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.

In 1964, Ever Green Villa and a surrounding small parcel of land was acquired by Aileen Adams and Anne Wanstall. They renamed their property Melody Farm, and spent years remodeling the house. Wanstall, the food editor of the Toronto Star newspaper, added a state-of-the-art kitchen during the renovation.

Ever Green Villa in 1970, after renovations by Aileen Adams and Anne Wanstall, who renamed the property Melody Farm. Photo credit: Pickering-Ajax Digital Archive

On March 2, 1972, the federal government announced that they would expropriate more than 7,500 hectares (18,600 acres) of prime farmland, centred in north Pickering Township, for construction of a second Toronto international airport. Ever Green Villa/Melody Farm was just inside the eastern boundary. The next evening, March 3, 1972, the “call to meeting” bell on the Ever Green Villa coach house was rung, summoning neighbours to the first meeting of the Stop the Airport Committee. Hugh Miller/Thistle Ha’ was asked to chair this meeting. That night at Ever Green Villa saw the birth of a powerful, grass-roots protest movement, later known as People or Planes, that succeeded in getting the federal government to halt airport construction plans in 1975. No airport construction plan has been revived since.

After expropriation, the federal government leased Ever Green Villa to tenants until about 2000, when it chose to leave the house vacant, and board it up. Three demolition orders were successfully fought, but due to the ravages of weather, time, vandalism and willful neglect by the federal government, historic Ever Green Villa was claimed to be no longer salvageable. So Transport Canada ordered it destroyed.

Ever Green Villa on November 8, 2012. By the next night, the house was completely gone. (Click to embiggen.)