'Haunted house' for sale

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

The house at Centre and Mississauga Sts. in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been boarded up for nearly 60 years. The mystery of why remains unexplained. Julie Jocsak/QMI Agency Niagara

The house at Centre and Mississauga Sts. in Niagara-on-the-Lake has been boarded up for nearly 60 years. The mystery of why remains unexplained. Julie Jocsak/QMI Agency Niagara

Is it haunted?

If ever there was a house that seemed hospitable to ghosts, 240 Centre St. in Niagara-on-the-Lake would be it, and it’s been the subject of local ghost stories and paranormal websites for year.

An elegant, stately but simple two-storey house of soft pink brick, it’s been abandoned for almost 60 years, boarded up against curiosity seekers and vandals who have nevertheless found their way in.

It was broken into as recently as Halloween, the plywood door covering and lock replaced yet again.

Inside, most of what you see is original, including brick room partitions and wood floors, and other features, such as the original window frames and shutters, are piled up against the walls. There are four fireplaces on the main floor and another four upstairs, some with mantles intact, plus two more in the basement, which was used as a kitchen.

There is no electricity, and shining a flashlight around reveals hunks of ceiling hanging down, missing floorboards and burned interior doors and framework.

A large hole in the roof has left the inside of the house open to the elements for decades, and yet there is no sign of four-legged presence.

When the real estate agent is asked about ghosts, his answer is that he’s never seen an abandoned home before that didn’t have some evidence of animals moving in, yet there are no telltale signs in this building that is so open to the elements.

If there are ghosts, they seem to be friendly, even welcoming - for all the dilapidated condition of the house, it has a positive energy to it, agree the three of us on this particular house tour.

It’s been home to drifters, and a popular place for kids to break into for telling ghost stories and lighting fires with bits of wood they’ve found in the house.

Officially, it’s called the Breakenridge-Ure house. It was the third house built in 1823 by John Breckenridge, a lawyer. There were tales of it being possessed by witches in its early history, and some mention of slaves, who lived in the barn and went back and forth from it to what became the Hawley house next door, being buried under a knoll on the half-acre property.

Local ghost tour guide Bill Hamilton says the tale he tells is of an owner who left in the middle of the night with his family, saying nothing to the neighbors. It was not listed for sale, but was then bought by local Robert Ure. Years later, after telling real estate agents not to bother him, Ure, says Hamilton, was approached in a restaurant by an interested buyer who offered him $1million for the property. The owner told him the house was not for sale and finished the conversation by saying “This house has a life of its own!”

However, a woman who was born in the house in 1954 and lived there in the 50s - her parents sold to the Ures -  said she has many "happy warm feelings from our beautiful family home."

Her parents did a beautiful job of restoring it, she said.

"I do hope someone with the love of restoration buys it and is able to enjoy it as we all did."

Hamilton also tells the story of a couple of young boys who broke into to the house based on local tales of it being haunted by witches. They go up to the front door, where they find a hole big enough to fit through, and as they’re arguing over who is brave enough to enter, they are interrupted by a spark on the second floor that catches the roof on fire and sends them racing home. The next day they return to find the house is as it was before, despite the fire they clearly saw.

There was a fire upstairs in the house - that’s no ghost story, says real estate broker Gary Chahinian - the damage was extensive and is still evident. He was told by the executor of the Ure estate that a vagabond who was living in the house more than 30 years ago was cooking, when he heard someone arriving - he thought the police were coming to arrest him. He ran off, and whatever he was cooking started the fire.

There are several people in town who have stories to tell about boys who used to break into the house.

One local man swears he wasn’t one of them, but he heard stories first-hand from some of his friends who did. They admitted they ripped up bits of wood and had fires at night, he said.

But the ghosts are not the real mystery - for years, people have driven past the house, which is on the corner of Mississauga St., and wondered who owned it and why it’s been empty for so long.

The house was purchased in 1956 by George and Cecilia Roberts, the seventh owners. They planned on renovating it, keeping as much of the original structure as possible, according to a St. Catharines Standard article.

Robert Ure, a local surveyor who was known for finding good deals on houses before they were officially put on the market, bought it from the Roberts with the same intention just two years later, but although there is speculation about why he never did fix it up, nobody is certain.

Chahinian says a letter was found written by Robert to his wife Dorothy Ure in 1987, promising he would have it renovated so they could live in it.

Ure also bought three other Old Town properties, on King, Johnson and Ricardo Sts. He and Dorothy lived in the house on King, built in 1816. Under the rundown white siding is the original log dwelling - the only one in NOTL, the realtor says - built by a military carpenter.

The Ures were known to frequent antique and garage sales, buying up pieces they felt would be at suitable in heritage homes, but the houses they owned became storage properties for their purchases, rather than homes.

Robert, a member of Grace United Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, died in March, and Dorothy, who worshipped at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, died in September. They are both buried in St. Andrew’s cemetery - where they can keep an eye on the Centre St. house, right across the street.

All four properties have been neglected, but together, are listed for sale at more than $3 million.

Chahinian says the terms of Dorothy’s will ask that the house on Centre St. not be torn down, and he is going to do his best to find someone - likely local - who respects and appreciates the history of the house and who wants to restore it.

It would make a great restaurant, he adds, and says he hopes the Town would consider a rezoning that would allow the building to be preserved and restored.

The property is priced at $950,000 - but would it be worth more or less without the house on it?

That’s a toss-up, says Chahinian.

The half-acre property is in a prime location in NOTL, and might alone fetch that price a little quicker, without the restrictions that a heritage house on it might bring.

But there will be potential buyers who will see value in the building and its past, he said.

“You walk in and you see and feel the history. This house is a project for the right person. I hope to find someone who will keep it and do their best by it.”


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