Description of Historic Place
The building at 19730 John Street (County Road 17), commonly known as the Workers' Cottage, is situated in the Village of Williamstown, within the Municipality of South Glengarry. It is located on the Bethune-Thompson House property, which is also owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust. The one-and-a-half-storey clapboard building is a vernacular cottage built in the 1840s.
It was acquired by the Ontario Heritage Foundation (now the Trust) on July 31, 1987.
Looking over the North Bank of the Raisin River, the Workers' Cottage is situated northwest of the Bethune-Thompson House. It is located in historic Williamstown, a village that has retained many of its 19th century homes. It is surrounded by a large expanse of lawn, on all sides, making it highly visible from a distance. The Sir John Johnson House, owned by Parks Canada, is located on the opposite shore of the Raisin River.
The Workers' Cottage is associated with retired North West Company partner and businessman Hugh McGillis (1767-1848). He purchased a large and successful farming and milling operation, in 1819, which included; the Sir John Johnson House (built between 1784 and 1792), the grist mill, the saw mill and the tannery. Architectural and archaeological research indicates that the existing Workers' Cottage was built some time later, but before McGillis died in 1848. It is believed that Hugh McGillis built the Workers' Cottage as a boarding house for his tannery workers. In 1848, ownership of the Sir John Johnson House and the milling operations passed on to Hugh's nephew, John McGillis. In 1871 Mr. McLennan, owner of the adjacent Bethune-Thompson House and property, purchased the Workers' Cottage and it became a hired man's house for the Bethune-Thompson farming operation. In 1937, William Smart, the farm's hired man at the time, purchased the cottage, the Bethune-Thompson House and the farm, from his employer. It remained in the Smart family until it was acquired by the Ontario Heritage Foundation (now the Trust), in 1987. The Workers' Cottage has undergone foundation stabilization and interior restoration for current use by the Trust, as a rental property.
The Bethune-Thompson Workers' Cottage is a 1500 square foot, one-and-a-half storey, timber frame home built using the Colombage Bousille technique. This was a construction method commonly used in Lower Canada (Québec) during the 18th and 19th centuries. This construction method consists of a system of post and beams of heavy timber with brick infill. The vernacular cottage with Neoclassical influence has a symmetrical north facade, with a large wooden doorway, flanked by sidelights, resting on panelled wooden bases. A single, central dormer window adorns the gable roof, on its south elevation. The interior of the Workers' Cottage has pole roof rafters of birch and a full masonry basement, which still contains the kitchen hearth. The rubble stone foundation is built into the slope of the property, allowing access to the kitchen at grade.
In 1993, archaeological excavations uncovered over 20,000 artifacts. A significant find was the evidence of a fire, which indicated a former structure on the property, prior to the construction of the c. 1840s Workers' Cottage. Fragments of handmade brick were also found on site.
Source: Ontario Heritage Trust Property Files.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Bethune-Thompson Workers' Cottage include its:
- vernacular construction with Neoclassical influence
- foundations, built into the slope, allowing the kitchen to be at grade
- rubble stone foundation
- single central dormer window on the south elevation
- symmetry of the north elevation
- north elevation's doorway flanked by sidelights resting on panelled wooden bases
- medium sloped gable roof
- brick chimney of the east elevation
- full masonry basement which still contains the kitchen hearth
- Colombage Bousille construction
- pole rafters of birch.
- Evidence of an earlier structure on the property
- fragments of building hardware
- handmade brick
- collection of 20, 000 artifacts
- location in the historic village of Williamstown
- close proximity to the Bethune-Thompson House
- close proximity to Sir John Johnson Manor
- location on the north bank of the Raisin River
- broad lawns surrounding the building
- siting on the slope of the property