Skip to main content

In 1896, 4 Birchmount Rd. was an overgrown piece of land atop the bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario.

Back then, there was no street address to identify the property and no road that led to it. But a Toronto lawyer purchased just under two acres so that he and his family could enjoy summer sojourns away from the city.

Those first summers, Henry Ernest Redman cleared the brush away and pitched a tent. By 1898, Mr. Redman had built a tiny summer bungalow for his wife and family.

Four years after that, he expanded the modest cottage into a grand home facing the lake, and soon moved the entire family, which by that time had swelled to six children.

As it turned out, Mr. Redman lived there until his death in 1942 at age 74, and his descendants stayed until 1984. That's when restaurateur Gary Stephenson and his wife took over as only the second family to own the property.

Now, 4 Birchmount is waiting for the next chapter, and third owner in its long history. Mr. Stevenson recently put the 5,000-square-foot house up for sale with an asking price of just under $1.95-million. It sold last week.

Listing agent Thomas Neal of Royal LePage Estate Realty says the lot is one of the largest along that stretch. "Two acres fronting on the waterfront is pretty rare."

It's also unusual to find a home with such an unbroken history. The Redman family chronicles detail a past that includes sending two young sons off to fight in the First World War, and, on a happier note, the founding of the area's first Boy Scout troop in the front parlour.

Recently, Mr. Redman's grandchildren, Edwin Redman and Frances Leinster, returned after an absence of more than 20 years to visit the family homestead. They grew up there with their extended family all around them.

They recall that their grandfather's business prospered after he became a partner in the law firm of Mulock Milliken Clark and Redman. Their grandmother ran the house with the help of her two oldest daughters.

The daughters helped because it was hard to find staff who would travel to such a rural location, according to researcher Dana King of the Toronto-based company Every House Tells a Story.

Back in the early 1900s, the nearby intersection of Kingston and Birchmount roads was a tiny hamlet called Birch Cliff, with a post office and a general store operated by local landowner Arthur Mitchell. Roads were muddy and unpaved but a new electric railway brought wealthy residents from Toronto to their summer cottages on the bluffs.

Not long after moving there, Henry Redman became township solicitor, a post he filled until 1930. He persuaded the power utility to bring electricity to Scarborough in 1914 (his first attempt in 1912 failed), Ms. King's investigations indicate.

In 1920, the house was valued at $1,000 and the land at $850, Ms. King says. Twenty years later, the value of the dwelling had more than doubled to $2,300. By 1945, it had risen to $3,000, and by 1950, to $4,300.

When Edwin and Frances look back, they have warm memories of their parents, aunts, uncles and cousins living in the old family house or in nearby homes backing on to the land.

For many years, the house was divided into two flats. Edwin and Frances grew up living on the second and third floor with their parents, while their aunts Mary and Dora lived on the main floor. Another aunt, Winifred, had her home and art studio on the grounds.

Edwin and Frances recall having bonfires at the top of the bluffs and launching their canoes from the base.

"The family all loved the house and loved the lake," says Frances.

In 1900, the Redman family had 40 feet of beach at the foot of the bluffs, but by 1914, this had been cut to only a few feet, and all of the trees and vegetation had been washed away by the waves, Ms. King's research shows.

Between 1914 and 1963, the Redman property at the top of the bluffs lost about 35 feet of land.

It didn't help that in 1916, sandsuckers operated off the bluffs, hastening the erosion, Ms. King says.

In the early years of the Depression, Edwin Redman remembers, the family purchased 100 cars from a wrecker's yard and pushed them over the cliff to help prevent erosion. Some of the wooden-spoked wheels can still be seen poking up through the rocks at the base of the cliff.

The children of the family regularly scrambled up and down the steep 180-foot side of the cliff. "We were very sure-footed by the time we were 10," says Edwin.

The area has been stabilized now, according to Mr. Neal of Royal LePage, but for years the threat of erosion was a preoccupation for the family.

"Right up until the day my father died, he was worried about the cliff," Edwin says.

But above the bluffs, the land was flat and shady under the shelter of black cherry trees. "This hasn't changed at all," Edwin says of the surrounding land as it is now.

When Mr. Stephenson took over in 1985, he decided to make some changes. He took down some walls upstairs to enlarge the rooms, and put in a second-floor laundry room. Downstairs he built an addition to house the dining room, and renovated the kitchen to include a breakfast bar where the dining room used to be.

Mr. Stephenson loves the calming location next to the lake, but he's looking for a smaller house now.

Despite the updates over the years, Edwin found some features inside the house were unchanged as well. In the unfinished basement, Edwin found his initials inscribed on the ceiling in a distant corner. He often played with a friend from school, and the two of them used the soot from a candle to leave their mark.

Upstairs, during his visit, Edwin tested a rail in the third-floor banister. Years ago, the family loosened the rail so that they could lift it out of the way and set up their film projector on the stairs to project home movies on the living room wall.

"It's still loose," he says.