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:
I’m repeating this story from last Christmas because the house and village are both charming examples of ‘Canadiana’ at Christmastime.
Christmas is a special time in Unionville, a village just north of Toronto.
The main street sparkles with decorations and, starting this Friday, Christmas activities.
Locals and visitors alike will enjoy the Olde Tyme Candlelight Christmas Parade, skating on Toogood Pond, shopping in the stores and farmers’ market.
Christmas is also a special time in local homes, and perhaps none more so than at this home, below. The family who has lived here for 23 years is selling and moving on; this will be their last Christmas in this home.
Interested buyers may visit the “open house” on Sunday Dec 14 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Homeowners Lorrie and Mark created the large addition that connects the original brick house, above left, to the old barn, extreme right and below.
The original house was built in the 1870’s by Charles Stiver, a carpenter whose family ran the local mill (now the site of the local farmers’ market). Its history is recorded in documents and paintings, such as this one above the fireplace.
Every Christmas here has been special, says Lorrie.
“Our most memorable Christmas was undoubtedly last year with the ice storm! We were without power for five days and hosted Christmas dinner for 21 by candlelight! The three fireplaces kept us toasty and the food was heated by stove-top and a nearby neighbour’s oven.”
Three children have grown to adulthood here.
Lorrie’s fond memories include baking with the children and “the kids banging pots in the kitchen”. There have been many meals and discussions; homework; celebrations; laughter, tears, arguments and hugs.
She remembers extended family visits, especially her mother’s. Everyone — adults, kids and dogs — loved walking the nearby trails, stopping at the ponds.
Mark and Lorrie honoured their home’s heritage in the addition.
The results earned the couple a heritage award. Their work has been “a pride and joy” for Mark:
“The 12-inch baseboards in the addition were milled to match the ones in the old house. The antique barn beams in the addition mimic a post & beam structure. The pine floors are milled from 100+ year old pine barn beams. The stairs, railings and fireplace surround were milk painted and distressed on site.”
There are whimsical touches in several rooms, including the mural in the master bathroom, painted by an acclaimed artist.
After 23 years here, the family is moving on with mixed emotions.
They can never forget this place. They hope that the new owners will love it.
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 had to go on, at least after a while.
And so it did.
Dorothea, Frederick and Jane’s only daughter, was a woman of strong faith who wrote for the Farmer’s Advocate, and published religious books. Other Farncomb descendants became successful in Canadian business, education, law, medicine and other fields such as literature and media.
Family members 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 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. It appears he was opposed to the slave trade.
There were other discoveries along the way. Some are included in this story, and some are not.
I double-checked each of my findings, then asked 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.
One Farncomb descendant is writing a historical novel on Dorothea Farncomb and the family. Another, Balfour Le Gresley (who sold the house to Ron), has studiously researched his family history. I decided to leave it tothem to make their own discoveries and decide what to share. (Though I’ve met them both, neither contributed to this series in any way.)
This series is dedicated to the descendants of Frederick and Jane Farncomb.
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.