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November 24, 2013

Boyd House: The seven stone cousins, the man with two graves, and other mysteries (Part 5)

Painting of the Boyd farmstead by John Mlacak.

After a week of looking into the history of Boyd House on 173 Huntmar, there are several mysteries, loose ends and random facts that I'd still like to explore and share.  During my research I've encountered things like backyard cemeteries, a hundred-year-old farmhouse trying to blend in to suburban Kanata, some famous names, and more than a few tragic stories.

If you know anything that can help solve some of these puzzles, please add a note in the comments below or email feedback@ottawastart.com


#1: WHO BUILT THE SEVEN STONE COUSINS?

I've identified seven houses close to Boyd House that are similar in style and construction.  Five of these buildings are still standing. Here's a map (click for full size).






  • Boyd House, built 1887. Still standing, for now.
  • Patrick Hartin House, built 1886. Later owned by Beattie Hartin.
  • David Hartin House, built 1876. Now the Winds of Change spa.
  • Kemp Tavern, built in 1868. Now Cabotto's restaurant. Not only survived the Great Fire of 1870, but people hid inside to stay safe while the fire raged through.
  • Richard Flewellyn House, date of build unknown. This house is still there. In 1879, the land was owned by Flewellyn and the house is accurately placed on an 1879 map. I'm making the assumption his family built it and lived there. It's still occupied.
  • Unsworth House (or Hodgins House), built 1881. Demolished in 1988, despite efforts to save it. Described as “handcrafted smooth grey limestone that blended harmoniously with the surrounding natural environment”. Owned by Carson Unsworth 1963-1988, but in 1879 the land was owned by John Hodgins. 
  • McCurdy House, date of build unknown. It's no longer there but would have been roughly across the street from what's now the Toys R Us in Stittsville.  One source says a stone house was built on the property in 1832, but no building appears on the McCurdy land on the 1879 Belder Atlas. (It was the Google Maps of its era and accurately places the other houses on this list.)
Each of these buildings were handsome stone homes built sometime between 1868 and 1887. They were all all built with light-grey limestone and they each have a distinctive Gothic revival design with steep gabled roofs.  Four of the buildings still standing share the identical white wavy wood trim beneath the roofline.

Perhaps it's just coincidence. They're all built of light-grey limestone because that's what's in the ground in this area.  Indeed, the City of Ottawa's historical research into Boyd House notes that the design of the house was taken from a common architectural pattern book. And there were plenty of stone masons and plenty of sturdy homes being built in the area.  (I can think of at least a dozen more stone buildings from the 19th century around Kanata.)  Still, I believe it's plausible the same person had a hand in most of the seven listed above, if not all of them.

Who built the houses? Was it the same person?  The Boyd family's oral history says that a Scottish stone mason was hired to build their house, and after he was done he had enough money to bring his family to Canada from Scotland.  Through my research I've found that a mason named John Scott from Richmond built the Kemp House.  I also found a reference to a house Scott built at "93 Perth Street" in Richmond (I can't find it), and a stone farmhouse in Antrim (near Carp, I think).

Do any readers know of other stone houses with the white wavy trim?  Do you know anything about Scottish masons in the area during the late 19th century? What about John Scott?


#2: WALTER HOLMES, THE MAN WITH TWO GRAVES




In the 1980's, previous owners of Boyd House found two old headstones under what used to be a summer kitchen attached to the home. The names on the stones were “Walter Holmes” and “William Alexander”. Who were they?

William Alexander was a father-in-law to someone in the Burroughs family, according to ancestors who I've been in touch with. But what about this Holmes fellow?  What was his connection to the Burroughs/Boyd families?  Walter Holmes also has a headstone at Carp Presbyterian Cemetary.  Same text, same date of death.  A line of text engraved at the bottom: "Erected by Ellen Holmes".


With help from researcher Christopher Ryan, we've uncovered that Holmes was born in 1789. Records show a Walter Holmes owned land at Concession 1, Lot 12f in Huntley, a few kilometers north of the Boyd property. He appears in the census in 1851, 61, 71. His parents were James and Jane Holmes. Ellen Holmes was his wife. (He might have had another wife at some point.) No children are listed on any census records.

So far I have not found a link between Walter Holmes and either the Burroughs or the Boyd families. Why was his headstone there? And why is there a second headstone at the Carp cemetery?

Before we call in Sherlock, one possible explanation is "recycling".  Life in the 19th century was tough, especially after the Great Fire of 1870 that decimated the area.  A cemetery stone was just a piece of rock and if it could be put to good use somewhere, it would be.  For example, tilling time.  Here's how one source explained it to me: "At tilling time, farmer used to like to load their tillers with heavy stones to make sure the soil would be tilled deep enough. Old cemetery stones sometimes got a new life as tilling weights. In the past, there was not the respect we have today for cemetery stones."


#3: "LOST" PLACES OF HUNTLEY AND GOULBOURN

I came across several place names that have become lost to time:
  • Holmes Corners.  The intersection of Huntmar and Old Carp Road used to be known as Holmes Corners. Watler Holmes may have lived or owned land in the area.
  • The Maple Plain.  This name was used to refer to the area near Boyd House and the Patrick Hartin property near what is now Huntmar and Maple Grove.  I don't know if this was a formal name or just an informal description.
  • Golden Ridge.  A term used to describe the area of Kanata now known as Katimavik and Maple Grove.  The hilly land does have a golden shine when the sun is setting.
  • Hazeldean. You're probably familiar with the road of the same name.  It's named after the village of Hazeldean, a once-thriving and prosperous village located around what is now Glen Cairn and Katimavik-Hazledean.  It was hit hard by the 1870 fire.  You can still see evidence of the settlement today via old cemeteries and stone buildings in the area.
  • Hartinville. A name for the cluster of homes and the trailer park near Johnwoods and Hazeldean. (Johnwoods Street is named for John Hartin.)
  • Huntley, Goulbourn, South March. With every year that passes we lose touch more and more with the original place names of the area. I prefer the old names to "Stittsville" and "Kanata".

#4: WHAT WILL BECOME OF BOYD HOUSE?

That's unclear. The current landowner Bob Karam applied for a demolition permit in September.  The old barns on the property were demolished sometime in the last few weeks. (You don't need a permit to demolish agricultural buildings.)  The loss of the barns is significant. Although there are several stone houses in the area, Boyd House was the last with all of the original farming buildings intact.

In city councillor Shad Qadri's weekly newsletter this week, he stated that "The City’s goal is to keep the stone farmhouse and integrate it with new development. This land is designated as a mixed-use centre in City plans, with buildings up to six storeys and significant employment. It is anticipated that this land will have municipal piped services in about five years. "

On November 14, heritage planners with the City of Ottawa recommended that the house be designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act, which would give it additional protection.  The Built Heritage Sub-Committee deferred this designation. Shad explains (emphasis mine):

"This deferral allows staff and the owner the opportunity to consult on the proposed future development for the site and to enter into an agreement whereby the owner agrees that he will maintain and secure the property to ensure preservation of the home.  The owner would also agree that no application for demolition will be submitted without six weeks notice to the Built Heritage Sub-Committee and that this property will be added to the City of Ottawa Heritage Register."

Properties get added to the Register when the City determines that they have "cultural heritage value or interest." Once it's listed in the Register, the owner has to give the City 60 days notice if he plans to demolish it. During those 60 days, the City can decide whether or not to add additional protection by adding a Provincial designation.

The Planning Committee will review this issue on Monday, November 25.
UPDATE: The City's Planning Committee passed a motion on Monday, November 25 to add Boyd House to the heritage register. It's not a full heritage designation (the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely described it as a "watch list") but it does provide some additional protection.

I've received many ideas from readers on what could be done with the house, including an artist retreat, a museum, a bed and breakfast, a pub, a spa, a restaurant. Ironically, the isolation of this house, the very quality that gave it its tranquility and has protected it for so long from development happening all around it, could also be its downfall. Even the Ottawa Citizen referred to it as "remote", even though it's 500 meters from Canadian Tire Centre, and there are townhouses within about 100 meters.  I hope this doesn't become a case of "out of sight, out of mind", and that the house does live to be part of a new development.

I'm watching this one closely and will keep you posted. Follow #173huntmar on Twitter and watch for future updates on this blog.  (You can bookmark http://ottawastart.com/173huntmar for the latest news.)

Do you know anything about this house or the Boyd family or the Burroughs family who lived there? Do you know anything about the old stone houses or Walter Holmes? Send us a note at feedback@ottawastart.com


(Thanks to the staff at the Goulbourn Museum for their help in this research.  The Kanata collection at the Stittsville Library was also a great source of info.)

More in this series:


See also: Ottawa History Guide
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8 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Hmmm...Carson Unsworth was my great-uncle (my grandfather's brother). I'll have to see what I can find out about Unsworth House. I knew nothing about it before reading this; I'm so sad it isn't still standing.
    Lisa Unsworth

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  2. Hey, just thought of another similar structure - the Cat! Built in 1883 as a one room school - http://www.oneroomschoolhouses.ca/huntley-township.html

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  3. Thanks so much for this series - it has been fascinating and I can't wait to get out there and try to catch a glimpse of the old house. Please keep us up to date on any developments!

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  4. Thanks for all the comments and thanks to everyone who has emailed ideas and leads. I have some great info about the Boyd's and life on the farm that I'll share soon, and I have a few phone calls and meetings lined up over the next week to gather some more information. This old stone house is just full of stories and links to the past and present.

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  5. Anonymous10:51 PM

    there is a book called 'once upon a country lane' that profiles a number of stone houses built by one John Manion in upper Huntley. If memory serves, he was Irish rather than Scottish. Most of these homes still stand on Dwyer Hill and Corkery.

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  6. Thanks Anonymous for the book suggestion. I now have it on hold at the library.

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    Replies
    1. Let us know what you find out! This is fascinating stuff, I can't wait to get back to Kanata to track a few of these places down. Thanks for the great work!

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