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Long and intriguing story of the historic Drew House

A little bit of the past has been uncovered by Elysia DeLaurentis’s new book about the historical Drew House in Elora.

The Drew House has become known for its unique architectural features and household charm that draw guests in. It has been passed down through multiple families since the first owner, 19-century lawyer and judge George Alexander Drew, built the stone edifice for his family. The new book brings the past to present, telling not just the story of the grand house but of the people who called it home.

“The information we had was kind of passed down owner to owner – you don’t know if it’s urban legend, if you’re embellishing,” said Kathleen Stanley, one of the current owners of the Drew House. “Even if people aren’t familiar with the Drew House per se, it’s a story about Elora, about its beginnings, about the people who lived here.

The first structure of the Drew House, located on East Mill Street, was built in 1857 and since then has been massively expanded.

“It’s huge if you see it now. It started out as one-and-a-half storey but now it’s a full two storeys. Since the 1870s, it’s been this full two-storey home,” said Elysia DeLaurentis, principal researcher at Oakenwood Research Service and author of the new book.

“There haven’t been a lot of owners. And the house has not changed structurally in all that time,” added Stanley.

Stanley and her husband Roger Dufau are the current innkeepers of the Drew House, and since 1999 have been operating it mainly as a bed and breakfast for travellers to Elora. Perched near the river, the Drew House is an impressive stone-built home with beautiful grounds as well as a coach house.

The newly released book, entitled A Grand and Storied Home, the Drew House of Elora, Ontario, was released at the end of January. It’s available for purchase at the Drew House as well as local bookstores such as Living Waters in Elmira.

“It talks about the lives, the deaths, the births, the weddings, all the pictures of people getting married here,” said Stanley.

“There’s scandal in there too. There’s war, there’s pets, there’s arson. Someone tried to burn the house down in 1865 – it says a lot about George Drew. George Drew, I think was a divisive figure in Elora,” added DeLaurentis.

The book details the history of the Drew family, starting with lawyer and judge George Alexander Drew to when his wife sold the home in 1901 to John McGowan, a fellow career politician as well as an MPP at the time for Wellington West. George Drew’s grandson, also named George Drew, was a prominent figure in Canadian history known for being the 14th premier of Ontario from 1943 to 1948.

“I spoke with a local resident who remembered the premier in the late-’60s when he came to Elora for an event he was attending. He wanted to go back to the Drew House, which was his grandmother’s home, just to see it. This man arranged to take him to the Drew House and the owner at the time took them in… he was pleased to see his initials were still scratched into the glass,” said DeLaurentis.

“The other day we found the initials G.D. scratched into the glass panel,” noted Stanley.

There are many historical photos of the Drew House found amongst the pages of the new book that help provide a look into the people who once lived there and what their lives were like through that time period. The front cover of the book features the present day Drew House, photographed by Greg Crawford last October. The back cover features a photograph from 1887 that looks North across the Grand River towards the Drew House.

The book also features remnants from old newspapers that helped DeLaurentis put together a bigger picture of the families, the house, and the history behind it. It helped provide her with more in-depth knowledge as the Drew family were seen as prominent figures around 1859 and years later.

A clipping from the Elora Observer from Nov. 13, 1863, is quoted on page 18.

“Mr. George A. Drew has erected a very extensive stone stable and coach house, which is finished off in the best style.”

There are also photos that show the interior details and embellishments taken by a Record reporter, Ray Hebert, from some 50 years ago that came to document the house while Ross and Linda Dodington were hosting a tour. The Dodington’s were also the ones to the name the stone build ‘the Drew House’ after learning about their new home’s history in Elora.

“That’s what I found so rewarding was being able to get to the bottom of those mysteries,” noted DeLaurentis.

The history covers some 150 years, telling tales of local families, some with relatives still living around here today.

“The story of the house and its people is eminently readable,” said Wellington County Historical Society board member Ian Easterbrook in a release for the novel. “It captivates and I had trouble putting it down.”

In between the chapters are page length photographs of the stone on the side of the Drew House, helping to add the Drew House charm into the book.

“We’ve always lived on the property and loved it,” said Stanley. “So many people drive past this every single day, twice a day and they don’t know exactly what it is.”

Along with Living Waters in Elmira, books can be purchased in Elora at the Magic Pebble Bookstore or the Bookery in Fergus. More information can be found online.

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