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Auchmar : Prominence and History on the Mountain

By Daniel Cumerlato

Auchmar Mansion

The gothic house of five gables was built in 1854 by a man known all over the city as a great mind for business and the future. Some argue he was the 'Sir Allan MacNab of Hamilton Mountain', and that this man’s beloved Auchmar Mansion stood as Dundurn Castle. But the Honourable Isaac Buchanan wouldn’t have wanted that comparison. To be honest, he would have loathed it.

The mansion sits at the busy corner of Fennell and West 5th still to this day as a reminder to the students of Mohawk and the disturbed of West 5th psychiatric, that once all that stood here was nothing but a man’s dream.

The Honourable Isaac Buchanan was a person of many positions. He was a merchant in Hamilton and Toronto, a civic leader and legendary public figure credited with many “firsts” and a member of parliament from 1857 to 1863. He was also the first president of the Hamilton’s Board of Trade which begin the city’s transformation into manufacturing (step one of the Steel City).

During his minute free time, in 1862 he helped establish the 13th Battalion Volunteer Military Infantry (later to become the well-known Royal Hamilton Light Infantry). Not surprising a man like this would need a “castle” like Auchmar to call home and amaze visitors.

The name Auchmar was taken from Isaac’s family home in native Scotland. Not uncommon at the time for immigrants to bring a bit of home with them to Canada. The vast lands around the mansion were named Claremont (or Clairmont), meaning “clear mountain” in French. This name remain today with the Claremont access roads stretching from the foot of Upper James (once part of Isaac’s land) down to Victoria and Charlton. On a side-note, the Café Palazzo building just North of Fennell was originally one of the buildings of the Auchmar estate.

Auchmar Facade
Facade
Auchmar's Original Carriage Laneway
Original Carriage Laneway
The Grounds of Auchmar
The Grounds

The Buchanan family held the deed to Auchmar during which time much of the legend was created. Isaac, being an important political figure, would have many famous friends over to discuss policy or for a drink within the mansion’s splendor. Such notables included Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Allan MacNab, and the Prince of Wales. Rumor has it that even the King himself, Elvis Presley, has walked through the house.

Not bad for what was going to be the Buchanan’s summer cottage. Hamilton can boast about once having the grandest cottage in Canada. The Buchanan’s winter home was a more modest structure in downtown, near today’s Canon Street. Isaac loved Auchmar so much that he decided his family would brave the treacherous Hamilton Mountain winters to stay within its walls.

The Buchanan’s were forced to move when Isaac became ill. Their new home was at 95 James Street South in the core (a location that will be soon featured on Haunted Hamilton’s Dark Past walk – Coming this Spring!).

Isaac died at 95 James on October 1st, 1883 at the age 74, while his beloved home stood empty and dark upon the Mountain’s brow. The darkness mourned the passing of its creator, welcoming a new part of the energy to fill the gothic hallways for many years to come.

After the Buchanans

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After Isaac’s death in 1883, the house was sold to a British military man named Captain Trigg. The two notable changes that occurred during the Captain’s time were the converting of Isaac’s grand ballroom into a preaching hall for the very religious Captain. He used it for his congregation every Sunday at the mansion. The second was the invited visit of local Hamilton author Mrs. (Alma) Dick-Lauder.

For those who have attended a Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walk of the Hermitage Ruins in Ancaster, you would recognize this name. Alma Dick-Lauder was the youngest daughter of George Leith, the builder and first owner of the mansion which stands in ruins in Dundas Valley. She was the last owner, and it was at her party that caused the second (and final) fire that claimed the house.

Even after the Hermitage became ruins, Alma refused to leave her family’s land. She put up a tent in the front yard and lived there with her crippled dog. The people of Ancaster stepped up to help her one day when they gathered and built her a comfortable wooden house within the walls of her former estate. Alma lived out her days in that house, dying there in 1942.

Back in 1897 a book called Wentworth Landmarks, for which Alma was the main contributor, was published by the Hamilton Spectator press. Her visit and description of Auchmar (“the Buchanan’s home”) from the time of Captain Trigg is a rare look back into history, and the proud home that once stood:

“The old family home of the Buchanan’s is one of these set in the midst of a grand old grove of trees and looking quaint and beautiful as one approaches it. It cannot be called the house of seven gables, but it nearly approaches it, there being five along its front…

“The whole place was vacant for several years after the Buchanan family moved into the city, and then a cultured English gentleman named Capt. Trigg became its owner. He has had repairs made, and while he remains there it is sure that the olden time beauty of the place will remain…

“The hall is cathedral-like because its ceiling is Gothic. Nor is it gloomy, as one might imagine. The effect is not gloom; it is something different-a dim, religious light.”

~ Mrs. Dick-Lauder, from Wentworth Landmarks

James Buchanan, son of Isaac, returned in 1900 with a great offer for the Captain. This secured Auchmar to the Buchanan’s once more. James and family would remain in the home for 26 years, when A.V. Young (part of the well known Young family in Hamilton) made Auchmar his home.

Auchmar's Main Hallway
Main Hallway
Auchmar's Main Staircase
Main stairway
Washroom on Second Floor
Second Floor Washroom

A home it would remain until 1943. World War II was raging in Europe and many hospitals were needed for our returning heroes. Auchmar’s long halls and many rooms made it a perfect hospital. A.V. rented the mansion out to the Royal Canadian Air Force as a rehabilitation centre. It was a quick occupation, when only two years later in 1945, the Hungarian Sisters of Social Service bought the mansion for $32,500. The mansion and grounds were converted to a religious retreat called the Holy Spirit Centre. The sisters occupied Auchmar longer than any other resident, not moving out until the 1990's. It was then that Auchmar became abandoned for the second time.

Today Auchmar stands quiet and alone amongst a sea of students, asylum patients and motorists at the busy intersection of Fennell and West 5th. There it sits, hidden behind overgrown trees, not being recognized as the great historic landmark it is. How long can this house hold out? Will it still be there for future generations, or will it become another black and white photograph shown to eyes of disbelief?

The city feels a decision should come quick. There is the problem of a sinking foundation on the west side, and also the constant worry that the house will continue to crumble until the walls collapse in on it.

Continued on Page 2...

NOTE: All photos were taken by Stephanie Cumerlato
and are Copyright of Haunted Hamilton.

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HAUNTED
HAMILTON

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"The Ghosts of Auchmar Mansion"
by Daniel Cumerlato

Click to read!

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These photos were taken during the A.V. Young residence at Auchmar from 1926-1943


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