Beechcroft Na­tional His­toric Site

Grand Magazine - - FEATURE -

Travel back to 1866, a mere year be­fore Canadian Con­fed­er­a­tion, and meet An­son Dodge, a New York City res­i­dent with dollar signs in his eyes. The pro­lific forests of Ge­or­gian Bay and the Kawartha Lakes area were call­ing his en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, and he moved to Canada to make his for­tune in the lum­ber in­dus­try.

In­for­ma­tion com­piled by Su­san Buggey and John Jay Ste­wart, re­searchers with Parks Canada/the Her­itage Canada Foun­da­tion, cap­tured some of the de­tail.

Dodge be­gan buy­ing tim­ber rights and small lum­ber mills in On­tario be­tween 1867 and 1871, and formed the Ge­or­gian Bay Lum­ber Com­pany in 1871. It earned him the ti­tle of “Lum­ber King of the North.”

With busi­ness boom­ing, Dodge planned a grand sum­mer res­i­dence to ce­ment his mogul im­age. In 1869, he pur­chased a 115-acre prop­erty, in­clud­ing a 25-acre deer park, over­look­ing Lake Sim­coe at Roches Point. No ex­pense would be spared to cre­ate his le­gacy.

Over the next two years, Dodge’s three-storey, lake­side palace rose. Bar­rie’s news­pa­per of the day, The North­ern Ad­vance, called it “one of the most de­light­ful villa res­i­dences in the vicin­ity of Toronto.” Dodge called his prop­erty Beechcroft and added an ad­di­tional 110 acres in 1871.

Com­ple­ment­ing the house would be a num­ber of gar­dens, all dis­play­ing a colour­wheel of flow­ers, trees and shrubs. And as Buggey and Ste­wart state in their re­search pa­per, “strong lo­cal tra­di­tion” in­di­cates that Amer­i­can Fred­er­ick Law Olm­sted was hired to cre­ate this gar­den par­adise. Olm­sted’s im­pres­sive cre­den­tials in­cluded designing New York’s Cen­tral Park, Brook­lyn’s Prospect Park and Franklin Park in Bos­ton.

Olm­sted determined that given the size and set­ting of Dodge’s prop­erty, an English gar­den or “pic­turesque” style of gar­den ar­chi­tec­ture was ap­pro­pri­ate. Groves of trees, what Olm­sted called “ar­eas of wild­ness,” would be dis­trib­uted through­out Beechcroft’s man­i­cured lawns, which swept to­ward the lake. Me­an­der­ing walk­ways would lead from one “wild­ness area” to an­other.

Not any tree species would do in a “wild­ness” area. Colour and tex­ture were keys to the ef­fect. He favoured the deep “spiky” green of the Nor­way spruce, the grandeur of the chest­nut and the showy red fo­liage of the beech. Dra­matic white-barked birches would pro­vide con­trast.

The flower gar­dens would be sit­u­ated closer to the house and would add a daz­zling dis­play of colour to the land­scape. Dodge’s large green­house would pro­duce all the tra­di­tional bed­ding favourites: roses, lilies, mag­no­lia, hy­drangea, lark­spur, zinnia, begonias and asters. Climbers too — clema­tis, wis­te­ria, and morn­ing glo­ries.

By 1872, the house and gar­dens were near­ing com­ple­tion. Dodge had be­come a nat­u­ral­ized Canadian cit­i­zen and was elected to rep­re­sent the fed­eral rid­ing of York North. But the Dodge story did not end hap­pily. Within a year, he was forced to re­sign

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