Debra Honor

Building the Canadian Identity in Amherstburg

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourteenth in a series of articles regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Historian/genealogist Debra Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

There was a corps of influential people, who strove to create a Canadian identity in Upper Canada vs. the strong American identity across the river. An example was the American political elections of the 1830’s.

Some of those who were running for office in 1836 and 1840 had fought in the War of 1812.

Richard M. Johnson, in 1836 ran for Vice President with President Martin Van Buren. Johnson was at the Battle of the Thames in which Johnson was given credit for killing Tecumseh. His campaign slogan was “Rumseh, dumseh, Johnson killed Tecumseh.” Van Buren and Johnson won the election for the Democratic party.

In 1840, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler ran for the Republican party using the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” In 1811, six months before the War of 1812, William Harrison had gone to Tippecanoe to confront Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet. Tecumseh was not present, but Harrison’s troops destroyed Prophetstown. It was considered a great American victory. In 1813, Harrison also commanded the American troops at the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh was killed.

Robert Reynolds

How did this American hatred of Tecumseh compare with the Canadians in Upper Canada? Many of the men in the area had known and fought beside Tecumseh. They knew his great bravery and thought he should be honoured and commemorated.

In the Western Herald newspaper of June 17, 1841, many prominent men proposed to erect a monument to show their respect for Tecumseh. A monument had been erected to commemorate Isaac Brock. So, a memorial should also be made to the great warrior, Tecumseh.

Rev. Cheyne and George Bullock resolved: “That although this may be the first instance of a civilized people erecting a monument to an untutored Indian, yet the sterling worth and noble conduct of that brave warrior, who sacrificed his life in defence of our country, entitles his memory to our lasting gratitude.”

A committee was formed to collect subscriptions to pay for the monument which included: Hon. James Gordon, Francis Caldwell, Robert Reynolds, J.P., William Duff, J.P., Col. Matthew Elliott, J.P., Col. Wm. Ambridge, J.P., Charles Fortier, J.P., James Dougall, J.P., William Anderton, J.P., Lewis J. Gordon, J.P., George Ironside, Major Rudyard, Andrew Kemp, George Bullock and others.

So, while the Americans demonized Tecumseh, the Canadians of Amherstburg celebrated his greatness by planning the first monument to a First Nations leader, Tecumseh.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

For more information on the Belle Vue Conservancy and its upcoming events, please visit www.bellevueconservancy.com.

Tragedy experienced at Belle Vue over the years

 

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth in a series of articles about the Belle Vue property, the eleventh by Debra Honor. Honor is a local historian/genealogist and a member of the the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

William Johnston, a local druggist, bought Belle Vue on 1 August 1871. He had married Mary Venn of Detroit in 1859 and to this marriage were born ten children. Only five of those children lived past the death of their parents. There was William, Bella (who died at age 2), Nellie, Stanley George (who died at age 9), Margaret, Charles Henry (who died at age 2), Amy, William (who died at birth), Stella M. and Walter (who died at birth). By the children’s years of birth, it seems that the five oldest were born in Detroit and the five youngest were born at Belle Vue.

The saddest death was that of Stanley George Johnston as described in the Amherstburg Echo, December 25, 1874:

“On Wednesday of this week the residents of Amherstburg and vicinity were startled by the announcement of a sudden death, resulting from the careless handling of firearms. About 11 o’clock in the forenoon of that day, two sons of Mr. Wm. Johnston, of Bellevue, the elder named William about 16 years of age, and the younger named Stanley, about 8 years of age, started to leave their home to go out shooting birds, with a pistol which was in possession of the elder. They went out by the back way, and had just got outside the door, on the verandah, when the elder started to load the pistol, which was at full cock. He appeared to have got it loaded with a ball when it suddenly went off and the ball struck the younger brother in the face. The servant hearing the report opened the door, when the young lad fell into the house fatally wounded, as he only gave two or three grasps, and then expired. His brother ran for Dr. Lambert, but of course he could do nothing. Mrs. Johnston was at home, but the father of the lads was absent at his place of business in Detroit, and he was immediately sent for. The grief -stricken parents have the warmest sympathy of their many friends in this neighbourhood, in their sad affliction. The event has cast a gloom upon the preparations for the celebration of Christmas, which will be a sorrowful season for the bereaved family.”

Belle Vue has seen its share of sorrow and woe as well as joy through the many years.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

Behind the scenes in the preservation of Belle Vue

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Historian/genealogist Debra Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

Over the years, in the history of Amherstburg, certain names keep popping up as the movers and shakers who pushed to preserve our heritage.

Names like Perry Leighton and George F. MacDonald who collected and preserved articles of the past for others to enjoy. Others like David Botsford, John Marsh, Richard Thrasher and Eugene Whelan who worked behind the scenes to influence government decisions in the preservation of our historical properties such as Fort Malden National Historic Site, the Commissariat and Belle Vue. These kinds of projects take time, sometimes years before the public knows what is even happening.

The Bellevue Veterans’ Home closed in 1954. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Tetzlaff bought the property around 1956 to run it as a nursing home but because of their own ill health, they had to sell the property. In the meantime, the house stood empty and just like in present times, vandals got in and did damage.

One way to preserve the house was to have a heritage designation placed on the property. This takes years and much research to give the building the provenance it needs. Much research was done by David Botsford and George F. MacDonald on the Reynolds family and their connections to other eminent families in the area.

On May 25, 1959, the Federal Government designated it a National Historic Site under the Historic Sites and Monuments Act.

That same year in April, Mrs. Tetzlaff wrote a letter to the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, which oversaw the Canadian parks, asking that Belle Vue become a part of Fort Malden because of its historical value. A letter from the department to David Botsford asked about “the price and the relative location to Fort Malden National Historic Park.

Another possible buyer for the Belle Vue property was the Browning Ship Lines of Ohio who at the time owned Bob-lo Island. Michael Zin of the Ukrainian Church remembered, “They wanted the property, so they could tear down the house, put in a parking lot, and then put in a dock for the Amherstburg ferries to the park.”

The third possible buyer was the Ukrainian Catholic Church which shared St. John the Baptist Church facilities for their services. In need of a place of their own, the Ukrainians bid included a strong sense of preserving the past of Belle Vue as well as the future of their church within the Belle Vue property.

Since the government had recently designated the Belle Vue property as a heritage site, the offer from the Browning Ship Lines to tear down the building did not make sense.

The town already had Fort Malden as a National Park and there was a bit of a distance between the fort and Belle Vue. This could have been a deterrent for the government to purchase the property.

Having the bid from the Ukrainian Church that recognised the historic value of the building as well as making it their religious home, protected the recent designation and gave the property a purpose that was acceptable. It solved two problems: preserving the property and giving the Ukrainian Church a place of worship.

It is interesting to note, that the Honourable Walter Dinsdale, Minister of Northern Affairs visited Fort Malden for the first time at the end of May 1961 accompanied by Richard D. Thrasher, M.P. Essex South. They possibly talked about the Belle Vue purchase. On June 6th, 1961, Richard Thrasher wrote a letter to John Marsh at the Amherstburg Echo, “I am now advised by Crown Assets Disposal Corporation that the offer of the Ukrainian Catholic Episcopal Corporation of Eastern Canada has been forwarded to the Governor-in-Council for approval. …

As for myself, I am very happy that this sale is to take place as I was very anxious to see that this property fell into the hands of some organization who would be in the position to restore it to some of its former beauty and maintain it in this manner for many years to come.”

In September of 1961, the Ukrainian community came together to restore the grandeur of Belle Vue through their support both financially and their labour. A section of the building was converted into a chapel and the remainder was renovated. It was named “The Ukrainian Village” and “in addition to providing a place of worship, provides an environment in which the tradition of “Bellevue” and the traditions of the Ukrainian heritage can co-mingle.”

A year later, on June 3, 1962, came the opening of the Ukrainian Village and the Blessing of the Chapel, under the Patronage of St. Nicholas. The whole day was filled with celebrations including a mass in the morning to bless the Chapel and the Ukrainian Village. In the afternoon, was the unveiling and dedication of the Provincial Historical Plaque by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario.

Those who took part in the programme were: R. Alan Douglas, President of the Essex County Historical Association; Ashley Martin, Reeve of Malden Township; G. F. G. Stanley, Member of the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario; Richard Thrasher, M.P., Essex South; Eugene Whelan, Warden of Essex County; Mayor E. T. LaFramboise, Mayor of Amherstburg; David Botsford, Custodian of Fort Malden National Historic Park; The Honourable William Murdoch, M.P.P, Speaker of the Legislature; and the Most Reverend Isidore Borecky, Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Eastern Canada.

By 1983, the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Chapel needed major repairs to the roof and some structural parts of the building. The cost of the repairs was too much for the congregation to complete on their own. Through the help of M.P. Eugene Whelan, a project grant of $156,000 was given for the renovation. The Canada Ontario Employment Development (COED) project grant constituted $78,000 a piece from the federal and provincial governments. COED was aimed at providing work for persons on welfare or whose Unemployment Insurance benefits were about to expire, and to get some worthwhile projects accomplished.

Earlier that same year, the Belle Vue property was officially designated by the

Amherstburg town council under the provincial heritage legislation as an historic structure. The designation would give the congregation a chance to apply for other grants in restoration or renovations of the building on a 50/50 share cost. The congregation was willing to fundraise to meet the requirements.

On October 21, 1984, The St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church celebrated the completion of the renovations by having a plaque unveiling. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada finally laid the federal plaque that was designated in 1959 near the front porch of the Belle Vue. The church had completed the new copper roof with wooden shingles on the side parts. They had a ramp put on the front porch for accessibility and other major repairs on the inside.

Those who presented at the program were Dr. George F. MacDonald, member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada; Mayor Garnet Fox of Amherstburg; John Pylypiw, Parish Committee President, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church; Peter Stokes, Restoration Architect; Jim Caldwell M.P. and the Very Rev. Eugene Halitsky, Dean and Pastor of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.

In a “Letter to the Editor” on December 19, 1984, Michael Zin publicly commended those who helped the Ukrainian community in the more recent past to save Belle Vue. Notably, he said, “It was the foresight and persistence of Alex Taskey and the effort of Dick Thrasher, who in 1961, saved the property from those developers all too ready to tear down the building for commercial use.” He thanked the Amherstburg Echo for keeping the project in the limelight and the men and women who worked on the project under the severest weather conditions.

“It is unfortunate that individuals such as Dick Thrasher and Eugene Whelan were not invited to participate and enrich the occasion. Without their help Bellevue, as we know it today would not be there.

As an individual associated with the Bellevue project from the summer of 1961 to the completion of the NEEDS program in March of this year (1984), I felt compelled to at least partially undo the injustice that was accorded, especially to Mr. Richard Thrasher and the Honourable Eugene Whelan,” stated Zin.

The protection of heritage is not an easy task. There are many hours, even years, spent behind the scenes by dedicated people to preserve our community’s heritage without always receiving the appreciation they deserve. Thank you to those in the past, whose foresight preserved Belle Vue.

And thank you to those in the present, who also deserve our gratitude in preserving Belle Vue for the future.

 

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

Belle Vue has a history of exceptional gardens

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

Since Belle Vue was first built in 1819, the gardens on the property were well known as being exceptional.

Robert Reynolds, the first owner, had a good reputation as a gardener and farmer. In 1840, as a Justice of the Peace, he carried a petition with 64 names to the House of Assembly to ask, “that the articles essential for the promotion of agriculture may be admitted free of duty, and a higher duty imposed on foreign produce.”

In 1841, at a dinner for Colonel John Prince, a toast was made to Robert Reynolds. This included “his activity and intelligence as a Magistrate, and his worth as a private gentleman, and on his skill as an agriculturalist.”

The Chairman of the Kent Agricultural Society commented on Robert Reynolds as being “known far and wide as an enthusiastic horticulturist and floriculturist farmer, as well as one of the most cultured and accomplished gentlemen.”

When William Johnston advertised the sale of Belle Vue in 1884, he described the farm as:

“[The house] is 125 feet front and 50 feet deep, the kitchen being built at the side of the house the rear opens directly into the garden which is well stocked with every variety of the choicest grafted fruit trees and nearly every variety of grapes trained or trellised and arbors; there are two orchards one old and the other fast coming into bearing, having the best grafted varieties; there are several brick outbuildings, including a dairy, smoke house, tool house, workshops, house for farmer or gardener – coach house which is very large and roomy, arranged for five horses, while the hay loft holds about 20 tons of hay; cow stable, piggery, ice house (filled) poultry house and other minor buildings and improvements, including an excellent well; the grounds are laid out in appropriate shape, and artistically planted with ornamental trees comprised of crab, honey, locust, mountain ash, horse chestnut, walnut, maple, evergreen and climbing vines.”

The Mullen family in the 1930’s kept up the gardens with the help of gardeners, John Jones and Peter Stokes. In 1935, the Mullen family invited several summer residents from Amherst Point to view the gardens. “Needless to say, this invitation is to be taken advantage of quite soon.”

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!

John G. Mullen Family and Belle Vue

 

(Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)

 

By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS

 

John Gallagher Mullen came to Amherstburg as an employee for a Cleveland Ohio coal company. Three years later, he bought out the coal company share in Amherstburg and started the Mullen Coal Company that had docks in Amherstburg and Sandwich to service the steamships on the Great Lakes. His docks at Amherstburg were large enough to fuel two steamships at the same time.

John G. Mullen

His office was an old fire hall on Dalhousie St. heated by a potbellied stove with the second floor used by himself and his friends to play poker. When he opened the office, he took the key and threw it into the river, stating that his office would never be important enough to be locked. Many nights, homeless men would find a warm place to sleep and never was anything in the office touched.

John G. Mullen was a philanthropist. Once he caught a needy man from town carrying a couple of bags of coal in a wheel barrow. Mr. Mullen responded, “Why didn’t you come to me and ask for coal? I never want anyone in town to be cold.”

In the 1870’s, John G. Mullen was involved in other new technologies such as the Great North Western Telegraph Company. By 1892, Mullen, along with Colin Wigle, John A. Auld, and W.D. McEvoy started the first commercial electric plant supplying electricity for the street lights and to those families who could afford it. He also ran for mayor for four years and was successful in 1893, 1894 and 1896.

The Mullen family undertook several renovations to the Belle Vue house, including adding the front portico to the home. Belle Vue is located at 525 Dalhousie St. in Amherstburg.

In 1927, St. John the Baptist Church was building a new vestry and the Mullen family pledged ten to twenty thousand dollars.

For about 45 years, the Mullen family lived at the old Gordon House. In 1925, at the age of 77, John and Isabella Mullen, bought Belle Vue. It took the family three years to remodel it into the house we now see. They removed most of the Italianate style William Johnston added in the 1870’s and added the gazebo at the end, the front portico and the little dock down by the water. Though John G. Mullen passed away in 1930, his wife and children lived in the house until 1944 when Mrs. Mullen passed away.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!