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Generational homes keep doors open to past memories

For some Collingwood residents, their home is part of a family legacy that spans generations

Collingwood's historic buildings may tell the story of the town, but it's the homes that tell the stories of the families who built the community. 

A few Collingwood residents have managed to hold onto their family home, writing new chapters with each generation.

“It’s home. I don’t know where else I would live,” said John McCaffrey. 

McCaffrey lives on Pine Street in Collingwood with his wife, Nora, and their two dachshunds, Oscar and Grettle. His parents first purchased the home over 60 years ago, and McCaffrey spent a good part of his childhood within the same four walls.  

“Back then, it wasn’t unusual to go out the bedroom window to hang out with my buddies after my parents went to bed. I don’t think that’s a new concept though,” laughed McCaffrey. 

When his parents died, McCaffrey and his sister inherited the house. He bought his sister out shortly after and has been living in the home ever since — raising his own children there for a part of their childhood as well. 

“I’m comfortable here,” he said. 

McCaffrey plans to leave the house to his kids one day, leaving it up to them to figure out if they want to keep it.

“One of them might buy the rest of them out or they might option to sell it and take the money and run,” McCaffrey said.

“I do have a preference but I don’t want them to know I have a preference,” he added. “I’d rather them do what they want with it.”

McCaffrey and his wife have taken a personal interest in maintaining the original structure of their home and he said, fortunately, other individuals seem to do the same.

“I think there is quite a bit of interest among individuals to maintain them,” he said. “Our home has been completely renovated but it appears true to what it was originally. A lot of people do that.”

For Carolynn and Sylvia Wilson, their home is part of their family's legacy. The sisters, who were born and raised in Collingwood as seventh-generation Canadians, have lived on Seventh Street since the day they were born. 

“Stepping into an older home or a generational home has its own aura,” said Carolynn. 

Their great grandfather, Richard Sheffield, moved to Collingwood in 1856 and built a home on the north side of Seventh St., which he later left to his children. Their grandparents, Ildia and Wilfred Sheffield, then saved their money and bought property elsewhere in Collingwood, leaving the original homestead to their son, Frank. They gifted the property across the street to their daughter, Yvonne, and her husband, Herbert Wilson — Carolynn and Sylvia’s parents. 

“To have property and to pass it on to your children was a legacy,” said Carolynn. “It’s like an achievement. For our families and our people, to buy land and build a home, it was something they have always wanted. A dream.”

With the Heritage Community Church established just up the road, Seventh Street became a popular settlement for Black families.

“We are all generational in this same area, but not necessarily the same house,” said Sylvia. “We’re all next-door neighbours. All of our homes, we keep passing down in the family.” 

The Wilson sisters love it because they can still feel the presence of both their mother and father. 

“This is home,” Sylvia said. “They built it and it’s something they have passed down to us.”

Other historical homes in Collingwood have maintained their original structure, but have been passed out of the hands of the family that originally owned it. The family changes but the history remains. 

Such is true for James McGillvray. 

McGillvray, a retired surgeon, moved to Collingwood in 1961, but the house he now resides in was built in the 1860s. Located on St. Vincent St., McGillvray’s house is said to be one of the oldest brick houses in Collingwood and is rumoured to have housed the Prince of Wales when he visited Collingwood.

“He was entertained in this house, so we understand,” said McGillvray. 

What McGillvray loves most about his home is the space the large old homes typically had. Prior to her death, McGillvray’s wife was a singer and music was common in their household. The house has a large music room with a piano, which McGillvray has just started learning how to play. 

He describes himself as a keeper of things. He said his late wife would have been able to pack up the house and move to a condo or nursing home no problem.

“I, on the other hand, am pathologically bad at giving things away. I couldn’t move to a flat right now, because what would I do with my piano and dining room table, I wouldn’t have any room for it,” he laughed.  

McGillvray also plans to leave his house to his children.

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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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