Hard work and determination, the log homes of Rideau Ferry

McNamara House
McNamara House. Photo submitted.
Posted on: December 9, 2019

It’s a story about old-growth forests, pioneers, hard work and a determination not to break the bank when buying a home. It’s our history.

There are at least five cedar log homes in Rideau Ferry that were moved to their current sites by enterprising families. They came from the Lanark Highlands, near Lavant Station, at least 80 km away. The moves began in 1938 and are probably the first time the re-use principle, not just renovate, was applied to homes. The last of the homes arrived in 1948. 

It was the same gang, five men, drinking buddies and really hard workers in the community who dismantled four of them, numbered the logs and rebuilt them in their hamlet and they’re all still proudly standing. A fifth home also came from the Lanark Highlands, but was rebuilt on Rideau Ferry Rd. using logs from two dismantled barns in 1972.

Why? Drinking buddies bonding, maybe? Likely, cost.

The first log home to make the trek happens to be mine at 1052 Rideau Ferry Rd. It stood abandoned on a rocky hillside from 1923 to 1938, when Dick McLean trucked the logs down to the present site in 1938 and rebuilt it as his matrimonial home. Before he brought them down, it had been used as a hunting camp.

It was originally built by James Barr, a Scottish weaver in 1852. Unlike most log houses of that period, Barr went big – nine foot ceilings on the ground floor, central staircase and a full second floor. Some of the squared logs are 34 feet long, 22 inches high and 14 inches deep. They are chinked inside and out. The adze work is splendid. They’re definitely old growth cedar, the size hardly available in this area today. One of the few changes was the addition of a massive hearth, built out of one rock. There’s a 1938 penny sunk into its mortar and a dragonfly incorporating the hearth’s keystone.

On visiting the original site of the home, large cedar stumps are still visible, as was the remnants of the pioneers’ garden and dump site, buttons and children’s leather booties still visible.

Dick McLean and his wife Margaret raised four children in the house. Their son James McLean still lives around the corner. Everyone who was born and died in the home is now known, thanks to a serendipitous knock on our door from Margaret Barr, a Brockville woman working on the history of the Barr family.

It’s not known whether McLean bought or appropriated the logs. He was known locally to be a bit of a mischievous fellow, somewhat of a reprobate, always avoiding game wardens, fishing, trapping and hunting whenever he wanted.

The other four log house crew were Bill McCue, Rolland and Anthony Thomlinson  and Clyde Wilson. Bill McCues’ daughter, Doris and her husband George Ball, still maintain the McCue farm, across the road where the Wilson home was resurrected at 1635 Rideau Ferry Rd.

It is now owned by Kristy Ferguson, who moved in in 2017 with her son, buying it from the Wilson estate. “It was the right price… what I could afford and has the potential for rental income,” she says. The property already has a granny flat on the other side of the driveway from the house. It’s where Ali Wilson, the son of Clyde Wilson lived until his death.

Ferguson lived in Smiths Falls before moving and says she couldn’t afford to buy a place in the town because of the escalation of house prices brought on by Canopy, the massive marijuana plant in town. An irony, as she works for Canopy.  

The next house, moving east along Rideau Ferry Rd. was the Poland General store and unconfirmed reports say it was a brothel before that, servicing the iron ore miners of the Lavant area of the Highlands. Roland Thomlinson paid just over $800 for the logs. His son Carl, who lives around the corner, provided the bill of sale. 

Today, it is under renovation—the bottom logs had rotted out, the house is now owned by a Windsor couple, Jeff Dowell and Barbara Poushinsky. It was bought as a retirement plan. Dowell’s brother lives around the corner.

Their plans are to use the house as a bunky, a guest house for their four sons and guests. A new house will be built behind it soon.

The only one of the log homes not on Rideau Ferry Rd. is owned by Pat and Sue McNamara – it’s rebuilt on R7, part of Rideau Lakes township. Sue owns the Perth Flea Market on Rideau Ferry Rd. It was brought to its present site by the McKimm family and occupied by three McKimm sisters from 1946 until the McNamaras bought it in 1999. Their double garage is also made of logs from the Highlands, with a four-bedroom bunky on the second floor. The McKimm sisters owned the Smiths Falls Spectator

The last of the log homes at 93 Rideau Ferry Rd., also on the Rideau Lakes township side of the bridge, is owned by Paul Byington, a retired antiques shop owner. His place is an amalgamation of two log barns brought down from the Highlands by Ron Wilkinson and his wife. It’s the largest of all five at 2,800 square feet. The logs were brought to the site in 1972 and Byington bought it in 1982.

He traces history even further back that my place, to the United Empire loyalists who moved to Canada after the U.S. War of Independence. Byington obviously likes his place because of the logs’ age – from the old growth forests of the Lanark Highlands.

Article by John Kessel