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

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

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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.

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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. 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.

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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 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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance lookign to lawn 3

But August 11 was different. Frederick Charles and his brother John did not return home that day. 

Both drowned in Lake Ontario.

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Bond Head harbour

It was as if the world had come crashing down on the Farncombs.

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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.

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St. George's Anglican

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.

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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 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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Newcastle Dairy  Bottle

The whole Le Gresley family worked in the dairy, adults and children alike.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Barns and hydrangea

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.

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

Blog Photo - Ebor House F Farncomb

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.

Blog Photo - Ebor House ron sits on table

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.

Photo by Laura
Photo by Laura

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

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Next: The Series ends with another twist.

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A Man in Love With a House – Pt. 2 in the Ebor House Series

The moment Ron Coffin saw Ebor House,  he was smitten.

Blog Photo - Ebor 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.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Never mind the weed-choked acreage surrounding the grand old house and barn.

Blog Photo - Ebor House overgrown lawn

And the nearly derelict rooms inside.

Blog Photo - Ebor House derelict Room 1

The cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and spaces crammed with old contents.

The stuffy, old-house smell.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Derelict Room 3

Ron was a man in love.

**

That was 8 years ago.

Today it’s a remarkably beautiful place.

I first saw Ebor House recently, and was so impressed, I asked Ron to share his house’s story. Days later, we sat in his refurbished kitchen, sipping our coffee as Ron reflected on his decision to restore the property.

“What possessed you — to take on such a daunting task?” I asked.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Kitchen and side door

“In life there are things you have to do. Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron Smiling

Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He also ran his own business. But he had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time” and he loved both the house and its location in historic Bond Head in Newcastle, Ontario.

“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.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

Ron had a vision of the house at its best.

He decided to do some of the restoration work by himself.

“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 started in 1868 and Ebor House was completed in 18 months.)  Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

Some chandeliers and furniture  – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were in the house in 1869. Ron bought other furnishings – including lighting, paintings, mirrors, and other furniture — after meticulous research.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Green Room with portait and walls and furniture

Sometimes he felt like a detective trying to solve a mystery.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living Room

The house and grounds provided clues.

The pantry doors were found in the barn. Old pennies were found under the lawn.  The pennies, found together,  likely fell from someone’s pocket during a picnic, Ron thinks.

Blog Photo - Ebor House back lawn

Blog Photo - Ebor House Canadian penny 1858

The more Ron learned, the better he understood how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.

Blog Photo - Ebor House entrance inside

“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.”

He also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years. Theirs was a remarkable story of great success and happiness, as well as heartbreaking tragedy.

**Watch for Part 3: The Farncombs.

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Rain, Shine and the Spaces Between

The skies turn dark, more grey than black.

The air becomes perfectly still.

And then comes the rain, in sheets and showers.

Pouring down on dry grass, garden beds…

Blog Photo - Garden rain lady's mantle drenched

… and our verandah roof.

The water streams down in front of and beside the verandah.

Blog Photo - Garden rain lavender blue clematis

I sit on a chair, enjoying this moment from a safe perch of my own.

Blog Photo - Garden rain blue-lavender clems

“I should grab my camera”, I tell myself. But I sit still, unwilling to interrupt the moment.

Blog Photo - Garden rain cu of lavender blue clematis

Overhead, small branches of pale-green maple leaves sway in the air.

Red weigela flowers move amid green leaves, showered by water, ruffled by wind.

Blog Photo - Garden rain - red weigela branch

Below them both, large hosta leaves are weighed down with raindrops.

Blog Photo - Garden rain large hosta

Dip, dip. Fall back.

Blog Photo - Garden rain hosta bloom

Unless you’re laden with red currants… in which case: Dip, dip. Fall forward.

Blog Photo - Garden rain red currants branch

The tall blue spruce tree stands majestic, appearing unmoved by the wind and showers.

Blog Photo - Garden rain blue spruce

But there’s light movement in its outermost branches.  The tree has taken on a soft look, its face gentled by the rain.

All birds have taken cover, tucking themselves into dry spaces between thick branches.

One small bird sees opportunity.  It darts into the rain, tail feathers wet and glistening, and aims straight for its target. It stays there, pecking, content to be alone with what it usually has to compete for: a space at the feeder.

Blog Photo - Garden in Rain wet birdfeeder

From the verandah’s eaves trough, powerful streams torrent into the garden bed below. The Annabelle hydrangea is taking a beating, it seems.  Branches, gracefully upright a few minutes ago, part with the wisdom of growing things faced with the unstoppable power of water.

It’s merely minutes later now.

Blog Photo - Garden rain Rhodo leaves

The water from the eaves trough narrows.  Long thin streams of vertical water form a transparent drape in the space between verandah posts.

Five streams falling steadily on the earth. Then four.  Then, three. Then two, then one.

A trickle, now.

Then a quiet drip.

The rush of water, the soft thud of raindrops, the splash on leaves and flowers — all come to a stop. As if a mighty switch was turned on, then off, the rain has come and gone.

Blog Photo - Garden rain pink and lavender clems

Flowers glisten.

Blog Photo - Garden rain Red Bee Balm about to bloom

Birds chirp and fly towards a single spot: the feeder.

And I think, as I watch them:

How smart that first bird was.

The one that went before, wet tail-feathers and all.

Blog Photo - Garden rain - two birds at feeder

And how remarkable water is.

Liquid, fluid, transparent.  Forceful and life giving.

And as I sit on my verandah, giving thanks for it all – the rain, the trees and shrubs and flowers, and the birds and a place in which to sit, protected — the sun comes out.

Blog Photo - Garden rain Clematis dark blue

As quickly as the rain began, except there was no warning this time. Almost no space between.

Rain and Sun. Doing their part to keep us alive.

We depend on them so much, that ironically we take them for granted.

We give them names that begin with lower case letters.

But Rain and Sun are Capital Gifts. Sacred Gifts.

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At Home with Rita Deverell

For many years, Rita Shelton Deverell wanted to produce a docudrama about a remarkable woman. But other careers got in the way. Blog Photo - Rita at PodiumThe actor, playwright and docudrama-maker has also worked as a TV presenter and head of current affairs for Vision TV, the Canadian network she co-founded; news director (mentoring her successor) at APTN, the Aboriginal People’s TV Network; professor of journalism and women’s studies in  two Canadian universities;

Her achievements earned her a place in the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest honour.

At last, Rita is writing the docudrama screenplay about Florence James.  She’s writing it at her country home in the ‘Sugar Bush’, outside Toronto.Blog Photo - Back Deck and Chairs “We bought the country place 22 years ago when our son graduated from high school. Thereafter we started to rent apartments in Toronto.  There have been five Toronto apartments in 22 years (plus two in Winnipeg, and one in Halifax where I worked three-year stints). The ‘Sugar Bush’ house remains home throughout these moves and always welcomes us.” Blog Photo - Rita Living Room closer Like Rita, Florence James found a productive life and award-winning career in Canada.  Rita came to Canada from Texas as a young woman, but Florence came here past age 60, after some terrible events.

“‘McCarthy and the Old Woman’ is about a feisty, resilient real-life heroine who lost everything because of the communist witch-hunts in the USA.  Florence James was blacklisted and bankrupted.  She survived the loss of her money, reputation, life’s work, her home and the death of her husband.”

The planning, creative thinking and writing for the docudrama are taking place here. Two writers live here. Rita’s husband Rex is a well-known playwright. Each has an office on the house’s lower level.Blog Photo - Rita Dining Room “Sometimes I write and plan in longhand at the drum table. But I have to get the feeling that I’m ‘going to work’. Rex has never gone to an office, so I have to keep his joke-telling self away from my work space.” Blog Photo - Desk Rita’s homes – country and city – are beautifully designed – by her.  They are bright, comfortable, unpretentious places, where history, art, houseplants and flowers mix. Many objects were passed down from Rex and Rita’s parents. Blog Photo - Rit's Small table “Every place in the large five-area living space is for my favourite leisure time activity, reading detective fiction. Blog Photo - Rita in CountryEntrance “We have lots of family pieces by now: the drum table was my mother’s. Blog Photo - Rita Drum Table in Sun Nook “The small desk and dining room table were Rex’s mother’s. The rocking chair was Rex’s grandfather’s, though not upholstered in leopard print. Blog Photo - Living room side shot “Outside, the yellow Muskoka chair is really the place I love to sit and dream and have nothing to do.” Blog Photo - Front Deck and Chair “I’m a home addict. The trivial side is I love to look at houses, read the real estate ads all the time, adore interior decorating, and can be cheered up by having a design idea.

“The important thing though is I’m an introvert, and actually draw my energy by starting each day from home base. That’s a place where my life is ordered, feels controllable, and beautiful. Then I can go out into the world and deal better with the dis-ordered, un-controllable, and sometimes ugly.”

Recently, another of Rita’s projects was launched to positive reviews.  It’s a multimedia, educational kit called ‘Women, Contemporary Aboriginal Issues and Resistance’. Free and downloadable, it includes a DVD:

http://www.msvu.ca/en/home/research/centresandinstitutes/IWGSJ/Events/ToolKit.aspx

Photos by Rex Deverell.