Thursday, May 24, 2012
Abandonment Issues: Seven Mile Island Estate
Welcome to Seven Mile Island. Between the years of 1880 and 1919, the property on Lake Scugog known as Nonquon Island changed hands several times and functioned as a resort for fisherman and hunters. In 1919, the property was purchased by cigar mogul Alex Ross Wilson, who amassed his fortune operating his father's company 'Andrew Wilson & Co.' best known for manufacturing 'Bachelor' brand cigars.
The Wilson's purchased surrounding plots of land and immediately began the transformation of the relatively undeveloped Nonquon Island into an estate showplace known as Seven Mile Island. Several buildings were constructed at this time, including a 26 room mansion, a tea house, and an elaborate boat house with a dance hall on the upper level. A swimming pool, reflecting pool, rose gardens, bridges and ponds were also added to the property. Dozens of statues were erected as well.
Scottish stonemasons that had just finished working on Casa Loma in Toronto were hired to construct stone fences and walkways throughout the property, as well as giant stone pillars in the shape of cigars at the entrance of Seven Mile Island.
In August of 1927, as they did on a few occasions, the Wilson's opened their property to the community for a garden party. Port Perry Star publisher Samuel Farmer described the event as follows:
"We can't think of it, without a feeling of shame, for the way in which the crowd acted was more like hungry refugees than guests."
Almost 2 years after her husbands passing, Mrs. Wilson had lost interest in the property, and sold it for a mere $18,000 in September of 1943 to Harry Ely. Mr. Ely was the owner of the 'Vankirk Chocolate Corporation', and was best known for developing 'Chipits'. The Vankirk company was eventually purchased by Hershey, which still produces Chipits today.
At a later date, Mr. Ely's widow reflected on the state of Seven Mile Island at the time that it was purchased by the Ely family, stating that it was in a state of disrepair and neglect. "The lawns looked like hay fields," she said, and remembered working "like fiends" to cut down the waist high grass and clean up the property. She also remembered that the community was not initially welcoming to the Ely family, speculating that this may have been due to the family being Jewish. But the community eventually warmed to the family. The Ely's lived and worked in Toronto and and came to Seven Mile Island almost every single weekend during summer months. The mansion was converted into apartments where extended family could spend summers. A summer camp was created for the 16 children in the family, and eventually welcomed other children from the community into Camp Ely, offering horseback riding, swimming, and arts and crafts, among other activities.
In 1958, the property was sold to Patrick Harrison for $50,000. The Harrison's originally spent summers at Seven Mile Island, but soon after made it their permanent residence, investing $1,000,000 on upgrades, including building two guest homes for their daughters. Mr. Harrison lived on the property for a few years after his wife passed away, and at the age of 80, sold the property in July of 1983 to Ching Chung Taoist Society of Canada, who promptly converted the main house into a hotel, a second residence into a restaurant and divided the remaining houses into rental units. This venture was short lived however, it opened to the public in 1984, and was closed and sold once again in 1987. Plans to redevelop never came to fruition and ownership changed yet again. In 1992, a school for troubled boys was opened under the name 'Harmony Island Estate'. This venture also failed. Over the course of the following three years, Seven Mile Island sat vacant and began to deteriorate yet again, and vandals destroyed many of the ornate statues and intricate fencework.
In 1995, the property changed hands again, but with the property sitting vacant, it continued to deteriorate. In 2002, it was purchased by a group of artists, who planned to convert the magnificent estate into a school for the arts. It would appear that this group is still maintaining the lawns, and slowly converting and caring for the remaining buildings.
On an overcast day in March of 2012, Dallas and I passed by the cigar shaped pillars and continued across the long narrow causeway onto the 91 acres that was at one time a glorious estate, and we explored Seven Mile Island. With a carpet of orange and brown leaves crunching beneath our feet, we meandered the winding road and stone pathways. We photographed the cracking statues and flowerpots, and stopped for a moment of thought at what was once a reflecting pool.
On a beautiful sunny morning in May, I made a return trip with my fiancee Ninja IX. The carpet of leaves had given way to a lush green lawn, with flowers in full bloom and ferns covering the forest floor. The tree branches, which were just beginning to sprout buds on our first visit, now provided a thick green canopy overhead.
The images in this post were taken on both of these visits. Much like the property itself has done over the years, the seasons had changed. And much like myself on this journey of self discovery in life, by the second visit, there was plenty of new growth.
And that my friends is Seven Mile Island, as I saw it. Now we must pack up our gear and prepare for another two day road trip, where we plan to explore an abandoned Candy Factory, among many other locations, and cap the trip off at the Ceschi & Thesis Sahib show in Guelph tomorrow night. Life is what you make it. So make it awesome.
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click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES