Mayor’s stately Victorian home getting a second look

The Gurd Mansion was built at the corner of Christina Street and London Road in 1874. Photo courtesy, John Rochon Collection

Tara Jeffrey

Bill Heartwell is hoping a calendar dedicated to his childhood home will strike a chord with history-loving Sarnians.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” the Toronto-based architect said of the 2022 calendar, “Recollections of the Gurd Mansion,” dedicated to a long-gone home that was once the largest in Sarnia.

“My grandfather bought the house during the (Second World) War, and that is where I spent my childhood,” he said.

“There weren’t that many places to live and everybody was struggling, so he turned it into apartments … I spent my first 13 Christmas’s there.”

Known as Fairholme, the 32-room, three-story mansion graced the southwest corner of Christina Street and London Road from 1874 to 1964.

Heartwell has spent six years writing a book about the historic site and launched the calendar to help offset pre-publication costs.

Fairholme was built by prominent attorney and one-time Sarnia mayor Robert Sinclair Gurd, who sold it to L. Fraser Heartwell in 1944.

“I picked 14 photos to show the 90-year-history of the home. There are some very early photographs, a few of the original architecture drawings, and family photos — that most people have never seen.”

Heartwell said his research has revealed some incredible stories about the families and their connections — from Sarnia’s Carnegie Library and the Group of Seven painters to famous guests like U.S. poet Walt Whitman.

“I wanted to have a better understanding of the neighbourhood I grew up in and exactly who were the Gurds, the things that they were involved in,” said Heartwell. “I just couldn’t believe it – it just cascaded and exploded in all directions.”

Copies of the calendar are available for purchase at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery in Sarnia, the Lambton County Archives in Wyoming, and the Lambton Heritage Museum in Grand Bend.

“It was definitely a very stately, unique home,” said Nicole Aszalos, archivist and supervisor of Lambton County Archives.

“I think that’s why people were so enamoured with it. It was absolutely beautiful.”

Mary (Maizie) Gurd resided there until her death in the 1950s.

The property was sold to Huron and Eric Canada Trust in 1964 with plans to raze the home and erect Sarnia’s first drive-through bank.

Everything that was salvageable was put up for sale, with the result that many pieces from the old home survive today.

“For me, that’s also kind of part of what’s interesting about it — there’s so much information about this home but it no longer exists,” said Aszalos.

“It should show the importance of it.”