Yellow Brick Question
by Elaine Weeks
Steeped in history
... 131 McEwan Avenue,
built in 1872
reader’s architectural query opens the door to an astonishing
time in Windsor’s history.
moved to Windsor in 1969.The Windsor, Walkerville and Sandwich
areas are such great places in which to live. My question
is, why are there so few soft yellow brick buildings this
side of Chatham? If one travels to Chatham, Sarnia or London,
the number of soft yellow brick buildings from the late 1800s
and early 1900s is significant. Why does Windsor and amalgamated
communities have so few of these brick buildings? The only
one from that era I can think of is McEwan Manor at 131 McEwan.
Robert Schmidt, Windsor
Your interesting question was passed on to Fred Cane, Heritage
Conservation Advisor. According to Mr. Cane, the colour of
brick depends on the amount of iron naturally found in the
clay used. Most communities obtained their brick from a local
brickyard using local clay. The buff or yellow brick found
so commonly in southwestern Ontario has less iron in it than
the clay that produced the orange or red brick seen in other
areas. Red brick was used more in the Windsor area and in
Amherstburg than buff. The answer may lie in the proximity
of Windsor and Amherstburg to the St. Clair River. The clay
deposits along the river may have a higher iron content than
those farther away. Mr. Cane says he’s “no geologist
so I can't explain how that would have come to be, but I suspect
that this is the reason.” There are exceptions like
Mackenzie Hall and Assumption Church. As buff brick was preferred
for important buildings, the brick for these buildings may
have been intentionally sourced from a different location.
that I am more aware of brick colour, I have noticed several
homes and small apartment buildings dotting the neighbourhoods
of Windsor and area that are yellow brick. Thanks to Robert,
we thought that in this month’s My Old House, we would
profile McEwan Manor, also known as the Sheriff John McEwan
Home, as well as have a look at the fascinating life of its
first inhabitants, John McEwan and his family.
Current owner John Hyatt,
Photo E. Weeks
John McEwan Home
unique Italianate with Flemish gable house is comprised of
brick, stone, terra cotta and wood. It has a square plan with
two stories, low hipped roof, a north side projecting central
bay with semi-parapeted gable, eight chimneys and a frame
addition on the south façade. The Italianate style
was in popular use for town houses about the time of Confederation
In 1955, the entrance
was switched to the McEwan Avenue side.
(photo courtesy John Hyatt)
1929, the house served as a temporary home for the Sisters
of the Good Shepherd for a year. The current owner is John
Hyatt who has lived in the Sheriff McEwan home since 1998
when he purchased it from his parents, Frederick and Ruth
Ann Hyatt, owners since 1977.
Hyatt has in his possession a copy of a local newspaper page
from 1872 describing the progress of the house’s construction
and indicating that it was nearing completion. The home was
built to face the river but John Hyatt guesses that sometime
in the 1950s it was turned to face the McEwan Avenue side.
The living room
on the main floor today.
photo E. Weeks
1955 snapshot of the home given to his parents by the previous
owners shows the house facing McEwan and a vacant lot to the
north, (now occupied by a residence). Although the photo is
black and white, the red paint that once covered the brick
is evident. John thinks that the reason the house painted
was possibly because the light-coloured brick had been discoloured
by the coal as it was dropped down the coal chute into the
Manor was converted into a multi-unit home several years ago
with the main (north) entry bricked in (a bathroom has been
built in what was once the entrance). A large wooden front
porch has been added. Despite the changes to the home, John
has worked hard to preserve as much of the remaining character
as possible. The high ceilings, the many tall windows, the
ornate fireplaces and much of the original wood remain.
was John McEwan?
McEwan was born in Saratoga, New York in 1812. As a small
boy he moved to Gananoque, Ontario and grew up along the St.
Lawrence River. He married Margaret Arnold, daughter of Richard
and Ann Arnold, and granddaughter of Benedict Arnold, of Revolutionary
1846, John and Margaret McEwan settled in Sarnia where he
engaged in the timber business. In 1848, they relocated to
Windsor and a year later, he was made Clerk of the Court,
a position he held until 1853 when he engaged in the warehouse
and lumber business. When the Great Western Railroad was completed,
the right of way led through his lumber yard, which required
him to sell the land and close his business. In that same
year he accepted the position of Station Agent for the railroad.
1856, John McEwan was appointed Sheriff of the County of Essex
which he held until 1883. John was also editor and owner of
Windsor’s first newspaper “The Windsor Herald,”
which he started in 1855. Later he became promoter of the
Canada Southern Railway, school board trustee and municipal
children born to John and Margaret McEwan were the following:
Charles; Patrick Anderson of Chicago, Illinois; William J.;
Margaret; James; Porter; and Christine.
of his fine new home on what became McEwan Avenue began in
1871. According to the custom of the day his daughter, Margaret,
drove around in a horse-drawn buggy to invite guests to attend
the reception in the new home.
property at that time and for years afterwards ranked as an
estate and stretched south from the river to London Street
[University Avenue]. A hired man’s house stood on the
grounds about 200 feet back of the McEwan home, which originally
faced the river. Just south of the house was a splendid well
and it was said that even people from the east side of Windsor
would come to drink its water.
1872, John’s son James was appointed Crier of the Court
of Essex County. In 1881 he married Amanda M. Rogers. They
had four children: Grace Margaret, Arnold, John, and Anderson.
In 1895, when the Humane Society was formed, James McEwan
was chosen as head of the organization.
McEwan died in 1892 and is buried in St. John’s Church
lived in the old homestead until his death in 1917. Four years
earlier his daughter, Grace (Mrs. J.W. Hanson), opened up
McEwan Avenue between Sandwich [Riverside] and London [University]
Streets, in response to the needs of the new industrial age,
which was then causing rapid growth in Windsor.
Tried to Save Stricken Norwegian Immigrants
an article by Alan Abrams, which appeared in the Windsor Star
on March 20, 1982, entitled Black Hole of Baptiste Creek,
57 Norwegian immigrants – men, women and children –
died of cholera when they arrived in Windsor by train from
Hamilton on July 2,1854. These immigrants were part of a large
group that had sailed to Quebec from their homeland and were
heading to Detroit across the river from Windsor, where they
were to take a train to Chicago and eventually end up in settlements
in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
her book, A Scandinavian Heritage: 200 Years of Scandinavian
Presence in the Windsor-Detroit Border Region, Joan Magee
explains that the Norwegians had been exposed to cholera a
number of times while enroute to Windsor. She notes that because
the train service from Hamilton to Windsor had just started
that year, overcrowding was common as the railroad was anxious
to accommodate the massive traffic to increase the rail line’s
profitability. The Norwegians were therefore crammed into
freight cars, which had no windows.
Abrams put it; “100 years later, similar box cars were
used in Germany to transport Jews to the death camps.”
the train neared Windsor, it was stopped because a gravelling
engine had derailed due to the rails expanding from the intense
summer heat. The first class passengers were transferred to
another train but the immigrants were left at Baptiste Creek,
in the township of Tilbury, for two additional days without
the provision of food, water or shelter from the heat. They
resorted to drinking the water in the creek (also referred
to as a swamp).
the immigrants finally reached the newly established village
of Windsor, the journey had taken its toll – one Norwegian
was dead and 33 others collapsed on the platform at the station
house. In 1854, Windsor only had a population of 750. There
was no hospital and only one doctor, Alfred Dewson who set
up a cholera hospital in the Great Western storehouse at Moy
Avenue and Riverside Drive.
word of the plight of the Norwegians spread, the McEwans and
a Mr. Blackadder went to the storehouse to help the sick foreigners,
but in spite of their efforts and the risk to their own lives,
(John McEwan himself contracted cholera) many died.
Norwegian couple left two children behind in their deaths,
and Mrs. McEwan did not hesitate to take care of them for
several years, until they could look after themselves.
View of Detroit from
the Great Western Terminus in Windsor, circa 1860. In 1854,
it served as a temporary hospital for newly arrived Norwegian
immigrants afflicted with cholera. (from A Dutch Heritage
200 Years of Dutch Presence in the Windsor-Detroit Border
Region, Joan Magee, 1983)
the railway agreed to defray the expense of providing coffins
and burial of the immigrants but the company reneged on the
offer. Ironically, as a token of appreciation, the railway
presented Mrs. McEwan with a gold watch on January 1, 1855.
It was inscribed with the words, “Presented to Mrs.
John McEwan, of Windsor, Canada West, for kind and Christian
benevolence to the poor sick Norwegian emigrants in July,
there was no cemetery in Windsor, nor a Lutheran church to
perform the burial rites, one can only speculate as to the
place where the bodies of the cholera victims were buried.
Abrams noted that historian Alan Douglas recalled incidents
of Windsor homeowners in the Moy and Hall Avenue areas [near
Riverside Drive] having uncovered human skeletons and bones
within the last 20 years and wondered whether they might have
been the remains of the Norwegian immigrants.
incident is still one of Windsor’s great mysteries.
Not only are the graves of these victims unknown but their
names are equally elusive. There were no records kept by either
the shipping companies or the Canadian government for these
immigrants. According to Magee, the event didn’t even
make the pages of the newspapers in Canada, Norway or Detroit.
in 2003 local archaeologist Rosemarie Denunzio confirms that
“no remains of the cholera victims have been discovered.
The bones that have turned up over the years have been determined
to be that of Native Canadians who lived in the area hundreds
of years ago.”
has long been thought that the bodies were buried near where
they died. Several archeological digs have been conducted
along the waterfront over the years in an effort to discover
the remains of these immigrants, including under the Peabody
Bridge at Chilver and Riverside Drive but nothing has turned
explains that even back in the 1850s, the locals would have
known not to bury diseased bodies near the source of their
drinking water, in this case, the Detroit River. As to the
location of the bodies, she says they are still a mystery.
“To people of those days, ‘near’ was a whole
different concept from what it is today. They thought nothing
of walking miles to get somewhere.”
bodies were definitely buried or disposed of somewhere in
the Windsor area. Denunzio cautions anyone who discovers bones
to call the police. “And don’t touch them,”
she says. “If they belong to one of these immigrants
they can still carry the infection.”
1/ The Township of Sandwich, Past and Present, 1909 by Frederick
Neal, 1979 (reprinted)
2/ “Black Hole of Baptiste Creek” by Allan Abrams,
Windsor Star, MArch 20, 1982
4/ Garden Gateway, 1854-1954 by Neil F. Morrison, PH.D., 1954
5/ Architectural Information: Nancy Morand, City of Windsor
6/ John Hyatt, current owner of home
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