The Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre


I remember well this old run-down limestone building on Durham Street in Cobourg. It was always referred to as “The Barracks” to us old-timers around the area. We used to pass by it frequently when I was a student at the Cobourg District Collegiate West in the 1960’s on our way down to the lakeshore for physical education activities there. As there was very little history ever written about this building it was likely mistaken for a documented military depot that actually supplied troops during the war of 1812. This depot was located a short distance west of ‘the barracks’ on Factory Creek at the King Street Bridge. The limestone building’s original use remains somewhat of a mystery even today.

“The Barracks” now known as The Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre is the first project of the Cobourg Museum Foundation, an incorporated not-for-profit charity, developed and operated by volunteers. Their mission is to tell the story of our local history. According to the Centres Briefing Note #2, “The site and its buildings”, an 1847 map shows the property bought and developed by James Calcutt after his arrival in 1832 shows the limestone building, his home “Lakehurst” just to the south, a distillery and the first successful commercial brewery which produced 1,000s of gallons of beer a week. A wind-mill ground grain and produced mechanical power. James Calcutt a successful brewer in Ireland moved to Cobourg to flee religious persecution in his homeland. Apparently he missed a critical “Orangeman” ceremony and a Parish Priest denounced him. Sometime later, a James Dempsey the leader of the “Whiteboys” followed him to Cobourg with the intention to assassinate him. Dempsey arrived in Cobourg on the schooner William 1V which was suddenly grounded on the lakeshore near the current harbor and he was thrown overboard and drowned! What are the odds…Mrs. Calcutt discovered the body of her husbands’ would-be- killer the next day on the beach a stone’s throw from the Calcutt property!

Note: The Whiteboys were a secret Irish agrarian organization in the 18th century which took vigilante action to defend land rights to subsistence farming, they wore white smocks on their raids.


Calcutt established his first brewery in Cobourg in 1832 on Ebenezer Perry’s lot on Ontario Street (Pratt’s Mill), now The Mill Restaurant and Pub. See post: Pratt’s Grist Mill. By the late 1850’s due to financial problems he was forced to sell his home, Lakehurst and his latest brewery on Durham Street. Meanwhile, Henry Calcutt one of James eleven children leased property in Peterborough for brewing, eventually building his own stone brewery in 1865 in Ashburnham. Here Henry invented (and was granted a patent in1895) a method of cooling beer quickly that is still used today. Many years later the Peterborough branch of the Calcutt Brewery was taken over by the Molson Brewing family. See post: Molson Mill, Port Hope, Ontario

In 1999 the Cobourg Museum Foundation purchased the derelict old limestone building located at 141 Orr Street at the corner of Durham Street in Cobourg, Ontario. Later on it purchased additional land to accommodate a workman’s cottage. This condemned 1870’s cottage was donated and moved by a local developer from the Illahee Lodge property nearby. This cottage was rebuilt to modern standards to accommodate public use and to serve as a visitor/administrative centre. Illahee Lodge has had a long history in Cobourg. In 1875 a John Jeffery owned the lodge and later sold the property to William R. Riddell, (an uncle of Ranger’s Grandmother) a prominent lawyer in the 1900’s and a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario in1906. Riddell was married to Anne Crossen the daughter of James Crossen of the Crossen Car Works of Cobourg and a one- time president at Crossen. A later owner, a local lawyer Charles Kerr resided here. Mr. Kerr’s wife Maude is said to have named the home Illahee which in an Aboriginal dialect means “House-by-water”. This beautiful old mansion went through a number of uses over the years from a summer camp/hospital for children, a senior services centre, a bed & breakfast and back to a private residence. Illahee Lodge still exists, though the estate has been subdivided and other large homes built on the property (thanks Stanley of Cobourg Museum for correction).


Grants from three levels of government including the Town of Cobourg, the Trillium Foundation, the Cobourg MusicMakers, other local charities, membership fees, a generous bequest, donations from 33 local businesses and the work of more than 300 volunteers have made this amazing centre an asset for the town of Cobourg. The limestone walls were repaired, the foundation strengthened, the roof replaced, and windows, doors, and the main and loft floor were all rebuilt. An archaeologist Dr. Lawrence Jackson and a large group of local secondary students conducted a search through 150 cubic metres of soil. An original wood floor was found 14 inches below the existing grade. In 1851 the building is believed to have served (thanks Stanley of Cobourg Museum for correction) the congregation of St. Peter’s Church during the Kivas Tully (Cobourg Town Hall architect) designed reconstruction of its 1821 building. At a depth of 9 inches there was evidence of two blacksmiths’ forges. Above that was evidence of its use as a livestock barn. In the early 1900s it became a laundry serving the many local hotels. Its last use was that of a warehouse for recycled demolition materials.


Today the Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre features the Worker’s House Visitor Centre full of pictures, artifacts, maps and books on local history and the guest book. Hours: May & June/Sept. & Oct. Saturdays & Holidays 10-5, Sundays 1-5. July & August, Wed. to Sat. & Holidays 10-5, Sundays 1-5. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. The limestone museum’s Exhibit Hall features more artifacts and a learning centre with seating for video presentations. Outdoors is a 1:20 scale presentation of The Cobourg & Peterborough Railway (1854-1867). Featured are various trains, the Cobourg locomotive turntable and roundhouse, Cobourg, Harwood and Peterborough stations, the Rice Lake bridge/swing bridge, trestles and various replicas from the Blairton Iron Mine and the Trent River Narrows loading pier for iron ore. Be sure to ask for the brochure “The Trent River Ore Cars” by the centre’s George Parker, a favorite find of the Rangers visit here.  This brochure tells of the importance that the ore cars, built by James Crossen of Cobourg (Crossen Car Works) played in saving the railway (at least for a few years) after the major loss of the nearly three mile long Rice Lake bridge.

Note: Be sure to see the full size replica of an 1867 Iron Ore Car, built by local volunteer labor, located at the Cobourg harbor.  Some original parts were salvaged from a watery grave at the Trent River Narrows including the cast iron wheels (Montreal Wheel Works) were utilized and the local white oak wood parts were sawn at the 1830 Hope Mill in Lang, Ontario.

Regards, Ranger.


  1. Ranger. What an excellent job you have done in presenting the Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre. I hope it will become required reading for all our volunteers!
    Just a couple of corrections:
    Illahee Lodge still exists though the estate has been subdivided and other large homes built on the property.
    It would be better to say that the stone building “is believed to have served (or “may have served”) the congregation of St. Peter’s”.
    Minor things in the context of such a complete report!
    Thank you.


    1. Stanley, thanks for the great comment, I always enjoy visiting the Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre. Appreciate your corrections. It would be an honor knowing your volunteers would read and enjoy this post.


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