Kagawong’s historic Carter House is taking on a new life

Former Carter House owner Deborah Moore poses with new owner Kelly Thibault and the vintage organ that Ms. Moore left with Ms. Thibault. The organ still plays well and remains quite at home in the Carter House’s new paint scheme. photos by Michael Erskine

KAGAWONG—The stately old building standing on the corner of Highway 540 and Main Street in Kagawong holds an important place in the history of Kagawong and Manitoulin Island nestled within its green cedar shingle-clad sides. In a few short weeks, the building will take on a new life as a new bed and breakfast, appropriately named The Carter House.

Kelly and Jason Thibault of White’s Point have taken on the project of converting the home (and adjacent antique shop) into well-appointed accommodations. Ms. Thibault said that she fell in love with the building the moment she stepped into the yard and the project has become something of a passion. This has come as no surprise to the home’s former owner, Deborah Moore.

“I had quite a number of people come to look at the house before Kelly,” said Ms. Moore. “But the moment I saw her, I realized that she was the one.”

The interior of the home was restored significantly by Ms. Moore when she bought the building in 1997, but much of the layout remained similar to when she took possession of the Carter House and moved in as the first non-members of the Carter family to abide there.

Lumberman James Carter built the house in 1898 and successive generations of Carters kept the building well-maintained. The property was sold to Mr. Carter by Louisa Henry, the widow of William Henry who died during the sinking of the Asia in 1882. One of the Henry children went on to become premier of Ontario.

The Carters operated a thriving timber mill that stood on the west bank of Bridal Veil Falls. Logs hauled by horse-drawn sleighs to Lake Kagawong in the winter were made into booms and hauled to the mill by the steam tug Don-Russell, the only steam-operated vessel to ply the waters of the lake.

Margaret Carter not only bore 10 children, she also took a very active part in her husband James’ many enterprises, as well as operating a boarding house. The
couple is pictured here in 1937, the year before Mr. Carter died.

The Carters also operated a shingle mill whose cedar products were prized in US cities such as Cleveland and Detroit. The Carter shingles were said to outlast those from mills in British Columbia due to their tighter grain and commanded premium prices. The Carter House was built with cedar from the mill. “They still look beautiful today,” said Ms. Moore.

The building went on to house the Carter’s 10 children and was continuously occupied by families with some connection to that family until Ms. Moore purchased the property.

The Carters built a two-storey work camp on the Allen Line near to a gas well which many on Manitoulin may recall burned with an eerie glow on the side of the road up until just a few years ago, when it was capped for safety reasons. The logging camp was the first logging camp in Canada to use natural gas.

Mr. Carter built and maintained wooden stairs down to the river and constructed a bridge across the river. He is credited with clearing land for the park where the ball field and dog park are now. A 20-foot by 30-foot platform raised four feet above the ground was often used for community events such as the United Church Sunday school picnics.

The home’s first major renovations included the addition of electricity, one of the first buildings on the Island so equipped. A number of original period fixtures remain throughout the building but the tube and knob wiring was completely replaced when Ms. Moore renovated. Another major renovation took place when indoor plumbing was added. The former cistern below the building now functions as a furnace room and laundry.

“When we took possession the home was in very poor repair,” recalled Ms. Moore. “The contractor we hired suggested just tearing it down and building fresh. I just didn’t have the heart.”

Ms. Moore converted the Victorian nursery attached to the main bedroom into an en suite bathroom and another small upstairs bedroom was also converted into a bathroom.

Ms. Thibault has spent most of her career as a health professional and took the project on with what some might consider an aggressive timetable. But judging from the progress just two weeks in, she will probably cross the finish line.

No doubt the fact that seven of Ms. Thibault’s friends pitched in to assist with the painting during a loosening of the lockdown restrictions helped, as does the fact that her contractor has temporarily taken up residence during the renovations.

As for her motivation for taken on the project, Ms. Thibault said, “I have been in nursing for a long time and I needed change,” she said. “I drove by and saw the place.”

“I had talked to my husband about selling and we put out a little sign,” recalled Ms. Moore. “I didn’t want a big sign or anything. Just something to see.”

An avalanche of interest soon descended on the couple, but none of the people who came through felt right, she said. “I told myself that I would know when the new owner came in, and I did,” laughed Ms. Moore. “As soon as I got outside and I saw her face I said to Colin ‘you better start packing seriously now, this lady is going to buy this place.’ I get teary every time I start telling the story.”

The stunning views from the Carter House’s vantage point above Bridal Veil Falls are complemented by the interior design work and modern conveniences to be found in the en suite bathroom. The bathroom features a raised floor to accomodate the retrofitted plumbing that was added to the 123-year-old building.

Originally, the building had seven bedrooms in a typical Victorian layout, but in an odd departure from other homes built on the Island during the period, a couple of them had closets. In its new lease on life the Carter House will retain many of the mouldings and wooden frames original to its construction, adding a vintage air to its thoroughly modern accoutrements.

The redone rooms will feature names such as the Bridal Veil, the Rising Mist, Riverside and Stirling, based largely on the views they afford.

The Carter House Bed and Breakfast will feature four bedrooms when it opens for business. “I want to be up and running by mid-May,” she said. She admits it is an ambitious deadline, but she has an ace up her sleeve. “My friends have offered to come back when I need them,” she said.

The property has also long hosted an antiques shop and Ms. Moore has offered to mentor Ms. Thibault on its operation as well.