Sunday, February 27, 2022
Eaton Hall has been referred to as Canada’s answer to Downton Abbey and is close as we come to Canadian royalty. The 700-acre property has a history that goes back to First Nations who camped around the lake and made use of the nearby Carrying Place Trail. The Toronto Purchase in 1787 allowed King township to be surveyed and opened to farmers in the 1820s. Some of the earliest in the area of Eversley was the Ferguson family who had a kettle lake on their section of the Oak Ridges Morraine. The 1878 County Atlas below shows the eventual site of Eaton Hall Farm.
When Timothy Eaton, founder of the retail empire, passed away in 1907 his youngest son, John Craig Eaton took over the $22.4 million business. John Craig Eaton grew the business to $125 million in the next 15 years and so he and his wife Florence (Flora) lived in a large mansion near Casa Loma in the rich area of Toronto. Henry Pellet owned Casa Loma as well as a country estate known as Marylake. He convinced the Eatons to buy land near him in King Township to build their own country estate. In 1920 the Eatons bought the Ferguson farms and started to build their country home and farm. When John Craig died on March 30, 1922, Flora spent a year overseas and then chose to reside at Eaton Hall Farm most of the time. In 1924 she had the second Ferguson farmhouse moved a short distance and then expanded greatly to create her country mansion Villa Fiori. The middle section of the home, with the small dormers, is the farmhouse. The original Ferguson farmhouse was moved to a row of workers’ homes near the new barn but was left largely unrepaired from 1972 until 2015 when it was demolished.
A large section was added to the front of the original home with a dining room on one side and a living room on the other, both looking out over the lake. Two large bedrooms on the second floor each had their own bathrooms. An extension on the back contained a three-car garage on the ground floor and servants’ quarters on the upper one. When it was completed in the fall of 1924, Villa Fiori served as the primary country residence until 1936. When Lady Eaton passed away in 1970 and the estate was eventually sold to Seneca College, they used this building for a while. Eventually, it was determined to be unsafe and has been closed off for years. It’s hard to say if funds will be found for restoration before it is also demolished.
Nearby, the Tea House had a small kitchen and screened windows. It looked out over the rose gardens toward the lake in one direction and over the tennis courts in the other.
The Eatons went on a building campaign as they sought to develop their estate into a working farm that could produce eggs and butter as well as other products to be sold in their stores. They built a dairy building, a chicken house, an ice house, and a greenhouse. They added a large cattle and horse barn which suffered two fires. The remaining barn lacks the two silos and clock tower that used to adorn it.
It took a lot of people to run the farm and so some housing was provided. The single farm dwelling is located just south of the cattle barn and was one of three homes in a small community of workers.
They also built what they called the semi-farm dwelling where two more families lived. Beside it stood the relocated original Ferguson farmhouse.
Plans for a family mansion that could host the children, grandchildren, and royalty we set in place in 1921. When John died they were put on hold until 1930 while Flora spent much of her time in Europe with her children. Construction began in January 1938 and finishing touches were completed by February of 1941. Looking like a castle, the 35,000 square foot home cost $380,531.13 which is about $6 million in today’s currency. It is made from local Humber River limestone which is appropriate since the lake in front of the castle is one of the primary headwaters for the river. It has two round turrets and one square one. The large round turret in the front of the home contains the grand staircase which only reaches the first three floors and does not continue to the servant’s levels above.
The east wing of the basement level is largely used for the staff dining areas and the laundry and storage. The large vault is located under the turret with the staircase in it while the rest of the lower level was largely used for entertainment with a card-playing room, billiards room, ballroom, and a theatre. The main floor contained the grand entrance hall, the grand hall, conservatory, and sitting rooms as well as the library. The second floor was used for living space and family bedrooms. Lady Eaton had her bedroom, dressing room, sitting room, and private conservatory at the west end of the building. The picture below shows the rear of the home.
There is wrought ironwork in several places on the building but only one place where it bears the letter “E” for Eaton. That is just above the door that was used as the servant’s entrance.
Eaton Hall has a most interesting and appropriate flag pole, which is shaped like a ship’s mast. It was created for them by Ditchburn Boats Ltd. in Gravenhurst. The Eatons had bought their cottage in Muskoka from the Ditchburns in 1906 and so it was natural for them to be contracted to build the unique flag pole. It was installed in 1940 but urban legend suggests that it was raised as a tribute to the Royal Canadian Navy which used Eaton Hall during World War Two. The Navy was given use of Eaton Hall beginning on August 24, 1944, at which time Flora Eaton took up residence in Villa Fiori once again. Between 75 and 100 injured or ill navy personnel were sent here to recover and get prepared to return to service.
When Lady Eaton moved out of Ardwold, their city home, she determined that there was no market for it and had it destroyed. A few items were brought to Eaton Hall including the fireplaces, some carved stone benches, and the pergola. Although they still allow light to get through, the idea of a pergola is to provide a level of shade. After Flora Eaton died on July 9, 1970, the family agreed to sell the 696-acre property. Seneca College bought it to create their King Campus. At the time, there were 19 buildings on the site and nine families plus five other workers lived in the complex. A total of 27 people were employed to keep the farm and buildings in order. Seneca cut this back to four people and building maintenance wasn’t kept up. As a result, many of the buildings are in poor shape and the boathouse has recently been demolished. The pergola, Villa Fiori, and the workers’ homes are all in a state of deterioration. All of the buildings on the western end of the property are now in ruins.
One of the trails through the property follows the Schomberg and Aurora Railway right of way. This 36-kilometer long railway was built in 1902 and connected Schomberg with the Toronto and York Radial Railway which ran up Yonge Street. This is how Henry Pellatt introduced the Eatons to the property as the Eversley train station was just opposite where the Eaton Hall gatehouse and driveway would be built. Pellatt also built a spur line on the boundary between lots 11 and 12 to service his estate at Mary Lake. The Schomberg and Aurora Railway closed in 1927 and the tracks were removed the following year.
The Oak ridges Morraine Trail runs through Seneca King Campus and there are many other trails to be explored which makes this an interesting area to visit more than once.
Google Maps Link: Eaton Hall
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