Don’t get me wrong, I like history, but there’s lots more to do here. The Briars is in Jacksons Point on Lake Simcoe, Ontario’s first “cottage country”. It’s a classic summer resort in the grande style. Victorians used to bring all their stuff up on the train in trunks and spend the whole summer. Nobody has that kind of time these days but The Briars is still wildly popular with the wedding/honeymoon and spa crowd. It’s also a great place to rent a little cottage and finally finish that novel you’ve been working on. The golf course isn’t bad either.
The Briars has been a fixture around here since the late 19th century and its history is deep. Sibbald Point Provincial Park is named after the founding family. Every time I visit I muse on the old York County maps hanging on the lower floor, and I never miss a chance to visit the peacock house on the rambling grounds.
Anyway… my mood improved when we rendezvoused with a gaggle of nurses in the foyer to start our history tour. Then my mood improved considerably more when we were introduced to our tour guide, the incredibly engaging archivist Diana Rowney. She had a way about her that made the stories come alive. And there are many stories. Not just dusty old grade school stuff. No sir. These stories are bawdy and raucous, as I think all good history should be. Here’s a link to some Briars’ history to whet your appetite.
A treasure trove of perfectly preserved historical artefacts was discovered recently by chance. One day Ms. Rowney happened upon a locked room and asked John Sibbald, owner of The Briars to open it. There, in perfect condition and stacked from floor to ceiling were boxes of long-forgotten heirlooms and artefacts from the Sibbald family. They included documents that date back to the birth of Canada, including written statutes of Upper Canada dating from the 1830-40s. A prized family bible long thought lost was also found and perhaps the most significant find were the journals of William Sibbald dating back to the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion and his involvement in the famous revolt.
The collection also includes diaries from Dr. Frank Sibbald dating back to 1875. There’s a history of the purchase of The Briars property by the Sibbald family in 1878. Also found were prize ribbons and glass milk bottles from The Briars Dairy which operated from 1922 to 1989 and old china and antique family photographs in near perfectly preserved photo albums.
It was all very civilized. After the tour we retired to the main verandah where the proprietor, Mrs. Sibbald, served sherry. The conversation drifted between the challenges of the modern resort industry in Ontario and the state of the nursing profession in that province.
Jacksons Point is about an hour north of Toronto if the traffic is good. But let’s be honest, the traffic is never good coming out of Toronto. Govern yourself accordingly. Accommodation at The Briars is very comfortable, the service is attentive and there is always something to get up to.