Situated on grand properties, both the interior and exterior of this collection of historic rural Ontario homes are worth a look. These beautiful old buildings have been selected for this list based on their enduring romance.
Each property is open to the public, and all merit a visit. Plan to explore the surrounding communities too when you’re there. You never know when you will come across some other local gems in your travels! To get your journey started, here is a little bit of the stories behind five of Ontario’s best historic houses:
Annandale House – Tillsonburg
In 1880, Edwin Delevan Tillson, businessman, entrepreneur and his town’s first mayor, built a retirement project on a hill overlooking the town that his father had founded. A 600-acre “Model Farm” called Annandale was so named after the maternal roots of his wife Mary Ann.
Known as a man who wasn’t afraid of new ideas, Tillson’s project encompassed all the newest and latest ideas in farming technology and convenience, from steam heat to gas lighting. Embracing the newest ideas in interior design known as “the Aesthetic Art Movement,” Annandale House features stunning murals painted on its high arched ceilings. After its completion in 1887, at a cost of slightly over $30,000, Annandale House easily became one of the most impressive rural homes in Ontario.
Barnum House – Grafton
Eliakim Barnum was in his early twenties when he emigrated from the United States in 1807. He chose to settle in Haldimand Township near the village of Grafton (then called Haldimand) on the north shore of Lake Ontario. In 1819, Barnum built a stylish house which stands today as one of Ontario’s finest examples of Neo-Classical architecture.
Now in the care of the Ontario Heritage Trust, Barnum House has undergone extensive restoration. Original paint colours and wallpaper were reproduced to mimic the decor chosen by Eliakim and Hannah between 1820 and 1840.
Bethune Memorial House – Gravenhurst
Bethune Memorial House was built in 1880 to serve as the manse of Knox Presbyterian Church. Malcolm Bethune became the minister of Knox Church in 1889 and, a year later, his son Norman was born there. The Bethune family remained in Gravenhurst until 1893, when they moved to Beaverton, Ontario. Thereafter, the house was occupied by a succession of ministers. In 1973 Bethune Memorial House was purchased by the Department of External Affairs on behalf of the Government of Canada.
This National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the life and achievements of Dr. Henry Norman Bethune. Most famous for the last two years of his life, which he spent in China serving as a surgeon and teacher, Dr. Bethune is a legendary Canadian. Bethune Memorial House illustrates its namesake’s roots and presents the legacy of this international hero. Dr. Bethune was a battlefront surgeon, activist, inventor, humanitarian, teacher, and artist.
Castle Kilbride – Baden
Castle Kilbride was built in 1877 by James Livingston and named after his birthplace in Scotland. Kilbride served the Livingston family for many years until the builder’s granddaughter Laura Louise and her husband Harris Veitch decided to seek smaller accommodation and less onerous maintenance. In 1988 Kilbride was sold to a developer.
Seen from the road, the residence’s clean Italianate design, capped by a towering belvedere, dominates its surroundings. Its attractive exterior, however, is overshadowed by its amazing interior decor, which in its own right classifies the house as a work of international significance. Much of the interior is masterfully painted in trompe l’oeil style that appears three-dimensional.
Scotsdale Farm – Halton Hills
Scotsdale Farm is one of the Niagara Escarpment’s hidden treasures. Stewart and Violet Bennett began to establish the property in 1938 when they bought a 200-acre farm. They later purchased neighbouring farms until they had acquired 540 acres of rolling farmland, forests and swamps.
The Bennetts worked their farm for breeding livestock, specifically Arabian horses and Shorthorn cattle. The barns were working buildings in their prime. No expense seems to have been spared in their construction. The modest house sits within a low stonewall garden. On the north side are two small cabins, one a former guest house and the second a former car garage. Underground heating pipes were used to warm the guest house in chilly seasons.
Scotsdale Farm has been used as a set for numerous film projects, most notably The Recruit starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell in 2003 and The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis & Samuel L. Jackson in 1996.