The History and Architecture of The Highland Manor
The Highland Manor is situated atop the West Hill of Owen Sound, overlooking the historic harbour city below.
In 1849, it was simply known as “Lots 4 through 12”, and the land on the brow of the West Hill consisted of some fifteen acres. It was probably the majestic view that this once extensive piece of property offered that prompted Richard Carney, the first mayor of Owen Sound, to acquire the deed in the form of a grant from the Crown, on January 13, 1849.
It wasn’t until the Ross family acquired the land from Richard Carney, in 1872, that The Highland Manor, one of the finest examples of high Victorian architecture in Canada, was built. This period marked the beginning of a brand new country, the Dominion of Canada, and began to show its new identity in architecture, making the manor, built by the Rosses, a landmark of socio-architectural importance.
High Victorian Architecture in Canada
From log cabins to replicas of American styles, to the Greek and Roman revivals of the early 1800’s, Canadians had been content to accept borrowed styles, but gradually drifted from these standard classical forms of architecture as the colony would soon begin to reject direct British rule. When the Gothic Revival came in the 1820s Canadians accepted it both in their public and private buildings. This was the beginning of Victorian Architecture in Canada. The Victorian period may be considered to cover not just the sixty odd years of Victoria’s reign but, in actuality, close to 90 years from the 1820’s until World War 1.
This entire era is characterized primarily by the borrowing of architectural forms of the past. This period of Canadian Architecture can also be broken down into three sub groups; Early, High, and Late Victorian. Early Victorian from the 1820’s to the 1850’s was the adaptation of early forms in a pure sense. High Victorian lasted from the 1850’s to the 1890’s and it is from this period that The Highland Manor emerges.
The variety of style, as well as the overall size, of the Highland Manor is indicative of a dominant thought of this period of time – the more elaborate and immense a structure, the more obvious the prosperity of its owner.
Besides the desire to establish a mood of grandeur and history, the builders of the Highland Manor strove to obtain a visual experience. Unlike prior styles, this was created not by uniformity or a balance of harmony, but instead by pervasive and sustained irregularity. Instead of attempting to balance or blend forms they systematically juxtaposed forms that would contrast colours, shapes, and derivations as much as possible.
As a result, the Highland Manor is not symmetrical. Its Roman arches contrast with the otherwise straight lines. The striking front edifice of the building that looks out over the Sound has an angular covered wood verandah on one side of the door, and a cylindrical brick bay window on the other. Windows and non-matching dormers of varying sizes adorn all of the many sides of the almost 50 foot high structure. While trying to catch the eye, there was a conscious effort to create a mood. By using many styles, a feeling of history was suggested without assigning the building to any given period.
Despite High Victorian being a creation of other architectural forms, it, of the three Victorian sub-periods, has very much a character of its own. The main object of this new style, which emerged in the mid-1800’s, was the element of the picturesque. This was characterized by concentration on that which catches the eye, more by contrast than anything else. The irregular, complex, visually interesting combination of shapes of the Highland Manor are particularly High Victorian. Wood and brick are combined for contrast of texture and there are also eye catching patterns within the brick work. Sharp outlines are broken by the use of brackets and intersecting roof lines.
Although asymmetrical there is no feeling of disharmony; rather there is an overall feeling of attractiveness and balance, which is how the architect intended it. The square tower on the front façade, the round headed windows with large rippled panes, the double front doors and the covered verandah are typically italianate. But the Mansard roof with ornamental dormers, the bay window and the polychromatic brick design are borrowed from the 3rd Empire architecture which represented “a new style” at the time of building. The original “walk-out” windows with their elongated sashes, act as a threshold to the outdoors from the music room.
Despite the uniqueness of this home, it is almost hidden in a forest of giant 150 year old maple trees, and is still unfamiliar to some residents of the city of Owen Sound. Now that the building is back open to the public as a Bed and Breakfast, it is beginning to regain the attention it once commanded when it welcomed guests of a different sort. (More on Miss Moore later on)
The Ross Family: the Builders of The Highland Manor, 1872
In 1872, the Ross family acquired the deed to the land from the first mayor of Owen Sound, Richard Carney. Carney had been granted the 15 acre parcel of land on the brow of the West Hill by the Crown on January 13,1849. Shortly after the Ross’s acquisition they built the 7500 square foot home and became the first family to live in this home.
The Ross family also owned a hotel down by the harbour known as the Ross House. From the unique vantage point of the 2nd floor of the Highland Manor, the Rosses were able to keep an eye on the ships coming into the harbour. This gave them an advance knowledge of knowing when to stock their hotel with the staff required to take care of the sailors and travelers coming into port.
The Owen Sound Harbour
From the time of original settlement, Owen Sound’s primary function was that of a Great Lakes port. Ships were used to ferry residents to other communities in the area, as well as for fishing and the transportation of products and supplies. The shipping industry played a huge role in the local economy. There were a number of ship builders located here, and many families earned their living by working on the boats.
A few years after the village was incorporated in 1857 as the Town of Owen Sound, discussion arose regarding the possibility of bringing a railway line to the town. This eventual connection to the two most important methods of travel during the Nineteenth Century, ships and trains, would become this town’s greatest facilitator of growth.
The Toronto Grey and Bruce Railway Company expressed interest in building a line to Owen Sound about 1860. The track was chartered in 1868, but actual construction was not completed until 1873, a year after the Highland Manor’s construction. The line extended along the eastern shore of the waterfront.
In 1883 the railway was taken over by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. The railway track on the west side of the waterfront was constructed in 1894 by the Grand Trunk Railway, later becoming Canadian National Railway. The present building was erected in the early 1930’s and is now the Marine & Rail Heritage Museum.
With the arrival of two railways, Owen Sound became a major shipping centre. By the 1880’s, the waterfront was frequented by Georgian Bay and Lake Superior steamers.
By the turn of the century Owen Sound was well on its way to becoming a bustling urban centre with a number of industries including cement manufacturers, ship builders and furniture factories. It was also regarded as a regional centre, supplying many of the surrounding communities with essential supplies and services. By 1911, there were 643 vessels docked in the city’s harbour. Most of these boats would have been carrying passengers as Owen Sound was the main transfer point for passengers traveling to and from the western provinces on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Owen Sound’s access to railway lines and close proximity to American ports was invaluable in the importation of goods to Canada. The volume of goods made an American Consulate downtown necessary. That building is located just three doors down from Billy Bishop’s ( WW1 Flying Ace and war hero) house.
Miss Moore’s Maternity Hospital (1919-1940)
When Ethel & Amy Ross retired to Vancouver, the Manor was sold to the Pinches who were involved in the cement industry. Later owners included a Doctor McNally, the Jones family, J.K. Leslie, and then Miss Moore.
Miss Moore converted the home into a private maternity hospital in 1919. Many of the residents of the Owen Sound area came to this prestigious home to have their children. Tales of walking through waist high snow drifts on the West Hill’s flat apple orchards along 8th street to get to the hospital are legendary. Over two thousand births were recorded at the Highland Manor between the years 1919 and 1940. An elaborate bell calling system is still in place from the hospital days.
George Fleming: C0-Owner of the Sun Times and RBW (1940-1974)
After the hospital closed, the home was bought by George Fleming, who, along with his brothers Howard and Stuart and his father, C.A. Fleming, was the owner of the city’s newspaper, The Sun-Times, the city’s radio stations, and RBW Graphics. All three are still operating as very successful businesses today! Mr. Fleming was also President and later Chairman of Victoria and Grey Trust Company. It was Mr. Fleming who did most of the extensive upgrading to bring the home into the 20th century. He installed a furnace that heated the home with coal, and later converted the home to an oil furnace. (Currently there are two high efficiency natural gas boilers). When the house was built in 1872, it was constructed with two outer courses of brick, then air space of one brick width and a third course of brick inside. The structure was left to settle for one year, and then the inner brick was plastered. Very few cracks have ever appeared in these walls. When Mr. Fleming renovated the house in 1940, the engineers reported that the air space served as better insulation than he could possibly install at that time. Today, the house in summer seems to be air conditioned because of the coolness that prevails compared to the outside heat
Although it has been thought by some that the cage elevator had been installed during the home’s maternity hospital days, further research has proven that it was actually installed in 1953 for Mr. Fleming, who had a serious heart condition. Mr. Fleming died in 1972 and the house was sold by the family in 1974.
This was a difficult period in the history of the home. Although several owners tried to maintain its glory, they were defeated by others who used it as a rooming house, stripped it of some of its original lighting fixtures, sold off parts of its extensive garden, and, in general, allowed the property to lose its magnificence.
The 1990’s and the turn of the Millennium
In 1992, the house began to experience a renaissance, when the Buchanan family arrived, and put their heart and soul into bringing the manor back to life. They could see past the destruction of this fabulous home and set forth to restore it for their family. They quickly realized that it wasn’t only their dream to see the house regain its natural beauty, but also that of the neighbourhood and the entire town. Whenever they became overwhelmed at the task ahead, there was always a knock at the door or a telephone call to tell them a story of days gone by, of good times and memories. Each labour-intensive project became a labour of love. Starting at the top, they worked their way, room by room, to the bottom, updating the original plumbing as a priority, while reconditioning and restoring as they went along. Over time, Scottish background, sheer determination, and the location of the home “High on the land” of Owen Sound led to the decision to share this wonderful rebirth with the public as “The Highland Manor Bed and Breakfast”.
As the Buchanans themselves put it, they all left part of themselves in the walls of the house and it, in turn, gave the Buchanans an experience they will never forget. When they sold the house, they had completed their 15 year plan in just 6 years and needed to entrust the care of The Highland Manor to new owners who would take it gently into the new Millennium.
In 2001, we became the proud owners of this “Grand Old Lady”, The Highland Manor; but we feel, as did the Buchanans, that our role here is more that of custodians than owners. We started welcoming guests a week after we moved in. Since then we have hosted thousands of amazing people from all over the world, all of whom have been awed by, and fascinated with, this glorious architectural gem. In 2004, we placed an ad in the local paper, asking anyone who was born in the house when it was Miss Moore’s Private Hospital, to please call us for an invitation to a very special event. We had over 100 calls, many from folks who were physically unable to attend, but who wanted to let us know how much they appreciated this idea. In the end, 56 “babies”, ranging in age from 64 to 85 years old, came to The Highland Manor for an Open House on June 27, 2004, bringing with them their children and grandchildren. For most, it was their first time in the house since they left as an infant. Without a doubt, this “Grand Old Lady” was smiling that day, and for us, it was simply the most wonderful day in our lives as innkeepers.
In 2018, The Highland Manor had the enormous distinction of being included in “FANTASTIC ESCAPES: Architecture and Design for Stylish Stays”. This beautiful book, from IMAGES Publishing, features Accommodations around the world, with only 3 in Canada. This is truly an exceptional honour, and one well-deserved by this stunning work of architecture.
Now, in our 19th Summer of welcoming travelers, we look forward to having many more guests experience the elegance, beauty, and relaxed accommodation of The Highland Manor.
Plan to include The Highland Manor, and Owen Sound, in your travels this year.
A warm welcome awaits you!