The listing: 47 River Valley Rd., Quinte West, Ont.
Asking price: $1.2-million
Taxes: $4,260.75 (2017)
Lot Size: 33 acres
Agent: Jackson Thurling, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada
The “Elijah Secord House” was an 1817 relic standing in a newly built subdivision when Virginia and Robert Palliser first laid eyes on it in the late 1980s.
“When we saw it, it was surrounded by new homes,” Ms. Palliser says.
The dilapidated dwelling had been slated for demolition to make way for the new construction in Stoney Creek, Ont. A local historical group had managed to save it from the bulldozers, but it didn’t have the funds to restore the house.
The Pallisers had to see beyond some added embellishments – including a veranda, bay windows and a coat of stucco – to imagine how the house must have appeared when it was occupied by a retired military officer following the War of 1812.
They also had to contend with shifting the structure to a rural setting in the Oak Hills, about 300 kilometres to the east.
The Pallisers had both grown up in the region north of Belleville, Ont., and they were living near the small town of Stirling, Ont., when Mr. Palliser first spotted the ad for the Stoney Creek house in Century Home magazine.
The couple had long shared a passion for historic buildings and antique furniture.
“When we were poor students, you could get old furniture and strip it,” Ms. Palliser says. “So we would do that and get quite nice furniture.”
In the late 1980s, the couple and their two young sons were living in a recently built house designed to look old. New neighbours were beginning to encroach on their rural tranquility, however, and the house lacked the character of a period dwelling.
Taking on the Stoney Creek house would allow the Pallisers to retreat to a more secluded setting and live in a home with the authenticity they were looking for.
Research showed it had been built by Elijah Secord, who was the nephew of Canadian heroine Laura Secord.
Secord, the legend goes, trekked 30 kilometres through Niagara woods and fields to warn the British of an impending attack from the Americans during the War of 1812. Elijah Secord served as a lieutenant in that war and took part in the Battle of Queenston Heights.
The house today
The numbered pieces of the dismantled house sat in a trailer outside of Mr. Palliser’s office in Stirling for about eight months while the couple searched for a parcel of land.
They finally approached the owner of a large tract of wooded land that was mainly used for snowmobiling in winter. The Pallisers purchased a 33-acre slice that included rolling hills and a spring-fed pond. The setting would provide the Pallisers with the seclusion they were looking for, in Quinte West, yet Stirling was only a five-minute drive away.
“We knew if we put it on the first hill, it would be hidden but close to town” Ms. Palliser said.
The couple then spent the next 18 months restoring the post-and-beam house to appear as it would have around 1837.
They recreated a centre-hall plan, with four rooms upstairs and four down. Once the false ceilings and later additions were gone, they found some clues to the original placements of the Rumford fireplaces and 12-over-12 windows.
Still, filling in the gaps required visits to heritage houses, colonial villages and museums in Canada and the United States.
“We have no way of knowing exactly what it was," Ms. Palliser said of the original appearance.
The front door, for example, had been lost over the years, so the Pallisers modelled the surrounding pilasters, pediment and transom with “bulls eye” glass after the historic Allen House in Deerfield, Mass. The reproduction hardware is copied from the locks and latches of the time.
Throughout the main floor, panelled wainscot was recreated by local craftsmen.
“Where we didn’t get the original wood that came from the house, we had it milled,” Ms. Palliser said.
In some cases, they had trouble tracking down the trades who could do the work.
“You have to bring them out of retirement sometimes,” Ms. Palliser said of the artisans who worked on the carpentry and plastering.
The living room and library share back-to-back brick fireplaces, which are two of seven in the home.
The spindles and newel post on the staircase in the main hall indicate it’s from the Victorian era, but the couple kept it because it belongs to the home, Ms. Palliser explained.
The dining room restoration included placing a “coffin door” to the exterior. In early days, families used to lay out their beloved on the dining room table. The ceiling beams in that room have a beaded edge, which indicates that the wood beams were meant to be left unpainted, Ms. Palliser explained.
“Every dinner party, everyone says, ‘Look at the holes in your ceiling.’ It’s a great conversation piece,” Ms. Palliser said.
The extensive refurbishment allowed the couple to add insulated walls, updated wiring and proper plumbing, Mr. Palliser explained. Other modern concessions include a mudroom at the rear, large closets, luxurious bathrooms and radiant ceiling heat. Each room has its own thermostat.
Outside, 10,000 feet of linear clapboard is attached with historically accurate rosehead nails. A hole had to be drilled for each nail to avoid splitting the wood, Mr. Palliser said. Visitors to the house are often amazed at the workmanship in the row upon row of nails.
“We appreciate them and it’s nice that others do, too,” Mr. Palliser said.
The Pallisers extended the authenticity to the outdoor landscaping. Pine, birch and oak trees surround the house. In the spring and summer, the woods and meadows are filled with native plants such as trilliums, daisies and devil’s paintbrush. The early settlers didn’t have time for ornamental flower gardens, Ms. Palliser explained.
“You don’t have foundation plantings against the house – that’s later and city,” Ms. Palliser said.
Once the house was complete and the couple moved in with their two young sons, it didn’t take long for Mr. Palliser to convince the snowmobilers that the trails were going to be used for skiing from then on. He is an avid cross-country skiier in winter and a cyclist during the rest of the year. He also enjoys trimming the trees and collecting firewood.
“Part of living here is enjoying the property.”
The garage is disguised in the form of a saltbox-style coach house with space for two vehicles and a limestone terrace for al fresco dining and relaxing.
Ms. Palliser says the house – with a secret staircase and acres of land – was wonderful for children.
“We brought up two sons in this house and three Springers,” Ms. Palliser said of the family’s spaniels.
The boys attended the local public school until they entered high school. At that time, they went to private school in Belleville, which is about 20 minutes away by car. That city on the edge of Lake Ontario offered lots of opportunities for sailing and water sports, she added.
The best feature
The hand-hewn beams on the kitchen ceiling are one sign that marks the room as the oldest in the house.
The focal point of the kitchen is the large, open fireplace with a working bake oven and hardware for hanging pots and cooking utensils.
Ms. Palliser says the area in front of the kitchen fireplace was always a favourite spot for children and dogs.
“When the boys were little, there was a fire every day,” Ms. Palliser said.
The deep back-to-back fireplaces offer another benefit: they create passageways between the rooms. The Pallisers used a passageway between the kitchen and dining room to hide a pantry, refrigerators, freezers and built-in wall ovens.
In the main room, the cooktop disappears into the soapstone countertop. Cabinets are painted deep Salem Brick red and the antique light fixtures add to the ambience.