Description of Historic Place
Chiefswood, located at 1037 Highway 54, is situated on the south side of Highway 54, facing south onto the Grand River within the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. The property consists of a two-storey stucco building that was constructed between 1853 and 1856, along with a naturalized garden and rambling grounds.
The property was designated by a Six Nations Band Council Resolution in 1991 under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (Resolution 82-199/92).
Located on top of a knoll overlooking the banks of the Grand River, deeply setback from the road, Chiefswood offers scenic views of the rambling property and provides a point of interest from the water. The recreated naturalized gardens that are located to the rear of the house are representative of native gardening methods. The surviving pathways and the mature trees found throughout the property provide continuity with the Johnson family's interpretation of a rural estate.
Chiefswood was constructed between 1853 and 1856 by Mohawk Chief George H. M. Johnson as a wedding gift for his British bride, Emily Howells. George was a leading figure in the social and political life of the Six Nations, carrying on in the tradition of his father and grandfather by acting as an intermediary between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures. He served as the government interpreter in the Six Nations Confederacy Council and was appointed as hereditary chief by his mother.
Chiefswood represents a marriage of Native Canadian culture with British and European customs. It was important to George and Emily that their children, Beverly, Allen, Evelyn, and Pauline were raised to become knowledgeable and proud of both their English and Native heritage. In addition to its representation of two cultures, Chiefswood was the birthplace and childhood residence of the famed Canadian poetess, E. Pauline Johnson. Pauline, designated as a person of national historic significance, began writing poems at a young age, and published five volumes of poetry and prose.
The property also contains archaeological resources which relate to the period of occupation by the Johnson family as well as to previous uses of the site. They include remnants of the kitchen foundations and a cellar, a midden on the south slope and landscape features.
Chiefswood is a fine example of the opulent residences constructed by the wealthy citizens in rural areas. The house was designed as a picturesque villa of Italianate interpretation and is reflective of English tradition. In stark contrast, the reconstructed board and batten summer kitchen attached to the east elevation, thought to have originally been erected before the rest of the structure, is simple and mainly functional. The summer kitchen is similar in scale and design to other Native homes of that period, whereas the villa demonstrates the economic and cultural differences that existed between the Johnsons and the surrounding Native population.
Characteristic of rural Italianate villas, Chiefswood features a hipped roof accented by wide eaves supported by carved brackets and a projecting central frontispiece flanked on the first-storey by two French doors. The house exhibits almost perfect symmetry, with the façade facing onto the Grand River and an entirely identical northern elevation. Also of note are the four original brick chimneys which sit atop the roof; two on the east elevation and two on the west and the unique stacked plank-wall construction.
A myth exists and has persisted that the house features two façades, one facing the river to welcome Native guests, and one facing the road to welcome European guests. In reality the true façade is the one that looks south onto the banks of the Grand River and a path existed connecting this façade to the road.
The interior conforms to a standard centre-hall plan with a wide hallway that leads to four rooms on each floor. These rooms are currently decorated to represent their original uses and feature items typical of the time, including 24 pieces of the Johnson's furniture.
Sources: Six Nations Band Council Resolution 82-199/92; HSMBC, Chiefswood, Six Nations Reserve, Ontario, 1960/1984/1992; Commemorative Integrity Statement, HSMBC
Elements that contribute to the historic value of Chiefswood include:
-location on Six Nations of the Grand River Territory; and
-archaeological resources from the Johnson family occupation period and pervious use of the site including remnants of the kitchen foundations and a cellar, a midden on the south slope and landscape features.
Features that contribute to the architectural value of Chiefswood include:
-two-storey, stacked plank construction;
-hipped-roof with wide eaves supported by ornate carved brackets;
-centre hall plan;
-identical three-bay façade and north elevation including original windows, shutters and French doors;
-projecting central gabled frontispiece punctuated by two ogee-arched doorways on both the first and second-storeys and flanked by two French doors on the first-storey on both the façade and north elevation;
-four brick chimneys; and
-eave returns on the gables.
Characteristics that contribute to the contextual value of Chiefswood include:
-situation of the building atop a knoll, oriented to the Grand River;
-deep setback from the road;
-views to and from the building;
-mature trees throughout the grounds; and
-naturalized native garden to the south of the house.