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Hamilton’s Auchmar Manor is an underappreciated jewel

May 2022

The southern Ontario city of Hamilton, at the far west end of Lake Ontario, has many historic buildings, a small number of which date back to when Ontario was known as Upper Canada.

Sitting on an 8-acre property on Hamilton Mountain, at the corner of Fennel Avenue and West 5th Street, is one such historic house that has stood since the early years of Hamilton’s incorporation as a city in 1846. Auchmar Manor, the focal point of modern-day Clairmont Park, was built between 1852 and 1854 as the home of the Honourable Isaac Buchanan, a Scottish-born businessman, militia officer and politician who represented Hamilton in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada from 1857 until 1864.

To the members of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment), the RHLI for short, one of the militia regiments currently located in Hamilton, Buchanan is remembered for founding the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia (Infantry), one of the predecessor regiments of the RHLI. He also served as Lieutenant-Colonel of the Battalion for two years and on his appointment, his wife, Agnes Buchanan, presented a stand of colours to the Battalion.

Buchanan also served as the first president of the Hamilton Club, played a major role in the establishment of the Great Western Railroad in 1854, the first major railroad in the United Province of Canada, and the founding of both the Hamilton Board of Trade and the Toronto Board of Trade.

Buchanan named his manor house “Auchmar,” after the Buchanan estate in Scotland his father had purchased before his financial troubles. The manor house, sitting on what was then a 54-acre estate, was built in the Gothic Revival style. The long, H-shaped, two-storey, stuccoed brick manor is one of very few examples of a mid-Victorian estate remaining in Ontario.

Auchmar featured a ballroom, library, dining room, living room, a large farm-like kitchen, a full cellar and upstairs bedrooms.

Next to the manor house was a 1 ½ -storey limestone coach house with cross gable roof, a two-storey dovecote, a private shed, stables, gazebo and high, limestone buttressed walls enclosing the garden.

The gate house, known as Claremont Lodge, can be found at the north end of what was the original estate property, along the edge of the escarpment on Claremont Avenue and surrounded by residential homes.

Auchmar was the site of many dinner parties for Hamilton-area elites, with Buchanan and his wife Agnes hosting guests that included several Governors-General and their wives, such as Lord and Lady Elgin, Lord and Lady Monck, Lord and Lady Lisgar and Lord and Lady Dufferin.

Unfortunately for the Buchanans, they only lived in Auchmar for just over a decade. After his business failed in 1867, Isaac Buchanan sold the estate. The once very wealthy man lived a more modest existance for the last two decades of his life, supplementing his income with a government appointment in 1879.

Isaac Buchanan in Hamilton on 1 October, 1883, at the age of 73, with Agnes dying in Hamilton on 7 May 1896, aged 71. Happily, Buchanan’s son James Isaac Buchanan, became very wealthy working as a banker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which eventually allowed him to re-purchase Auchmar. His sisters lived in it for the next thirty years.

A.V. Young bought Auchmar in 1926, living in the house until he rented it the Royal Canadian Air Force as a rehabilitation centre in 1943.

When World War II ended in 1945, the Hungarian Sisters of Social Service, a Roman Catholic order of nuns, bought Auchmar, operating the Holy Spirit Centre.

In 1999, the City of Hamilton acquired Auchmar and what was left of the original estate property. Since 2009, Friends of Auchmar, a non-profit community group has been slowly restoring the manor house and the property. A chapel and dormitory extension added by the Hungarian Sisters to the north side of the manor in the 1960s is currently vacant and boarded up. Its ultimate fate is currently unknown, but many would like to see it demolished to restore the integrity of the original building.

Regretfully, it’s been a long, slow journey for Friends of Auchmar in their restoration efforts. Several proposals for use Auchmar have failed to come to fruition, including one by the RHLI 13th Battalion Auchmar Trust, to turn the building into a military museum. Fundraising issues and ambivalence by the City of Hamilton of having to run yet another museum.

Further crippling fundraising efforts are the needed upgrades in building and fire code requirement required to allow Auchmar to be used as a special-events rental facility that could generate needed revenue. Even tours of the old house are currently restricted to once a year, usually during the province-wide Doors Open festivals.

Auchmar has also been used occasionally in film and television productions.

The roof has been re-shingled and the exterior stucco repaired, which Friends of Auchmar hopes will slow the deterioration. Future plans include restoration of the coach house, which is currently closed to any public access, with hopes of renting it out as office space as a revenue generator to fund the restoration of the main house and the remainder of the property.

Some of the historical features of Auchmar Manor:

– Interior woodwork repeats the Gothic motif with slender shafts and foliated plaster capitals lining the corridor walls and the pointed arch incorporated into doorway frames and door panels

– decorated eaves with scroll cut brackets, drop finials, and elaborate bargeboards incorporating flowing tracery and cusp motifs
– masonry construction with stucco-clad finish and finely pointed stone window sills with margins
– square headed windows with double-hung, 6/6, wooden sashes and subtle flowing tracery along the top rail
– square headed windows with double-hung, 1/1, wooden sashes
– pointed windows with tracery filled transom lights
– bay windows with crenellated tops and multi-pane casement sashes
– multi-pane French windows
– label moulding over windows and doors
– main entrance with multi-pane sidelights; divided transom lights with quatrefoil tracery; a wooden door containing trefoil arch and quatrefoil motifs detailed panels; margined, stone steps with sides
– interior floor plan centred upon a long, narrow corridor with stair halls at each end
– two ‘dog-leg’ staircases comprised of oak balustrades with pointed arch cut-outs and tracery motif stair ends
– plastered ceilings, cornices and walls throughout
– 24-metre central, vaulted hall and corridor ceilings, with stair halls at each end
– ornamental plasterwork such as thick ribbing with bosses in the halls and corridors; the ribbed, strap work, plaster ballroom ceiling and hollow vignette frieze; foliated, shaft capitals (corridors); various ceiling medallions
– pine detailing such as the slender, engaged shafts lining the corridors, broad baseboards, doors, door and window casings and interior shutters
– repeated pointed arch motif as found in the doors panels, door case panels, shutter panels and doorway openings
– exposed second storey wood beams with beaded edges
– service rooms such as pantry and kitchen with tongue-and-groove wainscoting, glass-fronted cabinetry, washtubs
– indoor lavatories, making it distinctly modern for its amenities, with bathroom finishes and fixtures such as glazed, porcelain wall tiles, porcelain tile flooring, claw-foot tubs, and marble vanities on nickel plated legs
– flagstone flooring in the basement rooms and basement corridor
– brick, wine cellar shelving in the basement, with a basement kitchen and furnace,
– decorative iron light fixtures.

Originally, long verandas lined the central portion of the house integrating the outdoors with the residence and aligning the design with the Picturesque movement.

Sources: Auchmar (Hamilton, Ontario) – Wikipedia, Friends of Auchmar | Hamilton, Ontario | Canadian Heritage, HistoricPlaces.ca – HistoricPlaces.ca, Isaac Buchanan – Wikipedia, Friends of Auchmar | Hamilton, Ontario | Canadian Heritage.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/hamiltons-auchmar-manor-is-an-underappreciated-jewel/

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