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A 19th century house has priceless memories preserved behind its walls

George and Estelle Dalton, from left, purchased the former farmhouse from Mary and John Heckbert.
George and Estelle Dalton, from left, purchased the former farmhouse from Mary and John Heckbert. - Desiree Anstey

George Dalton and Estelle opened the “latch string” of their newly renovated historic home in Victoria

VICTORIA-BY-THE-SEA, P.E.I. - Music and laughter once ringed through the halls of a 19th century farmhouse that overlooked the red sands and warm waters of Victoria beach before it fell silent. But thanks to historian George Dalton and his wife Estelle, life will once again be breathed into this old house.

John and Mary Heckbert remember the piano-playing days of her mother, Allison.
John and Mary Heckbert remember the piano-playing days of her mother, Allison.

“There’s no doubt that homes like this are under demolition threat, and we gladly rescued this house because we know it was such an integral part of this community with the Holstein cattle. It’s a big part of the Island’s history,” noted George.

Dalton and Estelle opened the “latch string” of the former farmhouse, located on Beach Light Road just outside of Victoria, to the public recently for a viewing after more than a year of renovation.

“Long before locks and bolts were known in Canada, First Nations used drop bars with a buckskin string attached. The string was put out through a small hole in the door if they wanted company, and if the string was not out you were not wanted,” Dalton explained the concept behind the open house event.

The historic property was built in the mid-1800s by the shore and hauled up to its present location by horses. It’s comprised of two homes joined together. Inside it’s been carefully renovated to preserve and restore its period charm and detail, such as plasterwork and original wooden floors.

The original bathtub has been preserved in the home.
The original bathtub has been preserved in the home.

“My grandfather lived here all his life and was born in that room,” motioned Mary (nee ‘Lea’) Heckbert to a small room currently used as office space. “He was a farmer of oats, barely and then purebred milking Holstein cows. My father was raised on this farm and then he took over from my grandfather.

“Growing up as a child here was amazing because we had such freedom. We skated down in the pond, we ran everywhere, and played outside all the time by the beach, there was just so much to do. I had a wonderful childhood at this place,” she recalled, while admiring each room.

William Wright was the original owner of the property, but passed away on a ship to Boston, U.S. in 1862. He was married to Hannah Lowther, who then remarried John Lea – the first Lea to live in this house from 1866.

Five generations of one family moved through the walls of this home, until the last line of children left for school and then the seven-bedroom home fell silent.

Three years ago, Heckbert sold the house to the Daltons to preserve the historical quality.

“The vision is for our children to have a place because they feel so strongly about the Island and they never want to live anywhere else, so for us this is for them,” said George. “We also enjoy filling the house up with friends."

He continued, “I also don’t tell a lot of people this, but I collect pictures from the neighbourhood from friends that have passed. The house is filled with these pictures that gives it a presence of friends and it’s kind of an ongoing thing that brings it to life."  

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