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Inverarden House National Historic Site of Canada

Natural Wonders & Cultural Treasures


The History of Inverarden House

John Macdonald of Garth
©Robert E. Gard / Alberta Folklore and Local History Collection / 96-93-529

Inverarden House was built in 1816 as a retirement home for John McDonald of Garth who had been a trading partner of the North West Company in Montreal. It was set in the midst of a 150 acre estate, parts of which were leased to tenants for farming. McDonald left the house in 1823 when he married his second wife and moved to a new house nearby. He sold
Inverarden to his daughter, Eliza, and her husband, John Duncan Campbell.

Inverarden was occupied by Eliza and John Campbell and their descendants for nearly 150 years. While parts of the property were sold off over the course of time, it was only in 1965 that the family sold the house to a chemical company that had purchased other property nearby. Chemcell Ltd. donated the house and 1ha. of land surrounding it, to Parks Canada in 1970.

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada had designated Inveraden House as a national historic site in 1968 because it is a significant early example of Regency architecture and is associated with the settlement in Eastern Ontario of partners of the North West Company. When Parks Canada acquired the house in 1970, an extensive restoration project was carried out to take it back to its appearance in the 1820s. After the restoration, it served for many years as an historic house museum operated by the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Historical Society. As a result of the relocation of the museum in 2000, it is no longer open to the public.

The Architecture of Inverarden House

Inverarden House

Inverarden House
©Parks Canada / Steve Weir

According to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board: "This house, built in 1816, is a fine early example of Regency architecture and its interior is a pleasing expression of Georgian symmetry with excellent detailing. In a wooded setting and commanding an impressive view, this was a fitting house for a country squire."

Visually, Inverarden is a very pleasing house. A 1½ storey rubble stone structure, it is set high on its foundations, giving generous light to the servants' areas in the basement. The original rectangular building was flanked by one-storey wings in the early 1820s which give variety to the plain 1816 facade. The flatness of the stucco-covered wall surfaces is relieved by the large, multi-paned casement windows, by the doorway with sidelights and elliptical fan, and by the massive porch reached by a high flight of steps. Overall, the facade is symmetrical and this sense of symmetry is enhanced by the hip roof and by the placement of the four chimneys.

An important element of Regency architecture is the siting of a building within the landscape to create a Picturesque setting. Inverarden faces in a southerly direction to take advantage of the sunlight but also of the views of the St. Lawrence River. Although it was placed within a wooded area, it was built at the top of a natural rise in land from the river, and the driveway from the main road was placed so as to open the southern view from the house.

Over the years the occupants of Inverarden made changes to the house and modernised it. Fortunately the changes had little affect on the interior. Inverarden has a centre hall plan with an elegant staircase rising up to the upper half storey. The original house had one large room with a smaller room behind, on either side of the hall. The wings built in the early 1820s added two additional rooms to the main floor. The original fireplaces survive and some of the original woodwork, plaster work and hardware. The basement was the servants' area with bedrooms, a large kitchen and a larder. The original hearth and bake oven survive, along with a smoke cupboard for preserving meats. Throughout the whole house, there is ample evidence of the skill of the craftsmen who built it.

The North West Company and Eastern Ontario

David Thompson

David Thompson
©Ontario Heritage Foundation

Inverarden House is associated with the settlement in Eastern Ontario of partners of the North West Company, a fur trading venture that played avital role in the early history of the exploration of Canada. The company was formed in Montreal in the 1780s to bring an end to the fierce and violent competition among the fur traders of the city. It was a partnership of merchants and what were called "wintering partners", the men who travelled into the Canadian wilderness in search of furs. Among the wintering partners were men like Sir Alexander Mackenzie, famous for his voyages of discovery that took him to the Arctic Ocean and to the Pacific.

The fur trade was a source of wealth for partners of the North West Company. John McDonald of Garth sold his shares in the company for £10,000 before retiring to his new house near Cornwall in Eastern Ontario. Other North West Company partners who joined him in retiring to this area were John Macdonell, who settled on the Ottawa River, Hugh McGillis who bought a house in Williamstown, and the renownedexplorers, David Thompson (Williamstown) and Simon Fraser (Cornwall).