Strathmore House To Brookside Youth Centre

Strathmore House (Brookside) located at 390 King Street East, Cobourg Ontario is thought to have been built during the mid-1870’s by George M. Clark, a solicitor for the Canadian Pacific Railroad and a well respected Cobourg citizen, a staunch Conservative and a close friend of Sir John A. MacDonald. George Mackenzie Clark was born in Belleville Ontario in 1828 and moved to Cobourg with his family at an early age. Educated at Upper Canada College, he later studied law in the Cobourg law office of Col. D’arcy Boulton and after taking the bar proceeded to set up a law partnership with W. H. Weller, the son of William Weller a three time mayor of the town and owner of the famous Weller Stagecoach Line that ran between York (Toronto) and Kingston. In 1850, Clark married his law partner’s daughter, Elizabeth Melissa Weller and they took up residence in Cobourg. The Clark’s had four daughters, of only two lived to adulthood.

Clark proved to be very successful in his law profession as well as in local politics. He was appointed to the office of Cobourg Court Judge of Northumberland and Durham in 1857 for a short time during an absence of Judge Boswell in 1858 and was appointed a Junior Judge of the same court. On the retirement of Judge Boswell in 1882, he became a Senior Judge. Judge Clark also served a Local Master and Registrar of the Chancery Court at Cobourg, as a member of the County Council of Northumberland and Durham , and as a Cobourg town councilor from 1855-1857.

In 1869, Judge Clark purchased 130 acres of land in Concessions A & B, Lot 13, in Hamilton Township. The largest of this portion of land was immediately sold off in small parcels, but a 24.5 acre parcel in the south-west corner of the south half of Lot 13, Concession 13, Concession A was retained and mortgaged in 1874 for $3,000. This parcel of 24.5 acres was to be the future site of Strathmore. Although unknown exactly what year Strathmore was built, (likely in the mid 1870’s), a house on this site is indicated in the 1878 Historical Atlas of Northumberland and Durham Counties. In 1876, Clark sold the 24.5 acres to R. R. Pringle of Cobourg who retained possession of the land until October 1881 when it was re-conveyed to Judge Clark. It is unknown if the Clark family lived at Strathmore from 1876 to 1881, but the 1881 Census shows that Clark and his wife were living in Hamilton Township at this time.

By the 1870’s Judge Clark was a successful businessman, and able to construct his large Strathmore house on King Street. According to the 1871 Census of Cobourg, Clark owned a total of 1,050 acres of land (including 8 village lots), four houses, three barns, five sleighs and carriages, four wagons and sleds, four plows, one boat, and he bought and sold land in Hamilton Township. In June 1903, Judge Clark placed a for sale advertisement in the “Cobourg World” newspaper which ran for six months until December of that year: “Strathmore, the residence of the subscriber, just east of the town limits, 14 acres with never failing stream and pastures, gardens and gardener’s dwelling, groves, barns, stables and other outbuildings. Main house, 14 rooms and all modern conveniences. George M. Clark”. Failing to sell the property 1903, Strathmore was rented to Charles Donnelly of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for the 1904 summer season. When he retired in 1901, Judge Clark, his wife and three grandchildren continued to live at Strathmore until 1903. They then moved to the corner of Green and King Streets, where he died on the 9th of November 1904.

After having spent a few summer seasons in Cobourg, Charles Donnelly, a self-made Pittsburgh millionaire decided to purchase the fourteen acres and buildings of Strathmore for $12,500 from Judge Clark in September of 1904 and establish a permanent summer residence as so many rich Americans did along King Street in Cobourg. It is believed that Donnelly undertook extensive renovations of the main house around 1905, which he likely never completed. After Donnelly’s demise in late 1906, his wife and eight children continued to summer in Cobourg. It seem the family estate suffered several major financial reverses and a few years after Charles Donnelly’s death, and by 1913 Strathmore had become the property of the Trust and guarantee Company of Pennsylvania. According to local folklore, the Donnelly family went through some 14 million dollars before bankruptcy as declared. The Strathmore estate was in the Canadian courts until 1918, when it was purchased by Stephan of Toronto for $28,000.

The Hass family continued to use Strathmore as a summer residence until the early 1940’s.  in 1943, the entire estate was leased to the Ontario Government for the purpose of a girl’s training school that had been located in Galt Ontario which the Department of Defense had expropriated in1942, so the province been forced to find a new location for the duration of war.  What are ‘training schools’ you might ask, these schools are judicial institutions under the Ministry of Justice that provides corrective education and reintegration support for the fostering the sound cultivation of juveniles sent there as protective by a family court.  Cobourg seemed to be a logical choice for the school as there were several large estates suited to the needs readily available.  The first house to be leased was the  large Willis McCook home near King Street East in 1942 followed by Strathmore House in 1943.  The Wallace H. Rowe estate standing between the McCook and Strathmore properties was acquired some time later in 1951.  A note from the G. H. Dunbar Papers (RG 20, series A-2) :  “The property consists of 14.9 acres about 10 which are landscaped.  There is a well.. There is a well-built house which now provides accommodation for 40 girls.  There is also a combined coach house and a gardener’s house.  The gardener’s house section is now used as staff quarters.  The coach house section was converted to a gymnasium.”  A 1956 plot plan of the estate indicated many features such as an ice house; a playhouse; tennis courts; landscaping with a fountain and a stream (Brook Creek) and two ponds located along the front drive.

When the Galt facilities were returned to the Province after the Second world war, a decision was made to move the boys from the Bowmanville School to Galt and to leave the girls training school in Cobourg.  The Ontario Government then purchased both the McCook Estate and the Hass Estate in 1947.  In 1950, it was decided that that the Cobourg facilities were inadequate for the girl’s training school program and they were returned to Galt while the Cobourg facilities were made ready for a training school for Junior boys.  It was then officially known as the “Ontario Training School for boys, Northumberland County.”  In 1967 the re-naming of Training Schools was made to assist rehabilitation of juveniles by reducing the risk of carrying a negative identity upon their re-entry into the community school systems.  Cobourg training School now called Brookside School or later Brookside Youth Centre, becoming part of the Correctional Services Branch of the Provincial government of Ontario.

Some alterations were made at Strathmore in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s to accommodate the training school. The rear veranda adjacent to the kitchen was closed in to serve as part of the laundry room, a small addition was added to the rear of the building to provide three detention rooms, and a few interior changes were made to comply with the fire Marshall’ recommendations.  The landscaping was altered by draining and grading the ornamental ponds, straightening the Brook Creek bed near the front drive and removing the playhouse in 1951.  An Inspection Report of 1950 reported among many items noted:  “The outside appearance of Strathmore House is somewhat discouraging.  The eaves troughing and down-pipes in some places have been completely rotted away.  The cement veranda floors are cracked and flaked in several spots.  The painted walls are becoming discolored where water from the roof is seeping out of the rotten eaves troughing and pipes.  The large pillars on the porch are in badly rotten condition at the base.” 

The interior of the home has been greatly altered, with office space with suspended ceilings and partitioned walls with an office space in the large front vestibule and it seems the present office for the superintendent is the only room to remain intact from the former Strathmore’s private home, with the exterior of the building  basically unaltered over the years.  by 1973, the decision was made to turn Brookside School into a co-educational facility.  Six new cottages were built and several older buildings were demolished.  The Rowe house (circa 1974), the Abbott House (acquired in the early 1960’s) and the McCook House soon followed and a large part of that estate was sold for redevelopment.  The former coach house (gymnasium) and the former gardener’s house (staff headquarters) were demolished leaving only the Strathmore House today.

Some other ‘training schools’ operational in the 1960’s:  The Coldsprings Forestry Camp located on Coldsprings Camp Road in the Ganaraska Forest had accommodation for forty boys with training in academics, sports and crafts with part time training in re-forestation, road and park improvement and were trained in fire fighting and even assisted in dousing a few forest fires.  In the late 1960’s they released over a thousand pheasants into the forest and helped stock the conservation pond with speckled trout.  The former Bowmanville Boy’s Training School, likely better known today as Camp 30.  In the Second world War the school was adapted to serve as an internment camp for high ranking German prisoners of war (POW’s) captured by the Allies (1941-45).  After the war it reverted to the Ministry of Education as the Pine Ridge Training School and closed in 1979 as a boy’s school.

The Way it Stands Today:  The Cobourg Brookside Youth Centre, the secure custody facility for males was suddenly shut down on February 15, 2021.  The Ranger, on obtaining pictures for this post ten days later was surprised to find the security warning signs and perimeter fence were all removed.  The fourteen building facility is located on 32 acres of land while some records show seventy acres. That number appears to be before a number of acres were sold off in the 1960’s or 1970’s for housing developments.  The property is bisected by Brook Creek, therefore there is an associated floodplain hazard which may explain the 32 acres now indicated.  At the time of closing the facility was staffed to operate a 12 bed unit, with only five youths in custody ages 12-20.  It was a large facility, which was heavily under utilized.  At a town council meeting in late August 2020, it was discussed that “the Brookside Youth Centre has been operating at reduced capacity for several years and Cobourg taxpayers have been have been inquiring  about the future  of the Centre”.  The large acreage was generating very little tax revenue for the town.  The building was not formerly designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act but is listed on the Heritage Register which provides protection from demolition.  (See post:  A Heritage Primer) The property owner must give 60 days written notice of intention to demolish or remove a building or structure on the property.

The Brookside property has many possibilities, the existing permitted Institutional Zoning By-Law permits many uses including a medical clinic, nursing home, public place assembly use, recreation and community centre etc.  The size of the parcel of land would likely require a major rezoning process for a more practical use such as a housing development, but hopefully the grand old Strathmore House will be be saved.  At this time, the Town Council, Architectural Society and Historical Society are all open to suggestions from the community for ideas.

Regards,   Ranger.     

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