Auchmar Estate

The south side of the mansion, facing Fennell

The first weekend of May was Doors Open Hamilton and we made a beeline to the Auchmar estate, located up on the mountain at 88 Fennell Street. My daughter took great photos there last year for a school project and I was eager to see it for myself.

Auchmar has had multiple identities since it was built in 1854. Originally it was a gracious home for the family of the Honourable Isaac Buchanan, a politician and business man of high profile. But it has also been used as a rehabilitation centre for the Royal Canadian Air Force and as the home of the Hungarian Sisters of Social Service.The City of Hamilton has been the owner since 1999.

This website, Auchmar.Info, is packed with interesting information about the property and mentions that Buchanan’s guests included Sir John A. MacDonald, Sir Allan McNab, Pope John Paul II and the Prince of Wales. Not Chuck, this was back in 1860.

Auchmar has been in the news several times over the last year, in each case for concerns about it’s integrity. First from a basic structural perspective since the City has not been able to maintain the property at an optimal level and it is really showing. In some rooms the walls are quite decrepit looking but other rooms have been restored and the difference is remarkable.

The first floor main hall

The problem is this: restoration takes a lot of money and as in many municipalities, there is a shortage of that. Sometimes heritage buildings have been purchased by local governments as a saving grace, only to suffer sad neglect from inadequate resources. In Auchmar’s case, it was transferred to city ownership in a land development deal that, according to this Hamilton Spectator article, saved the estate from becoming a subdivision.

The west stairwell up to the second floor

The east stairwell with a doorway leading to the servants’ quarters.

The other issue of integrity mentioned in recent news is that a developer would like to restore the Gothic mansion (to the tune of $4 million) in exchange for being allowed to put townhouses on the property. Another Spectator article provides more details on this. A lot of people are upset about further carving up of the land which originally went all the way to the escarpment brow!

This stone wall, originally a gate for carriages to pass through, is as close to the escarpment as Auchmar goes today. Directly behind the wall are subdivision homes.

You can still see where the original driveway progressed from the gate towards the house.

While the developers’ offer to restore the mansion must seem terribly tempting to some as a financial fix, it would be disappointing to further decrease the property size. A quote from the first Spectator article above describes this problem very well.

Alissa Denham-Robinson, chair of the city’s heritage committee is quoted as saying, “You look at (Dundurn Castle) as a comprehensive property. It all works together,” she said. “It very much is the same with Auchmar — it just doesn’t have the same visibility.”

Here’s hoping for a good outcome for this amazing piece of history. Integrity is something that is often in short supply but Auchmar could use a significantly large helping.

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