7 things I learned at Doors Open

The Glengarry News - - News - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

The longer I work at The Glen­garry News, the harder it is to come up with fresh per­spec­tives on things that hap­pen ev­ery year. I’ve made that ob­ser­va­tion sev­eral times about the High­land Games and the Wil­liamstown Fair. With the ap­proach of Doors Open – On­tario Her­itage Trust’s an­nual event where com­mu­ni­ties across the prov­ince open up their most fas­ci­nat­ing cul­tural sites – I knew I had a sim­i­lar chal­lenge.

Glen­garry had seven sites tak­ing part in Doors Open this past week­end. I de­cided that I would go to each one of them and stay un­til I learned some­thing I didn’t know be­fore.

So here we go.

Sir John John­son Manor House

Lo­cated at 19692 Wil­liam St. in Wil­liamstown, this his­toric build­ing has seen more changes in re­cent years than any other ed­i­fice on the Doors Open ros­ter.

For a long time, the manor house also served as a home for the Wil­liamstown branch of the SDG li­brary. The branch “tem­po­rar­ily” re­lo­cated to the St. Mary’s Cen­tre so that the Sir John John­son House could un­dergo some ren­o­va­tions. The li­brary has since de­cided to make the move per­ma­nent.

No mat­ter, though. Brent Lafave of the Sir John John­son House Manor Com­mit­tee tells me that there’s a new vi­sion for the house’s fu­ture.

Since the li­brary has moved, the com­mit­tee has ar­ranged to redo some floor­ing and com­pletely redo the light­ing. Some­time over the next two weeks, it will start patch­ing and paint­ing the walls in the room that used to house the li­brary.

De­spite this work, Mr. Lafave in­sists that the com­mit­tee’s fo­cus in not on the down­stairs, it’s on the up­stairs, where it wants to build three high-ceil­ing bed­rooms with en­suite bath­rooms. Down­stairs, the for­mer chil­dren’s li­brary will be trans­formed into a liv­ing quar­ters for a concierge, who will be al­lowed to live in the build­ing free of charge in ex­change for work­ing as a sort of de facto innkeeper.

Mr. Lafave doesn’t know who the new concierge will be, but says it’s ideal for a re­tired cou­ple or “some­one look­ing to down­size.”

The house it­self was built between 1784 and 1792 as part of a mill site, the house was ex­panded in the 1820s and has gone through sev­eral changes over the years.

Mr. Lafave says that his wife, Lynn, is the great-great-great­great-great-grand­daugh­ter of the house’s ar­chi­tect, Sir John John­son.

“Sir John was born in Mo­hawk Val­ley,” he ex­plains. ”He sent one of his sons here to man­age this prop­erty. He had twin sons born in this house and one of them was Lynn’s great-great­great-grand­fa­ther.”

And now I know some­thing I didn’t know be­fore.

Bethune-Thomp­son House

Let’s take a walk down the road to the Bethune-Thomp­son House where 70-year-old David An­der­son has been the li­censed ten­ant for 28 years.

Any­one who knows Mr. An­der­son would be hard pressed to find some­one bet­ter suited to the job. He is a walk­ing his­tory book and, next to that kid who used to fol­low Jon-Erik Hexum around in that 1980s TV show Voy­agers, can spout out more ran­dom his­tor­i­cal facts than any­one else I know.

The Bethune-Thomp­son House was built in the late 1700s. There’s a room in the house that Mr. An­der­son claims is the old­est room in On­tario.

Rev. John Bethune moved into the house in 1804. He was the first Church of Scot­land Min­is­ter in Up­per Canada and he also hap­pened to be the great-great­grand­fa­ther of Dr. Nor­man Bethune, aka “the most fa­mous Cana­dian in the world.”

Mr. An­der­son makes that claim be­cause Dr. Nor­man Bethune is a house­hold name in China, where, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Med­i­cal Hall of Fame, he is revered as a saint. He is most re­mem­bered as be­ing the first to in­tro­duce the mo­bile blood bank to the bat­tle­field, where he per­formed count­less blood trans­fu­sions in the midst of heavy fight­ing.

In 1814, the house was ac­quired by David Thomp­son, the Cana­dian map­maker. Mr. An­der­son will proudly show you the very study where Mr. Thomp­son worked on his maps.

To­day, the Bethune-Thomp­son House gets about 800 visi­tors a year, though many of them are mem­bers of tour groups.

Mr. An­der­son says that one of the more pop­u­lar facts he shares with his visi­tors is that on the win­dow in the main room, there is an etch­ing by Thomas Thomp­son, the 13-year-old son of David Thomp­son, who scratched his ini­tials there.

And now I know two things I didn’t know be­fore.

Mart­in­town Mill

There’s a good rea­son why the Mart­in­town Mill is an On­tario Her­itage Site. The build­ing, now

more than 170 years old, is one of the only com­pletely stone mills that were built in On­tario.

Com­pleted on Sept. 23, 1846, by Alexan­der McMartin, the mill op­er­ated at its present site east of the Raisin River in Mart­in­town for more than a hun­dred years. John Smith, pres­i­dent of the Mart­in­town Mill Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety, says that it stopped func­tion­ing in the 1950s when an­other mill was built on the other side of the river. At that point, the old mill be­came a stor­age build­ing for about three decades be­fore it be­gan its tran­si­tion into a museum.

That hap­pened thanks to a Corn­wall lady named Mar­jorie McMartin, 95, a de­scen­dant of Mr. McMartin, who even­tu­ally do­nated the mill to the Raisin Re­gion Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity.

And now I know three things I didn’t know be­fore.

Spring­field Farm

Well here’s some­thing new. Spring­field Farm, lo­cated at 18709 County Road 25 near Ap­ple Hill, is en­joy­ing its first year on the Doors Open tour. Since I have never been there, this may be the eas­i­est spot on

the tour to learn some­thing I didn’t know be­fore.

Spring­field Farm is the home of Eleanor McGrath and her hus­band, Fin­barr McCarthy, who have owned the prop­erty since 2014.

The house they live in is nearly 200 years old; the two-storey part at the south­ern end dates back to the 1820s.

The cou­ple dis­cov­ered a love for show­ing their prop­erty in June, when they were one of the hoses of Be­yond 21’s House Tour.

When the Doors Open op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, they took it. Ms. McGrath says that she’s had a never-end­ing stream of visi­tors all day. This de­spite that there’s a mas­sive road con­struc­tion project go­ing on County Road 25 that has closed an en­tire sec­tion of the road.

In­deed, Spring­field Farm was only ac­ces­si­ble from the west; the prop­erty it­self pretty much kisses the western tip of the con­struc­tion project.

Ms. McGrath says that they had to do some ren­o­va­tions on the house af­ter a pipe burst around Christ­mas­time. There


DOORS OPEN: Over the Aug. 18-19 week­end, seven Glen­garry his­tor­i­cal sites opened their doors to visi­tors who were cu­ri­ous to learn about lo­cal his­tory. Top left, Brent Lafave stands in front of the open door at the Sir John John­son Manor House in Wil­liamstown. Top cen­tre, David An­der­son (far right) is joined by Tom Fraser and Mi­caela Evans, em­ploy­ees of On­tario Her­itage Trust, as he stands in front of the open door at the Bethune-Thomp­son House in Wil­liamstown. Top right, Don­ald Thom­son, a de­scen­dant of Alexan­der McMartin who built the Mart­in­town Mill is joined by John Smith in front of the open door of the Mart­in­town Mill. Bot­tom left, Eleanor McGrath stands in front of the open door of Spring­field Farm near Ap­ple Hill. Bot­tom cen­tre, Karen Dav­i­son-Wood and Stu­art Up­ton stand in front of the open door of St. John in the Wild­wood Angli­can Church just east of South Lan­caster. Bot­tom right, Glen­garry Pioneer Museum cu­ra­tor Jen­nifer Black, se­cond from left, is joined by museum em­ploy­ees Christina Ques­nel, Gwenn Bar­rett, and Chelsey MacPher­son in front of the open door of the museum’s black­smith shop.

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