McCurdy House, 1899. From files at the Goulbourn Museum.

Oops! We tore down your heritage farmhouse

(ABOVE: McCurdy House, 1899. “Farms & Families” by the Stittsville Women’s Institute, Tweedsmuir History Committee.)

“Misunderstanding” was a big hit for the band Genesis in early 1980s. Stittsville was also hit by a misunderstanding in 1985 when a 19th century stone house was “accidentally” knocked down.


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In February 1985, a backhoe operator mistakenly tore down the 153-year-old McCurdy house, instead of a shed.

McCurdy House (date unknown)
McCurdy House (date unknown) via Ancestry.ca

 

HISTORY OF THE HOUSE


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The house was built by the McCurdy family on Hazeldean Road, on Lot 27, Concession XI in the Township of Goulbourn.  The family farm stretched from Hazeldean Road to the railroad tracks (now the Trans Canada Trail).  The McCurdy’s were one of the early families to settle in the area, and there’s a road named after them in Kanata. Their farmland is now the Iber Road industrial park, with Iber stretching right down the middle of the property.

John McCurdy, 29 and his wife Mary (Caldwell) arrived in Canada in 1819 from Northern Ireland. Their first child was a daughter named Jane, born September 19, 1819.  (Some of the family history in this article is from “Farms & Families” by Stittsville Women’s Institute, Tweedsmuir History Committee.)

The couple had six children: three boys and three girls.  Their youngest, William, married the girl next door. Her name was Martha Kemp, the daughter of William and Susanna Kemp.

Mary died in 1836 shortly after the couple’s sixth child was born, at age 41. John would later re-marry, and lived until 80.  Mary and John are buried together in the Old Union Cemetery on Young Street in Kanata.

Detail from the 1879 Belden Atlas. The McCurdy farm stretched along what's now Iber Road, from Hazeldean to the railrooad tracks (now the Trans Canada Trail). Kemp's Tavern (now Cabotto's) is marked on the map just to the west of the McCurdy's. Joshua Bradely's House, to the east, is still standing too. It's the brick farmhouse at the Bradley-Craig farm. David Hartin's house to the north is now the Winds of Change Day Spa on Cedar Row. The Grant farm, was bulldozed to build the big box stores (including Grant's Crossing) and part of the Fairwinds subdivision.
Detail from the 1879 Belden Atlas. The McCurdy farm stretched from Hazeldean to the railroad tracks (now the Trans Canada Trail). Kemp’s Tavern (now Cabotto’s) is marked on the map just to the west of the McCurdy’s, on John Kemp’s land. Joshua Bradley’s House, to the east, is still standing too: it’s the brick farmhouse at Bradley-Craig farm. David Hartin’s house to the north is still there too – it’s now the Winds of Change Day Spa on Cedar Row. The Grant farm was bulldozed to build the big box stores (including Grant’s Crossing) and part of the Fairwinds subdivision.

 

The McCurdy Farm in 1976. Longtime Stittsville residents told me that they remember the farmhouse being set back quite far from the road, so it was probably part of the group of buildings at marker #2. The barn is also visible in that group of buildings. Just to the east, the Fringewood subdivision is under construction. Click for larger size. (via GeoOttawa)
The McCurdy Farm in 1976. Longtime Stittsville residents told me that they remember the farmhouse being set back quite far from the road, so it was likely part of the group of buildings at marker #2.  Just to the west, the Fringewood subdivision is under construction.  Iber Road today follows roughly the path of the old lane linking the buildings from marker #2 to Hazeldean Road. (via GeoOttawa / click for larger size)

 

“Out of the wilderness, a prosperous farm was well on its way. The many hardships and long hours of toil of the pioneer could be seen in the 80 of the 100 acres which had been cleared making way for greater areas for growing the crops. Only purebred stock were kept. The dual purpose milk and beef Durham had been selected; high quality Tamworth hogs for table use and marketing; Oxford sheep were raised for many years until dogs began mollesting [sic] them at which time the farmer ceased keeping sheep although went back to raising them at a later date. All the McCurdy men were ardent horsemen, often taking ribbons at the shows in the district with their fine Clydesdale horses. Many of the neighbours were supplied with colts coming from this well-bred stock.  To add to this self-contained farm, there was a large orchard…”
(via Farms & Families)

 

Family member Bob McCurdy recounted the history of the house in an Ottawa Citizen article about the demolition:

Bob McCurdy describes the history of the house.
Bob McCurdy describes the history of the house.

 

If the house was indeed built in 1832, it was one of the earliest stone homes ever built in Kanata/Stittsville,  predating Grierson House on Hazeldean (attached to the Starbucks) and just six years younger than the 1824 Hodgins/Sparks House on Castlefrank (now The SPA).  Most neighbouring homes were basic log structures.

It was one of the few buildings to have survived the Great Fire of 1870 that wiped out just about everything in the area.  The Kemp Tavern next door (now known as Cabotto’s), built in 1868, also survived.  Most of the stone homes we have left, like Boyd House on Huntmar and Hartin House (the Winds of Change Spa) on Cedarow were built in the years after the fire.

The house stayed in the McCurdy family until 1953.

***

HOW IT WAS LOST

John Steenbakkers owned the land in the 1980s and said at the time that he intended to preserve the home and turn it into a restaurant as part of the Iber Road industrial park.

His company, Valley-Vu Realty Ltd., received a demolition permit to take down the building in 1982, but by 1985 the permit had expired.

Jacques St. Jacques, Valley-Vu’s construction management consultant, said that the backhoe operator was told to tear down a shed next to the old home, but took down the two-story stone house instead.

“It was a misunderstanding. What do you say when milk is spilled,” said St. Jacques at the time.

“I cannot really understand that. It was indeed a pity. I would have liked to preserve (the house),” Goulbourn Mayor Anton Wytenburg told the Ottawa Citizen.

The accidental demolition of the house came just a few months after a fire destroyed the McCurdy barn.

Ottawa Citizen February 1985: The McCurdy House Misunderstanding, via Google News
Ottawa Citizen February 1985: The McCurdy House Misunderstanding, (via Google News)
Ottawa Citizen February 1985: The McCurdy House Misunderstanding
Ottawa Citizen February 1985: The McCurdy House Misunderstanding. (via Google News)

 

The house did not have official heritage designation, and Goulbourn Township never took any legal action against the developer for demolishing the house without a permit.

If not for that rather unfortunate misunderstanding on the part of the backhoe operator, the house would have been a 184-year old historical highlight in our community.

***

ALL IS NOT LOST

The old McCurdy maple woodlot, behind Talltree Crescent off Abbott.
What’s left of the McCurdy maple woodlot, behind Talltree Crescent off Abbott.

There is one feature of the McCurdy farm that survives to this day: a maple bush. It’s on the south end of the old farmstead, and would have provided the lumber to build the barn along with lots of maple syrup for the McCurdy’s and their neighbours over the years.

The McCurdy maple bush on Abbott Street, behind an industrial building on the west side of Iber. February 2016.
The McCurdy maple bush on Abbott Street, behind an industrial building on the west side of Iber. February 2016.
A McCurdy maple tree. February 2016.
A McCurdy maple tree. February 2016.

 

The City of Ottawa now owns that maple bush, behind Talltree Crescent just west of Abbott and Iber. From a 2006 report:

This maple bush played a significant role over the years for one of Stittsville’s pioneer families. The McCurdy family, who came to Canada in 1819, settled on 100 acres of Lot 27, Concession 11, Goulbourn Township. One of the reasons that the McCurdy farm grew in prosperity was partly because of this maple bush. The family continued to play a prominent role in the Stittsville area for over a century, eventually selling the property. The former McCurdy house was torn down with the beginning of the development of the Iber Road Business Park in the 1980s. This maple bush represents a significant part of the history of Stittsville and its preservation is imperative.

Perhaps the City could add some kind of marker at the maple grove on Abbott, explaining the historical significance of the trees and their link to the pioneer McCurdy family?


If any of our readers have any memories or photos of the house, please add a comment below or email feedback@stittsvillecentral.ca

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2 thoughts on “Oops! We tore down your heritage farmhouse”

  1. Really enjoyed this piece of work Glen. Thank you. All I can add without speaking on the topic of the loss of heritage buildings is that on the east side of this lot was The Mud Chapel; located somewhere close to the Hazeldean Road. It was used prior to 1863 and probably as early as 1847. It received its name not because it was made out of mud but because it was located on a muddy road, on the corner of the McCurdy farm. It was said to hold 200 people. Two hundred people standing up would be more realistic. The building was still standing in 1896. Not sure when it came down. Ryanite evangelists a form of Methodism, held there revivals there. I don’t know what became of it, but I have read where other log Methodist chapels were simply taken down and the logs reused by the farmer when the chapel was no longer required. Perhaps these logs were repurposed as an outbuilding on the McCurdy farm or used in the fenceline. after the Wesleyan Church was built on Concession X. Or maybe it burned or fell in on itself, I just have not had time to research it.

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