Stories in Stone

Author: Unknown

Publication Date: 1965

Edited: 2021


History is like the branch of a tree. You may start on the main branch with great determination, only to discover hundreds of offshoots which dare investigation and then you end out on a limb, as I have, so many times!

In seeking information on our limestone buildings, I constantly found myself sidetracked by the people who had built and lived in these early houses.

There is for example, Matthew Bell, who built 40 Albert Street. He was an early stonemason and he and his brood are listed in the 1860 census. In 1867, Robert Thompson, for $60.00, sold Lot 16 of the Thompson Survey to Robert Bell, a stonecutter. In 1870, Robert sold it for $50.00 to his mother, Isabella. In 1872, she and her husband, Matthew, borrowed $900.00 from Wm. Snowden, Melodeon Maker, to build 40 Albert Street. We do not know how many of the carvings on the house can be attributed to Matthew Bell, but he must have done some as he was the carver who worked for William Day, City Hall builder, and he carved the bullock head on the City Hall. The Bell family eventually went bankrupt, and the house came in the possession of the Grundy family who lived there for 65 years.

The Pequenat or Barber house on Palmer Street is an interesting study in speculation. This house is not of limestone structure, but of log. It shows regency influence and is similar in style to The Friory. No one seems to know when it was built, but there are some clues. Robert (53) and Elize White (49) seemed to have lived there with their children in 1860. Miss Barber’s father found slate in the roof with the name of Alicia White in it some years ago. In St. Georges Church, there is a memorial tablet to Robert and Eliza White and their daughter Alicia. The tablet commemorates the fact that Robert and Eliza were members of the first St. Georges Church which was torn down in 1851. At the time of the 1860 census, Mr. White was listed as a gentleman.

The Mitchell house on Queen Street was originally built of wood. It is one of the earliest homes, having been built in 1834. It is a variation of the small vernacular Neo-Classic farmhouse. It has been restored by Mr. C. Bedford.

John Mitchell built this house. He was the son of Richard Mitchell of Londonderry, Ireland, and was here for the tree cutting in 1827. He married Ann Thompson born near Belfast in 1814. She and her family came to Galt in 1823 and moved to Guelph in 1825. Her father James Thompson built Sunnerhill, and also assisted in the building of the second St. Georges Church. John and Ann Mitchell had numerous children, one of whom became Mrs. Thos. Goldie. Mrs. Mitchell’s brother Robert wrote an early history of Guelph.

We all know the story of Ker Cavan and of its significance to Architectural history. Of interest though, is the fact that Archdeacon Palmer bought the land from Henry Tiffany, an early surveyor, in 1846. Tiffany had evidently made an early survey of this area, which possibly pre-dates that of MacDonald, as he moved to Hamilton before 1840. Palmer’s land was subdivided from the river to Queen Street in 1855. The area north of Queen Street was subdivided in 1874. The boundary was Metcalfe Street.

Frances Palmer, the Archdeacon’s daughter, married the Rev. E. M. Stewart, the curate of St. Georges church. Rev. Stewart’s mother was Elizabeth Packenham, daughter of Lord Longford and a sister of the Duke of Wellington’s wife, the famous Kitty. The Stewart’s third son was Pakenham E. Stewart and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.


On the edge of the Speed River, near Allan’s Dam, is Sunnyside. This is the home of the Davidson family, direct descendants of the builder, William Kennedy. This very fine limestone building was built in 1854 and shows a marked Scottish influence. It is said that Kennedy had had this personal contact with Sir Walter Scott while living in Scotland and this probably accounts for the carving of Abbottsford over the portico.

William Kennedy lived at Sunnyside for a while as his daughter Jeannie, born in 1823 in Wiglowshire, Scotland, married Charles Davidson and lived there. Their son, Lt. Cl. John Davidson (1850-1926) also lived there as does his son, A. R. W. Davidson.

So you see, the tree sprouts many branches which all intermingle, and that original limb on which you start is only the base. Don’t fall off, there is always a twig to grasp to further your knowledge.



- Eileen A. Hammill