I have been following the story of the fate of the Wilson Farmhouse, a property in northwest Guelph owned by the city and situated in the newly built Wilson Farm Park. The house and surrounding parkland was donated to the city in 2005 by developer Jack Ingram, as a condition of the approval of the Northern Heights Subdivision. The original intent of the donation was that the house be renovated for community use of some type. Mr. Ingram had purchased the property in 1962, with the intent to develop the farmland.
In 2010, after an architect’s building review, which outlined the condition of the farmhouse and necessary upgrades, City Council directed staff to pursue severing the house property from the parkland and offering it for sale. Heritage Guelph was also directed to prepare a report for designation of the house under the Ontario Heritage Act. This action proved to be controversial. A neighbourhood group has opposed the designation and the conversion of the corner of the park property to residential use.
Not ever having seen the house in its current state, or when it was farmland, I was curious as to how it was situated on the park property, and whether I could envision it being integrated into the current neighbourhood as a detached residence.
The house is now at the corner of Webster and Simmonds, and is elevated above the houses on the surrounding streets. Two heritage black walnut trees are located close to the house. The house relates more to the new Wilson Farm Park situated behind it than to any of the residences on Simmonds or Webster. I found an enlightening photograph of the Wilson Farmhouse, taken by Peter Sibbald in 2005, as part of his Elegy for a Stolen Land photo essay. The photograph was taken when the house still had frontage on Victoria Road, the house appears occupied, and it retains the character of a farmhouse, even though new homes are already going up around it.
There are older homes in Guelph that have been integrated into new subdivisions, such as an older farmhouse on Geddes Crescent, and the stone house at the corner of Kron and Keats Crescent. In contrast with the Wilson Farmhouse, both of these houses are adjacent to other homes on their streets. The Kron Crescent house is elevated above the level of adjacent homes, but integrates well into the streetscape, especially as the neighbourhood has aged and trees and other landscape features have matured.
The Wilson Farm House will likely always look separate from its neighbours, although as the park matures over time, and if a proper community use is found, it may well become integrated into the park. I would say that, as of now, the house could disappear and the park would appear the same. Perhaps the park was planned taking into account the unknown future for the farmhouse.
A recent Conservation Review Board decision determined the farmhouse to be worthy of heritage designation, so the city will most likely proceed to that end. It is interesting that although City Council approved demolition of the Mitchell Farmhouse in 2005, the City took on the responsibility of the Wilson Farmhouse that same year. Renovation and re-purposing of the Wilson Farmhouse will be costly, but community use does seem to be a more appropriate use for this site.