The Keepers of the House

Living in a 120 year old house can have its benefits – and its drawbacks. Just ask Linda Vowels and her husband Ross, who for the past  14 years have lived in the grand old stone house on the corner of 303 and 301 in Portage du Fort.  The house has been in our family […]
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Living in a 120 year old house can have its benefits – and its drawbacks. Just ask Linda Vowels and her husband Ross, who for the past  14 years have lived in the grand old stone house on the corner of 303 and 301 in Portage du Fort.  The house has been in our family for over 30 years,” said Linda. “My parents, Edgar and Eleanor Connelly bought it around 1981.” The Connellys were better known, at
the time, for owning the motel and restaurant in Shawville, Ed and Ellen’s as it was often called.

“This house has had many lives,” said Linda when asked how many different owners it had. “It was originally built for a wealthy family, then it became a boarding house, there was once a hairdresser here and, I believe it was also a foster home.”

Today the house is simply home to the couple who live there with Mrs Connelly, Linda’s mother. Her father, Edgar, died in 2006. Mr Connelly was a lover of antiques so the house suited him just fine. There were so many rooms to fill – nine bedrooms, a dining room, great room, kitchen and sitting room. He spent his time scouring antique places and auctions for treasures to bring home to the Chateau du Pontiac. Mrs Connelly had a natural flair for decorating and welcomed her husband’s finds. She pondered
the right curtains and paint colour to brighten the rooms and arranged his priceless antiques to suit the decor. Every room in the old house has its own character.

There is an elegant bedroom on the second floor with a beautiful old bed frame that is original to
the house. A patchwork quilt on the bed commemorates Canada’s Centennial with 1867 – 1967embroidered in the center. The whimsical patchwork is embroidered
with the names of the Provinces.

A delicate antique washstand holds a basin and water pitcher, lending authenticity to the scene. A visit to the house is both educational and extraordinary. Its craftsmanship is like nothing built in recent days.  The house had running water, which was a real luxury at the time. The old plumbing is something to behold. Rainwater was gathered in the copper eaves into a huge cistern on the third floor and ran through pipes to the basement. In the basement, there is another cistern and a hand pump used to distribute the water throughout the house. The lavish home also had indoor lighting. Fixtures once used to burn acetylene gas, still hang from the ceilings. There are brass buzzers in both the grand room and the master bedroom that were used to summon servants. “Mrs Reid had standards,” said Linda “She ran a pretty strict household. Meals were always taken in the formal dining room.” All around the house, there are subtle nods to the wealth and importance of the family that first lived there including the name that it bears on the glass above the front door – Edgewood.

The house has three stories navigated by a small servants stairway in the back and two massive front staircases, the shiny balusters and posts accented by intricate wood trim and moldings. At the foot of the
stairs, the front door is illuminated by intricate stained glass in the door and the transom above. Gleaming oak paneling wraps around the walls on the main floor. The rooms are separated by tall pocket doors.

Everything is beautifully preserved. “We are constantly working on the house,” said Ross. While Linda is working on finding just the right fabric to make curtains for one of the bedrooms, Ross contemplates
his next project. “For a house this age though, it has been remarkably well maintained. There are very
few marks in the paneling or damage to the walls.” Over the years, he has put in energy-efficient insulation on the third floor and installed a number of bathrooms.
Originally there was only one bathroom in the house and it was used exclusively by the lady of the house.
Everyone else made the trek to outhouse.

Mr. George Emmerson Reid built the house in 1899. He was a wealthy lumberman and businessman, young and ambitious. It was a very different time in Portage. There were more than 1,200 residents of the small village and an equal number of transients, mostly lumbermen and traders, coming and going. There were two banks, numerous taverns, a tailor shop, brickyard, a lime kiln, post office and a marble
quarry that supplied the cornerstones for the Parliament Buildings. The first district newspaper was published there, the Pontiac Pioneer. Reid built the house for his wife, Louisa Margaret Amy.

They prospered there raising six children: three boys and three girls. The high-life came to an abrupt halt in 1914 when fire ravaged the town and destroyed the majority of the homes and businesses.
Edgewood and the other stone houses remained, but the town that was once the commercial center of the Pontiac was doomed. The Canadian Northern Railway was built soon after and bypassed Portage.
Reid lived in the home until his death in 1936. He was heavily involved in local politics and was once the Mayor.
After his death, Mrs Reid only lived there in the summertime preferring to spend the winters at the White House Inn in Renfrew. She died in 1956.

Portage rose again in the 1950s when the Chenaux power plant and dam were built. Thousands
of men descended on the tiny village needing a place to rest and get a good meal.
The house sold and became a boarding house for the workers. The numbers 1 – 9 remain on the doors of each of the upstairs bedrooms as evidence of the home’s purpose in those times.

“There have been a number of different owners,” said Linda. “Over that 30 year period, it changed hands a few times. There was a Mr. Brazeau, Mr. David, maybe Terry Murdoch.” A portrait that is thought to be of Mr. Reid as a young man has hung by the front door for years watching all those people coming and going.

When asked if she still considers the house to be the Reid house (the Connelly have now owned it for almost 31years) Linda said, “ It will always be the Reid’s. We are just the keepers of the house.”If the walls could talk, perhaps they would say “Thank You” to Linda and Ross for keeping the house and its splendid history alive for all these years.

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