Van Horne’s Summer Home


W. A. Craick May 1 1912

Van Horne’s Summer Home


W. A. Craick May 1 1912

Van Horne’s Summer Home

AN “ISLAND OF DELIGHT” AT ST. ANDREW’S-BY-THE-SEA A Sketch of “Covenhoven,” the Retreat of a Great Railway Magnate

W. A. Craick

With the advent of spring, thousands of Canadians will turn their thoughts to summer vacations. All will be engrossed in a study of tourist guides and railway tables in order that a desirable location may be secured for the holiday outing, for so much depends on the place and its surroundings. Under these circumstances the time is not inopportune for an article descriptive of one of Canada’s most picturesque summer homes, that of Sir William’ Van Horne, who spends a portion of each year at the “Island of Delight which is pictured in this racy sketch.

IN contemplating the beautiful island at St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea, on which that modern magician of pen and paint brush, Sir William Van Horne, lives for a great part of each year, one might almost be persuaded to believe in fairies. A magic isle it truly is. Over a large part of its seven hundred acres Sir

William has waved the wand of a Croesus and a wilderness has been transformed into a garden of the gods. Stately driveways have been hewn through the forest, velvet lawns have displaced thick underbrush, a wealth of flowers and shrubs flourish where once was naught but scrub and rock, white-belted Dutch cattle browse on sunny

pasture land not long since the resort of wild animals; artistic barns rise higher than the trees that once grew on the site of the barnyard, and a veritable palace of a summer home crowns the southern slope of the island.

All these wonderful changes have been wrought within the span of a few years. The tireless mind of the great railroadbuilder has been constantly at work devising schemes for the beautification of his sea-girt home. Like a child playing on the sands, he has let his own sweet will have full sway and has dug and builded, smoothed and ornamented his little slice of the earth’s surface to his heart’s content. It is as if the great man, having achieved his life’s work, had gone back again to the playtime of youth and in his years of maturity was enjoying himself with the toys of a giant.

St. Andrew’s is par excellence the summer home of Montreal’s four hundred and in choosing it as his place of retirement when the heat waves sweep down from Mount Royal and the pavements of Sherbrooke Street sizzle in the dog days, Sir William had in mind the pleasant company of his confreres of the C.P.R. board. With through sleepers running nightly from the Windsor Station in Montreal to

the neat little terminal depot by the ocean shore at St. Andrew’s, and with the best of hotel accommodation, the sleepy little old seaport on Passamaquoddy Bay, just across from the coast of Maine, has awakened of recent years and found itself transformed into the gayest of gay watering places. Perched above its tree-lined streets on a narrow plateau stands the palatial Algonquin Hotel, on the broad verandahs of which Montreal (and incidentally various other society both Canadian and American) takes its ease, when the air grows warm at midday. Near at hand are some fine summer homes, conspicuous among them, Tipperary Castle, stronghold of Sir Thomas Shaughnessy. And then away around the four quarters of the compass stretches a panorama of sea and land, island and mountain, wood and field, that defies the pen of a mere prose writer to describe.

Viewed from the high ground on which stands the big summer hotel Minister’s Island, home of Sir William Van Horne, appears to be a portion of the mainland. The house, Covenhoven, is in full view across a half-mile stretch of water. But as one approaches the shore, the island disengages itself from the peninsula on which the town of St, Andrew’s stands and ap-

pears what is really is, a sea-bound piece of land.

It has this peculiarity, however. At a low tide a bar, connecting island and mainland, is uncovered, and like the children of Israel at the River Jordan, one can walk across dryshod. For seven hours out of twelve, the bar is above water; then the tide sweeps in from the ocean and the passage that way is cut off. Unless the invader has a boat, Sir William is safe from attack for at least five hours.

From the bar, which joins the island about midway its length to the big house at the southern extremity, a driveway about a mile in length extends. Passing through a rustic gateway, with the name Covenhoven inscribed above, it proceeds between well-trimmed hedges and with a gradual ascent about halfway to the house. Then turning, it becomes an avenue running between arching trees, to its immediate neighborhood.

A pedestrian, if he chooses, can take advantage of an alternative route. He can follow a path which carries him along the top of the cliff—not a rough, uncared-for path, but a walk on which much labor has been expended, bordered on one side by a rock wall over which vines trail and planted with shrubs and flowers, with here and there a rustic seat or a small lily pond. The path, from which fine views are to be had,

is carried to the extreme point of the island, on which stands a small Cuban hut looking out over the bay and islands.

Covenhoven House is set some distance back from the point of land and is sheltered to the north and east by a grove of trees, that merge into the original forest, South and west extend the lawns and flower-beds. The extent and beauty of these are difficult to describe. They remind one of the beautiful grounds of an English country estate. Flowers in profusion are massed in 'beds that circle the driveways and walks, while everywhere the trim green grass fills in the gaps. Viewed from the wide verandahs of the house, the scene is one to charm the eye and refresh the senses.

Bordering the lawn to the north come the kitchen gardens and hothouses. These are of considerable size. As Sir William is constantly entertaining large house parties and besides has a staff of servants, gardeners and workpeople that would do credit* to a Duke, there is need for a large supply of vegetables and fruit. For this reason the Covenhoven gardens are surprisingly large. And the hothouses are correspondingly big, providing fruit in season and out of season. Grapes and peaches are the principal growth and, when the trees and vines

are producing, filie scene within the hothouses is one to make even a hermit’s mouth water.

. Sir William’s house itself is of the bungalow type and covers much ground. It has accommodation for many guests. Within, its furnishings are as fine as those of the most princely of city mansions. In fact, if one were set down in the Covenhoven dining room without being aware of one’s whereabouts, the first thought would be that one was in the midst of some great city. To conceive of such surroundings in a summer residence many miles from any city, would be almost impossible. In the big reception hall and in the dining room as well as in Sir William’s studio-study, are hung many fine paintings, some of which are the. great man’s own work, for the C.P.R. magnate is himself an artist of no mean ability. There is everything provided in the house for comfort and convenience, even to a telegraph instrument, which keeps Sir William in close touch with the outside world.

While the great man’s pastime may be said to be his paint brush, his hobby is farming. On Minister’s Island he has a farm that may well .be considered a model, fpr he has spared no expense in making it modern’in every respect.

The farm proper is separated from the house, and its surrounding grounds by the intersection of a

stretch of land, which still belongs to the Andrew’s family, descendants of the original “minister” to whom the island first belonged and from whom it derived its name. Of the seven hundred acres of land on the island, Sir William owns about six hundred, and he has .over two hundred under cultivation. On this land he raises hay, oats, barley, fodder corn and roots, all of which is, of course, consumed on the island, for the farm is principally a stock farm.

If one were going in for farming or stock-raising as a financial venture, it is hardly likely that Minister’s Island would be selected for the purpose. It is really a poor place for a stock farm. Yet Sir William with indomitable determination has achieved the all but impossible. He has fought with nature and he has won. He has taken unfavorable conditions and has converted them into favorable ones. Only a moneyed man could have done such a thing, it is true, but it is none the less interesting to see it done even by a millionaire.

The man who has played so prominent a part in the history of the C.P.R. knows the importance of understanding details and at the same time of leaving them to others to be carried out. He has put system into his farm management, just as he would into a business concern. While

personally familiar with every detail of farm work and constantly investigating progress, he leaves the administration of the farm largely in the bands of his overseer, a well-trained and capable young farmer, who lives on the island all the year round. This executive officer directs the operations of the twenty-five men who are required to handle the farm work, be it gardening, building stone walls, felling trees, cultivating grain or tending cattle.

The big barns at Covenhoven Farm have a few touches about them to remind one of Sir William’s partiality for the land of his forefathers. They were de• signed by a leading Montreal ¡architect, though it is safe to assume that their ownéÉábad a good deal to say afout their construction himself. The Dutch windmill in one corner of*the’ barnyard, even though its arms are incongrously American in length, adds ma-

terially .to the general effect of the group of buildings. Inside, the general characteristics are spaciousness and cleanliness. Cement floors have been laid wherever practicable, and there are individual watering troughs for the cattle. The piggery has recently been remodelled, and has floors and partitions of cement with iron troughs.

In such aristrocatic surroundings, one naturally expects to find pedigreed cattle, and the Covenhoven

herd ig certainly blueblooded.

About fifty head occupy these fashionable quarters.

There are two kinds, little brown FrenchCanadian cows and Sir William’s own unique favorites, the Dutchbelted, all firstclass cattle.

Records are kept of them all, showing not only their pedigree, but the amount of milk they produce daily. Then in the piggery are to be found an assemblage of distinguished Tamworth hogs, from which excellent hams and bacon may be cured when wanted. Chickens, ducks and turkeys also occupy a corner of the barnyard, and are provided with apartments that are a model of roominess and

c o n venience. All the farm building» are supplied with running water furnished by the windmill and a regular drainage system has been installed. A large boarding house near at hand provides a c c ommodation at a nominal rate for the men employed on the estate. Everything up to date in the way of machinery for expediting the work has been provided, and at present a new dairy building is contemplated, which, When completed, will be the finest thing of its kind in Canada. There is nothing archaic about Sir William’s way of running a farm.