26 Stuart St., Guelph, Ont.
Asking price: $1,775,000
Taxes: $7,577.00 (2019)
Lot size: Under ½ acre
Agent: Aimee Puthon (Coldwell Banker Neumann Real Estate)
One landmark property that draws the attention of passers-by in Guelph, Ont., is an English Tudor revival home in the historic enclave of St. George’s Park.
The house on a corner lot at 26 Stuart St. is the former coach house of a stately home nearby.
The mansion, known as Ker Cavan, was built between 1854 and 1856 for the Reverend Arthur Palmer, who was the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church across the river.
The 23-acre estate sat on a bluff high above the Speed River.
Decades later, in 1925, the manse was purchased by the insurance executive Henry Higinbotham.
During an extensive overhaul of his newly-acquired estate, Higinbotham tore down an old barn and stable and replaced them with a building to house his limousines. The gardener and chauffeur also lived in the new coach house, which was built in 1928.
Higinbotham’s gardener, George Davies, raised five children there with his wife Edith. The chauffeur, Alvin Ward, lived with his family above the garage.
The coach house also contained the heating system, which funnelled warmth to the main house through an underground tunnel. That way, if there was a fire or explosion in the furnace room, the main house could be protected from the inferno.
A glass greenhouse on a stone foundation was attached to the coach house so that Davies could tend flowers and vegetables for the estate.
Over time, the Ker Cavan property was carved up to create a leafy residential area that connects to downtown Guelph through a historic footbridge over the Speed River.
“This neighbourhood sits on the river’s edge where the Speed meets the Eramosa,” says real estate agent Aimee Puthon of Coldwell Banker Neumann Real Estate. “The setting is really quite something in all four seasons.”
As the land was sub-divided, a more recent house was built between Ker Cavan and its coach house.
In 1988, the city of Guelph designated the coach house as a heritage property protected under conservation rules. The designation covers the white stucco exterior with black strapping, some of the towering trees that line the grounds and a picturesque wishing well.
“It’s kind of famous in the Guelph community,” says Ms. Puthon of 26 Stuart, which was featured on the Doors Open architectural tour in 2017.
Two of the visitors who joined a tour of the property were the daughters of the former gardener, Davies.
The house today
Owners Lynne and Rob Wolstenholme purchased the three-bedroom house in 2014.
“It’s a lovely old home,” Ms. Wolstenholme says. “There is so much history.”
She enjoyed collecting old stories and vintage photographs, which she plans to leave for future owners.
Soon after purchasing the property, the Wolstenholmes undertook their own renovation to update the interior while preserving the exterior and grounds.
The home needed new insulation to replace the old horse hair in the walls and newspaper around the chimneys. There’s a new furnace and modern kitchen and bathrooms.
Today, the house has more than 4,000-square-feet of living space, including a deep basement.
Guests arrive to a foyer that leads to a great room with living and dining areas.
A wall of French doors overlooks the garden.
Ms. Wolstenholme says she learned from local residents that the great room has a concrete floor below the hardwood because that was the area that housed the cars in the 1920s.
“I still learn because it’s a famous little house in Guelph.”
The original kitchen was cramped and hemmed in by a large brick fireplace.
“This was servants’ quarters,” she points out.
The Wolstenholmes took over a sitting area and removed the fireplace in order to create an expansive new kitchen with a large island and breakfast bar.
The kitchen has built-in appliances, a coffee bar and a window seat.
Upstairs, the house has a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom. The couple updated the bathroom with a walk-in shower and his-and-hers vanities, but they kept the fixtures – such as a deep claw foot tub – in keeping with the heritage of the home.
In the main bathroom, the couple preserved a cast iron tub that Ms. Wolstenholme believes is original to the house.
There are two additional bedrooms and an open landing overlooking the living area.
Downstairs the home has a basement with a 10-foot-high ceiling. The deep basement – unusual in a coach house – was created to keep the heating system.
Today, the basement provides a large recreation room and the tunnel has long been filled in. The former entrance is hidden behind a bar and entertaining area.
Ms. Wolstenholme has visited Ker Cavan and seen the other end of the tunnel, which appeared rather grim.
“It’s certainly not romantic. It’s utilitarian for sure,” she says.
On the main floor of the coach house, the former potting shed has been turned into a mud room close to the garage.
Outside, there’s a stone terrace and extensive gardens.
Ms. Puthon says the home remains on the market during the COVID-19 crisis, but there are no open houses and strict precautions are being taken around showings.
She has created a website with virtual tours and photo galleries online.
The market in Guelph is still moving, she says, but the real estate business is adapting on a daily basis to the state of emergency.
“We’re watching it in slow motion from country to country and it feels fast and slow at the same time,” she says of the pandemic.
The best feature
The gardens are the creation of John Reinhart, who has been tending the property since the 1990s, Ms. Wolstenholme says.
Mr. Reinhart, grounds manager at the University of Guelph, designed the main garden in 1993. When the Wolstenholmes took over, they replaced one of the home’s two driveways with a new garden area.
Mr. Reinhart planned the walkways, trellises and plantings for the expanded gardens, she says.
Today the property is sheltered by trees that were planted more than a century ago. There’s a long-established lilac bush, forsythia growing over the trellises and beds full of perennials and tall grasses.
In the spring, an abundance of tulips come into bloom.
“People just stop and stare at the gardens,” Ms. Wolstenholme says.
Children love the antique wishing well, which stands in an area her grandchildren call the “secret garden,” she says.
“It makes a good little scary place for Halloween.”
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