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Hamilton Manor: New Carlisle Couple Brings Palladian Mansion Back to Life

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ham.a.sm__0.JPG--August 25, 2010

One of the finest mid-nineteenth century homes on the Gaspé Coast, and the only surviving example of Palladian architecture in the region, is the great house known as Hamilton Manor. The mansion, which is thoroughly and completely original, right down to its furnishings, its enormous windows, and its crumbling exterior walls, was passed down through several generations of the same family (the Hamiltons) over a period of more than a century. It subsequently became a hotel, a summer residence, and finally a kind of private museum. For several decades, the house suffered from severe neglect. Not surprisingly, decay began to set in.

Eventually the house was discovered by its current owners, Nicole Duguay and Marc-André Blais, who fell in love with it. The couple purchased the dilapidated mansion in 2004, and so began their adventure of restoration -- and constant toil. "Yes, it has been a labour of love, and years of very hard work," they told Gaspesian Heritage when we visited the house recently. "And there is still so much to do -- the walls, the windows, the roof..."

Built in the Palladian style in 1852, Hamilton Manor overlooks Gerard D. Levesque Boulevard in New Carlisle, on the Baie-des-Chaleurs. It was built by John Robinson Hamilton. Hamilton was a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada. He represented Bonaventure County from 1832-1834 and later served in the Parliament of the United Province of Canada from 1841 to 1844. A lawyer by profession, he was born in Quebec City in 1808 and moved to New Carlisle in 1830.

larger_ham.d.sm_.JPGAmong the house's many original features are its splendid large windows (there are nine of them on the main facade alone), its wide softwood floors, its four chimneys and eight fireplaces, its elegant central staircase, its bread oven, and its lovely bedrooms and sitting rooms, all decorated with beds, dressers and other fine antiques that were purchased intact with the house.

There is much more. This house is absolutely authentic, and there is nothing fake or imitation about it or the decor. Even the original wrought iron lock and key (which are huge) still fasten and unfasten the massive front door.

In one way, staying in this house is a bit like staying in a museum. One feels like one has stepped into another time and place. But yet, it doesn't quite feel like a museum, because museums are always a bit sterile. At Hamilton Manor you are expected and allowed to use the furnishings. This is a living house, slowly being brought back from the brink by its owners. And nothing here is pretentious, although the good taste (and the affluence) of the Hamilton family has been carried over and adopted by the current owners.

"At one point," Blais told us, "one expert said that the house was beyond salvage." Another one, Blais said, "claimed it would cost half a million dollars to redo the outside of the building." Fortunately for the couple (and the house), they are able to do much of the work themselves. The external walls need work and Blais says he can do it himself for about $25,000.

ham.g.sm__0.JPGThe couple slaved away for several years before they could even begin to think of opening the house as a bed and breakfast, which they intended to do when they bought the house, and which they finally did two years ago. Along the way, they found that structural alterations on the interior were difficult because, for one thing, the interior dividing walls were made of solid stone and brick. "Adding bathrooms, for example, was nearly impossible," Blais said. "Cutting through rock to change the inside layout is extremely difficult."

In some ways, one suspects, the fact that the old house was neglected for so many years may have contributed to its character being so well preserved. But without a doubt, the mansion (not to mention anyone that can appreciate a "great house," in any sense of that term) is fortunate that someone has discovered it who can bring it back to life -- and do so while respecting its character along the way.

That said, Duguay and Blais are finding the house expensive -- both to maintain and to restore. They would like to have some help, and are trying to get the province involved. They -- and the house -- deserve it. And to do nothing and risk letting the house fall back into decline would be a crime. But the owners are courageous, and are not ready to give up.

Along with a bed and breakfast, with five of the old bedrooms in use, the couple have opened a tea room, an Internet café, a small theatre (where they show repertory movies and live shows), a conference room, and an art gallery. They also give guided tours of the house.

For more information on Hamilton Manor, call toll free 1 (866) 542-6498, or visit