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Ruins of The Hermitage a popular attraction in the Hamilton area

March 2020

Just west of Ancaster, Ontario, in the Dundas Valley, sits the burnt-out shell of an abandoned stone mansion on a former estate property known as The Hermitage. The 165-year old ruins and the property are now a tourist attraction for hikers and those interested in the paranormal, maintained by the Hamilton Conservation Authority.

The property was originally bought by the Reverend George Sheed in 1830, who had been hired as the first minister of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church four years earlier. Reverend Sheed built a small house just to the north-west of the current ruins.

It was under Reverend Sheed’s tenure that a new wood-frame church building was constructed on the same site as the current church does today. Originally, St. Andrews shared the local Anglican church.

Sadly, Reverend Sheed died on 26 November 1832, just months before the church was scheduled to open. His funeral was the first mass held in the new church.

The Hermitage was bought the following year by Otto Ives (1804–1835), an English army officer and veteran of the Greek War of Independence against the against the Ottoman Empire.

Ives had moved to British Upper Canada and settled in Ancaster Township in 1833, with his wife Magdalene, a daughter of the Governor of one of the Greek Aegean Islands, and one of Magdalene’s female relatives (either her sister or niece).

Ives hired a coachman William Black, whom some say also acted as a tutor for ladies in the house. Although it is said that Black was also a tutor in the English language, evidence exists that this post was filled by Mary Rosebeury (later Mrs Peter Filman of Hamilton).

Black reportedly fell in love with Magdalene’s relative but when Black approached Ives for permission to marry her, Ives refused to grant his permission. It has been reported that Black was found hanging in the barn the next morning, leading many to believe today that The Hermitage is haunted.

The Legend of Lover’s Lane was spawned by Black’s death. Back in the 1830s, it was still forbidden to bury those who committed suicide in a church cemetery, so Black was buried where the current Lover’s Lane intersects with Sulphur Springs Road.

Legend has it that on a moonlit night, Black can be heard crying for his lost love.

George Leith bought The Hermitage in 1855, and built the current house on the property, using locally quarried stone and red bricks from Dundas, along with a farmhouse, a barn and various outbuildings.

At this time, the land had to supply most food requirements for the large household. By 1861, a total of 250 acres, 150 were cleared and cultivated for the farm that would supply most of the food for the household. Leith built a house, a barn and granary down the lane for his tenant farmer. This house is now privately owned.

The gatehouse was also built around this time, called The Lodge, as the home of Penelope Hutchinson, one of Leith’s granddaughters.

George Leith died in 1887, followed by Magdalene in 1900. The Hermitage pass on to their daughter, Alma (Leith) Dick-Lauder.

Lauder was a local writer, writing some historical articles for the Hamilton Spectator and other publications. Some of these articles and others were published in a book in 1897, titled “Wentworth Landmarks.”

In 1972, the Hamilton Conservation Authority purchased 120 acres of land in the Dundas Valley from Mr. Charles Hill. This property was for many years part of an estate known as “The Hermitage”. The stone house and outbuildings, which now only exist in ruins, were built by Mr. George Gordon Browne Leith, when he bought the property in 1855. He and his wife lived there for many years; later followed by their daughter Mrs. Alma Dick-Lauder.

A fire in 1934 destroyed the interior of the house, leaving the stone walls standing. Lauder refused to leave, and set up a small tent in front of the ruins. A short time later, some of her neighbours built a small wooden cabin inside the ruins, where Lauder lived with her many animals until she died in 1942.

The property was eventually donated to the City of Hamilton and is now under the purview of the Hamilton Conservation Authority. The crumbling stone walls were secured with “temporary” wooden supports, which remained in place for over 60 years.

A campaign launched in 2015 by Leanne Pluthero, “Save the Hermitage,” was successful in raising funds to properly stabilize the ruins; preserving what’s left of the Hermitage for future generations.

The rest of the property has nature walking trails, perfect for hiking and enjoying nature.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hermitage_(Hamilton,_Ontario), https://conservationhamilton.ca/hermitage-gatehouse, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11821534/george-sheed, http://standrews.ws/about/history, http://hamiltonparanormal.com/hermitage2.html, https://conservationhamilton.ca/images/PDFs/Parks/Hermitage/HermitageBrochure.pdf, http://ancasterhistory.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/The-Roadside-History-of-Old-Ancaster-Township.pdf, https://conservationhamilton.ca/images/PDFs/Parks/Hermitage/Grounds_Panel.pdf, https://conservationhamilton.ca/images/PDFs/Parks/Hermitage/House_Panel.pdf

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.

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