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Historic homestead donated

160-year-old Robert West House and property deeded to Thornhill Heritage Foundation


THEN AND NOW: Mary Emma West, Katharine Louisa West and Mary Ambler stand outside the Robert West House in an early photo, left. Mary Emma's granddaughter, Louisa Keith, right, donated the home to the Thornhill Heritage Foundation. (Courtesy Thornhill Historical Society Archives; Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

It’s an unassuming house on what feels like a sleepy street in old Thornhill.

“Standing here, looking around you, it’s very difficult to believe that Yonge St. is less than 150 feet away,” said Nigel Connell under a grey sky. “The gardens and the atmosphere, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Connell, chair of the Thornhill Heritage Foundation, stood on Old Yonge St. across from the Robert West House, which has witnessed Thornhill’s history unfold since its namesake began construction in 1843.

This time, it was the house itself that was making history.

Louisa Keith, the home’s current occupant and a descendant of Robert West, donated the property to the foundation, a new organization formed in 2008 to preserve a piece of her family’s — and Thornhill’s — history.

“For 160 years, the descendants of Robert West have lived there,” Connell said Tuesday. “A part of Mrs. Keith’s vision is she wanted to maintain this house and keep it as a living entity, as it has been for the past 160 years.”

According to the foundation, the house is the only 19th century home in the area to have been occupied by the same family since construction.

“This is going to be named the Robert West Heritage Centre and it is going to be here in perpetuity,” Connell said. “I’m 15 months down the path with this project and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the significance of what is happening in Thornhill now.”

West, who owned a general store on the Markham side of Yonge St., bought the property the house sits on for 50 pounds in 1849, six years after he began construction on a one-and-a-half-storey frame house. Twenty years later, he bought the lot to the south for $100.

Today nearing 100, Keith inherited the house from her father Albert Charles Fawcett West in 1955.

“This house is really an artifact of what has happened in this area since 1849,” Connell said.

In 1982, the architectural value of the home was recognized with a designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

“It’s now the foundation’s responsibility, through their stewardship, to be able to continue maintaining this,” Connell said. “Mrs. Keith is going to live there and share with us what she would like to see this used for and we’re going to do that to our best.”

Robb Stitt, the foundation’s administrative officer, said Keith’s donation of the house her great-grandfather built is a fitting legacy for the West family.

“I’m sure Mrs. Keith will always, over all the years, will still be watching over us to make sure we do the right thing,” he said.

Vaughan Today
In print: August 21, 2009, page 3
Online: August 22, 2009 [link]