In This House: Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO)

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with one of the volunteers of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, London (ACO London), Dorothy Palmer and her husband Jack in their lovely 1886 year old home on Bruce Street. They are such a wonderful couple full of enthusiasm for history and the preservation of years goes by. Originally from the “suburbs” of the Hunt Club area of London, they decided to downsize to Old South. When they first saw the home it had already been sold. One year later it came on the market again and they placed an offer, but another offer was accepted. Two weeks later, they received a call from the agent letting them know the deal had fallen through and would they like to consider placing another offer. “Bruce Street finally became our home in 2008 and we have never looked back. We just love the house, it feels expansive and has such a cozy feel to it”, explained the Palmers. With their love of history, Dorothy decided to volunteer for ACO London four years ago. Two years later the Historical House Sign program started, rooted out of ACO Stratford’s programme plus the signs starting to pop up in Old East Village.

You may have occasionally noticed house signs that adorn properties (not “for sale” signs) but the signs you may see above doorways or attached to the front of the home that provide a glimpse of history of who lived there in the past and the year the house was built. These signs display titles such as: carpenter, labourer, farmer, justice of the peace, or even a “traveller” as a few examples of the discoveries. Some of this history has been recreated by Dorothy and a few other volunteers who pour hours into the history books at the London Room and the stacks in the archives at the University to piece history together.

The ACO website states it takes between 20 to 50 hours of work! Certainly a labour of love on the part of the volunteers! “We’ve done over 150 signs and, at this present moment, we have 20+ people on a waiting list. the program has really taken off. We are really seeing a pattern of the under 40 crowd who have moved into the area and want to find out more about their home and the area.” explained Dorothy.

The Historical House Sign package includes a sign featuring the name of the original owner and their occupation as well as the year of construction, and a print monograph including history of the home and its first owners that is uncovered by our research team. All for $75.00.

The Palmers, naturally have their own house sign of their 1886 home that has had about 14 families living there over the course of its 133 years of history. Their property was severed from the original Askin estate. The original owners, the Thorburns, and are listed as being a “pump maker”. They had 2 daughters. James Thorburn died of typhoid in the late 1890’s and Mrs. Thorburn died in 1910. The Old South and Black Friars areas are very challenging to find history but are so very interesting. “The stories about some homes we research can be heart warming and heartbreaking”, stated Dorothy.

To find out more about the ACO – London please visit their website.


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