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Public has rare chance to tour 1860s home now listed for sale

The Minnesota Street home was one of the first designated heritage houses, and has links to the architect who designed the federal building, and a former town doctor who retired in the 1970s

One of Collingwood’s original homes is going up for sale, giving members of the community a unique opportunity to step inside the historic house.

Known as ‘The Birches,’ the heritage home located at 227 Minnesota St. was built in 1861 by English civil engineer, Richard Palin. Palin’s son, Philip Coles Palin, became a well-known architect who designed several notable buildings in Collingwood, including the federal building on Hurontario St., according to research done by the Heritage Advisory Committee.

Other well-known occupants of the home include A.D. Knight, who served as town treasurer from 1882-1907, and his wife, Katharine, the daughter of the town’s first doctor. The flag pole out front, which was repurposed from the mast of one of the Great Lakes early sailing vessels, is said to date back to the safe return of their son, Edward (“Tod”) Knight, from the Boer War on July 31, 1902. 

The house changed hands a number of times until 1946 when it was sold to Dr. Douglas Harvie, a GP who practiced medicine in town until 1973. His wife, Madeleine, was also well known for her contributions to the activities of the Red Cross and the Victorian Order of Nurses. 

In 1983, the home became one of Collingwood’s first designated heritage houses.

The Birches remained in the hands of Dr. Harvie and his family for 65 years. After his passing, his daughter, Susan, wanted to make sure it was passed on to people who would preserve the legacy of the property. 

The Abbotts were willing to take on the challenge.

Richard and Anna Abbott were living in London, Ontario at the time. Avid skiers, they decided to move to Collingwood and thus began the hunt for their new home. The Abbotts previously lived in England in a stone house built in 1787. 

“It’s the character, everything is made to last,” said Anna. “Just structurally, they are amazing, especially compared to today. Newer homes don’t have that feeling and character.”

Before their offer to purchase was accepted, Susan travelled to London to interview the Abbotts.

“She wanted to make sure the house was passed on to good people,” said Anna. 

The house needed work. 

“The previous owners really loved the house, but they didn’t do much to it,” said Richard. “So there was a lot of catching up to do.” 

In 2012, the Abbotts first tackled some interior comforts, transforming the unfinished attic into a bedroom for their son and transforming the ‘nursery’ into a second bathroom. They also paid special attention to the restoration of the verandah and the second-floor balcony, which proved to be a bigger project than they anticipated. 

The verandah is one of many exterior heritage features protected by the amendment to the Ontario Heritage Act in 2008, as well as landscape features such as the former conservatory pond and wooden flagpole that are considered important to maintaining the heritage value of the property.

In fact, a number of features found around the home are from or pay homage to Collingwood’s history, including the kitchen sink, which was rescued from the Collingwood Shipyards. Other unique details include fireplaces, a wooden phone booth in the lobby, a root cellar, and the old coach house that has been converted to a second family room and home theatre.

In 2014, Richard and Anna earned the heritage award for residential restoration for their work on the home.

Unfortunately, due to family circumstances, the Abbotts have to sell their beloved historic home. 

They adored the 11 years they spent at 227 Minnesota St., but what they loved most was bringing up their kids in an environment filled with such a rich history. 

“It was the whole package,” said Anna. 

“These old houses, they tend to breathe,” added Richard. “They are a living thing that contracts and expands with the seasons. It’s been fun to watch that through the years.”

They are hoping to pass the legacy property and all its history onto people who, like them, find The Birches the perfect place to call home.

“For people who love Collingwood, architecture and/or history, this is truly a fabulous home to experience,” said Todd Kaufman, sales representative, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada and the listing agent for the home.

An open house is being held on Sept. 10 and 11 from 1 to 4 p.m.

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Maddie Johnson

About the Author: Maddie Johnson

Maddie Johnson is an early career journalist working in financial, small business, adventure and lifestyle reporting. She studied Journalism at the University of King's College, and worked in Halifax, Malta and Costa Rica before settling in Collingwood
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