Property Spotlight – The House
Dr. John Drinkwater, his son John and daughters Elizabeth and Anna came to Canada from Farnham, Surrey, England in 1832 and cleared the property just outside Orillia, Ontario for a farm, sawmill, and their first home, a log cabin. That log cabin and a second one burned and in 1852 work began on the third and current home on the property.
The house was designed by Sarah Drinkwater’s father, George Hallen, and is a rare example of board build or plank construction. Lumber was cut from the property and milled in the sawmill. Pine boards were laid flat on top of each other and offset so stucco could be added to the exterior and plaster on the interior. The frame of the home is similar to a barn where 12 x 12 beams form the foundation and main structure. French doors on the main floor (that still exist) opened onto a verandah that wrapped around the front and two sides of the house. Originally 6700 square feet, the house included 11 bedrooms, two maids and 3 farmhands that were employed to maintain the home and farm. In 1879 brick was added to the exterior and a billiard room was added as well as other improvements.
Sarah, John and their 3 sons moved into Northbrook on January 31st, 1853 after living temporarily in a log cabin nearby. The house was completed for a cost of $396 dollars ($12,215.00 today). The property was acquired partially through a land grant from the King of England to Doctor John Drinkwater for service in the English Navy, and additional land was purchased from The Canada Company for a total of 640 acres.
The family operated a sawmill on the property from the 1840’s to the 1880’s. The first sawmill had a stroke saw and the second a circular saw, both were powered by the North River. A cheese factory was built and farmers in the surrounding area brought their milk there to be made into cheese to sell in Orillia. The property has been owned continuously since that time by the Drinkwater family with Chris, the current owner, being the fifth generation and son John and daughter Sarah sixth generation to live in the house. Chris and Laurie are very fortunate to have original diaries from the 1800’s from several family members describing what life was like in pioneer times and the struggles they endured to build a new life in Canada.
Northbrook Farm retains most of its original interior features thanks to an Aunt who completed a major renovation in 1983. Exposed wall sections show how the house was constructed, wallpaper examples, chimney surrounds, original fireplaces and homemade wall lathe can still be seen as well. Outside the original bell to call farmhands from the fields for meals or emergencies still stands beside the well that once was located inside the back section of the house.
When Chris, Laurie and family took possession of the house in 2008 more updates were required and they replaced windows on the 2nd and 3rd floors and had geo-thermal heating installed. Refinished floors and additional bathrooms were completed as well as a renovation of the third floor for additional living space. After living in the house for a couple of years they started doing a few weddings a year and in 2016 a zoning change from the property was approved to allow for weddings and other events to take place on a regular basis. Being caretakers of this beautiful house is a privilege, Chris and Laurie are proud to be able share the property for weddings, parties, corporate events and celebrations of life.