589 King St. W., Cobourg, Ont.
Asking price: $1.5-million
Taxes: $23,070 (2013)
Lot size: 8 acres
Agent: David Lester (Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty
The Back Story
It was 1898 when a young banker named Edward Osler purchased the Cedars as a summer retreat for his family, just outside of Cobourg on the Lake Ontario shore. Suzanne Mess was the granddaughter who grew up playing tennis on the lawns, bounding along the sandy beach and swimming in the waves.
“Our childhood here was rather marvellous,” says Ms. Mess as she recalls running freely with her older brother and cousins.
Many decades later, Ms. Mess is preparing to relinquish stewardship of the house that has remained in the family for 115 years.
The first owner of 589 King St. West was Dr. Thomas White, who bought the land in the early 1880s and had the house built soon after, according to real estate agent David Lester of Royal LePage Pro Alliance Realty. Dr. John Clark bought the house from Dr. White and sold it a few years later to Charles Guillet.
Over the years, Ms. Mess says, the original summer kitchen was knocked off and an addition was built to contain a large indoor kitchen and pantry. The doctor’s office was eventually turned into a bathroom but Ms. Mess points out the marble-topped basin where he washed his hands – with the original taps still there.
The red brick dwelling has a centre hall plan, six bedrooms and a wraparound veranda. The brick coach house, which still stands at the rear is where Lady the horse resided. Ms. Mess still has a vintage photograph of Lady pulling the family’s carriage.
“She always wanted a piece of toast before she would go on her way,” she adds with a smile.
Eventually the Osler family sold their house in the town and moved to the Cedars full-time.
The house sits surrounded by perennial gardens, green lawns and woodland on eight acres. The rocky shoreline stretches for about 140 metres along the property. The wide beach gradually disappeared when the St. Lawrence Seaway was built, says Ms. Mess as she watches the waves roll in.
“We’ve always been really happy here.”
The House Today
The exterior of the house and parts of the interior are protected by local heritage conservation rules but Ms. Mess didn’t need such edicts to maintain the elements she has staunchly guarded from change since her grandfather’s day.
In the kitchen, she points to the original farmhouse table, antique dishes, and a line of 11 coffee pots in descending order of size. A local carpenter built additional cabinets and shelves in the style of the original cabinets, which remain unchanged except for successive coats of fresh white paint.
Even the hole made by a mouse chewing through the cupboard door remains as a whimsical piece of the home’s history. “I couldn’t take it out - it broke me up.”
In a touch reminiscent of Downton Abbey, the kitchen also has a row of bells - with one for each bedroom. That way the maid and housekeeper knew which room was summoning help, explains Ms. Mess.
In the pantry, the wooden countertop has been worn to a smooth finish.
“It’s like silk,” says Ms. Mess. “It has never been polished - it’s just years of wiping it down and using it.”
A few renovations have been done since Ms. Mess decided to make the Cedars her home after her retirement from a career as a costume designer for the Canadian Opera Company and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. She added the main floor bathroom, for example, because for decades the house had only one.
Ms. Mess also undertook the refurbishment of the front hall and dining room. These areas fall under heritage protection because of the highly unusual wall covering made of papier mache. It was the third owner, Mr. Guillet, who used newspapers and glue to create the surface, says Ms. Mess. She worked with the set designers and artisans who were restoring the historic theatre in nearby Port Hope to renew the walls and a mural painted on the dining room ceiling.
The Best Feature
The heavy wooden banister lining the curved staircase was irresistible to the children, says Ms. Mess.
“The boys used to slide down this but somebody had to be at the bottom to catch them.”
Ms. Mess acknowledges that it’s difficult for her to let the old house go but the younger generations of her family are widely dispersed these days.
“If somebody buys it who’s happy, I’ll be happy.”