Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Diaries of A Nostalgic Muse" - 'Rural tales of history and hauntings'' / Column 1 / The House On Ewart St.'

          "Don't bump your head!" warned the real estate lady, as we left the charmingly gabled attic bedroom of the old house in Belle Ewart, Innisfil.  The landing was narrow, and led to a very steep wooden flight of stairs.  Randolph and I were looking for an old Victorian house as we attempted to become a blended family, his daughter and my son had known each other back in Kindergarten, and now we were a couple.   He loved old farmhouses, and I had always dreamt of a big old house with lots of charm to raise my three children in.  This seemed a perfect place for us - close to the lake in the quiet hamlet of Belle Ewart, and it had history! 
 The agent explained to us that in the olden days this had been a hotel where the ice-cutters had stayed.  As we stood at the top of the stairs discussing the house's history,  I suddenly felt a presence on the ceiling above us.  Shaking it off as we started down the narrow flight, the agent led the way.
As I stepped down Randy touched my shoulder from behind. 
"Do you think this place is haunted?" he asked me.  
"Why? Do you?"  I questioned. 
 "I think there was something at the top of the stairs" he replied. 
I gulped "I know - I felt it too".
"Aw...probably our imagination...she was telling us about the old ice-cutters n'all." 
Randy wasn't the type of guy to be fanciful like that.
'Yes, probably...I'm sure you're right!"  I replied, reassured by his masculine practicality.

    Later that day,  the offer was accepted, and the big old yellow house in Ewart Street was ours.  It was an amazing deal, and with a huge property surrounded by forest, and a guest house that was a full apartment, it had great income potential as well.  We soon had the 'bunkhouse', as we called it, outfitted for rental to the ice-fishermen who come to this lake every winter in  droves from the USA.  We called it 'Tall Tales Cabin", and soon had it regularly rented throughout the winter months.  Randy was a long-haul trucker and was gone for weeks at a time, so I was in charge of the bunkhouse.
      My first night alone in the house I was awoken by three very loud knocks on the wall over my bed.  I literally jumped out of bed.  I went down the staircase to the kitchen and  poured myself a glass of milk.   I stood uncertainly at the door to the kitchen,  looking straight up the narrow staircase.  The kitchen lights dimmed three times,  then went out completely.   I turned them back on.  They flickered up and down. 
I glared at the light and said out loud  'Stop that!". 
Three loud knocks suddenly came from, of all places, behind the refrigerator.
 "Rap, rap, rap!" 
Loud and clear. 
Then the lights went out.
     The next day found me down at the Land Registry office in Barrie, looking up the history of the house and the land is sits on.  To my great interest I discovered that we were the 27th owners of this property, the first being James Ewart, the owner of the great Belle Ewart Ice Company.  Old timers in Toronto can still remember the horse-drawn ice trucks with their gold lettering, 'Belle Ewart Ice Company' , coming along city streets, delivering the huge blocks of ice to every door.   Stamped 100% pure, Lake Simcoe ice was shipped in railway cars as far south as Michigan and Detroit. 
    Going back to the 1840's the house changed several times until a Henry Stone purchased it in 1880  Ten years later in 1890 he sold it to one Harriet Stone for one dollar, 'for love'.  I stared at the writing, in fountain ink, written by a long-dead hand of some cleric of Olde Barrie.  The year was it was written 112 years ago.  It was a little unnerving to realise that my house was indeed, very old and full of history!  My eyes scanned down the page - Harriet seemed to have owned the house for the next 50 years!  Not until the 1940's did the house change hands again, strangely every year throughout the war they seemed to have flipped it amongst family members - some kind of tax dodge I figured.  Jewish names.  Now I wanted to know more.  More about the strange old house on Ewart Street, and more about some of the strange sounds and feelings we were getting in the place.  Once we heard a kettle whistling...the old fashioned kind, not like our electric one at all.  Then a baby crying - we heard that more than once.  Footsteps coming down the stairs...a ladies' mules with that 'clip,clap,clip,clap' sound.
"Like a lady of the evening might wear" as my mother described it. 

   Picking up my mail at our local rural post office in Lefroy one blustery fall day, an elderly gentlman in line happened to overhear me mention the house address.  "Oh so you're the ones bought the old Tremblay house?" he smiled. 
"Nice to see it getting fixed up again.  I knew the previous owners.  Fell into terrible disrepair - holes in the ceilings and floors and such.  Man was an alcoholic. "
The gentleman introduced himself and I recognized his name as one of the earliest settlers in the region.  Yes, he remembered the place from when he was a little boy even, he told me.  He had grown up here.  He remembered when the place used to be a brothel.
"A brothel?" I gasped.
"Yes, they used to bring the girls up on the train from the city...for the ice-cutters you know?"
 He gave me a knowing wink. 
Lefroy was in fact an old train station, and the derelict old tracks ran directly behind our house... ON our property!   We had discovered them when walking in the woods behind us - they led straight to the lake.  These would have been the tracks that led directly to the huge ice warehouses for loading.  They packed it in enormous blocks into the railcars lined with straw to stop it from melting, then headed south.  

"So...OK..."  I thought, as I headed home to the big old yellow house on Ewart Street,
"So Harriet was a Madam and I live in a haunted old brothel !  Good grief!  So much for calm quiet country living!  What next?"
I had to learn more...

Next edition:  The Psychic in Cookstown tells me about Harriet.




  2. Excellent work Michelle, The next edition of Great North Arrow will be available Jan 17th in local area stores and subscription.

  3. Thanks Cyndi - I can't wait to read the next edition myself - Great North Arrow is such a feel-good newspaper, and an all-around great read! ... it's just what the Doctor ordered for us all these days! ..Oh and a Vitamin D tablet too! We Canadians are all Vit-D deprived at this time of year... so take a Vit D with your Great North Arrow and get ready to enjoy our fabulous Canadian winter!

  4. Good stuff! Doubly interested because I spent a goodly portion of my life very close to there.