Back in 2008, I was alerted to a remarkable abandoned house in Bala, ON. The old narrow road on the outskirts of town bends sharply at Gaunt Bay, and opens up to the most impressive looking old Victorian I had seen anywhere in the region. Situated on a rise well above the rising and falling shores of the managed Moon River, the old building had clearly seen better days. Through the rippling glass of the living room window, I could see a phone book. It was from 1999. The wraparound porch sloped at odd angles where Winter had rested too long, the roof showed clear signs of ice damage and the intricate gingerbread had the look of a lace wedding dress, left too long in the closet.
I visited a few times over the course of that year, took photographs and did some basic research. The Wilsons had a long history of involvement with the town of Bala and were well liked. The history books are filled with the contributions made by the earliest members of the family. I had completed a fair bit of secondary research before discovering it was unlikely I could find anyone who would speak to me. The house had been in the same family for a century and a dispute had erupted amongst the remaining family members after the deaths of Edna and Roy Wilson, a brother and sister who managed the farm until the 1980’s. No one returned my correspondence and I let it go. (“Bala Pioneer Passes Away“)
In 2010, I learned the house had come up for sale and had sold quickly. I worried that with the way old buildings in Muskoka were managed, particularly those on prime waterfront, the house would be gone.
I was mistaken.
A writer and her husband purchased the property and began renovations in 2011, completing them in late 2013. This could more accurately be called a restoration. Every detail possible was preserved, the gingerbread restored, the porch repaired, the summer kitchen rebuilt. Most often, windows of a different size are used to replaced the long windows of the era. I had to look closely at the photos but I can’t be sure they are original. The biggest change was the colour. The original dark brown was replaced with a gorgeous deep indigo. I have to say, I was so excited, I begged Laurel, the new owner, to let me share the photos with you, my readers.
I have yet to see the house live, being over 2200 kms away, but I can’t wait to get back. Most of the buildings that made my book were lost and I sometimes wonder if the reluctance of this house to share her secrets with me were because she had no intentions of giving way to history, just begin a new chapter with a new family who will love her enough to ensure her next century.