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:
Ron Coffin did such a great job restoring Ebor House that he was honoured for it.
He received the Newcastle Village and District Historical Society’s Preservation Award in 2011.
He also opened the house to the community on a recent architectural conservancy day and 600 visitors came.
A pianist played beautiful music.
The visitors toured the grand old house, admiring the furnishings and paintings, old and new.
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!”
As for me?
It started when I got lost a few weeks ago and saw this house.
I wanted to know more.
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.
But life must 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.
My interest in a house became a story about other people’s lives.
I double-checked each finding, then begged homeowner Ron and Myno Van Dyke, secretary of the local historical society, to read some of what I’d written. I thank them.
I conclude the series knowing I’ve done my best to make it fair, factual — and kind. But I know there is much more to the story of Ebor House and its families than I’ve written here.
This story is dedicated to the descendants of Frederick and Jane Farncomb.
POST-SCRIPT: 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; and other sources. Some photos of Ebor House came from Promise First Realty’s website.
“I ‘get’ the house,” he said. “And I also feel a connection with the family who lived here.”
“What’s the spirit of this home like?” I asked.
“The house is very nurturing. Not just for me, but also my friends who visit. It’s a very nurturing home.”
“But there were also tragedies”, I said. “Doesn’t that affect the house’s vibe?”
Ron replied: “Most old houses have seen tragedy. But this was also a very happy home. Over the years there were births, christenings, weddings, dinner parties, children playing, picnics on the lawns… And I feel that joy here.”
Acres of land surrounded the Farncomb family home. Fruit, berries and vegetables grew in their garden in the early to mid-1900’s.
I imagine summer days at Ebor House. Children sent to pick cherries and having fun doing it….
Adults picking raspberries a bit more intently….
A family member trying to teach the pet dog new tricks.
And I imagine wedding parties.
A newspaper story about a wedding at Ebor House in the 1890’s said:
“After the service, which was performed by the rector, the Rev. Canon Farncomb, the wedding party were entertained at a dejeuner given by the bride’s sister, Mrs. Alfred Farncomb, wife of Newcastle’s popular physician.
“… The bride was a picture in her traveling costume of broadcloth, the chapeau stitched and trimmed with grey wings and tie to match. The wedding presents were costly and numerous. A great deal of silver came from friends in England.
“Among the gifts was a massive loving cup, lined with gold, upon which was engraved the family crest, it being an heirloom for many generations: a solid silver teapot, tables, dessert and tea spoons, a silver soup tureen from Dr. and Mrs. Tom Farncomb (Trenton) , a handsome china dinner set from Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Farncomb (Newcastle).”
And another story about another Farncomb wedding:
“….There were vases of pink and white carnations and antirrhinum on the altar and the coloured rays of the afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows of nave and chancel made the scene one of entrancing loveliness. ….
…The bride, given in marriage by her uncle… wore a princess dress of white satin brocaded with lilies of the valley in velvet. She wore a long net veil and carried a bouquet of white lilies and carnations. She wore a gold locket, a gift of the groom….
A reception was held at Ebor House, ancestral home of the bride’s maternal forbears.”
Faith and family were important to the Farncombs. Church was a family-affair. Frederick and Jane’s son John was the rector at St. George’s, Alfred taught Sunday school, and Alfred’s wife Hannah was the church organist.
But no family is immune to tragedy. Despite all the success and influence, all the joyful family events, all the involvement with their church, the Farncombs also experienced heartbreaking sorrow.
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.