Sunday, Nov, 15, 2015
The ruins known as The Hermitage are said to be one of the best spots for ghost watchers because of it’s haunted past. Reverend George Sheed bought this property in 1830 when he moved to Ancaster to become the first resident Presbyterian Minister. He built a frame house on low ground close to the stream. The property seems to have had some odd things going on from the very beginning. The first service conducted in the new church was the funeral for Reverend Sheed who had passed away suddenly in 1832. As you walk back though the former estate grounds, now part of the Bruce Trail, you pass a small pond that was almost perfectly calm on this sunny morning.
Otto Ives came to Upper Canada in 1833 and purchased the land from Sheed’s estate. Legend has it that Ives and his wife hired a coachman named William Black to assist them. Black became obsessed with Otto Ives’ niece who had moved to Canada with them. Finally he worked up the nerve to ask Otto for the young woman’s hand in marriage. William Black was quickly rejected and told he was beneath the family and could never hope to marry into it. When he failed to turn up for work the following morning Ives went looking for him. Whether found hanging in the rafters or a tree it is recorded that heartbreak caused Walter to take his own life. Otto then cut the body down and took it for burial. Suicides could not be buried in the church cemetery and so the body was transported via a manure wheel barrow to a burial site near Lover’s Lane. They say that the ghost haunts the property today looking for his lost love. There are many claims of sightings and the park is now closed at night as a result.
George Gordon Brown Leith bought the property in 1855 and he built a two story home in a park-like setting that came to be known as The Hermitage. The front and side walls were made of hammered limestone while the rest was made of random field stones. The house has been in ruins for years with the walls being propped up from the inside. For safety the walls either needed to be lowered to waist height or be secured. It was decided to rebuild the walls. Restoring the Hermitage is a $600,000 project and was started in July. Each stone was removed, numbered and set aside. A new foundation was poured and steel support beams installed to support the walls. The stone masons are busy putting the walls back in place. In the end we will have a set of restored ruins.
Behind the two story home an extended carriage house also contained a workroom and space for wood storage. This building itself was 85 feet long. There was also a smaller building which housed the nursery. Their ruins can be seen in relation to the Hermitage in the picture below.
At the rear of the house was a two room building that housed the laundry. One of these rooms had a cistern built into the floor. The ruins of the laundry are relatively more intact than the stable or nursery. The cover photo shows the inside of the laundry while the picture below is from the rear.
Beside the parking lot on Sulphur Springs Road stands the gatehouse which was built around the same time as the rest of the structures. It was also called The Lodge and was occupied by the gatekeeper and his family. His duties included opening the gate for the family and their guests and escorting people back to the house. For many years it was lived in by the grand daughter of George Leith. Today the gatehouse hosts a museum on the property.
By the 1860’s the farm was quite prosperous with 150 acres cleared and cultivated out of the total 250. The family of 8 shared the home with five servants and lived in relative opulance for the time period. Slowly the family died off with Mr. Leith going first in 1887 followed by his wife in 1900. Their daughter, Mrs. Alma Dick-Lauder, lived in the house after they were gone. In October 1934 there was a fire that totally destroyed the buildings leaving only ruins. In another small example of unusual behaviour on the property, Mrs. Lauder lived in a tent while she had a smaller new home built inside the ruins. She lived there until her death in 1942 when the farm began to return to the forested condition it enjoys today. Among the trees grow wild grapes, some of which have reached massive sizes as the vine below illustrates.
The park is full of deer tracks, some of them very fresh. I followed what looked to be the freshest ones and soon came to a set of deer bones scattered on the ground. Thinking the tracks were much newer than this, I carried on and came to an old orchard. This is a prime area to see deer, especially at this time of year when they can find some apples to eat.
At the end of the orchard stands a giant old red oak tree. I estimated that it must be six feet across at the base of the trunk. These trees can live to be 600 years old.
In the park is a section which belongs to a private residence. These structures were built by Leith for the farmer who lived there and tended the farm for him. There is a house, granary and a barn. It is clearly fenced off and as I admired the old architecture I wondered if those might not be three arrowslits in the top of the wall on the second story of the barn. How many times has a musket poked out of one of those I wondered?
Finally, my following deer tracks paid off as I came to a buck and doe grazing. They both posed for some great shots but the buck was especially proud of himself. Following wild animals through the woods is hazardous because they are unpredictable and they are, therefore, safer enjoyed by photo and video.
After a few pictures he decided to strut off into the woods as if I didn’t concern him at all.
I didn’t feel anything that was unusual while I was around the Hermitage. Perhaps the restoration project has caused the ghost of William Black to find temporary new lodgings. And then again, was that a musket in the arrowslit on the old barn?
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I once lived in Ancaster and hiked to the Hermitage many times.
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