7 things I learned at Doors Open
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.
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.
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.
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.