Lawnview was the home of Col. J.J. Grafton, president of the family-owned dry goods company from 1909 until his death in 1939.
The property was located at 19 Melville Street directly east of Knox Presbyterian Church. It extended north from Melville to Victoria Street, and included a coach house.
The house, built circa 1893, was of the Queen Anne style whose features include conical towers, steep roofs, leaded and stained glass , and decorated porches. The 1896 edition of “Picturesque Dundas” contains a photograph of the home. It was demolished in 1961 to make way for a major addition to the church, whose congregation had by that time bought the property. Only the coach house remains.
J.J. Grafton was active in community affairs, including being a town councillor, chair of the library board, and served as a member of St. Pauls’ Church. He was also actively involved in the Hamilton Health Association, and helped set up the Grafton Infirmary on the sanitorium grounds.
Also prominent among his many activities was his leadership of the 77th Wentworth Regiment.
Given his public profile, he hosted dignitaries at his Dundas home. Among his guests there were Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada during World War I. He is in a photograph taken outside the house alongside Grafton, Gordon Wilson, local M.P., and Henry Bertram. That photo appears in the book “The Wheels of Progress”.
There are indications that during or after the war, the home may have been used to house female workers of Canadian Cotton Company, due to housing shortages, but there is no concrete record of this available to date.
From 1949 to 1961, the house was owned by McMaster University and served as a residence for female first year students. It was named Eleanor MacKay House, to honour the wife of a university chancellor.
Joann MacLachlan shares these memories of her time living in this wonderful home.
March 26, 2020
Sitting for hours, cooped up by COVID19, I look at the web site for the Dundas Museum and Archives and ﬁnd a photo of me. I’m standing on the steps of Eleanor McKay House. It must be the fall of 1953 and that means I am 16 and looking – oh so – sophisticated. I have no idea who took the photo or how I would have come by a copy of it in those pre-digital days.
McKay House was home to Frosh only. There were, perhaps, 14 of us as well as a don and a nurse. Their names escape me. They were, to our youthful, narcissistic selves not worthy of attention perhaps.
We were driven back and forth to the campus in one of the University’s grey vans which had been ﬁtted with benches on both sides. The van went in to the university in time for the 8:30 class in the morning and came back, with our dinner stowed under the benches, at 5:30. If we wanted to go to the campus at other times we had to walk, or hitchhike. The bus service to Dundas at that time was almost as sparse as the University’s provision for us. Kurt Schipper was the driver and there was a kindly housekeeper who served breakfast and dinner as well as cleaning, before she headed home. The van carried, in addition to our hot dinner, a box of breakfast food. There was bread and butter, milk, eggs, jam and fruit. There may have been dry cereal, but I have no recollection. The wonderful thing was that we were supplied with enough eggs and bread that we could cook midnight fried egg sandwiches and still have food left for breakfast. And we were allowed the run of the kitchen so long as we cleaned up.
I have no recollection of my ﬁrst moment there. I must have been impressed by the wonderful old house but possibly I was so shell shocked by the experience of being away from my family, who were in Winnipeg, and meeting all the new people and being unsure of the lectures and assignments to come that I recall none of it.
We entered by the front door, usually, though the van dropped us at the side. The centre hall had a sitting room on each side. The room on the west had a piano and we sang popular songs or played complicated versions of chopsticks. The one on the east had the tower room as well as the main space. This was all the privacy we were allowed if we were entertaining friends. Guests, male and female, were allowed only in these front rooms.
The don’s room was on the ﬁrst ﬂoor as were the large dining room, at which we all had dinner together. Beyond that was the kitchen.
A grand staircase rose up in the front hall and there were back stairs leading to the kitchen. The back stairs were handy for the midnight raids on the pantry; they kept us at a distance from the don’s room. The second ﬂoor bathroom was notable for a huge tub. One could have learned to swim in it. My room adjoined the tower and four of us occupied the room without much crowding. Our desks, should we ever have had occasion to use them, were in the tower space. I ground my teeth, one girl snored loudly and another talked in her sleep; the room was noisiest in the middle of the night. We did not become friends.
My friend Patsy Robinson lived next door and across behind the Presbyterian church, in Walnut Cottage. I did not attend the Presbyterian church more than once or twice, despite its convenience. I tried the Baptist church but the choir was so discordant I dd not return. The United church suited me and I became, for a while, a Sunday School teacher. They were desperate.
In the photo I am dressed up; so it is likely a Sunday after church. I am wearing, a rather smart dress, grey challis, which I had sewn myself from a Vogue pattern. I made all my own clothes at that time, though I have no memory of owning a sewing machine until 1957 when I was given one as a wedding present. I had also cut my own hair.
The bare trees and the leaves on the ground suggest an autumn day, but not our ﬁrst day. We’d dressed up on our ﬁrst afternoon but would not have had the luxury of solitary photo taking. As Frosh in Residence we were asked to turn up for a tea at Wallingford Hall, the main women’s residence, all dressed in our best, dresses, stockings, heels, hats, the whole shebang. After the civilized hour over tea cups we emerged to ﬁnd the Sophomores ready to take us over. They were more intimidating than dangerous, at least until the next day when we were in more casual and durable clothes…not jeans I’d point out.