The listing: 8544 Smylie Rd., Hamilton Township, Ont.
Asking price: $2,150,000
Taxes: $5,574.65 (2021)
Lot: 499.92 feet by 624.57 feet
Listing agent: Jacqueline Pennington, broker Re/Max Hallmark First Group Realty Ltd.
Almost everyone who comes to the Crossen House on Smylie Road asks the same thing: Can I go up in the tower?
Known locally as “Andrew’s Folly” it was built the previous owners, Andrew Smith and Dr. Ruth Bothern, and the almost 50-foot tower is constructed from four Douglas fir logs shipped from British Columbia with two viewing platforms, one about halfway up, another on the very top.
“When the days are hot we go and live in that top level and you can see all the way around the Northumberland Hills,” said owner Carol Finlay, a reverend in the Anglican Church who has been awarded the Order of Ontario for her charitable Book Clubs for Inmates.
The other place guests want to visit is the boat house, down at the front of the almost 11-acre property nearest the road, which is a combination dock, shelter and screened-in outdoor living room on the spring-fed pond.
“It could withstand a nuclear attack the way it’s built,” Ms. Finlay said. “We have a little boat, so you can paddle around the little island on this little pond, and geese nest on the island in the spring. Even in April with the migratory birds we’ll take our blankets and our gin down.
“We have a lot of wildlife; groundhogs, skunks and weasels. We have trout in the pond, and every once and a while we get a family of martens who come and they clean out all the fish in the pond. We also have a blue heron who comes like clockwork on May 1, he stands like a statue where the stream comes for most of the summer, watching for these trout.”
Her husband, famed Canadian litigator Bryan Finlay and partner emeritus with WeirFoulds LLP, once matched wits with a beaver trying to damn up the stream, even coming face to face with the busy castor Canadensis as he removed the latest load of sticks. “According to my husband, it seemed as if he spoke to him: ‘You think you’re smarter than me? I’m on the nickel, let’s see who’ll win this’,” Ms. Finlay said. Eventually, Canada’s mascot moved on to easier pickings.
The couple found the spot (just north of Cobourg, Ont.) in 2015 when Ms. Finlay heard from Dr. Bothern that she was looking to sell her Northumberland house, but wasn’t keen on the daunting work of decluttering and putting it up for sale.
“We went to see them and had a glass of wine, and we gave them an offer that was the highest amount that three real estate agents had told us it was worth,” Ms. Finlay says, with the promise they would take care of the messy business of cleaning the place out. “Within half an hour we had a deal.”
The home today
“This house is interesting because a lot of these old houses were built very close to the road,” Ms. Finlay says. “This one was set well back, so you get all that privacy, and this beautiful old house with quarried stone.”
The main house dates to 1860, and was one of a number of buildings in the Cobourg area built by the Crossen family, prominent local business leaders who ran an iron foundry and eventually the Crossen Car Company, which was the largest railcar manufacturer in Canada until the turn of the 19th century.
“We only have a handful of stone houses in the area, and most of them are located well off the beaten path, this one is only five minutes from the 401,” said Jacqueline Pennington, a real estate agent with Re/Max Hallmark First Group. It’s one of the more expensive listings in Hamilton Township, but given the demand from well-healed Torontonians looking to retire out of the city or maintain a secondary property she’s confident it will find its market.
Up the long driveway the house sites on a rise, so the garage is almost entirely below grade and the side wall of the house looks three-storeys high. A set of steps walks up from the drive to the front door, from which you can survey the sweep of lawn and perennial gardens that runs down to the pond.
There are two wings to the house: the original main house is about 30-feet wide and 22+feet deep, and it has the main foyer that opens up to a staircase running upstairs to the three bedrooms. To the right is a long formal living room with a fireplace on the outside framed by two windows set deep into the three-foot-thick walls with elaborate dark-stained wood casings.
To the left of the foyer is a formal dining room with three exits: One to the four-season sun porch that faces the front lawn, one in the middle of the room that leads to the foyer and the powder room located under the stairs, and another at the back of the room next to the built-in bookshelves and that leads to the kitchen in the newer wing of the house.
The kitchen is bright and white with updated appliances, an island with a stainless steel prep surface, large rustic terracotta tiles, a long table with bench seating for eating in and an exposed stone wall on the back.
Carved into stone wall is a short hallway that leads to the sun porch, fully winterized by the Finlays, and another door to the family room. The family room is the TV hangout space, with a big stone-hearth fireplace, but the Finlays also added a three-piece bath (with shower) that makes allows the space to become a guest suite (the couch is a pullout bed).
The other big feature is just off the sun porch – which is raw stone on one side and a wall of windows on the other – and that’s the in-ground salt-water pool (with attached pergola and pool hut), just beyond that is Andrew’s Folly tower.
Back to the old house and upstairs are the three bedrooms (now blessedly air-conditioned, another newer addition). The two bedrooms at the front of the house are similar in size, the primary bedroom distinguishes itself with a deeper closet and the secondary currently has two twin beds. The smaller back bedroom is across the hall from the shared bath, which has a double vanity and tub-shower.
The outdoors. The house is a haven for bird enthusiasts said Ms. Finlay, who has recently seen eastern bluebirds returning the area to join the more common belted kingfishers and cedar waxwings. The toughest decision is where to spend a lazy afternoon?
“Should we sit by the pool, or up in the tower, get our binoculars by the boathouse or laze out in the sunroom? These decisions are terribly difficult to make,” said Ms. Finlay, who jokes the deciding factor is sometimes if you want your glass of wine sooner rather than later.
“It’s such a privilege to have had a little piece of Canadian history,” she said. “Except for the fact we’re so creaky and decrepit, we’d stay.”
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