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The Weather Network
Jul. 21, 2019 | Sunday
Local News
Architext: Hidden Story
(Supplied/Brian Marshall)

Spotted here and there across Niagara are 19th century homes that contain a surprise, for hidden within are older, more modest structures that were enfolded as the fortunes of the families grew and allowed for expansion of the house. Usually so well concealed within the larger home, the history and even existence of the originals have often been forgotten.

During the early years of settlement, Land Grants were commonplace. As part of the process, recipients were usually given 1 year in which they had to clear 5 acres of land and build a dwelling of at least 320 square feet thereon. This was no small order. A quick visit to Paradise Grove in Niagara-on-the-Lake will give you a sense of the challenge these folks faced axe in-hand in terms of simply clearing the land. Successful settlers were a tough bunch!

Since Carolinian forest is largely hardwood, many of Niagara’s ‘settler’s dwellings’ were timber-framed rather than the log cabin found where softwood forest prevailed. Indeed, it was the Niagara settlers’ timber-frame process which has left us the evidence of what ‘came before’; for unlike a log cabin, a timber-frame lends itself to being incorporated within the context of a larger structure.

Take the Regent Street Vernacular Georgian cottage shown above. When the current owners purchased the property it had been suggested that it was a mid-19th Century build with a 1920s cross gable addition to the rear. But, what we found during my investigation was very different; the 1840s portion of the house had actually been built off the front of an older building whose hand-squared timber-frame definitively pre-dated 1820 and showed every indication of being contemporise with the Land Grant (1794/95). The history of the house had been rewritten!

So what’s hiding in your old walls?