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Toronto Real Estate Home of the Week: An 1857 house where history is cherished

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

The listing: 45 Prospect St., Port Dover, Ont.

Asking Price: $1,695,000

Taxes: $7,824

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Lot Size: 228 feet by 160 feet

Agents: Mia Land and Kelly Barnes, Erie’s Edge Real Estate Ltd. Brokerage

The back story

Large windows bring in plenty of natural light.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

Even though this was the first heritage home that Graham Loughton and Cynthia Zamaria had ever bought, it wasn’t unfamiliar to the couple. Mr. Loughton had grown up in Port Dover, Ont., and remembers the home on a quiet street as one of the nicest in town.

Not long after they bought the property in 2017, the family knew everything there was to know about the old Georgian style house. Ms. Zamaria does design work and was obsessed with older homes and the estate fed into Mr. Loughton’s love of history and antiques. They took it on as a unique renovation challenge.

Mr. Loughton’s research found that the house was built in 1857, 10 years before Confederation. It was built by Frederick Millar and family, Scottish immigrants who came to North America with almost nothing. Mr. Millar went on to found the community of New Dundee, Ont., which still has a street named Frederick in his honour.

“It’s a bit of a rags-to-riches story,” Mr. Loughton said. The Millars purchase of lot and built what appears to have been a small farm. By the early 1900s it had become a vacation home for a brigadier-general from Alabama.

“We were really taken by the space – the ceilings, the rooms. There’s tons of natural light [from] huge old windows,” Mr. Loughton said. “It was begging for someone to resuscitate it and that’s really what we did.”

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“We believe homes have souls, so it needed to have a family and people running around, and dogs and parties,” Ms. Zamaria said. “I think the house chose us.”

But the house had more stories to tell once the renovations started. While renovating an old coach house on the property, they found an old shoe in the wall. Mr. Loughton said it was once thought that leaving a woman’s shoe in the cavity of a wall brought good luck and fertility to the home owners. They’ve kept the shoe on display.

Even as the renovations continued, old homeowners returned to see the changes. To their surprise, they found that the house must have once been a popular site for weddings and receptions – 12 people showed up at their door with wedding pictures taken in dining room and their own memories to share of the house.

The house today

Ripping up the floors exposed the original, rutted floorboards.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

Two years of renovations have resulted in many changes to the property, though heritage elements, such as the large windows and 11-foot ceilings, were carefully maintained.

“We wanted to respect the character and the originality of … all the historic features,” Mrs. Zamaria said. “At the same time we wanted to make it bright, light, modern and a family-friendly home – how it was intended to be in the first place.”

The roofing, kitchen, electrical wiring and bathrooms all got major upgrades.

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The renovation was intended to turn the space into a 'bright, light, modern' family home.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

The kitchen fireplace showed the passage of time, with burn marks all around, but they were careful to keep the scars. Ripping up the floors, they found the original floorboards – deeply rutted from the passage of innumerable feet – but intact.

The biggest alteration has been to change the former galley kitchen into more of a family gathering space.

The old kitchen space became a mud room, and the living room, which took up nearly half the main floor, was transformed into a family kitchen-dining room with open-brick walls.

A massive island is the centrepiece of the renovated kitchen.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

A massive 10-foot-by-5-foot island with a maple butcher-block top is the centrepiece of the renovated kitchen. One Christmas, the island even stood in for a stage as family members gathered round to sing carols.

The back of the house actually used to be the front of the house, because it faces Silver Lake where a road once ran. The private yard is about an acre in size.

The terrace takes advantage of the property's lake views.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

From the kitchen, you can access the terrace, built to make the most of the lake views. The garden measures 70 feet by 30 feet with a fountain, which once stood at the front of the house, at its centre.

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The best feature

The rooftop belvedere offers views in every direction.

Robin Stubbert/Robin Stubbert

Original pine floors, exposed brick, high ceilings with crown mouldings – the things you can’t get in everyday houses are a big part of what the family enjoys. The heritage makes walking into this house more magical than other homes.

“We’ve lived in a lot of urban homes," Mr. Loughton said. "Just coming here and having the space inside the house – I can feel the air moving through the house, because the terrace faces the west so it gets that beautiful breeze coming off the lake.”

“And of course the belvedere,” Ms. Zamaria says. The rooftop structure, an open-sided viewing gallery – beautiful, but too small to be a functional room – is nonetheless a cherished feature. Ms. Zamaria sees its purpose as “purely to bring joy.”

Mr. Loughton said their attention to detail while renovating has paid dividends. “You absolutely have to sweat the details," he said. “And you think that moving something half this way or that way won’t make a difference. It does make a difference.”

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