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At Home with Sandra Walton-Ball

David Walton-Ball opens the door of his summer home, east of Toronto, and is greeted by a child looking up at him:

“Can Sandra come out to play?”

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and David in Orchard

Sandra — you may be surprised to hear —  is not a child.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Studio Wall

She’s David’s wife, a talented artist whose work hangs in galleries in Canada and Mexico.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Painting of Island

Blog Photo - Artist Sanda Painting side viewNeighborhood children gravitate towards her and she loves them. So she teaches children to create their own artwork.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Student

She and the children have developed a system at her small studio at the summer house.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra stands at work table

If this sign is up, Sandra can’t come out to play.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Sign

In Mexico where she and David spend the winter, Sandra teaches art to children whose parents can’t afford to pay for lessons.

“We put on Andrea Bocelli and the children sing along.”

San Miguel de Allende is home to many artists from Canada and the U.S.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Leonard's painting

Years ago, Sandra met Leonard Brooks, an esteemed artist who started the Canadian and American migration to San Miguel. They became friends. That’s one of his paintings behind her, above.

Music playing, the children in her studio sing and paint. This is her gift to them and their families: encouraging the children’s creativity. She introduces them to the styles of Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Gesticulates

You wouldn’t know that, nearly 20 years ago, Sandra was so ill, she was on life support for months. It took her 15 years to start painting confidently again.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Reaches for brush

Once recovered, she decided to take more risks with her art. And so wherever she is – in Owen Sound, the family’s main base, or in San Miguel de Allende, or here at the summer home near Toronto, she’s painting – doing “gutsier and more experimental work”.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Yellow Flower painting

“When something happens to disrupt your life, you recognize that things can happen and you may not get a chance again – so you start taking risks.”

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Framed painting Abstract

David hired someone to turn half of the garage into a studio with skylights, and there’s been no looking back.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Studio Outside

Generations of the Walton-Ball family have lived in Historic Bond Head for about 150 years.

During World War 2, the family planted and supplied potatoes to all their neighbours.

(Another historical tidbit: David’s first ancestor in Canada is the “Walton” for whom Port Hope’s main street is named. Port Hope, a famous heritage community, is near Bond Head.)

Blog Photo - Artist Sadnra window garden

Through 50 years of marriage, Sandra has seen how special the place is to David. It’s grown on her.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra in Sunroom wicker chair

“I fall in love with it each summer. Each year my garden grows. And now, like Virginia Wolfe, I have a room of my own, so it’s easier to find my heart.” 

They love this place for the history, the house, the studio, the family times, the garden and the orchard. Some of the apple trees are more than a hundred years old.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and David Picking apples

One summer, Monarch butterflies visited Sandra and David here. (Monarchs fly from Mexico all the way to Canada each summer and back.)

“You couldn’t see a leaf,” Sandra says. “The trees were covered with Monarchs.”

That magical event led to this painting….

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Butterflies CU

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra's Butterfly painting

… and a gift: a butterfly chair from David.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra and Chair

“Perhaps the Monarchs were saying thanks for all your good works with the children in Mexico?” I ask.

“Perhaps,” Sandra replies.

Blog Photo - Artist Sandra Wheelbarrow with flowers

To learn more about Sandra’s work, or to acquire her paintings, email: swaltonball@gmail.com

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“Get Lost, Cynthia” – Personal Reflections on the Ebor House series

A whole bunch of people have been telling me to get lost since I published the series about Ebor House.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living room reverse

“You need to get lost more often, Cynthia.”

“Get lost again, Cynthia.”

On and on it goes.

What no-one asked is: “How come you got so lost?”

Blog Photo - Bond head family playing by lake

**

It all started with an earlier wrong turn.

And a good-looking man.

I’d decided to drive home from my appointment using a country road – a back road – instead of the highway.

By now you know that I could get lost in a room. So before I knew it, I was lost.

Turning around in a driveway, I was either thinking a swearword or saying it out loud, when suddenly I saw a man.

A tall, handsome man.

So being a gracious person, I said a most gracious thing:

“I didn’t know Black people lived around here.”

**

Time stopped as I realized what I’d just said.

He stared at me, speechless.

I stared back, horrified at myself.  The fact that I’m also Black did not excuse my careless words.

Then – thank God – he laughed.

“Nice homes in this area,” I said, desperately trying to get my foot out of my mouth.

“Some nicer ones on your way south, he said. “Beautiful new homes. Just keep going. You can’t miss them.”

**

Remember I told you this, folks:

Words can get a person into trouble.

Those crazy words I blurted, for example.

But these ones too: “You can’t miss them.”

Because some of us can.   We’re programmed that way. And it gets worse when we’re flustered from having said entirely the wrong thing to a stranger.

The neighborhood I ended up in was not where he meant. Worse, I ended up going in entirely the wrong direction to get to my home.

And ended up in front of Ebor House.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

**

So I could blame that lovely gentleman for all of this. But really, I thank him.

For not being offended at my ungracious remark.

And for being a crucial link in a chain of otherwise ridiculous events that landed me first in front of Ebor House, then, inside Ebor House…

Blog Photo - Ebor House entrance inside

… having coffee in Ron’s kitchen.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Kitchen and side door

Next, I could blame all you readers who encouraged me to keep posting the series, which eventually led to bloggers and other people from around the world telling me to “Get lost, Cynthia.”

**

This is, of course, my strange way of thanking that unknown man, the mysterious chain of events, and everyone who followed the series and encouraged me to keep going. THANK YOU.

I still don’t know what mysterious force led me to Ebor House. Was it all serendipity? Did the house call me there?

Did John and Jane, who lost their sons in one day – did they want their story to be told, after being in the shadows for so many decades?  And if so, are they disappointed that I didn’t tell the whole story?

I don’t know. I won’t even guess.

I’m exhausted now, and astonished at myself for accomplishing this series. But I’m also grateful. So much so, that just now I nearly wrote:

“I’d have been lost without you.”

The problem is that it would probably have been true!

**

Click here to find out how I ended up at Ebor House againthis time as a published author and amateur historian.

Blog Photo Doors Open Cynthia

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Loving and Leaving Ebor House – Pt. 6 – Conclusion

Ron Coffin did such a great job restoring Ebor House that he was honoured for it.

Blog Photo - Ebor House MBedroom other view

He received the Newcastle Village and District Historical Society’s Preservation Award in 2011.
Blog Photo - Ebor House Master Bedroom

He also opened the house to the community on an architectural conservancy day and 600 visitors came.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Library

A pianist played beautiful music.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living room reverse

The visitors toured the grand old house, admiring the furnishings and paintings, old and new.

Painting by George Forgie
Painting by George Forgie

Ron has invested untold time, love and money into his home.

“This place has nurtured me. Not just me but others too. One friend stayed here in the winter, healing from an accident. It’s nurtured her.”

The children are grown up. Ron says it’s time to leave. Ebor House is too big for one person.

He looks around at rooms sparkling with sunshine, beauty and a strong sense of well-being.  He tells me yet another story about the house and the Farncombs. He calls each family member by first name.

I say:  “You don’t sound like a man who’s selling this house.”

He says he is.  

“I truly believe the house is looking for a buyer, rather than a person looking for this house. It’s a very special place.  Last evening four of us had a wonderful supper under the trees and at the end of our meal we were visited by one of the hawks that have decided to call this place home this year.  Just magical!”

Blog Photo - Ebor House back lawn

**

As for me?

It started when I got lost a few weeks ago and saw this house.

I wanted to know more.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Front 2

But the single discovery that kept me searching was the August 1901 New York Times story about the drowning of the two Farncomb boys.

My heart sank when I read it.

A parent myself, I wanted – perhaps even needed –  to know that things turned out well for the family.

Of course — since this is real life and not a fairy tale — they did and they didn’t.

**

The Farncomb family survived and, over the decades, many thrived.

John and Jane and the boys were not forgotten.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance and Stairs

But life had to go on, at least after a while.

And so it did.

Farncomb descendants became successful in Canadian business, education, law, medicine and other fields such as literature and media.

They still own property in Bond Head, and still have influence. In 2002, one descendant (among other residents) protested against a plan to change the name of a local street. He argued it made no sense. He also pointed out that Farncombs had lived there for 150 years. And that he owned much of the land in the area.

His side won.

Blog Photo - Bond Head main street

**

My interest in a house became a story about a multi-generation family. Their joys, sorrows, achievements. Their lives.

The trail had many twists and turns, and sometimes, they alarmed me.  Combing through the city of London’s archives, I found a court case involving slave-ship owners. Thomas Farncomb, the wealthy ship owner who became London’s Lord Mayor, was involved.

A descendant of enslaved people myself, my hackles immediately went up.  Had I spent all this time researching a house built with money earned from the slave trade? After all, it was Frederick Farncomb’s inheritance from his uncle Thomas that was used to build Ebor House.

I was relieved to discover that Thomas had been brought to court by two men whom he had disparaged over their ownership of slave ships. He was opposed to the slave trade.

There were other discoveries along the way.  Some are included in this story, and some are not. Balfour Le Gresley (who sold the house to Ron) has been studiously researching his family history; I decided to leave it to him to make his own discoveries and decide what to share with his family.

I double-checked each finding shared in this series, then begged homeowner Ron and Myno Van Dyke, secretary of the local historical society, to read much of what I’d written. I thank them for their help.

I conclude the series knowing I’ve done my best to make it fair, factual — and kind. There is much more to the story of Ebor House and its family than I’ve written here, but this is the story I wanted to share.

Click here for the epilogue: https://cynthiasreyes.com/2014/08/15/get-lost-cynthia/

**

This series is dedicated to the descendants of Frederick and Jane Farncomb.

**

NEW DEVELOPMENT: EBOR HOUSE HAS NEW OWNERS — OR PERHAPS I SHOULD CALL THEM ‘NEW STEWARDS’.  I WISH THEM JOYFUL TIMES IN THIS  EXCEPTIONAL HOME.

Thanks to: Newcastle Village and District Historical Society; Library and Archives Canada; Archives of the City of London, England; Trinity College, Port Hope; Canadian Anglican Church;  St. George’s, Newcastle; the Canadian Encyclopaedia; The New York Times and several other Canadian and American newspapers; other sources. Some photos of Ebor House came from Promise First Realty’s website.

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To Everything, A Season – Pt. 5, Ebor House series

*

*SPOILER ALERT: You may wish to read Pt. 4 before this one.*

**

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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Front 2

Three of the Farncomb sons – William, John and Frederick Edward – became Anglican priests.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Anglican church in Fenelon Falls

Blog Photo - Ebor House Rev. Farncomb in church

Two others – Alfred and Thomas – became doctors.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Alfred became a popular and influential general practitioner in the Newcastle area. His wife Hannah appears to have helped him with the record-keeping. She 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.

~~

Blog Photo - Ebor House - B and W photo of St. George's

He’d married cousin Jane in 1880 and they had five children. Two sons, Frederick Charles and John Robson, went to Trinity College, a prestigious 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 the boys could hardly wait to put down their school stuff, shuck off their school uniforms and head to the nearby lake for a swim. They did so often that summer.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance lookign to lawn 3

But August 11 was different.  Frederick 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.

The tragedy made the news far and wide – even the New York Times carried the story.

~~

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Bond Head harbour

Parents who have experienced it will tell you that the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child.

Jane and John 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, there would be plenty of comfort and strength – that everything would be alright.

But everything was not alright.

~~

St. George's Anglican

The boys died in August 1901, and John, Jane and their remaining children left St. George’s Church before the year was over. John served at another parish for several years.

How did they cope?

One imagines they tried hard to get over the loss.

That they relied on each other, their families and their faith.

But – as happens with many parents who lose a child – Jane fell apart, and, in his own way, so did John. She died in 1914, broken. He followed three years later.

~~

In the century that followed the boys’ deaths, momentous events took place in the world.

 

Blog Photo - Ebor House - Normany Landing

The first and second world wars, in which many 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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

Ebor House lived through them all.  Despite the tragedy, it occupied a special place in the Farncomb family – as their ancestral home, and a busy family dwelling to successive generations.  It appears to have been full of activity inside and out.

Frederick Farncomb’s granddaughter Helen (daughter of Alfred) married Reginald Le Gresley and they operated the farm.

The huge barn on the property, Newcastle Dairy, produced 1,000 quarts of milk each week.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Newcastle Dairy  Bottle

They hired outside help for the farm and dairy, but the whole Le Gresley family worked there – adults and children alike.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Barns and hydrangea

There were also many fun times, especially for the children.

There was a creek nearby for fishing and a beach for swimming.

Neighborhood children to play with. And the knowledge that their parents were within hollering distance from wherever they played.

~~

The records show that Frederick Farncomb died in 1893 and his wife Jane died in 1905.

Blog Photo - Ebor House F Farncomb

The house passed to their son Alfred (the doctor) then to Helen, Alfred’s daughter, then to Helen’s son Balfour. He was the last Farncomb to own Ebor House.  He held on to the house for some years before selling it to Ron.

Blog Photo - Ebor House ron sits on table

Not much was written or said about John and Jane Farncomb in the decades after their deaths, even within the family.  Their shared tragedy seems to have haunted their lives to the very end. 

As if to make sure their part in the family history was remembered, one or more Farncomb descendants had a memorial stone made for the couple in recent years.

The wording is one of the most moving I’ve ever read.

Photo by Laura
Photo by Laura

“Heartbroken on drowning of sons Frederick and John Farncomb.”

~~

Click here for Part 6: The series ends with a twist.