Nevis Cottage

Nevis Cottage

I remember sitting in the back seat of the family car, going over the bumpy railroad tracks on Drummond Street, and asking Dad about the beautiful house, set back far from the road, in the beautiful garden setting. He said the home was called Nevis Cottage, named for the tallest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis. It seemed like an odd name for the place, and being a young child I couldn’t grasp why such a large property would be called a ‘cottage’, or why it wasn’t situated along the shores of a lake, like all of the other cottages I knew.

The home was built in 1840 by a respected Anglican minister, Reverend Michael Harris, who sold it to a prominent lawyer, Crown Attorney Donald Fraser. Perhaps the most well-known owners of this beautiful property were lumber baron, Peter McLaren, his wife, Sophia, and their children. The McLaren family purchased the property in 1870, along with an additional 400 acres of land beside the property.

McLaren property, as it appeared in days gone by

Peter McLaren, son of James and Margaret Headrick McLaren, married, on November 22, 1867, at the age of 39, to the lovely Sophia Lees, age 22, daughter of William Lees and Mary Playfair.

Peter McLaren doubled the size of the original dwelling to 7,700 square feet, extending the back of the original stone house. A large kitchen was added on the main floor, and several additional bedrooms, as well as servants’ quarters were added on the second floor. He also added a 4,700 square foot carriage house in 1880.

The five McLaren children:

Margaret Elsie McLaren Hall – 1869-1954

Married: November 18, 1903, to F. William Hall, M.P.P. for South Lanark, Barrister of Smiths Falls and oldest son of Francis Alexander Hall, and Harriett Frances Dunham Hall, of Perth. They lived for a while in the Perth area, and later moved to Oshawa. They had no children. Margaret died at age 85, in Oshawa.

Mary Isobel McLaren Benedict – 1874-1927

Married: at age 23, at St. James Anglican Church, Perth, June 22, 1897, to Charles Benedict, they moved to Toronto, where Charles worked at the Bank of Montreal. They had three children: Charles, born in 1900 and died as an infant, Doris Sophia, born in 1902, and Peter McLaren Benedict, born in 1907. Mary died at age 53 in Toronto.

Annie ‘Kathleen’ McLaren – 1875-1954

Kathleen chose to remain single, did not have any children, and was the last of the family members to reside at Nevis Cottage. When Kathleen passed away in 1954, age 79, she died without heirs. The McLaren estate, consisting of the grand house, the 600 surrounding acres, and all of the valuable artwork, jewelry, and fine furnishings, required the distinguished auction house of Ward-Price from Toronto, to appraise the family’s vast collection. Because she left no heirs, the estate of Kathleen McLaren caused a great deal of in-fighting, with claims to the estate and litigation that went on for many years after her death.

James Lyon Playfair McLaren 1878-1934

At age 27, James married Isabel Frances Geddes on February 14, 1906 at St. George’s church, Ottawa. Isabel was the daughter of Charles Geddes and Selina Sweetland. They had two children: Peter McLaren, born 1907, and Selina Sophia ‘Ena’ McLaren, born 1909. They moved to Springfield, New Hampshire. James passed away at the age of 57 at Springfield. The funeral was held at Nevis Cottage.

William Lees McLaren – 1880-1932

On October 14, 1910, at age 30, William ‘Willie’ McLaren married Anna Gemmill at her parents’ cottage on the Rideau Lakes. Her parents were Lawrence Gemmill and Elizabeth Kellock Gemmill. As a wedding gift, Senator (Peter) McLaren gave Willie and Anna a mining property on Otty Lake, known as Forest Lodge. They lived there and ran the mine. Willie passed away after an illness, at the Montreal hospital, at the age of 53. The funeral was held at Nevis Cottage. Willie and Anna had no children.

“William and James, were sent to a private boarding school

in Edinburgh, Scotland.” 

Peter McLaren commissioned artist John Wycliffe Lowes Forster (1850-1938) to paint his daughters, Margaret and Mary. The painting is currently housed at the Perth Museum. (Forster’s paintings are among those in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Some of his memorable works include portraits of Sir Wilfred Laurier, Timothy Eaton, and Sir Sanford Fleming.)

1977 House Tour

May 26, 1977, p. 12, “The Perth Courier”

In 1977, the Perth University Women’s Club organized a tour of Old Stone Houses, which included Nevis Cottage. At that time the property was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Perkins.

Modern view of Nevis Estate

Today, Nevis Estate is a bed and breakfast, located at 61 Drummond St. W., in Perth, Ontario.

In 2018, this video of Nevis Estate was featured on YouTube, and gives the viewer a glimpse at the lovely interior of the home, with all of its many entertaining spaces, and large, gracious bedrooms.

To view the video:

Although Nevis ‘Cottage’ looks very different today than it did when Senator Peter McLaren and his wife Sophie occupied the house remains a lovely property and will always be one of the notable homes in Perth’s long history.

Many years have passed since I first noticed the home, as I sat in the backseat of Dad’s old Buick, face pressed against the window, in the bumpy ride over the train tracks on Drummond St. I still love to hear the stories of the old days when the McLaren family lived there. In my mind I imagine the children – Margaret, Mary, Kathleen, James and Willie, running across the wide lawns, laughing and playing in their enormous yard. I can picture smartly-dressed servants carrying cool glasses of lemonade and biscuits to Mrs. McLaren and her friends, as she entertains them on the back lawn.

As the pink sun sinks low in the sky and the day draws to a close at Nevis Cottage, we can picture Senator Peter McLaren arriving home after a long day overseeing his lumber business. He hands his cane and hat to the house maid as he enters, and greets Sophia and the children warmly, as they prepare to sit down to a sumptuous meal, in their elegant home. Another perfect evening at Nevis Cottage.

Notes:

(In 1983, a magazine called,”Canada Century Homes”, featured Nevis Cottage, as well as The Crain House, The Mill House, Inge-Va, and Matheson House)

(photo of the painting of the McLaren girls, courtesy of the Perth Museum)

http://www.staffordwilson.com

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