Museum Site Description & Architectural Detail

The architecture of this general store is a strong example of the Canadiana style that emerged in the early 1800s. Note the round-headed south-facing front windows that frame the narrow double doors. The full width decorative front porch added c.1885 acted as both a connection to the cedar plank sidewalk of Main Street and as a display area for products during business hours in the town centre. The porch was a popular place for people to sit and visit.

To read our interview with the architect,
J. Denis Seguin
click here

History of the Building: Local Red Brick
Duncan MacDonnell, one of a handful of early Vankleek Hill settlers, constructed this timber frame building as a store in 1834. He was bankrupt in 1836 before the store opened. The building changed hands and was finally used as a residence from 1847 to 1858.

This building is historically known as the first frame building in Vankleek Hill to be covered, 1835, in local red brick. The building is flanked to the west by an 1858 Georgian style house with its balanced façade. The house and the store building were purchased in 1863 by Malcolm McCuaig.

The history of McCuaig, Cheney & Co. then began. McCuaig built the three-storey warehouse standing to the east for farm equipment, grain sales, and a show-room for large household items. McCuaig and his partner Arthur Cheney conducted a successful general store business into the 20th century.

A new country, Canada, asserts itself
The Canadiana style represented by this c.1834 building was a progression away from replicating British and American building designs. The building style is a clear sign of a new country asserting its own identity.

Vankleek Hill: A Red Brick Town and Gingerbread Capital of Ontario
A fire in 1855 destroyed important timber and log build-ings in Vankleek Hill, and boosted production at local brickyards. The clay deposit here produced our distinctive red-coloured soft brick. Both steady demand and production declined in the 1920s.

The family names connected to brickmaking include Johnson, Potter, Guindon (aka Yandow), Reasbeck and Steele. Visitors find the Vankleek Hill red brick warm and inviting.

In 1883, the Vankleek Hill Manufacturing Company advertised a selection of sash, doors, blinds, mouldings and house finishings, as well as specialty wood-turning and scroll work. The gingerbread, or wood scroll work, that enhances our home exteriors and interiors was bought at local sawmills, or ordered through catalogues.

The end of the gingerbread craze came with two events: the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, followed by WW I when housing design simplified.

We celebrate Vankleek Hill’s unique 19th century crafts-manship as the Gingerbread Capital of Ontario.

Original Construction of Building
Building was constructed to high standards for 1834, and withstood decades of neglect.
Anecdotally, first red brick building in village, 1835.
Red Pine plank outer walls, tongue & groove:
individual planks up to 22" wide x 17’-0" long
Stud framing (balloon frame) 4" x 8"
"A" truss roof
Original clapboard wood siding with reveal detail found in many of the original face boards.
Wallpaper directly on plank walls; no insulation or plaster.


  • dormer window on west side removed when Georgian style house was built next door in 1858.
  • rear side-door to driveway reworked as window.
  • original interior staircase was relocated from central north end of ground floor to west wall.
  • building never had running water.
  • original blue paint on boarded-up east dormer window.

Local interviews revealed that the museum building served on different occasions and for different owners as: general store, home, general store, millinery shop, grocery store, feed store, fruit storage, veterinarian home and office, farmers’ co-op store. No matter the business, the front porch was often used by Vankleek Hill shoppers as a spot to sit and socialize.

Restoration Challenges
Historical Society used time & techniques vs. money to solve every problem at each project stage. After a study of the state of the derelict 1834 building, there was never any question about demolition. The original contruction techniques demanded respect.

Challenge: Understand level of structural decay.
Challenge: Understand level of restoration needed to maximize the authenticity of the restoration. Approach project with limited funding but with high number of volunteer hours and re-use of materials. Invest in tin roof for 50+ years of life. Cost estimate of replacement–$15,000. We did the roofing job for $7,500 by using volunteers over a two-year period.

East brick wall damaged by water seepage. Bricks removed, cleaned, turned and re-used. Second-hand bricks also used.

Use of Eastern Ontario pine & specialty woodworkers.
Negotiated to have underground hydro & gas utilities put on driveway side of building, and not on the front façade to avoid impeding the replication of the porch. Conceal modern elements such as air exchange pipes as stove pipes.

Raised ground floor back to its level state from a 9" sag at the centre. Jacks were placed under supporting posts in the basement and slowly cranked over a two year period. All toe connections required support, and concrete pads were added in the basement to give solid, long lasting life.

Original blue paint digitally matched for exterior use.