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The Massey Family
Daniel Massey, born in 1766, was of the sixth generation of Masseys in America. Descendants of the first settlers, Jeffrey and Ellen, had moved out into many of the states. Daniel had lived in New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York State before coming to Canada. Some historians speculate Daniel’s move to Canada may have been motivated by support for the Loyalist cause. It is more likely that he came to Canada, as did so many Americans at the time, for the opportunity to purchase cheap land. (By 1812, when the border was closed to Americans, the population of Upper Canada had grown to 100,000. Eighty percent were American, yet only 20,000 were Loyalists or their descendants.)
Land in the eastern states was becoming less available and cost 2 dollars an acre on average. The price was about half that in Canada. More importantly, land was still readily available, and Daniel and Rebecca may have been planning ahead for their sons’ future. Daniel and Rebecca left Sackett’s Harbour, New York with their daughter and three sons in 1802. They crossed Lake Ontario by schooner and most likely landed at a harbour near Grafton, which was then a small settlement called Grover’s Tavern. They were among the first settlers in the area. By 1803, the population of Haldimand Township was only 312.
Where Daniel and his family spent the first few years is not certain. They may have rented, or been making farmshare payments, on the 110 acres they later purchased—the south portion of Lot 23 in the third concession (across the road from the present-day location of Ste. Anne’s).
Surveys of the district were not completed until a few years later and, although some of the southern concession lots were ready and granted, the lot Daniel eventually purchased was not officially registered as a Crown grant to its first owner, Daniel Honeywell, until 1809.
Nevertheless, an 1808 census listed the Massey family in that area. Daniel, age forty-two, held property valued at 82 pounds, with 30 acres under cultivation. He owned three horses, four oxen, and two milk cows. The family, which by then included three sons and three daughters, lived in a house of round logs.
Daniel Massey’s purchase from Daniel Honeywell was not registered until 1812. The north portion of the lot was registered to Moses Hinman Jr. at the same time. It was common practice then for land sales to be conducted on slips of paper which were not formally registered for years. Daniel may have been prompted to formalize his title when he did because of the War of 1812.
Daniel, forty-six, and his two eldest sons, Samuel, twenty-two and Jonathan, twenty, had been called to serve in the war. Not only was there a possibility that he and two of his heirs could be killed, it was prudent to have clear title in case of an American victory. The Americans wanted to gain control of the fur trade and annex the remainder of British-held territories.
Throughout the war, there was ongoing fear in Upper Canada about where the American raids would strike. Rebecca Massey and her children, left at home in the backwoods of Haldimand, no doubt heard frightening stories about the American invasion of York from wounded British soldiers who were making their way back to Kingston.
In May 1813, just after the invasion of York, Daniel and Rebecca’s eldest son, Samuel, died at age twenty-three. He was buried near the family homestead, in what came to be known as the Academy Hill Cemetery. The cause of his death is not recorded, but he was possibly one of the victims of the war. When his father and two older brothers were called to defend their new homeland, Daniel Jr., just fourteen years old, was left in charge of the farm and family. Records show that he managed very well. The family’s horses had been taken for the army, so he broke in two young steers to take their place. He hired farmhands to help with the harvest, took grain to market and settled accounts.
Perhaps this early taste of independence and responsibility accounts for Daniel Massey Jr.’s decision to leave home at age nineteen. It must have been a difficult decision, and it was surely opposed by his father. Daniel Jr. struck out on his own in 1817. For the first few years he employed teams of men who were hired out to clear land for other farmers. When he eventually settled down to farming, he owned over a thousand acres and built a fine home a few miles west of his family’s homestead in an area known as the Gully. He began to import farm machinery, went on to building machinery in Newcastle and, with his son, Hart Massey, founded the Massey Manufacturing Company. However, leaving home at nineteen was not considered proper. At that time, sons were required to work on their father’s farm until they were twenty-one years old. A young man who did not fulfill that obligation forfeited his right to inherit family property.
Daniel Sr. took decisive action to ensure that his namesake would forfeit his inheritance. In 1818, he sold the family homestead to his eldest surviving son, Jonathan, for 150 pounds. Daniel, Rebecca and at least one of their daughters apparently continued to live on the homestead.
Jonathan had married Rachel Merrill in 1814 and a year later he purchased, from Moses Hinman Jr., the north portion of Lot 23 adjoining his parents’ original homestead. It seems probable that Jonathan built a log house on that part of the property to accommodate his growing family.
Between 1820 and 1830 Jonathan bought an additional 500 acres on nearby lots. One of his purchases was the lot across the road from the Massey homestead, Lot 23, Concession 2, the present-day location of Ste. Anne’s. The land had belonged to David McGregor Rogers, a man closely identified with the early history of Upper Canada.
Mr. Rogers had been, at various times, a merchant in Grafton, the Registrar of Deeds for Northumberland County, a clerk of the Peace, a clerk of the District Court and a member of Parliament. In payment for these services, Mr. Rogers received many grants of land. Since he owned several more desirable lots nearer the “front” of the township, he probably never made use of this lot in the second concession which was granted to him in 1804. He did, however, use the title to the lot to secure a loan with Richard Cartwright for more than 300 pounds.
When Mr. Rogers died in about 1823, the loan was not fully paid. Mr. Cartwright was also deceased. His executors arranged for the lot to be sold. In 1824, the local sheriff, John Spencer, put the lot up for auction in order to settle the outstanding debt. Jonathan Massey purchased the lot, “being the best bidder for the sum of one hundred and one pounds of good and lawful money”.
Jonathan may have worked at clearing some of the additional lots he owned or he may have intended to keep them for his sons. He did, however, sell off 75 acres in the south portion of Lot 23, Concession 2 to Amos Moore in 1828. On September 12, 1831, Jonathan and Rachel’s son, Isaiah, died at age six. The cause of his death is not recorded, but it seems that the loss was so devastating for the grieving parents they could not bear to live there anymore. Less than three weeks after his son’s death, Jonathan sold his family’s original homestead for 100 pounds (50 pounds less than he purchased it for) to his brother-in-law, Ira Richardson, who was married to his youngest sister, Sally. Daniel and Rebecca apparently stayed on, sharing the farm with their daughter and her husband.
Jonathan and Rachel abandoned all their land near the original homestead. They moved a few miles west to 100 acres in the west half of Lot 32, Concession 4, and began building a log house there. He also continued to add to his land holdings, purchasing an additional 230 acres near his new farm. The following spring, April 1832, Daniel Massey Sr. died at age sixty-six. He was buried in the nearby Academy Hill Cemetery. His wife Rebecca died six years later and was buried beside him. The area had changed tremendously during Daniel and Rebecca’s time in Upper Canada. The population of Haldimand Township was approaching 2,000. There was a road, still rough in spots, from York to Kingston. The three-day stagecoach trip cost about 9 pounds, and Spalding’s Inn at Grafton was a coach stop. (The name Grafton was chosen for the town in 1832.) Nearby Cobourg, little more than a cedar swamp thirty-five years before, now had a population of 1,000 with doctors, mills, an apothecary, a post office and even a weekly newspaper.
However, just a little north of the front, there were many uncleared lots and settlers could still be very isolated on their farms. The only local roads were those built by the settlers. Little more than wide trails through the forest with logs laid over swampy areas, these roads were often impassable in spring and fall.
It was common practice for neighbours to get together for work “bees” such as barn raisings. These were social occasions, when everyone enjoyed the chance to visit and exchange news. On a hot Saturday in August 1834, neighbours gathered at Jonathan Massey’s new farm, (Lot 32, Concession 4) for a barnraising. Daniel Jr. and his wife, Lucinda, had driven over with their children. Other children from the district were laughing and playing about while their mothers helped prepare food. The men and older boys worked on the building.
In the midst of this happy scene, one of the workers (it is said he had taken too much of the free liquor) dropped a handspike which struck Jonathan. All the excitement of the day was shattered. The men carried Jonathan, fatally wounded, into the house. He died the following day. Once again, the Masseys gathered at the Academy Hill Cemetery. Jonathan was just forty-two when he died. His widow Rachel was only thirtynine. Their children ranged in age from nineteen years to twenty months. His will provided 200 dollars for each of his three daughters, to be paid when they married or came of age. To each of his five sons he left horses, sheep and cows, and at least 100 acres to be given as each came of age.
To his eldest son, Samuel, Jonathan left the remaining 125 acres of the lot he had bought at auction years before— Lot 23 in the second concession—the present-day location of Ste. Anne’s. Some of the other bequests of land, however, are puzzling. Two of his sons were left land that did not belong to Jonathan, land which actually belonged to witnesses to the will. Furthermore, some lots Jonathan did own are not mentioned in the will. How did that happen?
The men who were gathered to witness his deathbed will must have felt, very keenly, Jonathan’s anguish and dread for his young family’s future. He would not be there to provide for them as they grew and he would not be there to help his sons establish themselves on farms of their own.
Jonathan was in pain, probably in shock, and understandably confused. Perhaps he was drifting in and out of consciousness and not able to make his wishes known. The men who were present may not have realized exactly what properties he owned, but wishing to do for him whatever they could, they made agreements that day. They offered some of their own land to his sons when they came of age.
All the details of the tragedy, and the dramatic scene that followed, can never be known for sure. Certainly, solemn agreements were made around Jonathan’s deathbed. And they were kept, though some property transfers were not completed until years later.
During the following twenty-four years, Samuel Massey worked to settle his father’s estate. He secured deeds and registered titles, bought and sold properties, and transferred land to his brothers to conform to the terms of their father’s will.
Jonathan’s widow, Rachel, never did remarry. She raised her family and led a busy, productive life in the home she and Jonathan had built just before he died. Rachel Massey died in 1878 as a result of a fall at age eighty-two.
When his father died, seventeen-year old Samuel assumed the responsibility of running the family farm and providing for his mother and siblings. As well as settling his father’s estate, no doubt he also provided his brothers with the livestock specified in the will and ensured that each sister received her cash inheritance.
Samuel’s uncle, Ira Richardson, sold the original Massey homestead to his brother, Julius, in 1836. That same year, Samuel arranged to buy the south 25 acres of that lot, which was across the road from the land he would inherit two years later, at age twenty-one.
Samuel married Mary Masters in 1839 and they probably then moved to the 25-acre farm where they built a log house near the road. The remains of a log house foundation, with a well nearby, were evident until about thirty years ago in the south portion of the lot. Nancy Houston, who owned the property at that time, discovered the foundation. Old-timers in the area told her the log house had been built by a member of the Massey family. An 1841 census indicates there were two houses on the south portion of the lot. Nancy Houston also recalls that another well and evidence of an old foundation had once been found about 300 or 400 yards from the road, near the east side of the lot. Possibly that foundation was the remains of Daniel and Rebecca’s home.
The 1841 census lists Samuel Massey as the head of two households. His own property is described as having two houses, one occupied by Samuel, his wife, and their first child, and the other house is shown as vacant. Samuel is also listed in that census as head of his mother’s household, where crops such as potatoes, wheat, barley, and oats were grown. The farm produced maple syrup, had hives of bees, and, of course, livestock.
An 1851 census shows Samuel and Mary, with four children, still residing on the third concession. William Brown, a sixty-year-old labourer, and a servant, Ellen Devinney, age fifteen, lived on the same lot.
A stone schoolhouse had been built a few years before near the cemetery on Lot 22, Concession 2, and it was at this time the name Academy Hill was given to the school and cemetery. The population of the province was then 952,000.
This was a period of growth and prosperity in Canada. A railway was built from Cobourg to Peterborough between 1852 and 1854. In 1856, the Grand Trunk Railway made speedy travel to Toronto or Montreal possible, and a ticket from Grafton to Toronto was $2.55. The first library for the county was created in Grafton in 1855, and fire protection was arranged for the village of Grafton in 1859. The confusion caused by the common use of two different currencies (dollars and pounds) was resolved when the Canadian dollar came into official use in 1858.
While Samuel was operating his own farm and overseeing the welfare of his mother, brothers and sisters, he was also (in his spare time) clearing the 125-acre lot across the road.
The last purchase of property pertaining to his father’s will was completed by 1858. Samuel could then devote his energy and attention to his own family’s needs.
In the spring of 1858, Samuel arranged two private mortgages totalling 1,000 dollars, and the construction of a stone house began on Lot 23, Concession 2. The home which Samuel and Mary named “Sunnyside” was built in the Georgian style of balanced proportions. This style was so predominant in the province throughout the nineteenth century it became known as the Ontario House, also called the Loyalist Vernacular. However, the Massey house did adhere to one important principle of the Regency style then in vogue: the dramatic site for the house was well and carefully chosen. At the south edge of a plateau, it commanded a breathtaking view.
The walls of the Massey house, 2 feet thick and made from locally quarried rose quartz and pink limestone support the roof, a technique usually attributed to Scottish stonemasons. The gabled roof provided more headroom on the upper floor than was allowed in the roof style of earlier houses. Chimneys, at either end, balanced the exterior, as did the placement of the double-hung windows. The original front doorway, located in the middle of the longer side, was surrounded by a square transom providing extra light for the main hallway. French doors, (which may originally have been tall windows) on either side of the front door continued the symmetrical appearance. The doors and windows were all fitted with shutters.
The wide centre hallway was flanked by the dining room and kitchen on the east side and a large parlour on the west. The dining room and parlour had fireplaces, but wood stoves had become affordable and popular by this time. The bedrooms on the upper level were heated by wood stoves connected to separate flues in the wide chimneys. The pine floors were coated with milk paint in umbers and ochres, or warm greys, except for the kitchen floor which was commonly left bare so it could be regularly scrubbed with a mixture of sand and herbs. Floors in formal rooms had carpets—possibly Persian but more likely Axminster—while bedrooms had painted canvas floorcloths. The split-lathe and horsehair plaster walls might have been painted and stenciled, or wallpaper could have been ordered for formal rooms.
Samuel sold the 25-acre lot on the north side of the road to James Hossack in 1869 for 1,250 dollars. That may have been the year the stone addition to the south side of his house was made. The construction of the addition is strikingly similar to the original. The stones are almost as large, and the mortar appears to be the same composition.
It is doubtful that the addition was built much later than 1869, and changes to the original building may have been made about the same time. The stones surrounding the window above the front door show signs of being reworked. The central gable window may also have been added at the same time, to provide extra light in the upper hallway. The lower floor of the addition housed the main kitchen, and servants’ quarters were probably upstairs. A wooden addition extended to the west of the rear portion to serve as summer kitchen and woodshed. The Masseys’ well was inside that addition. The well was dug 80 feet deep with stone-lined walls. Even so, in dry summers it was not reliable.
That same year, Samuel helped his second son, Edward, buy property adjoining his farm: 50 acres on Lot 24 and 25 acres on the south portion of Lot 23, from Amos Moore. Edward built a house close to the middle of Lot 24. Then, in 1873, Samuel divided his own farm in half, selling the west portion to Edward. Samuel did, however, reserve six acres in the west half, which provided him with access to the wetlands and streams in that area. When his well was low in dry summers, water was drawn from those streams. Ironically, the existence of aquifer under his land was probably not even suspected at that time, and an adequate water supply was a constant concern for area farms with wells on higher ground.
By 1880, the deforestation of southern Ontario was causing changes. In spring months, there were record-level floodings and the rapid run-off meant less water was percolating into the soil. Droughts resulted. Springs and rivers carried less water in summer. The great rivers—the Moira, the Gananoque, and the Salmon—that used to rush out of the watershed to the north of Lake Ontario, powering mills and carrying log booms, lost their might. Around this time, the numerous mills along Shelter Valley Creek began to disappear. During the 1880s and 1890s, an agricultural depression occurred and many farmers lost their livelihood.
The mortgages on Edward Massey’s farm were foreclosed in 1890, and Thomas Hoskins took over the property. Edward and his family may have stayed in their home as tenants for a time or may have moved in with Samuel. In either case, Edward was likely helping to manage his father’s farm until he moved to Rochester in 1904.
Samuel’s wife, Mary Masters Massey, died in July, 1890. Until his death in February, 1899, Samuel continued to live at Sunnyside with his daughters, Elizabeth and Lucy, and his grandson, Edward Gram. Samuel, Mary and their daughter, Susan, are buried at the Academy Hill Cemetery.
Samuel’s will left his farm to the two daughters who had been living with him: Elizabeth Massey, spinster, and Lucy Gram, widow.
The grandson, Edward Gram, married Eliza Coulter in 1901. There is evidence to suggest that they lived at Sunnyside after their marriage and that their two children were born there.
Sunnyside was sold in 1907, possibly in order to divide the inheritance because Lucy Gram remarried in 1908. After the sale, Elizabeth may have continued to live there for some time as a tenant. She did not marry until 1917, when she was sixty-three years old.
The Jane & Keeler Families
Simon L. Jayne was born in 1872, a descendant of United Empire Loyalists who had come to Upper Canada almost a century before. His father, David Jayne, owned a farm at Lot 29 and 30 on the second concession. Although Simon signed his name as Jayne, the surname is shown as Jaynes on some documents. His relatives still living in this area now have the surname Jaynes.
In 1901, Simon bought the land that had been Edward Massey’s property. About this same time, he married Nora L. Tinney who was twenty years his junior. He built a red-brick farmhouse near the road on the west half of Lot 23. The wooden addition, to the rear of the house, has old hand-hewn timbers and may have been built with materials salvaged from Edward Massey’s former house. In 1907, it was Simon Jayne who bought Sunnyside and its 75 acres from Samuel’s daughters. From all reports, Simon and Nora lived in the redbrick farmhouse. There is no record of who lived at Sunnyside during the years it belonged to Simon Jayne, although Elizabeth Massey may have lived there for some of the time.
Twin sons were born to Simon and Nora in 1911. They died as infants. The Jaynes had no other children.
Simon sold the west portion of his land to Ernest Joice in 1917. At that time, Simon bought land on the Danforth Road, east of Cobourg. Simon and Nora lived there until Nora’s death in 1935. Simon then moved back to his family’s home, where he lived with his bachelor brother, Norman, and his unmarried sisters, Laura and Mary.
Simon had sold Sunnyside to William Keeler in 1919.
William Keeler was also a descendant of United Empire Loyalists, some of the earliest to settle in this area. He bought Sunnyside in 1919 and he and his wife, Elizabeth, farmed there for several years.
The Keeler family were devout members of their church and often provided room and board for young Baptist ministers-in-training who were serving temporarily in area churches. One of the Keelers’ sons, Alvin, became a Baptist minister.
Their other son, Bill, lived with his parents and helped his father operate the farm. Bill and his wife, Fern, converted the front two rooms on the east side of the main floor into an apartment for themselves and their daughter, Barbara. Electricity became available in Grafton in 1925, but farms outside the village did not have eletrical services until much later.
In 1929, the stock market crash started a depression that inflicted hardships on everyone. Farmers could, at least, grow food for survival, but selling crops to raise cash for mortgage payments or taxes was hardly possible. The situation became so desperate for so many that, in 1934, the municipality adopted a policy which allowed taxpayers to trade labour on road work for up to one third of their property tax bill.
By 1939, faltering farms and family businesses were still struggling to recover as the Great Depression was ending and the Second World War was beginning.
The Corcoran Family
In the spring of 1981, a newspaper ad offered a castle for sale in the Northumberland Hills. A castle? Carl Corcoran was intrigued. His wife, Nan, drove out to take a look at the place. Harold Winter took Nan through the old stone house…by flashlight. It did not show well and it smelled of mould and mildew. Nan returned home and said, “Forget it!”
Carl had to see for himself. He drove out to look a few days later, and agreed, “It’s too far gone.” But they were smitten and drove out several more times to look it over, all the while laughing at themselves for even considering such a huge commitment of time and energy. They were already busy enough. While Carl had been climbing the corporate ladder at IBM, from salesman to president, work often kept him away from home. Nan saw to the day-to-day details of raising their seven children and running the family farm near Kleinburg where they raised Charolais cattle. Carl and Nan kept thinking about the property, though, and mentioning “the castle” to their friends. Carl liked the idea that the family could work on the restoration together. When it was complete, a big house and all that land offered unlimited possibilities for retirement projects.
Nan was drawn to Ste. Anne’s by something less tangible. She sensed a spirit there, a nurturing spirit. Certainly, there was the name of the place to associate with divine healing and the structure itself contained quartz, believed to have healing properties. Also, Nan observed that healing herbs persisted in the long-neglected gardens. Nan’s impression was later confirmed by a family friend, Jay Rawlings, who is well known as a gifted prophet. When he visited Ste. Anne’s, he received and conveyed a prophecy: “I have chosen this beautiful garden, where I will send many people to be healed.”
Carl’s father, Jim Corcoran, had owned and operated a hotel, the Clifton Inn, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Nan’s father, William Priddle, was a doctor in Toronto. Perhaps it was inevitable that their offspring would combine the two vocations. In June 1981, the Corcorans bought Ste. Anne’s. Since then, all but the eldest of their seven children have been involved in the enterprises there. That first year, their son, Jim, brought a friend out to spend the summer at Ste. Anne’s. They expected to do some cleaning up and make repairs and maybe do some painting. Another son, John, and his fiancée, Nancy Rayburn, came out to help. Jim remembers that they started to restore the swimming pool that summer in order to have a place to cool off and refresh themselves after the grueling work on the house. The pool was more like a cement pond complete with lily pads. The Blaffers apparently had never used chlorine and the pool had to be sandblasted before it could be used. They pumped water from the well to refill the pool, but at the time they were unsure of the well’s capacity, so they were cautious. The 130,000 gallons required to fill the pool caused no problem with the water supply. John recalls saying, “This is pretty fantastic.” However, the idea to bottle the water came years later.
The Corcoran family soon realized that restoring Ste. Anne’s would take a lot more than cleaning and painting. Years of freezing and thawing had taken their toll. The structure was damaged and the interior had to be rebuilt, room by room. However, the oldest part of the building, the section built in 1858, was in the best shape of all and actually required very little work.
What followed was two years of construction with a crew of sixteen workers, nine of whom lived on the site during the week. Nan says, “It was like a work camp for two years.”
Just before his parents bought Ste. Anne’s, Jim dropped out of York University where he had been studying law and political science, reasoning that he could learn more about politics performing his duties as a school trustee. In 1981, he was in the middle of his third term as trustee with the York Regional Public School Board, a position he had first been elected to while still in high school.
Jim took on the task of overseeing the renovation. Young as he was, he already had considerable experience negotiating building contracts. As a trustee, he had served for a time as chairman of the planning and building committee for the board and had been involved in selecting contractors for new school construction. By the fall of 1981 Jim made the difficult decision to resign his seat on the school board and devote all his time and energy to the work at Ste. Anne’s.
Meanwhile, the family had moved to Ste. Anne’s, cows and all. Their furniture was stored in the sitting room. Everyone slept on mattresses on the bare floors, while bats came down through holes in the ceiling and flew overhead at night.
Each morning, Nan cooked for her family as well as the nine extra workers amid the chaos and mess. Carl often left for his office in Toronto wearing a thin layer of plaster dust.
Everyone soon realized, as it got to be very cold, that the heating system was woefully inadequate. Ste. Anne’s had been a summer house, after all. The two existing furnaces could barely take the chill from a fall night, never mind heat the place for winter. Before the new boiler system could be installed, one of the pipes in the sitting room ceiling burst, soaking the stored furniture. The plaster walls in the additions were removed so the electrical wiring and plumbing could be replaced throughout and so insulation could be installed. Layers of paint were stripped from the floors.
When the false ceiling in the room above the library had to be torn down, the beautiful cathedral roof was discovered. It was left exposed in the guest room now called the Cathedral Suite. Jim devoted two years to the renovations and to completing the basic shell. He says, “I took a great deal of pleasure in getting it to that state.”
Carl says the idea to start a bed and breakfast operation at Ste. Anne’s actually grew out of the keen interest area residents showed in the progress of the renovations. “It was almost magic,” he says. “People came and asked if they could see through the house. They brought their friends, and some even asked if it would be possible to stay in the house overnight. It was apparent,” he adds, “that in a way they felt it was theirs.”
As the renovation neared completion, Nan searched through local antique shops and auctions. She furnished the rooms in a mixture of styles and periods reflecting the way an old house’s furnishings would have evolved over the years. Even the light fixtures had been removed because of vandalism and appropriate replacements were found. A few pieces of the Blaffers’ furniture had been left with the house: the tall cupboards in the library, some bentwood chairs and a cherrywood butler’s pantry. In May of 1983, John and Nancy were married in Grafton. The wedding reception was held at Ste. Anne’s, literally the moment renovations were completed. The bride-to-be was helping complete the final touches, staining the floor in the East Wing where the dancing would take place, just hours before her wedding.
For the reception, a tent was set up in the courtyard to accommodate 300 guests. The attendants wore shades of peach, while daisies and other local spring flowers provided the decorating theme.
John and Nancy also had been busy renovating the farmhouse next door where they would live after their return from a honeymoon in Bermuda. (Harold and Ada Winter had moved to a house in Colborne.)
Nan and Nancy began operating a typical B&B operation at Ste. Anne’s in 1983; however, they soon decided to add some spa treatment options. Nan and Carl’s daughter, Cindy, had recently completed her training as a Registered Massage Therapist and she inspired the change.
Cindy’s interest in massage therapy had first been sparked when she attended a workshop in Detroit a few years earlier. There she learned that massage therapy is a highly respected part of the health system in Europe, used to treat serious conditions. “It is based in science,” she says. “Practitioners must know anatomy and physiology.”
Massage therapy did not become available at Ste. Anne’s until years later but, with Cindy’s help, Nan and Nancy did bring together some qualified assistants so that guests could book three or four-day spa packages which included aromatherapy, “detox” baths, natural facials and exercise classes.
It was during this time that Margaret Pearson, a great-granddaughter of Samuel Massey, visited Ste. Anne’s. She was pleased to see the restoration to her family’s former home and presented the Corcorans with a Massey family heirloom quilt, which is now displayed in the centre hall of the original part of the home.
At first, the Corcorans expected farming to be the main purpose for the property. John had been studying animal husbandry and crop science in Guelph, but when Carl had trouble finding a suitable manager for the farm, John dropped out of university to take over. Carl credits John for the quality that developed in the Charolais herd at Ste. Anne’s. John, in turn, credits Joe Rye, who became farm manager but now works with John in the water business. With Joe’s guidance, John brought bloodlines from out west into the herd at Ste. Anne’s. One of the Corcorans’ bulls was judged Grand Champion at the Royal Winter Fair. “Joe,” John says, “has a judge’s eye.”
Over the years, more surrounding farmland was purchased. The former Scott farm became home for awhile, to fallow deer imported from New Zealand. Then there were other changes to the farming aspect at Ste. Anne’s. “It’s all very well to win prizes,” Carl says. “That’s not necessarily the place to put your money.” The Charolais cattle were replaced by a herd of 500 elk, bred for their antlers which are made into a health-food supplement. But as the emphasis for the use of the property shifted, the livestock operations were phased out.
In 1985, Carl’s job took him to Japan for three years. Nan, and their youngest daughter, Marijo, accompanied him. John and Nancy moved into the stone house and Nancy continued to operate the B&B. She had students to help part-time, and her “right hand,” she says, was Sheila Bryan who is still a member of the housekeeping staff at Ste. Anne’s. Even with the help, Nancy had to discontinue the spa options. Most of the guests at that time were regulars who returned often. “It was like having friends visit. We’d invite them to have supper with us, and everyone felt like part of the family,” Nancy says.
In 1985, the old wooden garages to the west of the house were torn down and a new wing was added. This addition contained an extra guest room with a conference room (now treatment area) below.
The water bottling business was started around this time, in a small way at first. When guests continually commented on the great-tasting coffee and teas they were served, John began bottling water for them to take home.
Carl and Nan returned from Japan in 1988 and Carl retired from IBM. The former Kidd farm adjoining Ste. Anne’s had been purchased and Carl and Nan moved into the oldest house on the property which had been renovated for their return.
Marijo had already returned to Canada after only six months in Japan. Her eldest brother, Bill, and brother-in-law, David Storey (Cindy’s husband), helped her get a job in the film business in Toronto. David still works in the film industry there, and Bill is a director, working mostly in B.C. and Los Angeles. Marijo started out sweeping floors, but worked her way up to camera assistant.
Marijo’s marriage to Stani Veselinovic was held at Ste. Anne’s in August, 1989. The groom’s relatives came from Yugoslavia. The Serbian Orthodox ceremony took place outdoors in the archway. The only attendants were threeyear-olds—a niece and a nephew—in old-fashioned costumes. “It was quite lovely,” Marijo says. “The hydrangias were in full bloom.”
Marijo was a teenager still in high school when the Corcorans moved to Ste. Anne’s, and so she had worked at various jobs around the inn when she was younger. In addition to her career in the film business, she trained in aromatherapy, which fueled her interest in natural healing. She is back on staff at Ste. Anne’s and, for the past three years, in charge of marketing and promotions. With her help, the inn has become so well known and popular that guests usually have to make reservations weeks in advance. Marijo is also very proud of the role she plays in ensuring that the products and processes used at Ste. Anne’s are good for the environment as well as the guests.
By 1990, Carl was seriously considering selling or leasing the rambling stone house. The B&B operation was doing well but Nancy, who now had two youngsters, needed more time for her family, and John wanted to focus on developing the bottling business. The popularity of the water sparked the development of a small bottling business. John, in partnership with his brother-in-law, Jim Abernethy (Cathy’s husband) trucked water from Ste. Anne’s to a facility in Oshawa where they bottled and then distributed it in the local area.
The demand for the water kept growing and the operation eventually had to be divided. Jim and Cathy took over the distribution of bottles of Ste. Anne’s pure spring water, and John focused on bottling.
John had a new building constructed on site with commercial-grade wells and a completely closed system of holding tanks and air filtration to ensure quality control. “The number of gallons drawn from the aquifer is based entirely on the recovery rate,” John explains, “which means we are not mining the resource.”
The size of the aquifer from which the great-tasting water is drawn cannot been determined. It is considered unconfined and the upper limit is unknown.
CJC Bottling Ltd., now a major enterprise of which John is president, did not create its own brand name, and bottles for other labels.
Jim had moved to Toronto when the renovations at Ste. Anne’s were completed and, by 1990, had been working there for Computerland for eight years. One weekend, he was visiting Ste. Anne’s and travelled to Prince Edward County, an area of thriving B&B businesses, to distribute brochures. He was thinking about the possibility that his family’s own B&B operation might be closing. While crossing a street in Wellington, he says, a strong feeling came over him. “It was a significant event.” Jim believes he had “a calling” that day, and suddenly knew that he should be returning to Ste. Anne’s.
He asked his father to let him take over the innkeeping business, but Carl discouraged the idea. Jim had a good job and was making a good living. Carl did not want him to risk losing that. Jim persisted. Using the latest software, he drew up a business plan and a financial forecast which impressed his father enough to change his mind.
Jim took over in the fall of 1990 and began expanding the business his parents and John and Nancy had started. When John and Nancy and their children moved to a newer house on the former Kidd farm, Jim was able to convert their living quarters to guest rooms. Jim lived in a small room above the kitchen which had been maid’s quarters in the Blaffers’ days. A second living room for guests was converted into what is now the Parlour Suite. Thus, the inn’s accommodations grew from seven to ten rooms.
At Christmas of that year, Jim’s sister, Anne Harris, her husband Paul and their children visited Ste. Anne’s and helped redecorate the Cathedral Suite. Over the years, whenever they visited they enjoyed pitching in to help with any ongoing projects, so Jim proposed that the Harris family move to Ste. Anne’s to help him run the inn. The following June, they moved from their Connecticut home into the farmhouse next door to the inn. It was vacant by then because the cattle had been sold and the farm manager had moved.
Anne helped Jim operate the inn, while Paul worked in the water business, developing sales routes. Anne is responsible, Jim says, for much of the decorating which gives Ste. Anne’s the authentic “country inn” atmosphere the guests admire.
Anne and her family are now back in Connecticut, but during the four years she and Jim worked together, Ste. Anne’s started to flourish and expand. Jim and Anne continued the tradition of inviting regular weekend guests for dinner. However, as the inn became busier, the dinners became harder to manage. For awhile, they had meals catered by a local restaurant, then hired a chef. This led to other changes. The kitchen had always been set up as a family kitchen and informal gathering place. As meal preparation became more professional, traffic through the area caused problems.
Jim decided to build an addition to the front of the (then) dining room, to connect the east and west wings without going through the kitchen.
That was December of 1991, just a little more than a year after Jim took over the operation. Business was picking up but he felt like he was taking a big chance spending that much money. He did not realize it at the time, but it was to be the first of many additions, each carefully designed to blend with the existing structure and add to the efficiency of the inn. That first addition became the regular dining room, and later was transformed to the front desk area.
Jim began looking for ways to market the inn’s accommodations. He attended a forum of country inn operators who were trying to form a B&B organization for Ontario. (Up to that time, there were no B&B organizations.) Since, as Jim puts it, “I was not shy to state my point of view,” he was appointed to a steering committee to determine the potential of forming an organization. It was a struggle to bring varied and sometimes conflicting interests together, but eventually bylaws for membership were drafted. When the Innkeeper’s Association of Ontario became official, Jim was elected to serve as its first president for a term of two years.
From the start, Jim tried various innovative marketing strategies. At one time, he arranged for Ste. Anne’s to host a series of artist-in-residence workshops where guests could study and paint with favourite new artists. At about the same time, temporary spa treatment areas were set up, and his sister Cindy began offering treatments to weekend guests.
Cindy was living in Toronto and providing massage therapy for the staff at Ray Civello’s salon. Ray was the pioneer for introducing Aveda products to Canada. Cindy and other staff members from Ray’s salon came to Ste. Anne’s on weekends to offer treatments to guests. Jim says it was immediately apparent to everyone at Ste. Anne’s that the guests who signed up for a massage or facial and were there for two nights rather than one, were much more relaxed at check-out time.
As the benefit to guests became more and more obvious, Jim realized that the Ste. Anne’s experience was incomplete without the spa component, and that soon became a mandatory part of the stay.
The seldom-used conference area in the west wing was converted to treatment rooms, and a gift shop was set up nearby where guests could purchase Aveda products for home use.
Jim began to search for permanent staff for the spa. Unusual circumstances surrounded the hiring of two people who were recruited around that time are among the magical coincidences that occur at Ste. Anne’s.
Nancy Burns had just completed a course in aromatherapy when someone from the inn approached her to consider taking a position at Ste. Anne’s. When Nancy came to the interview she had not heard the name Corcoran and did not meet any of the family, who happened to be away on vacation. She almost did not accept the job because it was a long drive from her home. The inn called a second and then a third time. Finally, Nancy decided that Ste. Anne’s would be a beautiful place to work and “the drive was not so bad.” Nancy had been working at the inn for about two weeks when she saw Anne for the first time. “My stomach gave a lurch,” she says. “Anne looked a lot like my mother.” Nancy did a little checking and learned that Carl Corcoran was one of the owners of the property, and that he had worked for IBM. She realized he was her Uncle Carl, half-brother to her mother. “We had lost touch for years,” she says, “and to be reunited in that way was a gift.”
Nancy worked as an esthetician and was Spa Director for a time. Now she is in charge of the gift shop; and it was Nancy who convinced Jim to move the shop from a cubbyhole in the basement to its present location in the former Blaffer dining room.
Rebecca Ryan believes that she was meant to be a part of Ste. Anne’s, too. In 1995, Rebecca had been working as a Registered Massage Therapist for four years. She treated many patients suffering from chronic pain, often the result of bad traffic accidents. She found that she was doing more paperwork than therapy, filling in insurance forms and testifying in court cases. She was ready for a major life change.
About four months prior to receiving a recruitment letter from Ste. Anne’s, Rebecca had a dream about working at an old stone building under renovation. “It was a vivid dream,” she says. “I kept it tucked away in my mind.”
While touring Ste. Anne’s during her interview, Rebecca realized it was the stone house from her dream. She immediately accepted a position as Massage Therapist at the inn, then returned home to close her practice and sell her house. Over the years at Ste. Anne’s, Rebecca has been Manager of Massage Therapy, Spa Director, General Manager, and is currently Director of Product Development. “We’ve really made a transformation from an inn,” she says with satisfaction. “It is now considered a destination spa.”
As the healing effects of the spa treatments became the most compelling feature of Ste. Anne’s, more additions to the structure were required.
When the fitness pavilion was built in 1996, it was dedicated to Nan’s father, Dr. William Priddle, who had worked as a specialist in internal medicine into his eighties. He had also been a pioneer in the field of geriatric medicine. Nan’s father and mother were frequent visitors to Ste. Anne’s. In fact, it was Agatha Priddle who first encountered the ghosts. After all, what self-respecting castle would be without a ghost or two! Two ladies in long black dresses and dark cloaks were first seen by Mrs. Priddle, and a few other guests have also spotted them, though not recently. Several years ago, a neighbour told Nan quite nonchalantly that the two ladies “have been there forever.”
When the excavation for the larger dining area was underway, the top portion of the Massey’s stone well was carefully removed and placed as a “wishing well” on the south lawn.
As this work continued, the backhoe tapped through a section of the foundation at the rear of the old building. Jim then decided to dig out the crawl space connecting all the basement areas, which created more area for treatment rooms. The Blaffers’ dining room, with its black and white marble floor, became the gift shop.
In 1994, a large addition was made to the circular playhouse to serve as the innkeeper’s residence, but Jim found himself moving out so often to accommodate extra guests, it is now an additional suite.
A stone grotto with a hot tub, plunge pool and lap pool was added to the west side of the inn in 1998.
The character and the style of each addition to Ste. Anne’s complements the original structure. The architect who helped Jim design most of the additions was Hugh Taylor of Cobourg. Frank and Jim Guest, owners of Kawartha Stone Masters, can be credited for the construction and are still involved in regular maintenance and future expansion plans.
There are ten guest suites at the inn itself and a total of twenty-five treatment rooms. The inn’s accommodations also include some off-site suites. The farmhouse next door, built by Simon Jayne, has been renovated into two suites: the Farmhouse and the Gables.
The brick schoolhouse at the top of Academy Hill had been converted to a private residence years ago. When it became available, it was purchased and renovated into Haldimand East and Haldimand West. Jim says that renovation job was one of the worst encountered and cost more than the purchase price.
As other properties became available, the Corcorans added to Ste. Anne’s holdings. Many of the houses are used for staff accommodation or administration.
Bill Corcoran, Nan and Carl’s eldest, was already working and moved away from home when his parents bought Ste. Anne’s. Although he jokes that he “escaped the renovations”, he did stay and help out for about a week that first year. His film work takes him to many exotic locations, but he visits Ste. Anne’s as much as possible and has a special feeling for the place. “The house told us what it wanted to be. It guided the restoration. It brings out the best in people. We all really feel a wonderful healing process that happens at Ste. Anne’s,” he says.
When Bill and his wife, Julie, were married in September of 1997, they chose to have the wedding in Grafton so the reception could be held at Ste. Anne’s. They hired a quintet for the church which came back to Ste. Anne’s to play before dinner. Later, a band set up in the Fitness Pavilion and played 40s and 50s dance music.
Bill and Julie arranged to take over the whole inn for the weekend and kept the staff on so their guests could have full spa services. People came from California, Texas, and Connecticut and “many had never had spa treatments before”, Bill says. “We felt like we were giving a gift back to our guests.”
The healing effects of the spa treatments and the atmosphere at Ste. Anne’s are a source of great satisfaction for the Corcoran family. Carl points out that over the years they have received “a constant stream of wonderful thankyou letters. The scenery and everything here is like a different world. Guests walk through the archway into the walled courtyard and feel protected, enveloped. That’s a big satisfaction for us and for the staff—the effect it has. It’s like a hospital where everyone is cured.”
The old stone building’s transformation is set to continue—from wilderness homestead to destination spa to world-class resort. Jim has a major and innovative expansion planned for Ste. Anne’s. The plan includes individual, self-contained spa resorts on the 560-acre property. When completed, this expansion will make Ste. Anne’s one of the most unique resort complexes in North America and will increase the inn’s accommodations to 250 rooms.
Throughout its history, a series of hardworking, dedicated families—people who were pioneers of their time—have been drawn to this place. The stone house built by Samuel Massey was fine but not unique. It was the setting that captivated Mrs. Blaffer and inspired her to create a “castle” here. The Corcoran family came, intending to farm, but the size of the building and the local pride in the “castle” led them to develop an inn which has evolved into a spa.
Before the therapists were present, Nan Corcoran sensed a healing spirit here. Before the treatment areas were created, a prophecy foretold their purpose. Many cultures attribute sacred significance to lands where waters flow underground. Long before people left their mark on this land, arranged its stones into structures, and named it Ste. Anne’s, this was a special place.
Inside Ste. Anne’s
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