Well, there I was at Ebor House again last Saturday, and this time, for a very different reason.
Ebor House was a highlight of Doors Open Clarington. The architectural conservancy event features many beautiful heritage buildings in Clarington. And I was the author guest, invited to speak about my books, share my knowledge of Ebor House and also the Farncombs’ history.
While I was in one room, “Farnie”, great-grandson of the Farncombs, was in another room, charming visitors with tales of growing up at Ebor House. He inspired me to keep going: his energy was so radiant!
Well over a thousand visitors — including a few cyclists- visited Ebor House.
It was a lovely day.
The volunteers (including Leo Blindenbach, who was in charge of the Ebor House site) were organized and gracious — as were the owners, Andrea and Nav.
Thanks to MaryAnn Isbister, whose excellent work turned my 6-part blog series on Ebor House into a full colour booklet for the event. Organizers Bernice Norton, Marilyn Morawetz, Leo and the rest of the team should be very proud!
I got a surprising note today from a man named Brian. It’s about a place I wrote of in 2014, when I got lost and came upon an amazing house in a strangely beautiful neighborhood.
Here is Brian’s letter:
“Cynthia, I just stumbled on your blog because I live on the same street as Ebor House in the beautiful historic area called Bond Head and I’m doing some research to fight the Clarington Town Council’s plan to redevelop our area.
They are planning street widening, curbs and sidewalks. Classic paving of paradise. They are even considering a splash pad and monkey bars at the little parquets where the fishers do their thing.
Does everything need to be developed? What is wrong with having a few gems left untouched to remind us of the past?”
And here is “Lost Without A Clue”— the first post in a series that became by far the most widely-read story on my blog. You can read this post alone or the entire series:
My ancestors had a saying when asked why some of their relatives had married first cousins:
“Cousin and cousin make good soup.”
The Farncomb family must have made a lot of good soup.
Frederick married his cousin Jane.
Son John married his cousin — another Jane.
Younger son Alfred married his cousin Hannah.
But let’s go back to 1867.
Frederick inherited money from his uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England. He and Jane bought more land in Bond Head, and hired a Toronto architect to draw up the plans.
The house was built in 18 months, between 1868 and 1869.
Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.
Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.
Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. Hannah was a skillful host of weddings and other special gatherings at Ebor House. She was also the organist at the family church (St. George’s Anglican) for 40 years.
In 1895, John, who’d been posted to various Anglican churches in Ontario, returned home to St. George’s as the Reverend Canon John Farncomb…. a nice step up from being an ordinary priest. He was a well-respected rector.
He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a private school in nearby Port Hope that previous Farncombs had attended.
In the summer of 1901, the boys were 16 and 18 years old. They were home for the holidays.
There was a nice sandy beach at Bond Head, and it was a popular spot for both adults and young people alike. I imagine that the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their uniforms and go to the nearby lake for a swim. They did that often that summer.
But August 11 was different. Frederick Charles and his brother John did not return home that day.
Both drowned in Lake Ontario.
It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.
Parents who’ve experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.
John and Jane lost not one, but two children in one day.
Two beloved sons gone.
And now, John and Jane were expected to grieve, but carry on.
Perhaps onlookers thought that a priest and his wife would have some special way of coping with tragedy. Perhaps they thought that with three priests and two doctors in the family, everything would be alright.
Everything was not alright.
The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and the remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. He served at another parish for several years.
How did they cope?
One imagines that they tried hard to get over the loss.
That they tried to rely on each other and their families and on their faith.
But Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken, and he followed three years later.
In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.
The first and second world wars, in which many young Canadians fought.
The great depression.
A man landing on the moon.
The cold war between the west and Russia.
And these were just a few.
Ebor House lived through them all. Life went on.
Despite the tragedy, Ebor House continued to be “home” to Farncomb descendants. It appears to have been a wonderful home, full of activity inside and out.
Alfred’s daughter Helen married Reginald Le Gresley and, from the huge barn, they operated Newcastle Dairy. It produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.
The whole Le Gresley family worked in the dairy, adults and children alike.
There was a creek nearby for fishing. A beach for swimming.
Parents who worked in the barn behind the family house.
And neighborhood children to play with.
The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893. His wife Jane died in 1905.
The house passed to their son Alfred, then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House. He sold the house to Ron.
Not much is written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the public sphere. Years after their deaths, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple.
The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.
“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”
Questions flew through my mind as I sat in my car, gawking at a huge house on a country road.
“Who would have built such a grand home?” I wondered.
Frederick Farncomb would have.
And he did.
1867 was a great year. After years of debate, Canada’s separate parts became one country under God and queen.
East, west, north and south.
Former adversaries. Aboriginal, French and English. Different languages. Different back-stories. Different customs and beliefs.
Starting in 1867, confederation brought these parts together under one national ‘roof’.
And the glory of that moment inspired many Canadians to reach higher, dream bigger.
Some of Canada’s finest residences were built in the period just before, during and after 1867.
At the Bond Head Harbour, east of Toronto,a customs officer named Frederick Farncomb had ambitions for a roof of his own. But not just any roof.
Orphaned at 7 years of age, Frederick left England for Canada as a young man. He married Jane Robson, also of British background. Together they had 7 children.
Bond Head Harbour(also called Port Newcastle) thrived, as ships plied their trade with various cities in North America.
Cargoes of wheat, oats, flour and lumber sailed across Lake Ontario.
Frederick’s uncle Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy Lord Mayor of London, England, was also a merchant and ship owner. After he died (in 1865) Frederick inherited a large amount of money from his estate. In 1867, Frederick hired a Toronto architect to design a house for his large family on land he already owned and within 18 months, the 17-room house was completed.
Some of the furniture was from Jacques & Hay, who made furniture for Canada’s wealthiest citizens and even royalty.
York, England, had special significance for the Farncomb family and they called their home Ebor House. In Latin, “Ebor” means “York”.
Frederick was influential in his community and church. When local Anglicans built St. George’s Church, Newcastle, (just up the road from Bond Head) it was “patternedfrom a church near Leeds, England, the old parish church of Frederick Farncomb, a member of the building committee and an avid supporter of the new church.
“When the design was accepted and the building commenced, money was raised from far and near. Even the Lord Mayor of London, Mr. Farncomb’s uncle, contributed generously to the fund.”
The Farncombs were undoubtedly one of the most prominent families in the Bond Head-Newcastle area. When son Alfred became a doctor and John became “Reverend Canon John Farncomb” at St. George’s Church, their influence grew even more.
One of the biggest symbols of the Farncombs’ success was their beautiful lakeside home. With its stately rooms and beautiful grounds, Ebor House was the perfect setting for family weddings, dinner parties, picnics and important social events.