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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.

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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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Lost Without a Clue – Pt. 1, the Ebor House Series

I kid you not: I could get lost in a room. 

So – naturally – I got lost while coming home from an appointment in a nearby town.

Blog Photo - Bond Head main street

The key to getting lost graciously is to act as if where you’ve ended up is where you’d meant to go all along. But I was too agog at where I’d ended up to even pretend to be gracious. My mouth fell open.

Blog Photo - Bond Head Whtie fence and flowersIn no time at all, I’d gone from modern streets and brand-new neighborhoods to this old country road and a feeling that I’d time-traveled into the 1800’s. Beautiful old houses flanked both sides of the road.

Blog Photo - Bond Head White House1

And I knew, without being told, that some of these homes had belonged to certain local families for generations. It was that kind of place.

Blog Photo - Bond head grey hosue between trees

Most were surrounded by expansive grounds with big old trees…

Blog Photo - Bond Head Grey House and Lawn

Sweeping lawns and glorious gardens.

Blog Photo - Bond Head GRey House 3

On the lake side of the street, were more gardens, houses and infinite vistas….

Blog Photo - Bond Head Bayard and lake

Parkland and beaches and families at play….

Blog Photo - Bond head family playing by lake

Boats at the marina…

Blog Photo - Bond head marina boats in bg

People fishing…

Blog Photo - Bond Head Marina, Boats and Man fishing

Where on earth was I?

Blog Photo - Bond Head Boats at marina

Not one to panic till I’d run out of options, I kept going…  and thought I’d seen that enormous old tree just a minute or so before I turned…

Blog Photo - Bond Head huge tree and fence

So I turned around again and kept going…..

Blog Photo - Bond head lake shot

And discovered a sign…..

Blog Photo - Bond Head sign

Historic Bond Head.

I’d never heard of it.

Later, I’d learn that Bond Head, formerly known as Port Newcastle, was once a thriving harbour, with ships ferrying cargo to and from Quebec, Toronto to the west, Kingston to the east and various American ports.

In 1856, Bond Head and the neighboring village merged under the name of Newcastle. The overall region is now known as Clarington.

But right now, I was just busy being lost.

And then I saw a strangely beautiful old house.

This house must have a great story, I thought.

And this is how I met a man named Ron, whose historic home had belonged to generations of an illustrious Bond Head family which counted as relatives two Lord Mayors of London, England, and had a big impact on the life of many Canadians, including themselves.

I’ll introduce Ron, his house and the family to you in my next post.

Stay tuned.

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Dedicated to lovers of history everywhere, including residents of Bond Head and Newcastle in Ontario.

 © 2008 CSR

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Everyday Glory

One late-autumn afternoon, after being stuck in bed for several days, I looked around at our bedroom and decided it needed colour.

Christmas was several weeks away, but  that didn’t mean I couldn’t haul out the two Christmas-themed cushions I’d received as a gift a few years before. Red does wonders for a room.

I could hardly wait for my husband to see this cheerful scene.

He went to bed before me that night. The next morning, I asked eagerly: “What did you think of the way I decorated our bedroom?”

“Decorated?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

He  stared at me, puzzled.

“Didn’t you notice anything different?”

“Oh!” he said. “You mean… all those pillows and stuff?”

I nodded.

“I didn’t really look at them,” he said.

Christmas Cushions
Christmas Cushions – Photo by H. Grange

There, in a corner of the floor were the red and white cushion and the two pillows in their lace-edged shams. They looked forlorn. I groaned.

“Oops – I screwed up, didn’t I?”

“It was so pretty,” I said in a whiny voice.

But when I met his eyes, he looked contrite, like a small boy in trouble.  Next thing I knew, we were both laughing.

Laughing over this foolishness was a little thing – an unremarkable thing. Unless you’ve learned to cherish the small moments of life.

Before the car accident, I was busy leading the big projects, travelling here and there.  Rushing around, trying to change the world, can make a person miss the beauty of “ordinary” things.

Injuries and pain are indescribably worse.   You finally have time to see, but barely have the energy to look.

But – oh – it’s worth the effort to look! To take joy in the small moments, to see one’s surroundings with new and grateful eyes.  To be open to small patches of everyday glory. 

"Snow Cones" on Spruce Branch - Photo by Hamlin Grange
“Snow Cones” on Spruce Branch – Photo by H. Grange

Snow on cedars. Fresh snow on the cedar and spruce trees  makes the garden beautiful, day and night.

The late sun. Late afternoon sunlight shining on wood floors is magical. And when the late sun hits the wavy glass sidelights in the front door of our old farmhouse, it’s wondrous.

Sunshine on Hardwood
Sunshine on Hardwood – Photo by H. Grange

My husband’s truant socks. I find them in the weirdest places, including the floor. I used to get irritated by this and other things, like his leaving the newspapers strewn across the breakfast table. (Or overlooking my small attempts to ‘cheer up’ our house.) Now when I come across stray socks, I give thanks for having someone kind, funny and loving to share my everyday life with . (And I try to assemble the newspapers without muttering.)

Canadian Wool Blanket
Canadian Wool Blanket – Photo by H. Grange

The old wool blanket. “Canadiana”, for sure, it would be worth something but for the pale stain on one side. Do I care about the stain? No.  I love this blanket for its brilliant stripes – and for having survived.

Blooming Amaryllis. Bought for 6 bucks,  it re-blooms (big red blooms) on long stalks in February. ‘Nuff said.

Freshly washed sheets.  There’s luxury in the smell and feel of freshly washed cotton sheets although they’ve been used and washed many times.

Our family’s big clay mixing bowl.  Many apple pies have been mixed up in that beautiful old bowl.

My daughter’s dogs.  Sometimes, just the sight of them gladdens my heart. One black, one white, they’re both tiny dogs with personalities of their own. As I write, they’re stretched out beside me,  fast asleep.

Julius and Dawson Fast Asleep
The Pooches

Slowing down  by choice is great. Being forced to do so is awful.  But in the spirit of lighting a candle and finding my way out of darkness, I’ve been focusing on positives.

I’m keeping both eyes open for that everyday kind of glory.

This post is dedicated to the caring staff at the pain management centre of Toronto Rehabilitation Hospital. One of the techniques they teach their patients is mindfulness.