Article by Su Murdoch

I
spend much of my time evaluating heritage buildings. Some are exquisite in their design and craftsmanship; others prove that bad taste has been with us for centuries. At the end of each day, it is my good fortune to be able to collapse on a sofa and be enveloped in the atmosphere of my own heritage space: an 1849 Regency style house with a view of Lake Simcoe. Built for the headmaster of the local Grammar School, the house was later owned by the county sheriff, Benjamin Walker Smith. Among Smith’s many achievements was a daring rescue on Georgian Bay, July 1, 1859, when he saved the lives of Canada’s soon-to-be prime minister, John A. Macdonald, and other future members of Cabinet.


I often look around my parlour, contemplating how many of those figures in early Canadian history sat on this very sofa discussing politics and new legislation, or sharing in the tragedies and joys of their lives. Smith’s grandson Lloyd was my neighbour. He told me his grandfather had apprenticed in Kingston with the noted chairmaker Chester Hatch. It was he who sold me this lampstand made by and inherited from his grandfather.
So I am now both the owner of Benjamin Smith’s house and a piece of the original furniture. Made of tiger maple with a turned pedestal and reeded legs, it is unusual in Ontario because of the square top inset with a kind of checkerboard design formed by an assortment of small Italian marble squares. I have to admire the young Smith aspiring to his new craft in this sophisticated manner. Although he would abandon furniture making once appointed sheriff, his affection for this table was enough for it to be passed from generation to generation. This is my treasured object.

Su Murdoch is a heritage consultant with a keen interest in nineteenth-century Ontario architecture and furniture.