Just west of Ridgetown, Ontario, this old house, abandoned in the 1930s or 1940s stood on a ridge overlooking a brook and beyond that, the Ridge Road leading into Ridgetown. Often seen with sheep grazing on the slope in front of it, it became a peaceful landmark of a by-gone era to be photographed and painted by numerous artists. Below are a few articles that have appeared in newspapers. The "Memories" are those of Earle Brien who grew up in the farm house on the opposite side of the Ridge Road. This old house had been built by Earle's ancestors and was occupied by the families of a succession of hired hands. [Clicking on most pictures will link to a larger scale picture]
Case History Relic of Pioneers Going, going, gone Earle's Memories
The Scane House - a case in local history
By Adam Leverton
It stands alone on a hill, silent. Its story is known only to a select few.
Its windows are glassless and the paint has been washed away from the walls by many seasons of rain and snow. Its roof is sagging and riddled with gapping holes. Sheep are the sole custodians of this house. That house is the Scane house. By the owners' own best estimation it was built by the same carpenter who built the Ridge House Museum. Within five years of building the Ridge House in 1875 he had built the Scane House. Indeed much of the set work and the methods of construction are similar between the two buildings. The house that has been so forgotten by the members of its community has had a long and varied history.
The family that presently owns the house and who built it came hopefully to the Ridgetown area in the form of the family of Thomas Scane and his sons, John and Thomas Scane. They came together in a group with James Watson and Edmund Mitton. They were preceded by William Marsh and Sarah Marsh, the first white settlers to choose the Ridgetown area as their home. The Scanes journeyed to Ridgetown approximately 170 years ago around 1824. To arrive in this area they had probably traveled from the British Isles across the Atlantic to New York or Philadelphia; then they had likely traveled northwest to Buffalo. A difficult journey at any time but especially in 1824.
From Buffalo they went by boats or with wagons and oxen to Colonel Talbot's place on the north shore of Lake Erie. Talbot was the land agent who kept all new immigrants working for him for awhile to allow them to grow accustomed to the new climate. As an added bonus to that of increasing the population of the colony, Talbot gained free labour. After a period of hard work he sent the new settler out to choose farms that they judged to be suitable for themselves. They then had to pay twenty dollars for the patent to their land. For settlers such as the Scanes, busy with the business of clearing the land and establishing their farms, some time passed before they could acquire the twenty dollars necessary for the patent to their land.
The prominent reason the Scanes and other settlers came to Upper Canada in the 1830's was because of the fact that after the Napoleonic wars in Europe the prices of farm products dropped. This meant that those people that farmed in the British Isles would be gradually reduced to poverty if they remained in the British Isles. People in other occupations were also affected by the end of the war in Europe. Weavers, shoemakers, wheelwrights, gunsmiths and saddlers who contributed to the war effort also felt their trade diminish after the end of the hostilities.
The Scanes also found themselves in this situation. People such as the Scanes who were looking for a better place to immigrate to had two choices. They could travel to the United States where because of the War of Independence and the recent War of 1812 the residents of that country still felt great animosity toward anything or anyone British. There was a second option available to immigrants, to the north of the United States and that was the British colony of Upper Canada. With its abundant game and good farm land it seemed like the perfect place to settle in the eyes of people like the Scanes.
Thomas Scane, the elder man in the family was a devout and religious man. He brought with him on the boat that traversed the Atlantic 150 pounds of Bibles from his home in Yorkshire, England so that he could teach the gospel to the sick and dying. He was born in England in 1765 where he spent the better part of his youth. His son, John Scane was born sometime in the year 1800 in England and died west of Ridgetown sometime in the year of 1876. He was married to Elizabeth Mitton on May 12, 1832. Thomas' other son Thomas Scane, a respectable man was elected at a town meeting on January 2, 1843 as the first of two road masters for Ridge Road, the other being Edmund Mitton. Through his talent and hard work he eventually became the provincial surveyor.
When they arrived the Scanes chose farms they thought were suitable to the west of Ridgetown. Their farms were situated about a mile west of town and the side road is still known as Scane's side road. When they arrived in the area most settlers like the Scanes had a problem. They would have been lost if they didn't hire a guide. They also needed someone familiar enough with the area to help them find an excellent farm. To help them find their way and to help them choose the farms they wanted they enlisted the help of the trappers who frequently traversed the forests in search of furs. The trapper the Scanes asked to help them was probably John Shippey, an excellent trapper whose home was on the lake shore south of Ridgetown.
Since its arrival, the Scane family has always been prominent in the affairs of Ridgetown and their names appear frequently throughout the historical record. Charles, Henry and James Scane were all involved with the very successful Gun Club in Ridgetown. James' farm even hosted the Gun Club for a short while. As previously mentioned, the Scane House is believed to have been built around 1875 by the same carpenter who built the Ridge House. It was originally built by the Scane family for the men they hired to work on the Scane farms. There was originally a barn and a barnyard at the front of the Scane house near the road for a horse and a cow for the hired men. The house was painted white at the turn of the century and a summer kitchen and a stoop were added by the Dodman family who lived in the Scane house at the time. Twenty feet from the main house was a hand dug well lined with bricks. The Dodmans eventually abandoned the house. It is believed that they abandoned the Scane house because it was never connected to hydro.
The grandfather of the present owners, Gary and Luanne Brien used the Scane house to store winter wheat and soya beans. No one has lived in the Scane house that stands alone on the hill for over fifty years.
Jawaharial Nehru said, "History is a record of human advancement, a record of the advancement of the human mind or spirit towards some known or unknown objective." That is what the house that stands solitary on the hill represents. Although the wind now blows through its glassless windows and sheep are its only companions, it represents the Scanes and the Dodman's struggle to survive in an ever changing world, a world much like our own. It also stands as a monument to all our own struggles, whether petty or meaningful, in the past, the present and the future.
The Ridgetown Dominion, November 16, 1994
Relic of pioneers clings to lease on life
The house, built in the mid-19th century, tilts closer to oblivion every year.
By Debora Van Brenk
RIDGETOWN-Like a dear aged aunt grateful to see another sunrise, the leaning house of Ridgetown has greeted another spring. A winter of gusts and gales has come and gone. A season of snow and ice is behind her. Though frail and unsteady on her feet, the beloved old edifice still stands.
"People coming into town all know about the house on the hill." says Elsie Reynolds, curator of the Ridge Museum in town. "It's an artist's delight." Certainly the town can boast of buildings with older and more distinguished pedigrees. But you would be hard-pressed to find any that have been more photographed or painted.
SCANE FAMILY: "It is, I guess, a landmark for the community," says Luanne Brien. She and her husband Gary, a descendant of the Scane family that built the place, own the farm on which the house sits and pasture sheep on the property.
The house is a modest, two-storey wood structure and perches atop a knoll along Kent County Road 19 in Howard Township, just west of the Ridgetown limits. Constructed as a second farmhouse in the middle of the last century, this was home for farmhands and their families until the 1930s. when newer homes with electricity and indoor plumbing made her an anachronism.
She was, briefly, used as a storage barn and grain bin but is now fully retired from active duty. She has doffed her original coat of white, in favor of a dress of dignified grey. And now in her twilight years she sits - rather, she lists precariously in more than one direction-and rocks on the porch of the town. A cedar bough adorns one door like a brooch. Shingles creak their arthritic knuckles against the roof.
Tigger, the Briens' terrier, vaults in and out of windows on the first floor, where coat-hooks still cling to some walls. A nearby maple-surely it is almost as old as the house-stretches its knobby arms across the field.
SWING: Imbedded in a lower limb is a rusty fragment of chain. A former resident returned for a visit a decade or so ago, Brien explains, and recalled the hours she had spent playing on a swing that hung from that branch. A large V of migrating tundra swans flaps directly overhead, and their sudden voices sound like the distant shrieks of playing children.
This is a scene the house has replayed every year. But the past winter has not been kind. After one storm, the chimney finally toppled, leaving red bricks strewn like children's blocks on the pasture. The sag of beams is even more pronounced than last autumn.
A few years ago, the Ridgetown historical society and the Briens talked about bracing the structure somehow. But it's a little late in life for such indignities. Says Reynolds, "I'm sure if you moved anything around now, she could go down pretty fast." And the Briens have balked at recent suggestions by the township that they either tear her down or fix her up; rejected that as vigorously as they've chased sightseers who try to take more than photos.
The Briens are no more eager to put the home on artificial life support than they are to hasten her demise. I've respected the old house," Brien says. "Being farmers, we're realists. Everything has a cycle and it's nearly reached the end of its (cycle)."
NEAR COLLAPSE: One day, probably soon, they will wake up and find she has collapsed.
And then Briens plan to clean the site quickly "and not leave it out like a carcass." She says, "The philosophy my husband and I have taken is that to everything there is a season. When it finally tips over, we'll give it a cremation of some sort." But for now the house still stands. Against the pull of gravity and the weathering of the seasons. On this spring day in March, bowing here to the south and there to the east, she is still very much alive.
Caption under picture of house:
DEBORA VAN BRENK / The London Free Press
The old farmhouse on a hill outside Ridgetown has survived to welcome another spring. The landmark on Kent County Road 19 has long been a popular subject for painters and photographers.
Streetside, London Free Press March 1996
Going, Going, Gone - Scane / Brien House
What began as a modest wood framed house high atop a knoll on the Ridge Road, became a curiosity for onlookers. Photographers, artists, poets and columnists have all focused attention on the century-old home.
The Brien House, as known by most, is also referred to as The Scane House and the Old House on the Hill. Scane House is an older term reflecting the heritage of the structure. The original owner of the house, believed to have been built between 1875 and 1880, was the founding Scane family ancestors. It was originally built by the Scane family for the men they hired to work on the Scane farms.
The house was painted white at the turn of the century and a summer kitchen and a stoop were added by the Dodman family (Eugene and Florie Dodman) who rented the Scane house from their Uncle Jim and Aunt Scane.
After the Dodmans left Ridgetown for Brantford, the house was occupied by Bill Patterson, Ed O'Connor and various hired help until about the 1930's. A hand-dug well supplied the water for the household, but hydro was never brought to the house and that is why it has remained abandoned for more than 50 years.
Wilson Dodman and his sisters Ida McCormick, Daisy Summerhayes and the late Violet Elliotte were all born in the house. Wilson and Ida returned to Ridgetown in September 1986 (they were both in the 80's then) to browse through their childhood house.
At that time Ida stated that it was "heartbreaking" to look at the house, knowing how it once stood. Ida and Wilson reminisced of how they used to sleep in the big maple tree out front and swung from its limbs. She pointed out a small back bedroom where she remembers sleeping during her bout with scarlet fever as a girl.
Since the house has been abandoned it has gradually deteriorated, especially over the past 10 or 15 years. Luanne explained that the front house was built on a log sill for a foundation. The logs have rotted and the frame slipped off its sill on the west end and time and the elements have finished it off.
There have been many, many photos taken of the Scane/Brien House. Amateurs and professionals alike flock to the landmark for a photo. It has been photographed at sunrise, sunset, in spring, summer, winter and fall from every angle for decades. It has been recorded by many artists in oils, paints, charcoal, lead and was even featured on a limited edition collector's plate. A Chatham man, Walter Bolton, even recreated the Scane/Brien House in a model-like cardboard replica.
The following is a poem written specifically about the Scane/Brien House by Peter V. Connell of Tecumseh in August, 1994. Mr. Connell is a summer visitor to the area with relatives in Rondeau.
This Old House
If my walls could talk and my windows see
What memories I would related to thee.
"I remember when", how the memories pour,
Of greeting friends at the front door.
Of families past, their joy and pain,
New' will I feel their presence again.
Of Christmas trees with candles lit
Where friends and family could come and sit.
No shelter now within these walls,
No childlike footsteps down empty halls.
No cry of child in the night
Awaked by imagined fright.
No sunlight through sparkling windows seep
To awaken family from long night's sleep.
No cheerful curtains nor candle light
To guide the master home at night.
My halls are empty and my cupboards bare
No smell of fresh baked bread fills the air.
Look closely now and you will see,
Past glory of families that lived in me.
Peter V. Connell, August 1994
Partial article ("Going, going, gone") by Sheila McBrayne
Ridgetown Independent, April 2, 1997
Last revised 2003/04/03