It’s a grand house on the corner of Bay Street South and Charlton Avenue.
An ornate, fanciful Queen Ann Revival, so well preserved “It’s out of the box original,” says listing agent Tom Fleming.
For 2.1 million dollars, a buyer could move into this gleaming monument to the rich life of the 1880’s. But the 3,000 square foot, eight bedroom house, separate coach house and garden suite also represents a deep vein of Hamilton history.
“I was up until 2 a.m. last night,” owner Beverly Bronte-Tinkew says, “I was reading about the Flatt’s and their fascinating history.”
John Ira Flatt moved into the Queen Anne mansion named Maple Lawn in 1897, the second of just four owners. His life reads like a chapter in Canadian history. In 1816 his father Robert Flatt arrived in Canada from the Orkney Islands, lured here by a contract to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Son John Ira was born in a log cabin near Waterdown. From that pioneer beginning he would go on to build a successful lumber company, first with partner John Bradley and then with his three sons.
The Flatt’s logged and milled lumber in Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. They logged in northern Ontario before rail lines existed, driving the timber down rivers or cutting their own roads to transport lumber by horse and wagon. At its peak, the business would employ 3,000 men supplying the US and Canada with heavy timber and ship masts.
That John Ira Flatt would move into the imposing house on Bay Street South is no surprise. The Queen Anne Revival style with its complex angles, intricate ornament, turrets and interiors laden with wood paneling, appealed to the upper middle class wanting to celebrate their success.
In the 1903 edition of Tyrell’s Society Blue Book, a directory of the elite families of Toronto and Hamilton, the Flatt’s of 254 Bay Street South were listed with the other prominent families of Hamilton. The Blue Book noted which days guests were received, and where they preferred to locate their summer residences.
The Flatts however seemed too ambitions to idle away time by the lake. As the family lumber business thrived, John Ira had time to serve in the provincial legislature, and son William Delos Flatt, known as W.D. progressed from buying timber rights to developing real estate.
There’s a reason why Flatt Avenue in Hamilton exists, W.D. developed it along with Chedoke Avenue. When W. D. bought timber rights to a parcel of land in North Burlington, he would go on to develop the Cedar Springs Community. It was a community of simple log cabins, where city dwellers could escape to nature.
The Cedar Springs website includes W.D. Flatt’s book called The Trail of Love. It is an engaging tale of the family history in lumber, and W.D.’s passion for breeding award winning shorthorn cattle.
But many people with knowledge of Hamilton history will still think of 254 Bay Street South, as the McNichol house, according to Beverly Bronte-Tinkew.
“That is the more recent memory, the current history for most people.”
Dr. William James McNichol, a Hamilton coroner married Nellie Flatt (daughter of John Ira) in a grand ceremony at 254 Bay Street South in 1898. They would reside there for 42 years, where according to historical archives McNichol would use the coach house as a surgery.
Reflecting back on her 16 years in the house Bronte-Tinkew says the “constant exploration of the rooms, the discoveries of embellishments” continues to engage the imagination.
She discovered the house when driving by with a friend. “I just feel like that’s your house,” the friend said. And so it was.
She and her husband, Michael Beerman cared for the house, improved it, arranged it so that it was perfect as a base for Bronte-Tinkew’s practice as a speech pathologist. But when her husband died suddenly this year, and Covid altered the way she could see clients, she decided it was time to sell.
Her greatest hope is that a family will move in, love and cherish the house and embrace its history.
Thousands of people have passed by the imposing house on the corner of Bay and Charlton. They will have marvelled at the turret, the wrap around veranda, the leaded glass windows, but beyond the embellishments is the equally important thread of Hamilton history.
“I can’t picture living anywhere else,” Bronte-Tinkew says with regret.
“I just hope the house carries on as a place of love and learning.”