254 Bay Street South, Hamilton
Asking Price: $2.1-million
Taxes: $13,823 (2020)
Lot Size: 66.99 feet by 128 feet
Agent: Tom Fleming, broker, Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd.
Children of all ages have gotten to know “Bev’s Castle,” in Hamilton’s west end. But the beloved Queen Anne Revival mini-mansion could soon belong to a new lord or lady.
For 16 years, Beverly Bronte-Tinkew has lived in and run her speech and language pathology practice out of the sandstone and red brick house on the corner of Bay Street South and Charlton Avenue in the city’s historic core. It’s notable to locals for its steep gabled roofs and enormous turret with wraparound porch. The Queen Anne style, popular in the late Victorian period, has been described as eccentric and flamboyant but it’s intricacies and flourishes have helped make Ms. Bronte-Tinkew’s clients feel welcome and engaged. That is before 2020 changed everything.
“My clients are primarily kids – maybe with a diagnosis of autism or other communication disorder – anywhere from 18-20 months to young adults. I’m a singer as well, so there are also people who are professional voice users,” Ms. Bronte-Tinkew said.
Over the years more and more of the house’s six bedrooms have been turned over to the practice; one for group activities, one for music therapy, one to store the toys and other aids. It’s been important for her to open her home to these young people to help them feel at ease and keep the setting as non-clinical as possible, even incorporating excursions to the courtyard garden and the local coffee shop into her sessions. Her husband, artist and musician Michael Beerman, was a key part of the activities and the house was bustling morning, noon and night.
With the coming of COVID-19 suddenly the house was impractical for these sessions.
“Every doorknob is carved brass, and there’s all the carved oak and glass; my little people like to explore things with tongues and mounts. I would not feel confident in keeping the coronavirus at bay and I don’t want to restrict my little people or big people,” Ms. Bronte-Tinkew said.
Masks, too, make it difficult to show people how to form words, and even sneeze guards tend to fog up. They installed a plexiglass shield in the massive coach house to keep some in-person sessions, but most have stopped or gone virtual.
“A month into the lockdown my husband died suddenly … that was definitely the bigger blow. That changed my life,” she said. And so, it’s time for someone new to appreciate this house. “It’s a special place. I’ve been very lucky.”
The house today
There are three structures on this lot: the main house which is more than 3,000 square feet, a 1,500-square-foot coach house and former stable and an attached but separated garden suite apartment that was the doctor’s office of a previous owner. The coach house has two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and four-piece bathroom.
Ms. Bronte-Tinkew is only the fourth owner in the house’s 125-year history, according to listing agent Tom Fleming. The house was built by a lumber baron before the turn of the 20th century. “It’s in the Durand neighbourhood, and there’s a certain cachet that goes along with it,” Mr. Fleming said. “It’s one of literally hundreds of houses of this standard that existed at that time; some were much grander and are gone. A number of these enormous old grand mansions have been torn down, and replaced with low-rise rental apartments, and that’s kind of the fabric of the neighbourhood now.”
There are multiple entry points, but the formal entrance off the front porch opens into a wood-panelled vestibule bracketed by two double doors with crystal-cut glass. Past that is a generous main hallway that connects two front sitting rooms with the kitchen to the rear and a staircase that curves upstairs. Greeting visitors from a perch at the base of the balustrade is a brass statuette of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer, triumphantly raising a torch to light the way. “It would have been gas, the little standard he’s holding had a little key and the flame would have been at the top,” Ms. Bronte-Tinkew said. It has since been rewired to join the electrical age.
The oak framing around the pocket doors has ornate flourishes, as does almost every piece of wood in the place. “It’s like nothing else I’ve seen; to find something with this level of preservation, it’s like walking into a living museum,” Mr. Fleming said. “Everything is intact: the woodwork, door hardware, windows, crown mouldings, medallions, light fixtures, stained glass … Hamilton history buffs contacted me ‘thank you for documenting this.’” Even the hardwood flooring is done in patterns quite a bit more elaborate than the vertical rows we’re used to today.
“You feel enveloped by beauty. That makes everything better, the worst days can still be positive,” Ms. Bronte-Tinkew said.
To the left is a formal reception room. Tucked behind the stairs is a powder room and an office/library and to the right is a living room and connected dining room. The centrepiece of the living room is the massive carved wood and mirrored mantle around the tiled fireplace. Facing the street is the rounded interior wall of the house’s turret, complete with curved, built-in seating. Then there are the more functional parts of the house; a butler’s pantry almost entirely original (there’s some newer granite) and beyond that a remodeled kitchen that is more country-modern than period Victorian. The kitchen was renovated by Mr. Beerman, down to the all-new maple flooring. At the back of the kitchen is the rear staircase, and off to the side is another modernized room – a mudroom with access to the rear courtyard and outbuildings.
On the second floor is the living quarters and workrooms. There are five generous rooms, only one set up as a primary bedroom. All the doorways have glass-panelled dormer windows that open, offering lots of light even from the central hallway. Some of these spaces could use decorative updating, but even as is it’s a welcoming space. “There such warmth in the house, it felt warm and welcoming even though it’s a mansion,” Mr. Bronte-Tinkew said.
There’s a more modest section on this level with former servants quarters, next to a bathroom, which has a separate water closet and shower room accessible from the hallway. The access to the vast and unfinished loft is here, too.
“It’s got a crazy steep peaked roof for visual impact, and you could easily put a massive two-storey apartment up there in the huge attic,” Mr. Fleming said.
The loft in the carriage house is similarly vast with its exposed timbers and light flooding in.
“[Bev] feels strongly that whoever buys the house should not significantly alter the property,” Mr. Fleming said. “We’re looking for someone who sees the inherent value in this preserved property – who will love it and become a steward – rather than someone who just sees dollar signs. We’ve had a lot of interest from that type of buyer.”
The house has been a safe space for people learning to communicate; Ms. Bronte-Tinkew has been doing this work for more than 25 years in Hamilton. There are a lot of memories held inside this fanciful castle. “That’s why I feel so important that somebody else loves the house to continue the legacy of caring and love,” she said. “It’s a bit of a project to take on, but it’s very special.”
Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.