January 8, 2023
Castle Killbride in Baden was built in 1877 for James Livingston. James was born in 1838 in East Killbride, Scotland. After moving to Canada in 1856 with his brother John they took jobs in the flax industry. Eight years later they opened the J & J Livingston Linseed Oil Company and went into business for themselves. By 1867 they had moved the operation to Baden, where his wife Louise had been born, and opened the Baden Linseed Oil Mill.
The ceilings and walls throughout the home are painted with a wide variety of intricate designs. One of the objectives was to showcase the various colours of paint that could be produced using the linseed oil that the family fortune was based on. In the library/home office the ceiling is painted using 38 different colours. The interior of the home was painted in 1878-1879 by Henry Scharstein. Throughout the home many of the paintings on the walls are done in a style known as “Trompe l’oeil” or “fool the eye”. The paintings of tassels along the walls in this room are a good example. They are flat but appear to stand off of the wall because of the shadows which are painted behind them. The shadows are designed to appear to emanate from the central light with the tassle in the middle having no shadow.
Another example of the “three dimensional” paintings in the castle can be found in this image of a vase. The shadows are added to make it look like a vase standing on a small shelf but both of them are part of a flat painting.
The house is decorated for Christmas with different trees set up in several rooms as well as Christmas Dinner staged in the main dining room. This Christmas tree has a small ornament on it that looks like a glass pickle. Legend suggests that the first child to find the glass pickle, which would be hidden on the tree, would get an extra present.
One of the unique features of the home is the window shutters which are on the inside instead being on the exterior of the home. This allowed to windows to be closed more easily to control the lighting and temperature. Three generations of the Livingston family lived in the home until 1988 when it was vacated.
The attic space in the house was generally used for storage. Old furniture and household items that had gone out of fashion were stored up here. In 1988 when the house was sold, eleven truckloads of furniture were removed from the attic and taken to auction to be sold over a four day period. At this time, the attic is home to the seasonal display of a miniature village based mainly on the works of Charles Dickens. The village is put together by Dave Herner and takes over 30 hours to set up. There are 130 major pieces such as homes and churches as well as over 250 minor pieces like people and trees.
When you reach the top of the stairs into the Belvedere you get a nice 360 degree view of the property. In the early years the fields to the north contained the flax that was being grown for processing in the mills that were visible to the south of the home. The front walkway is shaped like a heart. This is a tribute to Livingston’s wife Louise with whom he would have twelve children.
The basement of the house has been converted into a toy museum. Toys are on display from various eras over the past 100 years. It’s possible to find something that you had as a child on display here.
In 1988 the three hundred acre property was sold to a development company who built homes on the former flax fields. The house, however, was left to rot and by 1993 was in a state of disrepair. The building was bought by Wilmot Township and a new wing was added at the back to be used as municipal offices. The home was restored by removing the paint on the outside to expose the original brick as well as replacing many of the wooden features on the exterior. Inside, the walls were stripped of several layers of wallpaper to reveal the earliest paint schemes. The wall and ceiling paintings were carefully cleaned to remove layers of soot that had built up from the four fireplaces. By 1995 the restoration had been completed and much of the original furnishings were either donated or bought back. The house has been opened as a museum and given a designation as a National Historical Monument.
The original privy was located where the new council chambers were built and so it was preserved and moved to the side of the house. Each side of the privy had two seats, one for an adult and one for a child. Unlike most outhouses it wasn’t built over a deep hole but had metal bins underneath which were emptied daily by the butlers or maids. Most outdoor washrooms were built of wood and could be moved when the pits were filled but the brick structure didn’t allow for this.
Most of the linseed oil mills still stand close to the mill pond which originally provided power to the operation. Flax seed was pressed to extract the oil which was then used as a pigment binder in the manufacture of paints or in soap. The building for a similar operation at the Canada Linseed Oil plant in Toronto is in the process of being repurposed to become a community hub in a new park.
One of the other prominent buildings in town is the Livingston Presbyterian Church. It was built in 1894 with funds donated by James Livingston while the stained glass windows were funded by other members of the Livingston family.
Castle Killbride has a small entrance fee and is well worth the visit if you are in the area. Other grand homes that we’ve visited that are known as castles include Casa Loma and Dundurn Castle.
Related stories: Canada Linseed Oil Mills,
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