The moment Ron Coffin saw Ebor House, he was smitten.
He hadn’t been house-hunting in Bond Head – a small historic area consisting of just a few country roads on Lake Ontario, east of Toronto. But Ron felt mysteriously drawn to both the house and its location.
“It’s like being in another world here. You even have to go through a series of entrances to get to this home. The first entrance is a bridge that you have to go under when you leave the highway. Then there are the gates to the property. Then there are 2 entry doors before you can come into the house.”
He also hadn’t planned to buy this house.
“It was for sale for a couple of years and a friend said I should see it. I saw it and said, ‘My God!’ I fell absolutely in love with it.”
What he saw was a house badly in need of repair. Outside, four acres of weed-choked land surrounded the grand old house and barn.
Inside, the rooms were derelict.
Cobwebs hung from the ceilings. The rooms were crammed with old contents.
And there was that stuffy, old-house smell everywhere.
But the house spoke to him and he answered. Ron was a man in love.
It was 8 years later when I knocked on Ron’s door.
As Ron welcomed me into his house, there were no signs that it had once been in disrepair. The place glowed from the love and attention he had lavished on its restoration.
We sat in the refurbished kitchen, sipping coffee. I had questions and the first was the most obvious.
“What possessed you — to take on such a daunting task?” I asked.
“In life there are things you have to do,” he replied. “Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”
I understood, sort of. I remembered the magnetic pull I’d felt as I sat gawking at the house and surrounding property. It had drawn me back here today.
Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He ran his own business. He also had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time”.
He hurried to begin the restoration.
“I made the common mistake of plastering the walls and painting, then realized the roof was leaking”, he said. “The house also needed all new plumbing, heating and wiring. So I had to rip out some of that work and start again.”
Luckily, the seller still had the architectural drawings from 1867, the year Canada became a nation. (Construction on Ebor House started the following year.) Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.
Fortunately, also, some chandeliers and furniture – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were still in the house, where they’d been since 1869. Ron bought other period furnishings – including lighting, paintings, mirrors, and other furniture — after meticulous research.
Sometimes he felt like a detective trying to solve a mystery.
The house and grounds provided clues that helped him along the way.
The pantry doors were found in the barn. Old pennies were found under the lawn. Ron thinks the pennies, found together, likely fell from someone’s pocket during a picnic.
The more Ron learned, the better he understood how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
“One thing I learned was how the double front doors were used. On days when the family was receiving guests, they’d open the outer door, while the inside door was closed. That would signal that visitors were welcome.”
Ron also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years. He shared with me what he knew.
I should have stopped there, but I was already hooked. I needed to learn more. And that would lead me to a powerful story that was both joyful and heartbreaking.