Reminiscences


Sources: The Ontario History of Brougham, Past! Present! Future?, by Robert A. Miller, 1973; Historic Ever Green Villa Bulldozed, by Pat Valentine, November, 2012.

Pickering, Ontario lost an important piece of its heritage when the house called Ever Green Villa was demolished last week.

Ever Green Villa wasn’t just any house. It was a grand old house on a farm property that was historically important. Located on a 1799 United Empire Loyalist grant, the farm was acquired by Scottish immigrant Elder George Barclay, a Baptist preacher, in 1819. Elder Barclay became a prominent advocate of political reforms promoted by William Lyon Mackenzie. Two of Barclay’s sons, George Jr and David, were also Mackenzie sympathizers and participated in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. George Jr was arrested in December 1837, convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, to be followed by banishment to a penal colony in Van Dieman’s Land, but he was pardoned and released in 1839.

Elder Barclay’s farm passed to his youngest son, Eli. In approximately 1854, Eli replaced the original log cabin with a house he called Ever Green Villa. This was a large and handsome farm residence, built of clear white pine, and elaborately ornamented with gingerbread trim along the eaves of the house, including its verandahs. The Barclays surrounded the house with spectacular floral gardens. Many thought this house was the finest on the Brock Road; according to family lore, people from miles around would drive past Ever Green Villa on Sundays just to see the Barclay flower gardens.

Eli Barclay and his family stand in front of Ever Green Villa in 1865. (Click to embiggen.) Photo credit: Robert A. Miller estate

Ownership of the Barclay farm passed from Eli to his son Charles, who married my great-aunt, Caroline “Carrie” Stevenson, from Brougham, Ontario. Great-Aunt Carrie lived in Ever Green Villa for her entire married life. The farm was taken over by their second son Harold, who eventually sold it and moved to a farm near Lindsay, Ontario in 1958.
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From mid-April until mid-December, 2011, the farmhouse was renovated. As the work progressed, daily progress reports and photos were posted to show the details of how our contractor started with, for example, this:

Before: old dining room (click on all photos to embiggen).

and ended with this:

After: Charlotte's new kitchen.

For those interested in reading about troubles and triumphs of this project from start to finish, all posts concerning it have been consolidated into an article entitled “2011 House Renovation”, located in the Pages section on the right-hand side.

Among the many John Millers was a grandson of John Miller/Thistle Ha’, who established his own livestock business in 1905 at Blairgowrie farm near Ashburn, Whitby Township. Ashburn John, as he was commonly called, was described by a cousin as an unusual man who did things in an unusual way. He had a remarkable memory for not only livestock and pedigrees, but also faces, names and conversations. He was also known for his originality, and keen sense of good humour, along with a dash of boyish mischief. So, he just didn’t breed Shorthorns, but High Class Shorthorns. As a result of these traits, everyone Ashburn John met seemed to become his friend, not only for his knowledge and advice, but just to find out what he’d been up to. Consistent with his habit of doing things his own way, he persisted in refusing to hold office in the many organizations he supported. His friends claimed that the following story on how he singlehandedly retired the mortgage of Burns Presbyterian Church in Ashburn was typical Ashburn John.

Source: Hugh Miller/Thistle Ha’, in an October 16, 1981 letter to Professor Grant MacEwan. MacEwan, Grant, Highlights of Shorthorn History, p. 48-49, Alberta Shorthorn Association, Calgary, 1982.
Photo credit: Thistle Ha’ private collection.

blairgowriebusinesscardThe $4,000 of lingering debt against the church at Ashburn annoyed him [John Miller], and when he met a neighbor who was a member of the Board of Managers, he had something to tell his friend.

“Fred, are you going to the church meeting tonight? I understand they’re going to talk about reducing the church mortgage, again. Well, I can’t be there but you tell them for me that they had better do more than talk about it. They had better pay it off. Now, get this straight. Tell the people of the congregation to plan for a church supper and concert at my place. Admission will be $1.25 and every woman will have to make six pies and three salads and I’ll find everything else that’s needed. I want to see that confounded debt wiped out in one evening. How’s your new herd bull doing? Good bye, Fred.”

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