The front room from the interior of the house in Uffington featured in June’s “On the Move” post is finally complete. This room was the favourite of Mrs. Fleger’s granddaughter, Crystal. Apparently she took the bed from this room to college. I named the painting in her honour.
The next painting in progress is from the Livingstone/Stephens house. As promised, the following is an excerpt on the house and its deep connection with Muskoka folklore and history.
The Livingstone/Stephens House
(Chapter excerpt from the upcoming “Echoes” – a book of images and stories of some of Muskoka’s pioneer people and their buildings)
…The brightly painted doors on the second floor were quite intriguing. There were at least three layers of paint with the last layer being a bright yellow. The layers of wallpaper had begun to peel revealing a gold, a peachy colour and gray decorative themes. The white trim had once been stained dark and the peeling paint further revealed the many moods of the home’s occupants over the years.
I found myself convinced that there was some little secret thing – a book or a box – hidden in this house that might have a story in it. At the time, I had no knowledge of the history of the property. So instead, I started to imagine the life of a young woman who might have once lived there in the early 1900’s. I can imagine a box of letters… A box that sat in a room just beyond the door… There may have been no box in the house for me to find, but the story I discovered helped me to realize that this once the home of a very prominent and interesting early citizen of Muskoka.
Farming in Muskoka was often an impossible business due to the rocky terrain, so few would have had the wealth to build a brick house with so much elegant carpentry. It turns out, the house was built on a farm settled by Scottish carpenter, Neil Livingstone who immigrated to Canada in 1861. Mr. Livingstone went on to become a successful contractor in the Bracebridge area, completing the first Registry Office in 1877 and the original Town Hall in 1881. Only the tower remains of the original Town Hall today. The last remaining evidence of Mr. Livingstone’s legacy to Muskoka is that tower, a semi-derelict Dominion Hotel (only the main floor is in use) and the ruin of a once elegant farmhouse.
In a recent interview with 90 year old Elva (Stephens) Bowes, I learned that there was much more to Mr. Livingstone’s story.
In 1877, Neil Livingstone found a nugget of gold in a well in Gravenhurst, setting off an intense, albeit brief, gold rush in the area. It made him an instantly wealthy man and he purchased the farm near Bracebridge. Elva said the story goes that he was engaged to be married, but, the wedding was not to be. It turns out that the lady would not have him because of his penchant for the drink. It is likely that his disappointment drove him further into his vice. His love of visiting the bar at the Dominion Hotel in Bracebridge created debts that he ended up paying with his farm. In 1903, two years before Neil Livingstone died, he transferred the farm and the farmhouse he built in 1891 to Peter Milne, the owner of the Dominion Hotel. The property was handed over in trust so that Mr. Livingstone would be taken care of in his old age and given a proper burial after his debts were settled.
In early 1905 at the age of 84, Neil Livingstone died of pneumonia. Milne sold the farm and the hotel and took his family to Alberta. The farm was sold to Richard Stephens, Elva’s father. Elva was unable to recall the reason her father had a connection with the Hotel man. Her father never touched liquor.
I have yet to find the resting place of Neil Livingstone.