Special Report: Heritage

Save The Hermitage

With the motion to save the Hermitage passed, the money being raised and the community support, this historic building will be restored and built back up to the free-standing memorable structure it once was.

By Leanne Pluthero
Published September 23, 2014

The Hermitage historic ruins in Ancaster, the beautiful family home of the Leiths, has been standing for 159 years. Why tear it down now? Why take away the amount of history within those walls?

Hermitage ruins (RTH file photo)
Hermitage ruins (RTH file photo)

This historic home has been standing for 159 years. These limestone walls once housed one of Hamilton and Ancaster's most historic pioneer families.

George Gordon Browne Leith, with his wife and young family by his side, claimed the Hermitage land as their own in 1855 building the Hermitage mansion as their family's summer residence. George Leith was a rather wealthy man in his prime. He came from a very wealthy family, but as the second son, he had to make his own family fortune.

In 1902, George's fifth child would buy the Hermitage from other family members and make it her own. Alma had a love for this house. It was her passion and her life. Alma became a local historian for the Spectator newspaper.

She was a very loving, outgoing women and was a breath of fresh air. She would have extravagant parties, inviting all the neighbours. Little did she know that one of these parties would have been the end to the beloved family home.

During one of Alma's afternoon parties, on October 10, 1934, one of the upstairs fireplaces caught fire and devoured the back portion of the house while they awaited the fire department.

Friends were frantically helping by removing as many belongings as they could out to the front lawn. This blaze did cause most of the damage to the back section of the home.

Did this stop Alma and her passion for her residence? Not at all. A friend lent Alma their camping tent, which she set up on the front lawn of her property.

Living within the tent for a few weeks while loving neighbours had built her a little shack within the ruin walls, this little dwelling would become her home until her death in 1942.

Alma's death would mark the last person to use the Hermitage as their home. It was left to family, who decided they did not want to take it on and would rather sell it outside the family.

In 1972, the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority purchased the 125 acres of land. The Hermitage became a tourist attraction, a picnic area and a hidden treasure for hikers to stumble upon.

It would also become a party place for teenagers, a local hangout, a hidden spot in the woods for people to mistreat and show a strong lack of respect for history.

This is what we are left with today: three and a half walls that are slowly falling and caving in. 159 years to date, these walls have been standing, through the humid summer heat and the frigid Ontario winters.

I was a 16 years old with a heart for history and a passion for the paranormal. My dad decided to take me on a Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walk. The moon was full and bright, lighting up this magnificent structure that once was. So much history within those walls, all I could do was just stare at its true beauty.

This homestead had become one of my favourite historic locations. Once I heard the devastating news that the Hamilton Conservation Authority wanted to do a partial tear-down, I was upset. My friend contacted me and I simply asked, "What can I do to save the hermitage?"

We found out who we had to contact to get the ball rolling, started up a Facebook page and starting spreading the word. We got in contact with Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, showed him our support from the community, and proved to the HCA that there are indeed people who care deeply for these "walls" that are remaining.

Our Facebook page was launched just a little over a month ago and is 888 members strong! We all want the same ending; We want the Hermitage to stand tall and proud!

With the motion to save the Hermitage passed, the money being raised and the community support, the Hermitage will be restored and built back up to the free-standing memorable structure it once was.

This will be a very historic moment for a lot of locals and descendents to the Leith family, for them to be able to walk through the front entrance once again. History will be made!

Leanne Pluthero is a cofounder of Save the Hermitage, a citizens group to protect the Hermitage ruins from demolition.

11 Comments

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2014 at 08:56:17

Marla and Leanne have done an amazing job and are a model for heritage advocates everyone.

Call to Action - Hamilton City Council votes Wednesday evening at 5 pm on whether or not to save the Hermitage. We need your help. Please email the Councillors and express your support. Only a few words are required. To have the greatest impact, Hamilton City Council needs to hear from you today (Sept 23rd). Thank you in advance for your support.

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2014 at 08:57:23

Here are the emails for the councillors:

mayor@hamilton.ca, Brian.McHattie@hamilton.ca, Jason.Farr@hamilton.ca, Sam.Merulla@hamilton.ca, Chad.Collins@hamilton.ca, Tom.Jackson@hamilton.ca, Scott.Duvall@hamilton.ca, Terry.Whitehead@hamilton.ca, Brad.Clark@hamilton.ca, Maria.Pearson@hamilton.ca, Brenda.Johnson@hamilton.ca, Russ.Powers@hamilton.ca, Robert.Pasuta@hamilton.ca, Judi.Partridge@hamilton.ca

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2014 at 09:26:17 in reply to Comment 104734

Don't forget Bob.Morrow@hamilton.ca. We maintain a council contact list here.

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2014 at 09:02:28

Why Save the Hermitage?

While it may seem strange to ask you to save a building that is largely missing, it is this lack of completeness that gives the Hermitage its power over the imagination. Visitors are invited to fill in the gaps and insert themselves into this special place. Being located in the middle of a wooden valley only enhances this experience.

Largely unmarked and un-promoted, this site becomes a place of discovery. Whether you are a hiker who makes an accidental turn on the trail or a ghost hunter seeking who is new mysteries to the unknown, the Hermitage offers experiences that people warmly remember.

A quick search on Google or Youtube will show visitors from all over the world who have marvelled at the Hermitage.

The value of history is not rooted in the past, but in the present and future. As Hamilton continues to find success in the 21 century, let’s offer the world rich place to visit and live.

Comment edited by erskinec on 2014-09-23 09:08:35

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2014 at 09:21:54

Re: "the Hermitage will be restored and built back up to the free-standing memorable structure it once was."

I have fond memories of class trips to the Hermitage when safety and liability issues weren't paramount. I'm curious, though: Is the intention to return to the remains of the original stone walls and stabilize that, to build a structurally sound replica ruin that is largely made up of elements of the original but restores details (eg. the double windows in the centre of the second floor of the front facade along with arched windows on either side) and the outbuildings, or to reconstruct the Hermitage completely based on historic records?

1979: facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=828646560509428&set=gm.1506071146299432&type=1&theater
2012: 2.bp.blogspot.com/-PK8c8LcQxrQ/T5COOJKWsPI/AAAAAAAAAwM/TEgNYV-Cqbs/s1600/TheHermitageRuins015.jpg


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By Leanne (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2014 at 09:50:45 in reply to Comment 104741

They want to restore it to the full front wall, with the top section over the door again, they need to redo the foundation, using fallen bricks into the foundation, so it is all original limestone going back into the building.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2014 at 10:58:44

Didn't the city already agree to the plan? CBC Hamont had an article...

The city offered $200k out of a $600k total, with $400k coming from unspecified "other sources" last time I looked. Over half a million dollars to re-build ruins. That's into Frankie Venom territory.

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By Leanne (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2014 at 11:25:02

It has to go to vote tomorrow, then it will be a for sure movement. They may vote against the money being used to restore it.

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By Leen (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 10:03:55

Submission guidelines:

"Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Please send a polished, final copy. Check and re-check your work before submitting it. Read it out loud and upside-down, and get a literate friend to proofread it for you. We're all volunteers, and we would prefer not to have to edit a rough draft full of spelling and grammatical errors. :)"

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By cfaj (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 19:30:18

"building the Hermitage mansion as their family's summer residents. "
????

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 19:46:57

City councillors have backed a $600,000 plan to dismantle and rebuild the Hermitage ruins in Ancaster.

The city will contribute $200,000 to take down the walls of the 19th-century mansion and rebuild them brick by brick, with the rest coming from other sources. The move will preserve the remnants of the manor house for an estimated 100 more years.


cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/city-ok-s-plan-to-save-haunted-hermitage-1.2769556

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