Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Osler Castle ....... A tribute to love in bricks, mortar & stone.



High on top of beautiful Blue Mountain in historic Grey County sits the ghost of a monument to love and devotion. Osler Castle was not a "Castle" per say.  It was however a grand country manor in the style and grace of a generation who valued quality craftsmanship and most of all, romance.

Britton Bath Osler (1839-1901), the namesake and the creator of this magnificent landmark, saw his humble beginnings as the son the Reverend of a pioneer Anglican Parish near his birth place of Bond Head.
His studies began in Barrie in 1844, and continued in both Bradford and Bond Head before he became an apprentice in law at Dundas. From there he advanced a law office in the burgeoning metropolis of Toronto, and this set off a brilliant and lucrative career as both a criminal and corporate lawyer. His criminal claim to prominence was in securing the conviction of Louis Riel on charges of treason during the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Caroline Osler nee Caroline Smith (1836-1895) was the daughter of Captain H.Smith of the East India Company.  Britton and his beloved "Carrie" had met in 1859 when his father Featherstone was engaged to marry caroline's sister Henrietta in the year 1861. At this time the Smith family was living in Ancaster, and much later on in time the Osler's would come to build a home in nearby Dundas called "Staplehurst." Caroline and Britton were married in 1863, and from this union sprang the involvement with Collingwood , our beautiful Blue Mountains and the "castle" at Deer Park.

Mrs. Osler suffered greatly from a severe case of arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair in the later years of her life. As a symbol of his undying devotion and to hopefully ease and alleviate her pain, Osler searched the countryside for an attractive location where they would be surrounded by natural beauty. He came to discover the ideal place in Collingwood Township a few miles west of Collingwood. He came to purchase an expansive tract of land some 330 acres in size on a wooded hillside cleft by Silver Creek and overlooking a large pond from which the creek was born.

The mansion itself was inspired by many of the homes in the Tuxedo Park area of Upper New York State, and architect E.B. Jarvis was commissioned to prepare plans for a large home set up upon a rise of land on the north side of the stream.  The front of the home faced south-east giving a panoramic view of the southern hills and the rock face which came to be known as "Osler Bluffs" and the spreading flatlands of Nottawasaga Township. To the eastern horizon could be seen Nottawasaga Bay, and I would assume on a clear evening - the faintly twinkling lights of the port of Collingwood.

Construction on the home began in 1893, and a Mr. Robert Burdette of Collingwood was listed as the contractor. The building itself was built on a full basement with a home containing 15 rooms above it. A rambling verandah encompassed the front and eastern sides of the home with a massive freestanding stone archway at it's forefront.  No expense was spared in constructing this grand manor, and only the finest artisans and craftsmen were employed. Much of the stone was quarried on site by stone masons James Ball and John Homes of Barrie, and their work still endures today - a testament to their craftsmanship. The interior woodwork was of the finest quality featuring mahogany, birds eye maple and oak. Frank and William Bryan, the "Bryan Brothers", were master craftsmen and responsible for many of Collingwood's grand homes. They were entrusted with the the design and installation of all of the interiors, and the interior beauty reflected the beautiful work these gentlemen and their company were well known for.

The mansion was completed in 1895 and Mr. Osler chartered a surrey to bring Caroline to her beautiful new mountain retreat. She named their new home "Kiononta" which was Petun Indian phrasing for "Top of the Hill." The locals also came to know the estate as "Deer Park" which they affectionately gave to the home as Mr. Osler raised a small herd of deer on a farm there. Mr. Osler had many grand schemes for the property including stocking the lake with trout, and the construction of two dams, the remains of which can still be seen if carefully searched for.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Osler was unable to enjoy her wonderful new home for very long as she succumbed to illness soon after taking residence.  Mr. Osler did remarry, and he did spend several summers in the home before he passed away in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1901.

After this time, the castle sat alone and neglected. Over time, vandals and the elements ate away at the structure. The furnishings were pilfered, the interior woodwork stolen, and even the plumbing fixtures stripped away. The structure was still fully standing in the 1930's,  although the interior was now barren and devoid of any of the luxury and opulence that had besot it early in it's life. The remainder of the home was apparently consumed by fire - the exact date not being accurately recollected - and all that remained of this beautiful landmark was the hearty permanence of the stone that encompassed it's once grand interior. 

 Today that stone still stands as a testament to an enduring romance, and a grave marker to those who gave it life.



I have updated my blog here with some new photos for you. The beautiful new header picture which I absolutely love was given to me by the son of my dear late doctor, Donald McKay. Like myself, Dr. McKay was an avid history buff and also fascinated with our beautiful "castle." Much thanks to Ian McKay and to my father Brian for speaking with him about it and getting me some more wonderful photos.  This view is actually rather rare as there seem to be very few images showing the eastern side view of the home.

The second photo is a pen & ink study I did of a rarely seen east side view of the "castle." I have sketched it many times, and hope you enjoy this unique view.  Thanks for reading!


5 comments:

  1. I've updated my Osler Castle blog with some different photos including a sketch I recently did of the very rarely seen east side view of the Castle. Hope you all enjoy it!

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  2. Hi there,
    I am putting together a unit on the history of Collingwood for my grade 5/6 class in September and I came across your awesome blog post here. I'd love to invite you to talk to my class, on the trail leading to Osler Castle (if you're local and if you'd be up for it). Your knowledge of the history of the site and passion apparent in your post would be an amazing way to bring local history to life for the students.

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    1. Thank you Chris, I appreciate that! I live in Milton, but I grew up in Collingwood and I have a cottage not far from the "castle." I am back and forth between both homes frequently, and would be more than happy to speak with your class. Let me know when you were thinking of, and if you wish, give me a call. My number is 416.827.5324. I sent you an e-mail back when I first read your comment, but perhaps you missed it. Hope to hear from you!

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  3. I have come to love this home and all its lore. I bought a pen and ink? Of the castle drawn by artist Robert Kemp. I knew nothing of the castle or artist when I bought it. The drawing is hauntingly beautiful, I just couldn't walk away from it. If I can figure out how to send you a photo of it, I will. - Jennifer Livonia, MI

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    1. Thank you Jennifer for your comment. I have the same drawing, ha ha! We knew Bob Kemp well, and I have several of his works. He was a wonderful man and artist, and someone who I found very inspiring as he too loved the history of our area. It's surprising how so many folks are unaware of the history of the "castle", and that is why I want to memorialize it in a book. I have always loved it, and would like to make sure that folks know what a special place it once was. Thanks again!

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