Description of Historic Place
The building at 19730 John Street (County Road 17), known as The Bethune-Thompson House is situated in the community of Williamstown within the Municipality of South Glengarry. The one-and-a-half-storey house was designed in the Neoclassical style and built in 1804. Although the builder of the house is unknown, he is presumed to be French Canadian based on the construction methods.
The Ontario Heritage Trust acquired the property in July 1977 and conducted archaeological, architectural and historical research on the property. The house underwent a major restoration in the mid-1980s. The house was designated as a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada in 1966.
Sited in the community of Williamstown, the Bethune-Thompson House borders the Raisin River. Williamstown has maintained many of its 19th century homes and the Bethune-Thompson House is in close proximity to other museums including the Nor'wester and Loyalist Museum and Sir John Johnson Manor. The site itself, in addition to the main house includes an extant drive shed and the 1840s workers' cottage, which was purchased by Murdoch in 1871.
The property on which the Bethune-Thompson House is located was originally granted to Peter Ferguson in 1784, a Scottish immigrant to the American Colonies who served in the King's Royal Regiment of New York. As a Loyalist settler to Charlottenburgh Township he settled on the west half of Lot 50, Concession 1 and built a log house. In 1804, Loyalist settler Rev. John Bethune (1751-1815) purchased the land from Ferguson and built a house, to which he later moved and attached the Ferguson log cabin to form a side wing of his house. Bethune was founder of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Williamstown and was the first Presbyterian minister in Upper Canada. He also founded congregations and preached at Cornwall, Lancaster, and Martintown. In 1815, just weeks after the death of Rev. Bethune, his wife Véronique (Wadden) Bethune, sold the house to David Thompson (1770-1857). Thompson, a retired North West Company partner mapped much of western Canada. He also worked for the Boundary Commission, mapping out the border between British North America and the United States. The Thompson family lived in the home from 1815 to about 1836, when the family incurred financial difficulties and left for Montreal.
The property was sold to Farquar McLennan and his descendants lived in the house until 1937. In 1937, William Smart, the McLennan's farm manager, purchased the home and Mae Smart (daughter-in-law to William) sold the property to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1977 to ensure the preservation of the property. The house underwent a major restoration in the mid 1980s.
The one-and-a-half storey Bethune-Thompson House displays early French Canadian building techniques used in its construction. The 1784 log house was added to Bethune's new home and was used as a kitchen, where a large stone hearth remains. The walls of the log cabin were constructed using a French Canadian method called “poteaux sur sole.” Logs in vertical positions were held together by horizontal plates located at the top and bottom. In the 1804 construction of his home (used as a manse) Bethune used other French Canadian construction methods, “colombage pierrotté”, a system of post and beams made from heavy timber which are filled in with stone, bricks or sticks and mud, and the use of “tôle à la canadienne” roofing, creating a diamond pattern using tin. The walls of the house were then covered with pebble dash and painted white. The symmetrical wings and front central pediment give the home a Neoclassical look, and Thompson's later improvements such as the verandah add a Regency flavour. The interior contains two examples of hand printed wallpaper put up by Bethune which have survived due to the installation of false walls by Thompson. A significant amount of the Georgian woodwork survives, and can be seen in the front door, staircase, and parlour mantel. The layout of the centre block has the rooms arranged in a 'U' shape around an entrance and stair hall. The house also has symmetrical side wings, the 1784 log house and a 1914 north wing damaged by fire in the 1930s.
Archaeological excavations were conducted at Bethune-Thompson House in 1980, 1981 and 1993 and uncovered more then 36,000 artifacts. A number of mixing bowls, a pharmaceutical jar which dates from 1730-1830, a plate rim with a feather-edge decorative motif, attributed to the Wedgwood Factory, were all some of the items found on the property.
Source: Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Bethune-Thompson House include its:
- location on land bordering the Raisin River
- location in historic village of Williamstown
- extant drive shed and workers' cottage on the property
- incorporation of the 1784 Peter Ferguson log cabin, which is one of the oldest buildings in Ontario as Bethune's kitchen wing
- Neoclassical architectural design and French Canadian construction techniques
- walls of the log cabin constructed using “poteaux sur sol”
- exterior walls built according to the French Canadian construction method called “colombage pierrotté”
- replicated “tôle à la canadienne” roofing
- symmetry as seen in its north and south wings, window placement and central pediment
- Thompson era verandah, that gives the house a Regency flavour
- painted white pebble dash wall covering
- gable roof with triangular pediment on the front elevation
- single dormer window on the rear elevation
- gambrel roof of 1914 wing
- kitchen (former log cabin), with a large stone hearth
- hand printed wallpaper found in the parlour and dining room
- floor plan of centre block with its “U” shaped arrangement of rooms around entrance and stair hall
- Georgian woodwork, in particular the fireplace with over mantle in the parlour, one of few left in Ontario
- 36,000 artifacts found on the site which includes: fragments of earthenware vessels; fragment of one refined earthenware vessel, a pharmaceutical jar dating to c. 1730-1830; fragments of plate rim with feather-edge decorative motif attributed to the Wedgwood Factory