Oakridge Farm and the Ireland Family of Nelson – Part I

This Heritage Paper looks at a pioneer family, the Irelands, and their home, Oakridge Farm, located in Nelson Township. This local family through their association with St. John’s Anglican Church, Nelson, and the ownership of property in East Flamborough Township by descendants of the original settlers have many connections with people and events in the history of East Flamborough. During the next few months there will be much local interest in the fate of this historic property, for its continued existence is in doubt. At the time of writing, no final decision regarding the house and property had been made by Burlington City Council.

Church of St Romald, Romaldkirk – George Hodgson, 2016.

The story of this pioneer family begins with Thomas Ireland, born 1753 in the Teesdale area of the County of Durham, England. He grew up and became a limeburner and yeoman farmer in Yorkshire and married Mary Fadden in 1780. They had eight children, most of whom emigrated to Canada. In 1792 their fifth child, Joseph was born in Thaingarth, Yorkshire. He was baptised the same year in the beautiful parish church of Romaldkirk by Rector Reginal Bligh, the father of Admiral William Bligh of the Bounty, whose crew mutinied in 1789.

Joseph’s brother John, the eldest of Thomas and Mary’s children emigrated to Canada before the War of 1812. Once here, he became a member of the 5th Lincoln and 2nd York Militia, where he served as an issuer and storekeeper in the Commissariat Department, and was in charge of the supply line along Dundas Street. In 1819 Joseph arrived from Yorkshire and five months later petitioned for land in order to become a settler. Upon taking an oath of allegiance and payment of a fee he received 100 acres near the village of Hannahsville, which later became Nelson.

In the small town of Ancaster, Joseph fell deeply in love with a girl who became his future wife. Ruth Best accepted his proposal and they were married by Rev. Ralph Leeming, an Anglican Missionary in 1823. They lived in a log cabin near the Guelph Line which Joseph probably built from logs cleared from his own land. It was here that six of their children were born, and where one died. The eldest, Robert Best Ireland was in later years the owner of one of the two sawmills in Nelson. The second and third children of this family were twins named John and James. John died at the age of three, probably from an infectious disease. James later served on the Town Council of Burlington as did his elder brother Robert.

Joseph added to his first investment by buying additional land, one parcel was purchased from the Brant family, and there is a copy of this indenture in the possession of the Ireland family. Joseph’s second and final home, Oakridge was built on land that was purchased from Mr. O’Reilly, a Hamilton lawyer. Building of the house began in 1835, and was finished in 1837. It took approximately one year to build and was constructed to resemble the home Joseph had lived in before coming to Canada. It is built of fieldstone from the farm itself, each one of the blocks being put in place by the hands of the labourers – reputedly it took 366 days to build, at a cost of $1.00 per day.

The Ireland House Museum today – Tourism Burlington

The house was built two storeys high and is rectangular in shape. On the first floor, the largest room, presently a dining room, was thought to originally have been two rooms – the smaller of the two – a birthing room. The other room would have been used as the Dining Room, used, of course, only by company and the Minister. A fireplace at the north end of the room would have been used to heat the room.

A example of a mangle from 1902. Once dry or nearly dry, clothes and bedding would be mangled to smooth them, sometimes taking the place of ironing. Mangles might also be used for wringing clothes, and were widely owned as they became smaller and more affordable.

The Parlour was the second largest room and reserved as well for special entertaining. When not in use, the curtains and shades were drawn, and the doors shut to preserve the furniture. In the parlour, the mantelpiece is marbled, a favourite way of finishing wood trim by painting over a ground coat with a series of wavy lines. According to family lore, the artisan who painted the mantelpiece was so anxious to keep his methods secret that he locked himself in the room while the work was in progress. This room was heated by a stove built into the walls of three rooms. This meant that the stove would heat the Hall, the Parlour and the adjoining bedroom. A favourite trick of the younger brothers was to wait for their older courting sisters to go into the Parlour with their beaus. The boys would then lock the doors thus imprisoning the unsuspecting couples, and they then stoked up the fire, causing the temperature in the Parlour to soar. The couples were thus trapped in the stifling room until someone unlocked to doors. If their father happened to come by, you can imagine what he thought had been going on in the Parlour when the young people came out looking extremely hot and bothered.

The last room downstairs on the ground floor was a bedroom, and it was heated by the stove mentioned previously. Upstairs there were four bedrooms. One was made especially for teenage daughters. It was located off the parent’s bedroom, with no way out except through this master bedroom. It was called the “safe room”, and certainly prevented the girls from sneaking out to meet their beaus. A tiny room at the end of the hall was flexible in its use, and probably served as a Nursery or sewing room. A pane of the original glass remains in the window of this room, which is now the bathroom.

In the attic are two rooms, one of which was used to dry the laundry in the winter. It has the pipe from the downstairs stove going through it to the chimney, and the wet articles were hung around it. A second mangle and several irons were stored up here to be used during the cold weather.

The basement contains three rooms. The smallest was used as a workroom, where harnesses were repaired and tools sharpened. In the largest room was the fireplace, as this was the original kitchen. To the right of this fireplace is an alcove five feet high by three feet deep. The heat from the fireplace spreads through the room and over to the alcove. Thus early Spring lambs placed in this opening were kept safe and warm until able to fend for themselves. The third room was used as a storage room. Here cakes and pies were stored on the floor in a large wooden box with a fitted lid.

Approximately seven years after the house had been built, a new section was added. It also was two storeys high but it had no basement. On the ground floor is the present kitchen with the traditional three steps leading down from the original house’s adjoining room. There are two rooms above the kitchen, originally boys’ bedrooms, but now set up as a tack room and the hired help’s study room.

Originally published in Heritage Happenings, May 1986.

© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1986, 2021.

Editor’s Note:

The concern regarding the fate of the Ireland House at the time this paper was written was to be resolved within the next year. From Museums of Burlington:

Joseph and his descendants occupied Ireland House until 1985. In 1987, the City of Burlington purchased the property from the estate of Lucie Marie Ireland Bush and established a museum, restoring the homestead to illustrate three distinct time periods that represent the generations of Irelands who lived in the house: 1850s, 1890s and 1920s.

Ninety percent of the furnishings are original to the Ireland family thanks to a generous donation by Helen Ireland Caldwell, Marie’s first cousin. Restorations of the house have reclaimed missing elements of former times, bringing the Museum back to its feeling of a period home and farm.

Guided tours, heritage demonstrations, and interactive programming bring Burlington’s past to the present as visitors explore the house, grounds and interpretive centre.

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