“WE BOUGHT A BEAUTIFUL SEVEN-GABLE FARMHOUSE ON THE PROPERTY IN 1975 with a view to upgrading it however, we found the frame too far gone. We have some photos and some history of the farmhouse and its owners, the James family,” wrote Gordon and Heather Walt in an email to me earlier this month, after the home they lived in at 180 Huntmar was demolished to make way for a private school and medical offices.
“We moved out in 1978, had the farmhouse demolished by a friend and built the new house ourselves in 1979. We lived there with our four sons until 2003. It was bought by the Nautical Land Group and used as an office. We managed to rescue a stained glass window from the house on Tuesday morning as a souvenir of our 24 years in the house which we built. There are lots of good memories of our time there.”
I wanted to hear more about those memories, and what they knew about the history of the property. So I got in touch with the Walt’s and had tea with Gordon at the Walt home in Amberwood last week.
“IT WAS A VERY COLD JANUARY DAY WHEN WE MOVED IN,” recalls Gordon Walt. It was 1975, and he and his wife Heather had just bought an old farmhouse dating back to around 1900, with plans to fix it up and raise their family there.
The house is on what’s now Huntmar Drive, but back then the landscape was quite different. It would be over 20 years before the Palladium — now Canadian Tire Centre — would open just to the north. The surrounding area was pretty much all farms, with a few suburban communities just starting to sprout in Kanata to the east.
For years, the property and old house belonged to the James family (more on that below). In 1971, Arthur (Art) Van Gaal bought it from the James, and rented it to a young couple who ended up buying it, then selling it to the Walt’s.
Gordon and Heather already bought kitchen cupboards, windows, and bathroom fixtures to renovate the old house, but Gordon soon realized the house was in poor shape.
“She was beyond hope. So in 1978, we packed up our things and said ‘we have to tear this thing down’,” says Gordon.
He was an engineer working for the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and asked a young architecture student who was working for him to draw some plans. “We knew the style we wanted: a mansard roof with dormers. He prepared the working drawings.”
Gordon says the plan was to bulldoze the house, because they didn’t want to burn it and risk damaging the maple tree beside it — a large tree that is still standing on the site. It ended up that a friend and his son took the old house apart piece by piece, salvaging the wood and leaving just the stone foundation and original pine log beams that held up the floor.
Gordon remembers the thickness of the original floor: “One inch of pine across the beams, one inch of pine boards diagonally on top, and another inch of oak strip on top of that. Three inches of flooring!”
The Walt’s moved into their new home in late November 1979. “The drywall was on, the walls were painted, the flooring was down. We had only one door, on the bathroom, to give Heather some privacy as the only woman in a house with five men – our four boys and me!”
Gordon and Heather raised their family on the two-acre property. They had chickens at one point, and large gardens.
Gordon says he was always curious about the history of the property, and the people who lived in the old white house that they had to tear down. “When I would cut the lawn in the spot near the ash trees, I always felt it was a sacred spot,” he recalls.
The couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the house in 2001, with a big tent set up in the front yard. One of the gifts was a memory book including photos and notes compiled from friends and family.
One of those notes came from neighbour Dorothy Bennett, who lived next door (and still lives in Stittsville). She knew Gordon was curious about the James family who built the original house, and shared this letter and a few photos.
July 27, 2001
Dear Heather & Gord:
I hope you enjoy this bit of history on your property, just a little more, our property was cleared & farmed by Thomas James Sr., father of Thomas James Jr.
Thomas James Sr. had a daughter Gertrude who married John Bennett & in time they bought the farm from her father Thomas Sr. Cyril’s Grandfather Thomas Sr. was Stirling’s Great Grandfather.
You have heard the old expression “he would give you the shirt of his back”, well that was Stirling, he gave our Mike, the socks off his feet when Mike slid into the mighty Carp River, he was special.
Eileen Spearman, cousin of Stirling’s walked down memory lane with me & this is what we came up with, I have to say she did most of the work walking.
Sincerely, Dorothy Bennett
LOT NUMBER ONE IN THE FIRST CONCESSION IN THE TOWNSHIP OF MARCH IN THE COUNTY OF CARLETON.
As of 1868, the North East, North West and South East quarters were owned by Edward Burroughs and was completely fenced, enclosed and cultivated. On the 15th of April, 1869 he sold the front three quarters of the North West and North East quarters comprising 75 acres to his son Thomas Burroughs.
On the 10th of February, 1881 Thomas Burroughs sold the 75 acres to Thomas James of the Township of March.
The South West Corner owned by George Burroughs containing 50 acres was sold to Benjamin Burroughs on October 23rd, 1872.
Benjamin Burroughs sold it to Thomas James on December 21st, 1892.
These two parcels of land which comprised the front 75 acres of the North West half and South West quarter of the said Lot Number One contained in all 125 acres.
Thomas James and his wife Mary Ann Craig raised five children on this farm. Eliza Ann James, Effie Irene James, Thomas Scott James, Sarah Olive James and Stella Bertha James.
After the death of Thomas James in 1917 the property passed to his son, Scott James and he and his wife Lillian Scharfe had one son, Scott Sterling James.
Scott and his son Sterling carried on mixed farming with varied crops, dairy cattle and was well known for his registered pure bred Clydesdale horses winning top prizes at many horse shows. His wife Lillian raised large flocks of turkeys and hens which were sold at the Byward Market in Ottawa and to private customers.
There was a large apple orchard on the property at the front of the house including several varieties of crab apples, a butternut tree, wild plums and wild blackberries. In latter years they appropriately named the farm Glen Eden.
The farm was sold on Aug 25th, 1969 to Arthur Van Gaal and they continued to reside in the house until they purchased a house in Hazeldean/Kanata in June 1973.
Lillian James died on June 12th, 1971.
Scott James dies on August 30th, 1973.
Sterling James died on July 28th, 1999.
“WE LIVED THERE UNTIL 2003, THEN MOVED TO AMBERWOOD. Our real estate agent advised us that it would be good to hang on to it, because property values were going up in the area. We continued to own it, hanging on for over a year. We had tenants, but they were abusing the home, and we didn’t need the hassle. So in 2004 we sold it to the Nautical Lands Group (a retirement home developer). We paid the tenants a bonus to get them out,” said Walt.
Do they have any regrets? Gordon and Heather say they do wish they’d saved the newell posts on the stairs, that were from the original James house. And they are disappointed that the maple tree in the front yard won’t be saved as part of the new development. On the other hand, they’re pleased that it’s a school that’s going to be built on the site of their own home.
“We’ve moved on to a new point in our lives,” says Gordon. “We live here (in Amberwood) now, we have our grand kids.”
The Walt’s, who will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary next year, still keep in touch with many of their former neighbours and shared a few more story ideas about the history of our area. More to come!