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POSTCARD MEMORIES: House packed plenty of history, memories

Author recalls his time living at house near highways 88 and 400

I met Frank Whiteside for the first time in 1972.

I had been looking for a home to buy that could possibly have a shop on the same property. I had put an offer in on a place on John Street, but it fell through. I was disappointed, but my father, Bus Culbert, told me not to be because I was not to have that place and a better one was going to come my way. Then I had a chance to rent the old Hodgson farm on the northeast corner of highways 88 and 400. At that time, a lawyer in Toronto owned it and tenants had moved out.

Then my dad came to me and said he had been talking to Vira and Jim Bateman and they were moving from their farm on the southwest corner of highways 88 and 400 and their son, David, and his wife, Vivian, were going to move to the home farm and their house was for sale.

The house was part of the former Robinson Whiteside farm on the southeast corner of highways 88 and 400. Most of the land was sold to the Husky company and the barns were gone and the gas bar restaurant was built in its place.

Dad told me the house was good and there was a workshop behind the house. One acre was the size of the property. I went out to see the place, a nice two-storey house with a full attic space with stairs to it.

A few days later, I purchased it and waited for Vivian and Dave to move across the highway.

I had just graduated as a journeyman apprentice in upholstery. Dad and I, along with Doug Kneeshaw, a local carpenter, got the shop fixed up to my liking and I put up my sign: “Bradford’s Furniture Doctor.”

In the top floor of the shop were boxes of screws and bolts and whatever else. There were even hundreds of small ball bearings. I was told a truck off Highway 400 had flipped over and Tom and Frank had boxed them up and carried them home and they were still up there when I arrived.

Frank was a machinist, and farmers from the area would bring a broken gear or whatever else they needed and they would work for hours making a new piece, and when the farmer came for it, the boys asked what it cost — 50 cents or $1, nothing what it should have cost. They were just glad to have something to do and feel needed.

Inside the shop, which was 25 by 50 feet, there were all kinds of axles with wheels of various sizes and belts travelling across the wheels. These would run the various drills and machines they needed to make things.

I called Andrew McNair and asked him if he would like the things up there. He and his son, Tim, came over, drove in the bottom of the shop, and we shovelled all the stuff into their truck.

Shop finished, I started to put my mark on the house. Viv and Dave had started and then I carried on.

There were beautiful oak hardwood floors on the first floor. Mom came out one day and we scrubbed and waxed the floors. Emlyn (Turton) Westlake (Mrs. Bob Westlake) came over and we wallpapered a few rooms.

Finally, Dad brought Frank Whiteside, the last surviving brother of the original family, to see me.

Frank was the third son of Mary (Hockridge) “Polly” and Robinson Whiteside. They had moved from the Alliston area and bought the farm on the north half of Lot 7, Concession 6 in 1889. They had three boys: William Robinson (1891 to 1950), Thomas Elwood (1893 to 1970) and Franklin Vernon (1895 to 1975). None of the boys married. Bill and Frank did the farming and brother Tom built many houses and barns in the south Simcoe area.

Frank told me the original house was as far to the back of the farm as the new house was to the front of the farm. He also told me his brothers had built the new house for their mother in 1920. Their father had died and the old house was so cold in the winter that a glass of water in the middle of the house would be frozen in the morning. He also told me if there was two feet of cement above ground, there was four feet below ground. He had a chuckle when he told Dad and I about putting in the front porch steps. A neighbour had dropped in and asked them if they were digging a grave. You see, the hole was six feet deep as they didn’t want the steps to shift. They built it to last the ages of time. He and Tommy lived in the house, surviving their mom and Bill.

One night around bedtime, Frank said to Tommy, “Well, I am off to bed.” Tom’s reply was, “I will be up shortly.” The next morning, Frank came down to the kitchen and Tommy was dead in his rocker by the stove. Frank said he stayed on but was tired and the old place needed a roof and he was too old to fix it, so he sold the house to David and moved into a small house across the road from the funeral home in Bradford. Neighbours said when they went to clean out the house for Frank, they opened the front attic window and heaved out, to waiting trucks, things that had ended up in the attic. One neighbour said five complete china chamber sets were pitched out.

Before he left that day, he told me he was glad to see the house was in good hands and that it was being looked after. He died in 1975.

There was a new roof on the main house, but the veranda and summer kitchen had the original cedar shingles. They were getting bad, so we took them all off and piled them across the drive and put a new asphalt shingle on. I called David Chambers and his son, Bruce, from Bond Head, and asked if they wanted the old shingles for kindling. The day they arrived to take them, I walked across the drive and, for whatever reason, picked up a larger shingle and turned it over. On the clean side of the shingle was a note. This house was built by Bill, Tom and Frank in 1920. The veranda was added in 1921. When the house was sold to the Hergert family, I left it on the wall in the family room. I was told it was the show place of the community with nice landscaping when Polly was alive. After I moved in, I always had a wine and cheese party the first weekend in June. It was a great place to entertain. The house had a great flow through each room on the main floor and the attic was a great place for a dance. The wraparound veranda was great extra seating for just sitting and watching the traffic go by after a long day at work.

While living there, I hand sanded and finished the two staircases and rails and newel post. After renting a sander for the floor in what was Tom’s and Frank’s room, I did not like the look, so I hand stripped all the floors in the remaining bedrooms and the main hallways. I remember it was in the winter and I sort of got ‘high’ because stripper fumes stay low, so I had to poke a hole through the breather of the old wooden storms to get fresh air in.

I also got old French doors, so I took the south dining window out and made garden doors and built a deck. Then I upholstered the dining room and living room walls with velvet fabric, co-ordinated the draped make of the velvet on the dining and parlour windows.

Marjorie Bateman (Mrs. Gordon Bateman) called one day and said “Skippy” was cleaning out the truck garage and there were two pairs of double-sided bevel doors and I could have them if I wished. They were fir doors and the interior of the house was all Douglas fir trim. I took the pocket doors, which were solid doors between the front foyer and the parlour, and Mike Sage exchanged the doors. The other pair was split, one going from the kitchen to the dining room and one from kitchen to the hallway to the family room. They were great. In the winter, you could have a fire in the parlour, close the doors and still see the rest of the house.

Mom and Dad took a holiday sometime in the early ’70s, so I decided to knock the summer kitchen and the wood room wall down and make one big family room. I managed to get a good deal on new windows with awnings, so Don McFadyen and his boys, Randy and Joel, said they would help me put them in. I decided not to put a window on the south. Wouldn’t you know it? The day I went to get Mom and Dad at the airport, my back was out, so my sister and her husband took me to the airport. The yard was a mess and I was hoping the job would be finished and the yard cleaned up, but like most renos, it never is on time. I told them when we got to Highway 88 to just keep going into Bradford. Dad wanted to stop in and have a look around at the place. Well, he wanted to know why there was not a window in the south, where it would help heat the room on sunny winter days, so I said when I came home from the shop, I did not want to see the building. Now, ever since I bought the house, he would be out caulking windows and doing things around the place, so he stopped coming out. I told Don and he said not to worry; the father of his wife, Jean, was the same. They just wanted to be included in things, so Don said we should put the window in. We did, and Dad was out once again puttering around. Ever after, that south window was known as Buster’s window.

I also still have the rocker Tom died in, an envelope addressed to Mrs. Robinson Whiteside and a few The Canadian Countryman magazines that were left in the house. When I moved in, up in the attic, I found two old tooled leather wooden frames with steel engraving and a note addressed to Miss Copland in October 1880, and a large painting of Christ and a light fixture. Downstairs, I found a picture of the kitchen with a wood stove and the same fixture in the middle of the room. I have moved these items with me to all my houses I have owned and the fixture is always in the kitchen. There was a back stretcher in the attic. You would lie on the platform, put your feet in a stockade and rest your arms out to the sides. A neck harness was fitted and a wheel and crank would stretch your body. It was a real conversation piece.

Every time I went home to see Mom, I would visit the farm I was raised on, the house I lived in on the corner of 4th and 10th sideroads and, of course, the old Whiteside house. I had a bit of a shock when I drove around the service road and saw the house was blue. The new owners had painted the bricks blue. But after studying it for a few minutes, I think it looks very sharp with the white trim. Not sure Frank would like it, but will never know.