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The Fabulous Ravenscraig

PHOTOS BY HAMLIN GRANGE

RESEARCH BY KIMBERLY VANEYK

Mrs. Strike lives in Bowmanville’s beautiful historic district, near Toronto. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike at Jigsaw puzzle Her home, Ravenscraig, is outstanding – for its design as well as the people associated with it.  Blog Photo - House - Ravenscraig Two former mayors lived here.  This grand home hosted many receptions, dinner parties, Rotary gatherings and afternoon tea. Guests included prominent members of society.

How heartwarming then, that Mrs. Strike’s fondest memories focus not on those powerful people, but on the places in her home where her three sports-loving sons played. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig the Strike Sons Historian Kimberly Vaneyk and I had the pleasure of visiting Mrs. Strike recently to learn more about her home. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs. Strike Kim and CynthiaWe loved the stories about her sons’ escapades. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike in Upper Hallway The grand entrance hallway where uniformed servants greeted dinner-party guests, took their hats and coats and ushered them inside? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Entranceway That’s where the Strike boys played basketball during winter, breaking only one piece of precious stained glass with their Nerf ball. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Beautiful Upstairs Hallway The living-room/ballroom where guests danced? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Stained Glass lady Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike laughs with Kim and Cynthia That’s where the boys practiced hockey. (They also played in the basement.) And why do you suppose Mr. and Mrs. Strike bought this grand home back in 1963? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mr and Mrs Strike Photo “Seems silly,she says, smiling, “but our boys were in hockey and it was near the rink!”

The Strikes even built a skating rink for their sons and friends.

“Our own south lawn was always a big rink every winter since 1963.  For the sides of the rink, we used doors, old boards, anything that could stop the puck! Everybody knew that rink.”

There was also the “Wounders’ Tournament” – won by the player who managed to throw most of his friends into/over the boards. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig side view from sidewalk

THE DESIGN

In a town of grand homes, Ravenscraig is one of the grandest. Blog Photo - House Ravesncraig Turret The house’s Queen Anne style is rare even here in the historic district. Its turrets are eye-catching. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Barn Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Feature 2 Fireplace carving Interior features are also distinctive. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Newel Post Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Feature 2 Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Stained Glass Lady 2 Designed for wealthy families who entertained a lot, special attention was paid to the movement of servants – and the flow between hallway, kitchen, dining-room and living-room. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Dining Room

RAVENSCRAIG’S FABULOUS PAST

Ravenscraig attracted the famous and the fabulous, the wealthy and influential, the good and the great. Bowmanville’s former mayor, Dr. Hillier, and his family had Ravenscraig built in the late 1800’s. Blog Photo - House Trees and Historic sign They entertained dignitaries from religion, medicine, law, business and politics. They hosted fundraisers and other projects to support the community. Mrs. Hillier herself knitted 500 pairs of socks for local soldiers during World War 1.

Subsequent owners of Ravenscraig included the Schon’s, who fled Austria just before World War 2.

Ravenscraig then became a focal point for the arts. Guests included well-known musicians, painters and European actress Methchild Harkness, the Schons’ houseguest. 

A second mayor, Morley Vanstone, and his family lived here after the Schons. The Vanstones were a wealthy family who owned the local mill. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Fireplace Each family left its mark… especially true for Dr. Hillier, whose initials are carved in the fireplace mantel. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Hillier Signature in Mantel

~~

Warm thanks to Mrs. Strike for her gracious welcome, to historian Kimberly Vaneyk and to Hamlin Grange for the photos.

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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 in the Ebor House series: https://cynthiasreyes.com/2014/08/15/get-lost-cynthia/

**

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.

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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.

He hadn’t been house-hunting in Bond Head – a small historic area consisting of just a few country roads on Lake Ontario, east of Toronto.  But Ron felt mysteriously drawn to both the house and its location.

“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

He also hadn’t planned to buy this 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.”

Ron didn’t know the house’s history.  He didn’t know that it had belonged to generations of an illustrious Bond Head family whose close relatives included two Lord Mayors of London, England. Blog Photo - Ebor House 

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

What he saw was a house badly in need of repair. Outside, four acres of weed-choked land surrounded the grand old house and barn.

Blog Photo - Ebor House overgrown lawn

Inside, the rooms were derelict.

Blog Photo - Ebor House derelict Room 1

Cobwebs hung from the ceilings.  The rooms were crammed with old contents.

And there was that stuffy, old-house smell everywhere.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Derelict Room 3

But the  house spoke to him and he answered. Ron was a man in love.

**

It was 8 years later when I knocked on Ron’s door.

As Ron welcomed me into his house, there were no signs that it had once been in disrepair. The place glowed from the love and attention he had lavished on its restoration.

We sat in the refurbished kitchen, sipping coffee.  I had questions and the first was the most obvious.

“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,” he replied. “Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron Smiling

I understood, sort of.  I remembered the magnetic pull I’d felt as I sat gawking at the house and surrounding property. It had drawn me back here today. 

Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He ran his own business.  He also had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time”.  

He hurried to begin the restoration.

“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 on Ebor House started the following year.)  Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

Fortunately, also, some chandeliers and furniture  – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were still in the house, where they’d been since 1869.  Ron bought other period 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 that helped him along the way.

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

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 1900’s.

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.”

Ron also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years.  He shared with me what he knew.

I should have stopped there, but I was already hooked. I needed to learn more. And that would lead me to a powerful story that was both joyful and heartbreaking.

**Click here for Part 3: The Farncombs.