1543 River Rd., Sand Point, Ont.
Nancy O’Dea, Royal LePage Performance Realty
The Back Story, Part One
Located on the Ottawa River in Ontario’s Renfrew County, about a 45-minute drive from Parliament Hill and just west of Arnprior, historic McDonell House was built by the lumber baron Alexander McDonell, a Scottish-born Canadian politician, and his Montreal-born wife Janet, circa 1832. Some parts of the house, including the original kitchen, date to an even earlier time in Upper Canada’s formative years.
This significant historical property is a Renfrew County blue limestone house built in the Georgian Scottish Borders style, with magnificent views across the Ottawa River toward Norway Bay. The cast-iron fence is regally decorated with orbs and appears to be a celebration of the 1837 coronation of Queen Victoria. The house stands in its original 2.9-acre plot of land, and many of the large private gardens have been restored to an 1860 plan.
The Back Story, Part Two
If the above description has a ring of authority about it, it’s because the current homeowner of this four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with six parking spots is Janet Carlile, an antiques appraiser with more than 30 years experience who once served as a member of CBC Television’s Canadian Antiques Roadshow team.
She also wrote the Antiques at Home column for Canadian House & Home magazine for five years, the weekend syndicated antiques column for Southam newspapers for four years and, most recently, a paper about Canadian furniture made during the British Colonial period for the Southland Museum in Invercargill, New Zealand.
A proud seventh-generation Canadian, Ms. Carlile is the curator of the Arnprior and District Museum and also appraises antiques for major institutions and museums, and for private individuals and estates. Listening to her talk about her house results in a delightful lesson in early Canadian history.
The Back Story, Part Three
Alexander McDonell had emigrated from Knoydart in the Hebrides of Scotland in the first decade of the 19th century, Ms. Carlile says, initially settling in Perth, Ont., with his seven siblings and parents. After moving to Sand Point in the 1820s, he became friends with the notorious Archibald McNab, the last Laird of McNab. In the late 1830s, during the Upper Canada Rebellion, troops were mustered at McDonell House. During the making of the national railway, McDonell extended its reach along the Ottawa River. He gave land for the rails to be laid in front of his house, ensuring the prosperity and longevity of Sand Point, which became so important that at one point Lord Elgin paid a visit, staying at the McDonell home.
“In preparation for this important and well-documented visit the interior walls were decorated profusely with murals depicting life along the Ottawa River, which were described in great detail by Harry J. Walker in The Ottawa Journal in a series of articles in the 1920s. He called it the Palace of the North,” Ms. Carlile says.
“The magnificent gilded plasterwork and wall murals in the dining room – now the library – created for that visit are still present along with many other original features, including a 40-foot-long hallway, internal shuttered windows, a winding staircase with black walnut accents and handrail, original door surrounds, doors, bread oven and Georgian kitchen fireplace.”
One of the most imposing 19th-century homes with original gardens along the Ottawa River still in private hands, stately McDonell House blends history with 21st-century lifestyle needs. Together with her husband John, Ms. Carlile renovated and restored the house with a great deal of sensitivity, spending approximately $200,000 in upgrades.
“We wanted to update the house but also keep as many heritage features as possible,” she explains. “We used a variety of contractors, depending upon the type of work which needed to be done. John was able to do some things himself, such as pull out false walls at the front entrance vestibule and remove a closet under the central winding staircase, returning the hall to its original length of 40 feet.”
New to the house is a swimming pool in the landscaped backyard, laundry room and a heated floor in the family room in addition to forced-air central heating, air conditioning, updated wiring, plumbing and a recently installed septic system, among other additions. The new kitchen was created according to a design by Deslaurier in Ottawa.
“Although very modern, I wanted to retain a look of age and so we used the original paint colour which was found on plaster work behind the drywall. It is a most wonderful velvety blue-green. Colours are a major feature in the interior and we have tried to use those that would have been available when the house was built wherever we have not known what the original was.” The floors are a combination of hardwood and ceramic tile.
The Best Feature
The original Georgian kitchen with bread oven and cooking crane and the domestic staff accommodation above the main living space were derelict when the present homeowners arrived on the scene six years ago. “We had it built up again,” says Ms. Carlile, “creating a wonderful family room with cathedral ceiling.” Old meets new.
Editor's note: Agent Nancy O'Dea was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of the story.