gate not inviting?

A shout-out to the Chaffey's Lock and Area Heritage Society who work to keep history's voice heard in this wonderful community.

There's no segue coming to me, so I'll just say this. The historic 1872-3 Chaffey's mill was built by John Chaffey, nephew of Samuel Chaffey of Somerset, England, who built the area's first mills around 1820. The story is wonderfully told in Liz Lundell's article. But what Liz did not mention (there being no right time to say it) was the Australian connection. When we were in Australia last year, I picked up references to the Chaffey brothers who'd developed irrigation systems in the Murray River area in the state of Victoria, and was astonished to hear they'd come from Brockville.

Turns out, Mildura was 'created' by the Chaffey brothers, whose expertise lay in irrigation systems enabling cultivation and, in the case of Mildura, the wealth of orcharding and fruit growing. Prior to their trip down under, they did the same in California, rendering fruitful several areas in California, one christened Ontario. (Years ago our cousin Hugh did a teaching exchange in Mildura; his wife picked grapes, related somehow.)

These irrigating brothers, William and George, were the sons of one George Chaffey. Liz Lundell writes that Samuel and his brother (turns out to be Benjamin)  "operated successful milling and commercial establishments for a few years in Brockville", before Samuel went up the Rideau.
Rio Vista (thanks to Wikipedia)
In the day, folks had lots of kids, spreading out across the face of the yet unsettled country. I am convinced (where are those genealogists when we need them) that brothers William and George sprang from the same vine, just how I don't know. But it's a great connection somehow - water, always water with this family. The Australian cousins (nephews, whatever) did okay. Here's a link to  Mildura's Chaffey Trail- one of the stories features the grandly Queen Ann Rio Vista historic house (1891). Here's a visit. Although the red brick would be Ontario-familiar, the woodwork of Murray pine and red gum, and Western Jarrah and blackwood would have been underlined just how far they'd come from Brockville.

Friday, December 27, 2019

My Kingdom for a Horse

Allow me a bit of levity. The following is not Ontario architectural history, to be sure. But it's been a great way to spend a quiet winter afternoon, travelling about learning about some pretty interesting spots

Last spring, we had a lovely lunch in a horse stable. Quite a posh place, in fact, one requiring booking. A fabulous suggestion by our cousin Elaine, the highlight of a day at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire. Delightful food and service. And a peek behind at the stalls on our way out. Lunch was in the vast visitor complex created from the stables built for the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1758-66.

The stables are in the Palladian style of architecture (no barn boards for the Duke's geegees.) The horses no doubt appreciated the central clock tower supported by huge Doric columns with rusticated banding, and the monumental coat of arms. The clock itself is recorded as being a survivor from Elizabethan Chatsworth - these folk rebuilt like we repaint.

The central courtyard accommodates the outdoor cafe. Note the massive sculpture Warhorse, installed 1992, greeting the hoi polloi with his ears back, at the entrance to the courtyard, with its central fountain. His standoffish looks didn't deter kids from clambering aboard.

The Cavendish Restaurant fits into the covered 'ride', the colonnade surrounding the courtyard where horses were exercised in wet weather. Saved the grooms and stableboys a lot of work. Together with coachmen, outriders and strappers (men who saddled horses) they lived in quarters around the courtyard, sharing the space with grain storage, a blacksmith shop and shoeing space, washing box and two harness rooms.

The stables originally had stalls for 80 horses - carriage/riding/cart horses and hunters. Today, a very tempting gift shop occupies a number of the former box stalls with their original gates and grills.

There's a book. Of course. Ultimate Horse Barns. I am sore tempted, although the sole Canadian example of all this equine excess was Sir Henry Pellatt's stables at Casa Loma. I didn't capture any views of the time we visited those palatial stables, approaching via a ceramic tiled tunnel from the house (Pellatt built the tunnel as he wasn't permitted to close the street between house and stable for his exclusive use.) For an exterior look, we will all have to resort to this Streetview peek. There are some great interior views at this blog, also. And the whole story here.

Another ridiculously posh horse barn is located at Brighton Pavilion, England. As at Casa Loma, the stables are connected to the residence by a tunnel. Lots of gossip about this - a secret passage to a mistress' abode, an out of the public eye route for the increasingly corpulent king...I think it may just have been the ghastly weather.

On the subject of the chubby (oh, those poor horses) and naughty Prince of Wales (who eventually, after a long badly-behaved regency, became George IV): turns out the prince was an avid rider (and horse collector apparently, as his stables accommodated 60 horses.) A massive domed roof, 65ft high, 80ft in diameter, over the stables and central fountain was finally completed in 1805, the riding house in 1808. As at Chatsworth, the massive structure contained quarters for staff.

Today the dome is a theatre and the riding house, later Corn Exchange, is part of an arts complex housing a museum, gallery and theatres. The over the top Indian inspired architecture is quieted by exquisite volunteer-maintained Regency gardens, pathways meandering through lead visitors to the indescribable Royal Pavilion.

A fourth quite splendid horse barn,  for which we will again have to resort to others' photos, is the former stables of Government House, Sydney, Australia.  I failed to get a proper photo of the (now) Conservatorium of Music, hampered as I was with multi-lane traffic and poor light- and a bit weary after a day of walking the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The vice-regal residence overlooking Sydney harbour (built 1837-45) was designed by a British architect, which must have been a snub to the well-established architects of Sydney. It was designed in the Romantic Gothic style (other sources call it Old Colonial Gothick Picturesque) popular in the Regency era. "Castellated, crenelated and turretted" (Wikipedia) with massive Tudor windows - the only thing native about the palace was NSW sandstone. It must have rested as easily as a flying saucer on the headland overlooking Farm Cove.

The building was created to coordinate stylistically with the Greenway stables, which had been built earlier, in the era of the first Government House, in 1817. Also in the Colonial Gothick Picturesque style, the stables were based on medieval Thornbury Castle (where else would one turn for stable inspiration?) a Tudor country house in Gloucestershire. 

You'll have to turn here for images of the stables, and the story of their transformation into Sydney's first class music school, the Conservatorium. This Wiki link has loads of information, including the historic bickering that went along with the creation of the stables.

Here's a photo from Wikipedia - never quite sure, but I believe they're creative commons - and I have sent my annual cheque to Jimmy Wales. Promise to get a shot next time I'm in Sydney (sigh.)

In closing, to clear the palate if you like, are a couple of Ontario horse barns which have caught my eye over time.

These winter horses were keeping warm somewhere in Sidney township, Hastings County.

 This shed beside Bethesda church in Sophiasburgh, PEC, is a rare remaining example of a structure that would have adjoined most churches, in the days when sermons were long, and folks arrived in sleighs or wagons. The circa 1900 drive shed and church have been heritage designated by the county. The  post and beam L-shaped shed forms a kind of courtyard, which might have sheltered the waiting horses even more. Have a look.

Thanks to help from guidebooks Your Guide to Chatsworth and The Royal Pavilion Brighton, who along with many other titles contributed to massive baggage overweight, requiring two mailings home before we travelled.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Gated Community

 Nice fence, I've admired it for years, wondering, between quick checks for slowing traffic and park-bound jaywalkers, just what those impressive buildings behind it must be. But something about that fence and gate always said 'not for the likes of you' and I didn't question.

Not long ago, in company with friend Jane, I slipped through the surprisingly open gate, and explored the grounds of the grand stone house beyond, dubbed, without too much effort, Stone Gables.

Before we leave off admiring the splendid gateposts and gates, of this fine expanse of cast iron and stone fencing along King Street, a word about the creator. The fence highlights the exclusiveness of the property at 462 King Street West, set back so far from the street, at Part Farm Lot 21, Concession 1. This is one of the large country estates that once lined King Street, the height of fashion in the late c19 and early c20.

Stone Gables is a large private residence built of stone in the 1920s, in the Tudor Revival Style.
It was home to Thomas McGinnis, a local construction engineer responsible for lots of projects at Queen's University - note the family resemblance? Have a look here, or other posts written about that time (remember, we're searchable.)

Why search for words? The Historic Places register says it best: two and a half storey, rectangular massing, irregularly coursed stonework, attractive window groupings, steeply pitched gable roof, projecting gabled frontispiece, prominent gable chimneys and hipped dormer windows, good craftsmanship in its exterior stonework, interior millwork and panelling, and glazing.

The colour in the fall trees, play of light and shadow, the feeling of separateness from the busy city street, the lake beyond -  they forgot to mention.

You can read more on the heritage sites about the associations with history - including the Federal Government's role in its use and preservation - though not maintance (especially evident at neighbouring St. Helen's) or adaptive reuse plans. Me, I'm just reliving a surprisingly warm late fall day in a lovely spot.
The south facade of Stone Gables (ignore the government issue fire escape if at all possible) shares the same position as St. Helen's, at the top of a rise overlooking the water. In Gables' case, infill housing has taken over the view, but the enormous trees on the site make it palatable. (I suspect that plan might work at St. Helen's, and wouldn't it be nice to channel some of the proceeds into restoration and maintenance?)

A colonnade and a second floor balcony atop a conservatory room suggest Gatsby-like summer revelry in this fine and private place.

1924 datestone

The doors had Jane frothing with curiosity (and I thought I was a snoop.) Tiny entrances - little in the way of baronial entrance halls could be gained from determined peering at either entry.

The round-arched doorway is characteristic of the style, but the southern door didn't make sense to either of us.

The various heritage reports I've encountered online speak about the visual connection between the two houses. This view across the "landscape Regency gardenesque grounds" says it better than any government bafflegab can.

The somewhat blurry view of the east facade (they're far enough separated for me to run out of breath), taken from St. Helen's next door, highlights the connection between these two historic structures. Their loveliness makes the slowness/complexity of decision-making about their future frustrating.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Your Roots are Showing

Milford mill pond, Mt. Tabor church in the distance
One lovely day near the end of September I did something I had never done - walked from one end to the other, along every street and lane, of a village that one branch of the family or another has inhabited since 1786. Looking to make some photos for my Signposts column on Milford, I revisited well-known spots, with a new eye. And re-staked my claim to this place.

As it turned out, the photos were surplus to requirements, so I made them my own (since they were.) And unconstrained by any prohibition on first-person indulgences, I make Milford my own again. (If you want the fit-to-print story, the column appears here.)

I remember mom (nee Striker, of Royal Street) waxing nostalgic about the old Clapp-Scott mill on the western shore of the millpond - I think there was a Scott uncle and aunt living nearby, whom she visited as a girl.

a 1980s visit 
According to Murray Clapp's fine mill history The Mills of Milford, Ontario, 1800 - 1972, this mill is but a remnant of the 1812 mill complex developed by UEL entrepreneur Joseph Clapp on the upper falls of Black River (and a relation, as they say, by marriage, from the time the Striker diaspora began in 1786. The book The Stryker Family in America explains that ancestor Sampson narrowly avoided execution as a British sympathizer, forfeited his lands, and left for Sorel Quebec with his wife Ursula and her brother Joseph Clapp.) Mom had happy childhood memories of the old mill (sure would love to have her nearby to take a question or two right now); our family usually visited the upper falls during spring runoff ; our dad as drawn to the sound of running water as any beaver.

My article about the mill (part of a series) appeared in  County and Quinte Living (Summer 2013, p.61.) It was informed by Murray Clapp's fine book, and an interview with a passionate local volunteer, who was instrumental in saving the old mill, and much of the original milling equipment inside.

site of the Clapp- Dodge-Ellis mill, at the bridge

I grew up knowing that our family was connected in some way to the milling history of Milford. Through my maternal grandmother, born Helen Dodge, in Milford, I was connected to the one-time proprietor of the mill on the Black River, in the village. I remember our Sunday visit to grandma's house on Royal Street, the day after the abandoned frame structure burned in October 1956. I remember being fascinated by the smoking rubble, and the adults' shocked reaction.

Once again I wish mom were here to connect the dots, now that I want to know the family stuff. As kids, we were surrounded with a wide interconnected family, one's 'people', among whom one belonged and felt comfortable. I realize now that most of the familiar surnames that formed part of adult conversations, the faces at gatherings like card parties and church events, were those of folks related by blood or marriage to one or other of our parents, in that way that old families, in one county since the late c18, branched out through marriage. I remember occasionally having dinner with a family who was not 'related', and how awkward it felt.
former Knox, Pounder store
I wonder if this is part of the tension that sometimes appears between new people drawn to small communities for rural charm, and those who go 'way back', with deep history, feeling somehow marginalized by new people for whom those connections don't matter.

In recent memory there have been people creating new ventures in the old stores that were 'the big city' when mom and her siblings might have stood at the counter wistfully surveying the penny candy. These would have been stores patronized because of family connections or long association. All closed now, a new convenience store/bakery opened in VanCott's garage.

Dexter McKibbon's general store, then Chapman's Meat Market
I remember hearing the adults speak of Dexter and Manly McKibbon. I expect one or other of the local stores (Manly had a dry goods store, but it burned at some point) would have earned the grandparent's trade - although farm families likely bought little in the day.

advertising postcard

Dexter built a fine brick house (one of three brick houses I recall in the village, another being the Methodist Manse) in 1876, with the familiar projecting centre bay, bracketed roof, with verandahs at each side, and lots of lovely gingerbread. All gone now, replaced by an unlovely entry with vinyl windows and door. An extension at the back suggests a future as tourist accommodation.

A well-maintained 'twin' on a (the) back street was once owned by Fred and Julia Dodge, according to the Milford walking tour guide.

Grandma Striker was the daughter of Fenton and Augusta Dodge. I  have a tiny old photo of him driving a wagon load of milk cans. I wonder what the family connection is? I have a genealogist 'relation' - scion of the other UE Clapp brother - who would know. I once considered getting more involved in genealogy; it was she who warned me to fill the freezer with frozen ready meals before I began. I stepped back from the edge, shortly after this 2012 post.

This forlorn abandoned store has history. It was home to a succession of mill owners (the river and the mill were conveniently right behind the house): Clapp, Dodge, Ellis and Hicks. Most recently, it was the ice-cream stop on Sunday drives, operated by the third generation of Hickses. We stopped once with mom and dad, back in the '80s. Dad was aghast at the cost of the newfangled Haagen Dazs ice-cream bars.

Minaker's Garage will never die. It started as Horace Dulmage's machine shop, and was purchased by Bruce Minaker in 1925. It has done well ever since the Depression years, as a treasure trove of used auto parts. And a photographer's delight.

The old Clapp Cemetery was my resting place during the walk. A more practised eye was required to figure all the names and connections, but I touched my ancestor's stone, and breathed in the peace at the millpond shore.

A chin-wag with an old-timer (likely not much older than me) who remembered my 'people' along Royal Street, and bemoaned the Toronto ingress along his street, led to some reflecting on change.
This appealing hip-roofed structure along the pond shore is home to an artist, but was once an antique shop. It was on a visit with mom that I succumbed to Depression glass collecting (which didn't continue, as I didn't have the prices required - irony there?)

In recent years, history minded folks created a mural map on the east facade, well worth a stop. It recreates a 1912 photo of the village, when places like Dodge family bakery and the McNamara hotel and post office still stood.

Mt. Tabor across the pond
Mount Tabor Wesleyan Methodist church was dedicated in 1867, becoming a United Church in 1925, closing its divine doors in 1967. It reopened as a community theatre and event venue in 1984, and is still operating. It's the regal presence at the heart of the Milford fall fair. I don't recall ever attending services there (grandma's family were part of the South Bay flock) but recall (with horror, now) attending a 'donkey baseball game' once, at which no-one stood up for the dazed and confused donkeys.

marshy exit of the creek heading toward the lake
Despite the hazy heat and occasional barking dogs, I trudged down to the bottom of the dip where the road runs along the water's edge.Impossible to believe that small ships were once built here and dragged downstream to Black Creek. When I was little, the road southward curved around the edge of the limestone escarpment, emerging close to the top. Today it's the quiet oxbow of Chapman's Crescent, where not even Streetview dared to go.

Blame it on the winter bug I've succumbed to, this is more a blather than I intended. But I wanted to uncover some Milford layers, and perhaps I've taken you along with me. If you want more background, I revisited Grandma Striker's family house history in another story (same magazine, the following summer, page 48.)

Striker, Dodge, Clapp, Scott, Ackerman, Minaker, Welbanks, Hicks, Anderson, Ames, Hughes, Walker - genealogists know how all these connect. For me, it's enough to say the names. (Thanks, Al Purdy.)