History of Lakehurst Estate
Over the centuries, out of the mists and bogs of Ireland have come fantastic accounts of magic and the supernatural, as well as many, many skilled fabricators of such tales. Back in the colonial days of Upper Canada, one particular son of the Ould Sod, James Calcutt Sr., came here to seek and find his fortune on the shores of Lake Ontario, specifically in Cobourg. His improbable – but true – story is worthy of standing alongside any tale that ever sprang from the land of leprechauns and banshees.
Besides seeking future prosperity in a new land, a more pressing reason for Calcutt’s emigration was his persecution by “an Irish terrorist group,” known as the “White Feet.” One particular member of this group, James Demsey, had sworn personal vengeance against Calcutt, so no doubt that threat factored into the gentleman’s decision to put between them the Atlantic Ocean.
Calcutt and his family sailed from Ireland, landing in Cobourg around 1832, and soon purchased three prime acres on the lakeshore, bounded by Orr, Durham and Hibernia Streets. Already in existence on the property was the circa-1811 stone building colloquially known as “the Barracks,” now rumoured to have been used during the War of 1812. The whole estate he christened Lakehurst.
Calcutt’s house, one of the earliest brick buildings still standing in Cobourg, was constructed in the Loyalist or neo-classic style. A description of the house recorded in 1858, is included in the book Cobourg Early Days and Modern Times: “on the ground floor was a wide entrance hall, two large drawing rooms joined by folding doors, a dining room of ample proportions, butler’s pantry, china closet, laundry and a bedroom. The second floor, besides five bedrooms and two dressing rooms, had linen closets and a billiard room. In the third floor were the servants’ bedrooms. In the basement were the scullery (working kitchen) dairy, bake house, wine and beer cellar, root house, larder, boot and knife racks and lumber rooms, an excellent well and three soft cisterns. Behind the house was the stone stable (the so-called Barracks) eighty feet long.”
In time, the estate would comprise a brewery, including a malt house, kiln, a mill powered by sixteen horses, and a business office. Later a windmill, several storeys high, joined the industrial buildings where malt whiskey was distilled and ales for bottling and draft were produced. After his brewing and distilling businesses were well established, Calcutt also built a mill on the same property and named it Hibernia Flour Mills, Hibernia being the ancient Roman name for Ireland.
The Lakehurst mansion faced south, giving the Calcutt family a view of the lake and a private beach, but today, the Legion Village complex cuts the property off from the waterfront.
Already, in 1832, Calcutt had made a satisfying beginning to a new and prosperous life in the young colony. He had every reason to believe his troubles were behind him and a bright future beckoned.
Then, one sunny morning after a storm, on a walk along his shoreline property Calcutt came across a horrifying sight. There, on the shore lay the body of a man, a drowning victim to all appearances. Such a sight would be give pause and even alarm to anyone. But to make matters worse, upon examination, the dead man proved to be none other than James Demsey, Calcutt’s arch-enemy from Ireland.
Apparently, Demsey had discovered the whereabouts of his nemesis and had vowed to continue his vendetta, regardless of inconvenience or expense. At the end of his voyage, as the steamer William IV attempted to dock at Cobourg in heavy seas, two passengers were swept from the gangway and drowned. Demsey was one of them. But, how his corpse came to rest on Calcutt’s private beach was cause for a wonderment that gripped the whole locality.
The Cobourg Star of Oct. 24, 1832 reported:
“By a singular Providence his [Demsey’s] steps were directed to the very place selected as the home of him whom he had formerly injured, within sight of whose door he was doomed to perish and upon whose land his miserable and ghastly carcass, horribly mutilated by the avenging waters, was afterwards made literally to bite the dust, his face being completely buried in the sand.”
Obviously, in the mind of the newspaper reporter, this grisly coincidence could not be counted as mere happenstance, but must be attributed to divine retribution. The colourful account triumphantly concluded, “Doubtless, there is a God Who judgeth!”
Delivered from the threat to life and limb represented by Demsey, James Calcutt went on to be a locally esteemed man of business. He continued to live and prosper at Lakehurst until he died May 18, 1869.
About 1872, the estate came into the ownership of another historic Ontario family, the Armours, who also sprang from the British Isles.
John Douglas (J.D.) Armour was the seventh and youngest child of Rev. Samuel Armour, an Irishman, and his wife, Margaret Douglas, a Scot. Rev. and Mrs. Armour, with the eldest four of their children, had voyaged from Glasgow to Upper Canada in 1820, coincidentally on the same ship that also carried a five-year-old son of the Macdonald clan. That tiny traveller would, in 1867, come to be known to history as Sir John A. Macdonald, the first Prime Minister of the newly confederated Dominion of Canada.
As a young man, J.D. Armour decided to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother, Robert, a lawyer in Port Hope and Cobourg. In 1853, J. D. was called to the bar. He articled under his elder brother and began his own practice in Cobourg, where he married Eliza Cory Clench, scion of another notable local family. They chose their commodious home at Lakehurst well; by 1877, J.D. and Eliza had eleven children.
From 1861-64, J.D. Armour served as Chief Justice of Cobourg. In 1877, he was named to the Court of Queen’s Bench, which sat in Toronto. In 1900, Armour was made Chief Justice of Ontario, which was then a federal appointment. In 1888, he turned down the offer of a knighthood, but unfortunately, his reason for so doing is lost to history. All the while he, his wife, Eliza, and their many sons and daughters continued to enjoy their summer afternoons refreshed by the lake breeze, entertaining their guests on the spacious lawns of Lakehurst.
In November 1902, J.D. was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada and the following year, he was appointed to the Tribunal to establish the boundary between Canada and Alaska. A peak in northern British Columbia, Mount Armour, is named in his honour. He died in London, England, in July 1903, and is buried in Cobourg. His portrait in oils, in full judicial garb, still resides in the “Old Bailey” courtroom at Victoria Hall.
Sometime after Mr. Justice Armour’s death, Lakehurst came into the possession of Miss Maggie Lucy, a former housekeeper at the estate. She turned the historic mansion into a boarding house around 1910, thus beginning its lengthy existence as a multi-occupancy residence.
Lakehurst Estate: Redefining the Tradition of Hospitality. Jeff
Marion and Rene Bolijkovac have recently become the
new owners of Lakehurst Estate in 2021. For some time they had
been aware of the building whose extraordinary history
dates back to 1832. Most recently it had a somewhat
more prosaic identity as an apartment block. Rene
recalls the couple popping out for lunch and then taking a
stroll along the beach and continuing along Durham
Street. They came across the property and both of them immediately fell in love with it. Better still, it was for sale.
They jumped at the chance. With no inspections, they closed the deal in just three weeks following an intense bidding war. Thinking its layout favoured hosting friends and guests, they planned for Lakehurst to be a bridge for them to transition from long term careers in dentistry to innkeepers. As a place to make beautiful memories, Lakehurst will occupy a gap in the marketplace somewhere between an Airbnb and a boutique inn, as well as creating a spectacular private home for themselves and their dogs. The couple see themselves as custodians of Lakehurst, contributing their energies to its continuing history. In return, it will give them the opportunity to look forward to retirement without needing to retire.
The guest experience will be unique, not one based on return of investment, but one premised on a return of relationships. Lakehurst will bring a touch of the Ritz Carlton to Cobourg: ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen in an environment of exquisite amenities. In ten years time, Lakehurst will be two hundred years old. Marion and Rene want those ten years to be filled with joy and happy memories. Guests will be able to enjoy the year-round heated swimming pool, with a
temperature of around a100 degrees, providing a real
respite from winter chills. Alternatively they may luxuriate
in one of two hot tubs or chill out in igloos, which are
heated or cooled depending on the time of year.
Lakehurst guests will also have the use of bicycles to
enjoy the boardwalk and the wonderful local trails.
Bicycles are equipped with baskets, perfect for a picnic
Inside they might choose to enjoy a brandy or a glass of wine in the cigar lounge or billiards room. Guests may choose to just sit and read a book whilst soaking up the historic atmosphere full of fine architectural details in one of the many sitting areas. At night they rest their heads on goose down pillows from AuLit, sleeping on the finest Egyptian cotton sheets under fluffy duvets from Hungary.
Marion is the little ball of energy in charge of the
renovations: her first task was to unpick years worth of
substandard ‘renovations’ and restore a sense of unity to
the structure, reviving the feeling of a home. It is hard to
keep up with her as we tour the house in something of a
whirlwind, whilst simultaneously learning either what has
been done or what is going to be done. Her enthusiasm
for interior design is palpable and despite the fact that she
has no formal training, it seems to hang together pretty
well. She is creating her own personal style with a natural flair,
albeit one that veers towards a rococo opulence.
Rococo is a highly ornamental approach to interior decor that can border on excess if not kept in check: it verges towards
theatricality with dramatic crown mouldings, ceiling roses,
chandeliers, large mirrors and a penchant for elaborate
decorative millwork. Undoubtedly it is best suited to a
larger home and Lakehurst is certainly that, being an
impressive 10,000 sq.ft. of high ceilinged elegance.
What has been achieved in a very short space of time, a
little over four months, through a winter, and with
pandemic-imposed supply chain challenges, is little short
of miraculous. Their team was hard at it installing a
swimming pool and laying acres of patio stone in
particularly hostile winter conditions. Marion & Rene have
nothing but praise for their contractors who have all
stepped up and performed admirably. They seem inspired by Marion’s enthusiasm for the project and her almost manic energy and irrepressible joie de vivre.
Naturally for a project of such immense scale to run
smoothly, clear lines of responsibility are necessary.
Marion contributes all the design ideas and sources
materials, scouring antique stores, architectural salvage
outlets and auctions for unique pieces, whilst generously
allowing Rene to pay for everything. Fortunately Rene loves his wife, supporting and sharing her creative vision. However, Rene will not be retiring from dentistry for a few more years but looks
forward to enjoying Lakehurst’s guests in the evenings and
on weekends with Marion.
Bring your family and some friends, book all four suites,
and the kitchen can be made available for your private
chef or caterer. Allow some time for a serious rest and
recuperation opportunity on a very grand scale in an
historic atmosphere, and if a dental mishap happens whilst
you are here, guests can rest assured they will be in very good
hands with Rene.
From Lakehurst Estate you can explore Cobourg and all
its points of historic interest on foot. Cobourg ticks all the boxes for Marion & Rene, a small friendly picturesque and historic
town with its own hospital and fire and police services, that
might normally be found only in a larger urban centre.
“And the shopping is fabulous,” says Marion and she
certainly should know.
Contact Marion or Rene at lakehurstestatecobourg.com
firstname.lastname@example.org 905 373 7333
128 Durham Street, Cobourg.