Car­ry­ing on mother’s legacy

Green Gables guest house own­ers hon­our­ing mother’s dy­ing wish, while adding their per­sonal musical twist

Grand Magazine - - FEATURE - BY BAR­BARA AGGERHOLM

Mu­si­cians Jen­nifer Stacey and Len Mc­Carthy hadn’t planned to be­come the keep­ers of a grand, old home in down­town Kitch­ener that has hosted guests for decades. But “life is what hap­pens to you while you’re busy mak­ing other plans,” says Mc­Carthy, quot­ing John Len­non’s song, “Beau­ti­ful Boy.”

“It wasn’t what we planned, but it’s feel­ing right,” Stacey says.

As the mar­ried cou­ple works to ful­fil the fer­vent, last wish of Stacey’s dear mother, Mar­garet Stacey, the home’s pre­vi­ous owner, they’re writ­ing a new chap­ter for Green Gables Ex­ec­u­tive Guest House, and for them­selves.

Take a peek be­hind the Queen Street North prop­erty at an at­trac­tive, smaller, stuc­coed build­ing and you will dis­cover their idea to of­fer even more opportunities for our mu­sic-rich com­mu­nity to en­joy mak­ing mu­sic.

Stacey and Mc­Carthy are professional mu­si­cians and ex­pe­ri­enced, cer­ti­fied teach­ers. Stacey is a re­tired teacher of mu­sic and gifted chil­dren in pub­lic schools. Mc­Carthy is an ac­cred­ited mu­sic ther­a­pist and con­tract course di­rec­tor/in­struc­tor who has taught mu­sic at seven On­tario universities. For 25 years, Stacey (voice and per­cus­sion­ist) and Mc­Carthy (bass, elec­tric key­boards, sax­o­phone) per­formed in a five-per­son cover band, “Party Lights,” at gigs in the Greater Toronto Area. The cou­ple com­bined par­ent­hood with their musical ca­reers when their son and daugh­ter were chil­dren.

Mar­ried 39 years, they lived in Markham in a house they’d up­graded with a new kitchen and win­dows.

Green Gables Ex­ec­u­tive Guest House, a stroll away from Cen­tre in the Square, the art gallery and Kitch­ener’s main li­brary on tree-lined Queen Street North, was the cher­ished home of Stacey’s mother, Mar­garet, until her death on April 23, 2015.

For more than 30 years, the three-storey, 6,000-square-foot, Tu­dor-style house with three gables was also a home away from home for long-term visi­tors, many of whom Mar­garet de­lighted in wel­com­ing back as her friends year af­ter year. She bought the house in 1982 when she was man­ager of the re­gional Canada Em­ploy­ment Cen­tre in Kitch­ener.

When Mar­garet learned she had ter­mi­nal cancer in early 2015, one of her first con­cerns was the fu­ture of her stately home. The 85-year-old Bri­tish-born woman, de­scribed by family and friends as de­ci­sive, smart, so­cial, gen­er­ous and pos­sess­ing a dry wit, wor­ried about her guests who had booked their stays or func­tions at the house long in ad­vance.

“When she found out she had two to three months to live, her ques­tion was: ‘What will hap­pen to the house?’ ” Jen­nifer says.

“This was her house but she felt she was shar­ing it,” Len says. “Peo­ple became part of her ex­tended family. For the time they were here, this was their home.”

Mar­garet hoped Jen­nifer and Len would carry on her legacy of hos­pi­tal­ity.

She wanted house­keeper Anna Saechao, who had worked with her since 2009, to con­tinue her metic­u­lous job of car­ing for the house, with its three mar­ble fire­places, high ceil­ings, hard­wood floors, an­tique fur­nish­ings, sunny con­ser­va­tory and yard shaded by tow­er­ing fir trees.

She hoped Sharon Walsh, who worked part time at the house for 17 years, would con­tinue her job as val­ued caterer, meet­ing with clients, plan­ning, gro­cery shop­ping and cook­ing for func­tions.

“She said: ‘No, we will not can­cel,’ ” says Saecheo, re­mem­ber­ing her con­ver­sa­tion with Mar­garet in the hos­pi­tal. “She said: ‘They need my house.’

“She said: ‘If my daugh­ter and son-in-law carry on, I’d be so happy.’ ”

Saechao and Walsh agreed to stay on if Jen­nifer and Len de­cided to con­tinue Mar­garet’s legacy.

“This place feels like my own home,” Saecheo says. “I feel like it’s my own family.”

Walsh, an ex­pe­ri­enced caterer who has re­tired from her full-time work, says Mar­garet helped with food prepa­ra­tion and set­ting ta­bles.

“She had very spe­cific ideas of how things were to be done,” she says. “She al­ways put so much cut­lery on the ta­ble and it was al­ways a joke with us,” she says with a laugh. “She liked the proper way.”

Guests felt con­nected to Mar­garet and the big, com­fort­able house where they could sit be­fore din­ner or wan­der around. One family came ev­ery Christ­mas for a big

turkey din­ner, Walsh says. “They’d open presents. It was like grandma’s house.”

Mar­garet “loved be­ing out with the clients. She was out mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing was OK. I think clients ap­pre­ci­ated her hos­pi­tal­ity and al­low­ing them to use her home and en­joy her home,” says Walsh, who at the time of the in­ter­view was pre­par­ing for about 50 guests for a meet­ing of the Water­loo chap­ter of the Congress of Black Women. It was a group that Mar­garet en­joyed im­mensely, she says. A group of nurses who grad­u­ated in 1957 had been meet­ing at the house ev­ery year for 20 years to catch up with each other.

“She very much treated them like family when they were there,” Walsh says.

To be with her ail­ing mother and help with the house, Jen­nifer took a three-month leave of ab­sence from teach­ing with the York Re­gion Dis­trict School Board.

Len, who was study­ing for his mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic ther­apy at Wil­frid Laurier Univer­sity, did chores and stayed overnight when he could. Pre­vi­ously, Len had con­tract po­si­tions teach­ing mu­sic cour­ses at universities that in­cluded Laurier, Univer­sity of Water­loo and Univer­sity of Guelph over a 10-year pe­riod. In Oc­to­ber 2015, he grad­u­ated and be­gan work­ing at Ex­pres­sions Mu­sic Ther­apy Ser­vices in Kitch­ener.

The more time that Len and Jen­nifer spent in Kitch­ener, the more they ap­pre­ci­ated Water­loo Re­gion’s rich musical land­scape, its farm­ers mar­kets and friendly neigh­bour­hoods.

They agreed that with help from “Mother’s great team,” they would as­sume own­er­ship of the guest house. The de­ci­sion was firm, but not easy. “There was a lot of: ‘What are we do­ing? Are we able to do it?’ ” Jen­nifer says.

They moved to Kitch­ener at the beginning of Au­gust 2016 and sold their Markham home the fol­low­ing De­cem­ber.

Guests con­tinue to book their vis­its, though the cou­ple may change the fo­cus, for now, from longer-term to shorter stays.

Mar­garet had six rooms to let; now there are three. Jen­nifer and Len oc­cupy the third floor. Events such as wed­dings, birth­days, Christ­mas din­ners and meet­ings are con­tin­u­ing with Walsh’s steady hand in the house’s small but ef­fi­cient kitchen.

It’s go­ing to be the same, but dif­fer­ent. “How can we hon­our Mother but still be our­selves?” Jen­nifer says.

Their an­swer was to ren­o­vate the up­per storey of the three-car garage be­hind the house into a mu­sic stu­dio that they hope will be­come a kind of com­mu­nity space.

“The stu­dio is to put our stamp on it a lit­tle bit. It stays the same but in­cor­po­rates us too,” Jen­nifer says.

In June, as work­ers ap­plied stucco to the garage’s ex­te­rior, (a lit­tle later than planned due to rain de­lays), Jen­nifer and Len de­scribed their mu­sic teach­ing stu­dio, called Mu­sic @ Green Gables.

The stu­dio, whose ar­chi­tect is friend and fel­low mu­si­cian Stephen King, is reached by out­side stairs and though it isn’t wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble, the liv­ing room in the house is ac­ces­si­ble, Jen­nifer says.

The garage stu­dio has lots of light with rear win­dows and three dormer win­dows in the front that match the house’s front win­dows. There’s a bath­room, ra­di­ant heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing.

The ap­proval process went smoothly be­cause they worked closely with the City of Kitch­ener and took the de­signs to neigh­bours, Len says.

The cou­ple cred­its Pi­o­neer Crafts­men Ltd. for do­ing a great job car­ry­ing out their ideas for the space.

They want the stu­dio to be a place where peo­ple can learn new in­stru­ments or take up old ones again; sing songs; be a part of a group; join a ukulele or singing club. They’re think­ing about mak­ing the space avail­able to cham­ber groups and of­fer­ing work­shops to mu­sic ther­a­pists and oth­ers in­ter­ested in aug­ment­ing their skills.

They’ll give lessons, but they won’t be for­mal; they’ll be more like “porch par­ties,” Jen­nifer says. They are in­ter­ested in all types of in­stru­ments and mu­sic, in­clud­ing jazz, blues and reg­gae, and hope to be­gin classes in Oc­to­ber.

“I see this as a com­mu­nity mu­sic cen­tre. Peo­ple who want to make mu­sic can come to­gether here.

“We want it to be more of a com­mu­nity leisure thing. Mu­sic should be avail­able to ev­ery­body.”

They re­gard Water­loo Re­gion as a good place to launch their dream. “The pop­u­la­tion sup­ports mu­sic in a big way,” Len says.

Len, 63, and Jen­nifer, 62, have a lot to give. Jen­nifer is work­ing on a mas­ter of arts in com­mu­nity mu­sic at Laurier. She teaches York Univer­sity cour­ses for mu­sic teach­ers adding qual­i­fi­ca­tions. As well as be­ing a mu­sic ther­a­pist, Len is a song­writer, com­poser, ar­ranger and pro­ducer. He also has a PhD in eth­no­mu­si­col­ogy and a mas­ter’s de­gree in mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

Re­cently, he won the 2017 song­writ­ing competition of the World Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­sic Ther­apy to cel­e­brate World Mu­sic Day. His song, “Mu­sic, Mu­sica, Hudba,” will be played at the open­ing of the world congress in Ja­pan this sum­mer.

He plays key­board in the Cyril Way Band in Toronto headed by a friend from New­found­land.

Amy Cle­ments-Cortes, a mu­sic ther­a­pist at Bay­crest Health Sciences in Toronto and pres­i­dent of the World Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­sic Ther­apy, praised the cou­ple for “open­ing up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for peo­ple who want to en­gage in mu­sic in the area.

“I think it’s great they’re tak­ing the ini­tia­tive and they’re well qual­i­fied to do it,” says Cle­ments-Cortes, a per­former, vo­cal in­struc­tor, re­searcher and univer­sity ed­u­ca­tor who taught Len at Laurier and now teaches Jen­nifer in the mas­ter’s com­mu­nity mu­sic pro­gram.

“They have a con­nec­tion to the com­mu­nity.” It’s turn­ing out all right, Jen­nifer agrees. “I’m not su­per­sti­tious, but you know how the universe sends lit­tle things?” One day, a stranger stopped to chat while

Jen­nifer was work­ing in the gar­den. She hap­pened to be con­nected to the Water­looWelling­ton chap­ter of Orff, which is a method of teach­ing mu­sic to chil­dren us­ing move­ment, singing and in­stru­ments. Jen­nifer is an Orff spe­cial­ist.

Love of com­mu­nity drove Mar­garet’s plans for the prop­erty too. When Mar­garet bought the house – pre­vi­ous own­ers had turned it into a nurs­ing home called Green Gables Manor – she thought it could be a guest house down the road, but only af­ter she re­tired.

How­ever, the story goes that a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor from Eng­land des­per­ate for tem­po­rary lodg­ing con­vinced her to open her doors early. He became the first of many pro­fes­sion­als who stayed at Green Gables while Mar­garet re­stored it to its “quiet el­e­gance.” Later, the house re­ceived the Mike Wag­ner Her­itage Award from the City of Kitch­ener.

“The de­mand snow­balled af­ter that first guest,” Jen­nifer says.

The house, with its three-me­tre-wide front door of wood and lat­ticed glass, has a distin­guished his­tory. It was built be­tween 1906 and 1911 when Caro­line Bre­i­thaupt Au­gus­tine, a widow with three chil­dren, bought it and moved her family in. Au­gus­tine’s family mem­bers were among the pi­o­neers of Kitch­ener’s tan­ning in­dus­try.

Green Gables’ sub­se­quent own­ers in­cluded Lang Tan­ning owner Jerome Lang and his cousin, Joseph, and then Al­fred and Caro­line Win­ter­meyer whose son, John, became the leader of the On­tario Lib­eral party.

The house was more likely called Green Gables be­cause of its three green, gabled win­dows at the front of the house than be­cause of Lucy Maud Mont­gomery’s book, “Anne of Green Gables,” which was pub­lished in 1908, Jen­nifer says.

Jen­nifer thinks the im­pos­ing house may have re­minded her mother of the

time when, at age 10, she was evac­u­ated from her home in London, Eng­land, to a sim­i­lar-look­ing home. To­day, there’s a grand­fa­ther clock in Green Gables’ hall­way that re­minded Mar­garet of the clock she wound when she was a child in that house.

Jen­nifer re­mem­bers Mar­garet as a strong provider af­ter Jen­nifer’s fa­ther, a sci­en­tist for the De­fence Re­search Med­i­cal Lab­o­ra­to­ries in Toronto, died in 1966. Jen­nifer was 11 and her brother, Jonathan, was in Eng­land. Mar­garet was work­ing at a Canada Em­ploy­ment Cen­tre and she owned a chil­dren’s cloth­ing store.

“How many housewives in the late ’ 50s open a chil­dren’s store?” Jen­nifer says, adding her mother earned her bach­e­lor of arts de­gree in the early 1970s.

Jen­nifer laughs when she imag­ines her mother’s re­ac­tion to a re­quire­ment at her first job at a women’s cloth­ing store in down­town Toronto in the 1950s. “You had to wear suits and she was told to add pad­ding to her back­side.”

Mar­garet rose through the ranks at the Canada Em­ploy­ment Cen­tre to at­tain a high-level po­si­tion. “In my opin­ion, she was a real fem­i­nist,” Len says.

“She had al­ways been strong. If she saw some­thing, she did it. When we first came to Canada, I was three years old,” Jen­nifer re­calls. “When we got to the air­port, there was a wel­come cen­tre. The woman there was so over­whelmed that she (Mar­garet) helped be­hind the counter. “She was a per­son of ac­tion.” Mar­garet ap­plied her strong will to her health, but she couldn’t beat the prog­no­sis. She strug­gled to get bet­ter and was frus­trated when she didn’t. “She kept plan­ning for things in September, Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber,” Jen­nifer says.

The cou­ple is ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue Mar­garet’s legacy and add to Green Gables’ his­tory.

“Af­ter we’re long gone, I guess that we’ll be part of the story of the house,” Len says.

Jen­nifer Stacey holds a photo of her mother, Mar­garet, while stand­ing in front of Green Gables Ex­ec­u­tive Guest House on Queen Street North in Kitch­ener.

ABOVE: Guests can re­lax in the sunny con­ser­va­tory. LEFT: One of three mar­ble fire­places.

Jen­nifer Stacey looks over the draw­ings for the mu­sic stu­dio, which is in the up­per level of the garage in the back­ground, with ar­chi­tect, friend and fel­low mu­si­cian Stephen King.

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