My article, “The Glamour of Glanmore” was published in What’s Happening Magazine / October 2003.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live one hundred years ago? Taking a tour through Glanmore Historic Site in Belleville, Ontario offers a glimpse into that lifestyle, at least that of a wealthy banker and his artist wife. Glanmore is more than a house, more than a museum; it is the ultimate collector of things past. Glanmore’s contents span circa 1700-1970, with a focus on the late 1800s to early 1900s, just a little piece of the past with a whole lot of history. Every piece of furniture, knick-knack, and painting has its own story. And every visit to Glanmore unlocks a new door into a preserved past.
It all began in 1883 when Francis McKay (of Belleville) finished building the 9000 square foot Glanmore for about $7000. Glanmore was designed by local Belleville architect Thomas Hanley (Hanley’s influence can be seen in many homes in the Belleville area) for successful, business banker John Philpot Curran Phillips. Mr. Philips and his wife Hattie came from Kingston to live in Glanmore.
John and Hattie were the upper crust of society at that time and lavishly furnished their new home with fine wood furniture, artwork, damask draperies, portiéres, chandeliers and numerous knick-knacks. Today we might say their home was cluttered, but in fact they were collectors of fine art and antiques and this was acceptable in the High Victorian time of the late 1800’s.
Glanmore stayed in the family for three generations until its sale in 1971, when it became the property of the City of Belleville and Hastings County.
What makes Glanmore a National Historic Site?
Glanmore became a National Historic Site in 1969. According to Glanmore’s Volunteer Manual (2002), Glanmore is considered a National Historic Site, “because of its outstanding architecture. The house has bay windows, a mansard roof and iron castings. The interior has scrolled plaster mouldings, wall and ceiling frescos (Italian for “fresh”) and friezes with an abundance of gold paint. The dining room ceiling features a combination of fresco work, stencilling and freehand painting.”
The staircase is an exciting architectural phenomenon of this house. There are only about six of their kind in Ontario. Melissa Wakeling, Education and Marketing Co-ordinator at Glanmore, stated that there is no “visible means of support for the central stairway and nothing seems to be holding it in place other than the walls, which is unusual.” This outstanding work of art cost sixty-five dollars to build and has been studied by many structural engineers.
An appreciation for the architecture of Glanmore cannot fully be experienced until you have walked around the outside plus witnessed every nook and cranny of its interior several times. Not only what the building contains is important, but so is the building itself.
Updating an Old Look
Through the generations, external and internal changes were made to Glanmore by its residents. The first renovation to be done when Glanmore was taken over was removing walls that had been set up to create apartments.
One of Glanmore’s requirements as National Historic Site has been restoring the building to its original grandeur. The process of restoring Glanmore is both time consuming and financially consuming. Before any changes can be made, hours of research must be completed, checked and rechecked. A plan is drawn up and estimates of cost are collected. The costs for renovations can be exorbitant because houses are no longer constructed in the same way they were one hundred years ago; thereby making the materials scarce and costly.
An example would be the Second Empire mansard roof. Its renovations were completed in 1997 at the cost of $340,000. Luckily, Glanmore had the aid of a government assistance program like the Community Museum Operating Grant, the generous support of patrons, both local and abroad who have established preservation funds in Glanmore’s name and the hard work of volunteers who fundraise. Because of this, Glanmore’s staff is able to work toward the museum’s directive of restoring Glanmore back to its original form.
Last summer a decorative porch, that was part of the original structure, was recreated. “We want Glanmore to look as much like it would have back then,” states Glanmore’s Education and Marketing Co-ordinator. Because this is a decorative porch there are no stairs leading up to it. Early pictures of the front of the house show people sitting in chairs in front of the porch. Stairs were added later but the porch was never wide enough to hold chairs and move around.
The plans for future renovations include what would have been the breakfast room at the back of the house. Old green carpeting has been removed and work has begun on refinishing the hardwood floors. They are painstakingly removing layer after layer of paint from the walls in hopes of discovering the original wall colouring which they presently believe was a pale green with burgundy trim. This technique was also used for the drawing room where the intricate details on the ceilings and walls had been painted over.
Other plans include refurnishing the second bedroom that is presently a home for a few small items of Manley MacDonald and two large paintings depicting scenes from War and Peace. Ideally, another bedroom suite will be set up in here.
Glanmore or its official name, Glanmore National Historic Site of Canada, continues the same tradition today as its previous owners, housing collections.
The original Phillips (Phillips-Burrows-Faulkner) collection contains the largest pieces of any of the collections. The dining room table seats twenty people when it’s ten leaves are in place. There are hand carved fireplace mantels that extend from floor to ceiling; detailed wood bookcases; a billiard table and a large canopy bed. Some of the smaller pieces include intricate chandeliers, gas light fixtures, Peir mirrors, and historical information and letters. The front foyer is flanked by two large portraits of Cinderella and the Prince, both painted by Mrs. Phillips.
The largest collection within the museum is from the Couldery Collection. The Couldery’s were from England and never lived in Glanmore but they did own a home on West Dundas and it is thought they vacationed in Belleville often. The Couldery’s were also a well-to-do family and therefore collectors of fine antiques. As was common for affluent people at that time, Bertram and Cecelia Couldery adopted Ann Doctor, a daughter of a local businessman. It was Ann who donated the collection to Glanmore in 1955 along with a fund to help care for it.
According to the Glanmore Volunteer manual there are “approximately 1600 pieces” ranging from ceramics, artwork, clocks, jewellery and silver. There are a few pieces of fine furniture in the Couldery collection, like a Dutch Secretariat which is inlayed with an intricate, floral pattern.
Bertram and Cecelia were artists as was Bertram’s older brother Horatio. It is thought that Cecilia specialized in portraits and Bertram in landscapes. Horatio was well known for his animal paintings and showed exquisite detail in his miniature animal portraits of tabby cats. There are forty-two animal portraits painted by Horatio in this collection.
Although the collection was not original to the house according to Melissa Wakeling, the Education & Marketing Co-ordinator for Glanmore, “the objects are appropriate for the time period and this type of house.”
A historically relevant collection residing in the second floor library is the artwork by Canadian artist, William Sawyer. This collection has thirteen gilt framed portraits of notable Canadian politicians including George Benjamin who was founder of the Belleville Intelligencer. Benjamin is the most important one of this collection because he was the first Jewish Member of Parliament and the first politician to enlist William Sawyer’s creative talents by commissioning Sawyer to paint a portrait of him as a gift to his good friend Sir John A. MacDonald. Shortly after, the other politicians followed suit.
Another familiar collection with ties to Belleville is the Manley MacDonald Collection. Manley MacDonald resided in Point Anne and his collection “consists of over 400 objects”. Many of his pieces have been returned to the family as they did not fit in with the time period. A few vital pieces from his collection remain on display in the spare bedroom on the second floor.
Not one of the most glamorous displays but certainly one of the brightest is Dr. Paul’s Lighting Collection. Dr. Paul was a Tweed dentist and was fascinated with all aspects of lighting. His detailed collection has over four hundred pieces and “depicts the history of illumination from prehistoric to incandescent light.”
The basement of Glanmore houses the heritage kitchen in one room and a general store in another. The basement also has an area that is used for circulating displays from other museums; most recently, there was an interactive display about the history of slavery.
Glanmore has an extensive archival collection that “consists of approximately 7,000 documents, postcards, letters, photographs, sketches and bound volumes relevant to Glanmore National Historic Site, Belleville and the County of Hastings from circa 1700 to circa 1960.” This collection is available for residents wishing to do research via appointment only.
With over 45,000 pieces in the museum’s possession, the staff and volunteers at Glanmore have their hands full.
The Guardians of Glanmore
Glanmore is carefully guarded by its five employees and numerous volunteers. According to the City of Belleville Council the purpose of the museum is to “collect, preserve, research, exhibit and interpret objects” relating to the “Belleville region,” and “the lifestyle of Glanmore’s original residents,” while keeping within the requirements set out for a National Historic Site of Canada.
Glanmore is operated by the City of Belleville’s Parks and Recreation Department. Its staff (three full-time and two part-time) consists of a Curator, Rona Rustige; Education and Marketing Co-ordinator, Melissa Wakeling; Technician/Caretaker, Mac Ellis; Secretarial support, Mary Jane; and over 40 Volunteers. This magnificent team works hard to preserve the heritage housed within Glanmore and share its exciting history with an extended community.
The Gift of Knowledge
Most of the visitors that pass through Glanmore’s archway are school age children. Knowing this, the staff at Glanmore has set up an array of education programmes to peak and keep the interest of little minds.
Previous scheduled school programs administered by Glanmore staff and volunteers includes: “Deck the Halls” which examined Victorian Christmas Traditions; “A Day in the Life of…Pioneer Children, where they made candles and learned how to use a washboard; the “Art Extravaganza” helped them explore the many art forms within Glanmore and finally, “Sitting Pretty” taught the history of something we all take for granted: the toilet.
So that is just a glimpse into Glanmore National Historic Site of Canada. This house is home to so many more stories waiting to be shared. Every knick-knack, painting or piece of furniture in Glanmore has a story that will live on within its walls and the many visitors that walk through its lavishly decorated rooms and hallways. The glamour of Glanmore will exist on for years to come.