Older than Canada: A History of 246 Albert Street, Belleville, Ontario
The solid brick house at 246 Albert Street is older than Canada. Built in 1864, it pre-dates Confederation by three years. Over the past century and a half its various owners have lovingly maintained it, added to it, renovated it and restored it. Even after 150 years, it is still a work in progress as each generation puts its own stamp on this houseís distinctive character. Owning this house is a little bit like being a curator caring for a piece of Canadian heritage.
The property was sold to a contractor in 1863 (deed registered in 1864) and the house appears to have been constructed in 1864-65 as the registry abstract indicates a sale in 1865 to John Lazier (possibly a mill owner). It would appear that a rear addition (current kitchen) and the garage/coach house were built at a different time. The 1874 Birdís Eye View of the city (available through the Hastings County Historical Society) clearly shows both. The same view shows only the dwelling to the south, at the corner of Queen Street, and the Italianate house on the corner of Victoria (Hotel Street) and Albert on the west side of the block.
Porchfest celebrated at 246 Albert Street
Ownership was transferred to Agnes Wallbridge in 1868, to S. Cole in 1874 (will), to G. W. Taylor in 1904 and a relative (Thompson) through to 1929 when ownership passed to George S. Wallbridge until his death in 1958. At that time the house was deeded to his widow Mary Jane (Minnie) Wallbridge who occupied the house until her death in 1974 when she was in her mid-90s. The house was in disrepair and an attempt was made to duplex it in 1974-75. It was then purchased by Ray Michol. Verbal information indicated that all owners from 1868 to 1974 were related by blood or marriage. The Wallbridges were merchants in Belleville.
From One Lot to Two
Mr. Michol severed the southern half of the lot, including the coach house, into a separate property during the 1980s. In 1991 Mr. Michol sold the house portion to Orland and Sylvia French. Mr. French was a journalism teacher at Loyalist College and Mrs. French was a dental hygienist. For many years they operated a small book-publishing company out of 246 Albert Street called Wallbridge House Publishing. Upon purchasing the residence, they had learned that the locals referred to it as "the Wallbridge house" and so they adopted the name as appropriate for publishing. In 1991 the coach house, which had been located at the street, was moved back and a new house constructed in front of it at 242 Albert. The house was designed to blend in with the historic architecture of the neighborhood and the owners received a heritage award for their efforts.
The main part of the Wallbridge house is triple brick while the rear addition is double brick. The floor plan of the house can be found in insurance atlases available through the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, and the Ontario Archives. According to these atlases, the front verandah, the two-storey sun porch and a rear addition were added at various times. Major renovations were done internally, probably in the 1880s or 1890s, The large living room was once two rooms connected by a door, with each room opening through a door into the side hall. The same renovations resulted in the present French doors and the fireplace which was originally gas-fired. The City piped gas under the streets from a coal gasification plant on the harbour and the evidence of gas pipes remains in the floors and walls of the house. The conversion to electricity probably took place after the turn of the 20thcentury as hydro was available from the Trent River dams. The original flues from the fireplace, as well as from the kitchen, remain through to the attic but have been capped and roofed over.
The dining room was formed in the 1970s or 1980s by the closing in of the north dining room wall. Folding doors from that opening now form cupboard doors in the main upstairs bathroom. In 1975 a small unheated addition was removed from the back of the house, although the outline of the roof can still be seen on the rear brick wall. The original well is under the rear patio and the basement cistern has been filled in. The upper main bath was originally a bedroom. Other changes in the original structure include the creation of a main-floor laundry room and a corridor out of what had been an open room on the ground floor. A wall was removed in the maidís quarters at the rear upstairs to create a family room, and a small window was added on the south side.
Legacy of a Cattle Buyer
An interesting feature in the basement is a butcher room, complete with butcher block, meat hooks and wax paper lining the walls. Vented from the outside, it is the equivalent of a modern-day cold room. It is the legacy of George Wallbridge who was apparently a cattle buyer. Also of note are the pipes of the hot water heating system which are insulated with layers of horsehair.
Further renovations were carried out by the Frenches. A small bedroom in the northeast corner was converted into a walk-in closet and en suite bathroom for the master bedroom. The main bathroom was upgraded with new bath fittings, although a decorative cast-iron footed bathtub was retained. Additional insulation was added to the ceiling. An efficient gas boiler was installed in 1992 to replace the electric boiler (which is still in place as a back-up if necessary). The ground-floor sun porch was upgraded for extended seasonal use with insulation and gyproc walls and the upstairs sun porch with its grand view of the neighbourhood was converted into a fully operational office.
The backyard has been enhanced with the construction of an 8-foot by 16-foot garden shed and perennial plantings.
Other upgrades include a new asphalt shingle roof on the entire house in 2004, a tarred roof on the upper sun porch, complete replacement of knob-and-tube wiring with new copper wiring in 2005, replacement of galvanized piping, restoration of ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms, downstairs hall and living room, restoration of bedroom hardwood floors, dog-proofing of the backyard fence in 2005, replacement of the side steps in 2008, rejuvenation of the kitchen (2010) and new kitchen windows, 2012.
The current residents have found 246 Albert to be a very comfortable and friendly home. They feel confident that the new owners will enjoy sharing the legacy of historic old East Hill in Belleville through their satisfying ownership of this home.