Occasionally there are things in your backyard waiting for you to discover if you would only turn around, take a step forward and look. Yesterday I turned around.
Wiarton (the home of Wiarton Willie the prognosticating albino rodent) is 35 minutes from where I live and is the gateway to the Tobermorey peninsula, that long finger of land that seems to point to the outer limits of the world as you drive north. Just beyond this small city on Georgian Bay is the Spirit Rock which conveniently is located in the Spirit Rock Conservation Area. Along with this scenic outpost are found the ruins of a manor known as The Corran. This appropriately is said to be Gaelic for ‘land running into the sea’ as well as the name of the Irish county the owner Alexander McNeill came from. Yesterday my friend Ray and I drove up to explore
Construction on the home began in 1882 by Hester McNeill and her husband Canadian Member of Parliament Alexander McNeill. The 17 room manor was filled with luxury and opulence, oriental carpets, bearskin rugs, a marble bath and an extensive library. All of this was surrounded by 3 acres of gardens including 500 rose bushes among which were the black roses of McNeill’s home Ireland. There was also a stable for the horses, a barn for the Durham Shorthorns that McNeill bred, an ice house, a power generator and two cottages for the McNeill’s dear friend and estate manager Alfred Lewis, who had come with his wife and daughters from England to help McNeill after Hester passed on in 1890, the manor still not complete. Lewis himself died in 1931 the victim of the first auto accident in the region. Alexander McNeill passed on himself the following year a month short of 90.
The McNeill’s only had one child, Malcolm and Malcolm never married or had children. He lived in the home with the housekeeper Sally Simmons and when Malcolm passed on in 1952 the home went to her. Malcolm had left debts and Simmons could not afford the upkeep of the home and property. She sold it in 1960 to a man from Willowdale Ontario. Soon after the home was vacated forever. Over the next 16 years it endured youthful vandalism ending it’s days in fire. The property now belongs to Grey Sauble Conservation. The gardens and orchards are gone now overgrown with trees and weeds. All that remains are some of the two story stone walls and the steps to the front entrance where the porch once was.
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ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ARE COPYRIGHT JAMES MACDOUGALL AND MAY NOT BE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION.