This old house

Posted by on November 9, 2010 at 12:51 am.

This summer my partner and I spent a lot of time exploring Prince Edward County. A lesser known paradise in Ontario, the entire county is a peninsula that juts akimbo into Lake Ontario, leaving open what is considered by some the best fresh-waterway for sailing, the world’s longest freshwater beach and some of Ontario’s hidden wine country.

The history of the county earns the area the ‘Loyalist’ moniker that is given to local streets, institutions and businesses. During the American war of Independence so many years ago the British king bribed generals to head to the new world to fight for the crown land by offering them a piece of it in compensation. These men and their families, as well as their troops inherited large portions of the county from the monarch and settled in the mild-weathered British-style paradise.

Now over two hundred years have passed but some things stayed exactly the same. The same loyalist Brits occupy the area, the same humble British traditions and in some cases, the same 18th century British architecture stands in the form of mid-sized country manors.

One sunny June day while driving along the aptly named Loyalist Parkway, my partner made a sudden turn-around and I discovered myself in front of a charming and ancient looking stone house she’d spotted from the road.

The house was being torn apart, a corner of it laid out in the form of a pallet piled high with crumbled bricks. A crew of two or three men were working in it; one identified himself as the nephew of the property’s owner. He explained the owner wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the house, to keep it or tear it down.

He invited us to step over the plywood board bridging the moat of destruction where front steps used to be and into the house, a mess of dust and support beams and bricks and electrical wires. Including its partially exposed basement it was three layers of decay that screamed history in a language no human has yet figured out, though we’ve often repeated, yearningly, “If only these walls could talk…”

I asked him permission to photograph the home and he didn’t see why not. I offered him a phone number and name to take his uncle in case the man had any objections.

A week later I was back, armed with a camera to chronicle the destruction of the house. No one was working and the house stood still in its half undone state. I examined it from every angle before the need to know more about the house’s story took hold and I left to seek out history where it could be found, well preserved and ready for my eyes: the Prince Edward County archives.

But it’s getting late, I’ll tell you what I found some other time.

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