Historic Home: Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Secord-Williamson House

Written by: Megan Pasche
Photographed by: AJ Harlond

The Secord-Williamson house located on Dorchester Street is one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s best examples of an older home that has been refinished to make it functional for the modern age. Or perhaps more aptly, the house is a great example of homeowners who took the time to lovingly restore one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s historic homes, so that the history of the home is honoured, while the home is still comfortable for them to live in.

Grant Williamson and Carol Radford made the move to Niagara-on-the-Lake three and a half years ago. They were intending to either find a heritage home they could restore, or build something new and make it look old. The art of building something new, but making it look old is exactly what Grant did for his entire career, when he worked as a home builder, primarily up in the Muskoka area.

The house on Dorchester Street turned out to be just what they were looking for. The home is situated on a parcel of land that dates back to 1796. It was owned by John Secord, and in 1825, he left the land to his granddaughter Susannah Secord and her husband William Bowers Winterbottom, and they built the original house in 1832. And while the house is now located in a neighbourhood surrounded by other houses, Carol notes that back then, “it would have been the only house on this block and it would have been fairly remote from downtown.” There have been several different owners over the years, all who added their own touches, but now with Grant and Carol, the house has truly reached a whole new level of design.

There are several things that need to be considered when renovating a heritage home. If the building is protected, there are certain things you can’t do. Grant relates, “we couldn’t really change the front of the house at all. It’s a new front door set that I built, and we added new shutters, but we couldn’t change the window placement or the door placement, the look of the door, the height of the roof or the chimneys.” He says that as he moved down the sides of the house, there was more freedom in terms of what could be changed. He initially thought the renovation would take around a year or a year and a half, but it ended up taking two and a half. He notes, “certainly with an old house, what you get is what you get and everything is a surprise.” He spent time working on rebuilding the beams under the house, fixing the foundation, fixing the drainage and more. Once he got past the wall of the original structure, it became easier, as after that point, it was new construction. And while there were certainly challenges with the project, the result is truly stunning.

Several aspects of the original house remain, and they blend fairly seamlessly. The original staircase is still in tact, the steps well worn and creaky from years of use. The old barn that was on the property was connected to the rest of the home by way of an addition and converted into a stunning living area, perfect for reading, napping or watching football. Grant says the barn is the favourite room in the house, and it is easy to see why, it’s gorgeous. The sitting room at the front of the house contains the original floor and a Rumford fireplace, and it is one of those rooms that Grant says gives the house its charm. He shares that even though the brick hearth stands an inch above the floor, causing a constant stream of stubbed toes, he would never consider covering the old floor. Carol says that this sitting room is her favourite in the house and that, “it’s got a feeling to it that you can’t replicate in a modern or reproduction house. It just has got a good, warm feeling.”

Carol notes that she thinks what is now the dining room used to be the kitchen, because of the original cupboards as well as the location of the chimney. On the opposite side of the house sits the pantry, which Carol mentions used to provide access to the cellar, but now serves as kitchen storage. What is now the middle of the house used to be the garden area. The bathroom contains a tiny claw foot tub that came with the home when they purchased it.

It is the kind of house that immediately grabs you; it has a past you can visualize, but you can also see yourself living there. As Carol says, “you have to be able to live in the house, it can’t just be a museum”. The house is open, it’s inviting, it’s modern, but the historic character of the home has remained completely in tact. Thanks to their dedication to the restoration of this home, Grant and Carol have ensured it will continue to be a Niagara-on-the-Lake treasure for many decades to come.

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