An Artist and His Cottage – Part Two 0f Three

77 Brunswick Street in Stratford and Gerard Brender à Brandis

by Marianne Brandis



It was not until Jim Anderson began the restoration of 77 Brunswick Street in the fall of 1985 that he realized how dilapidated the building was.  It sat low on the ground because, at some point, earth from the leveling of Brunswick Street had been shoved against the foundations: there was eighteen inches of soil piled against the front walls.  As a result, the front sill beam, as well as parts of the two side sill beams – the foundation on which the building rested – had rotted.  So the building sagged, making the floors very uneven, and the doors did not fit.  

Jim Anderson at the open house held in 1987 when the restoration was almost complete.
Jim Anderson at the open house held in 1987 when the restoration was almost complete.

When the lath and plaster were torn away from the insides of the walls and the floor boards were taken up, it was discovered that the builder had used only half as many joists in the floor as he should have, and during the work on the roof it became apparent that he had used only half the required number of rafters.  

The house had to be raised and levelled.  Jim hired Nelson Bowman, a Mennonite living in Hawkesville who still used nineteenth-century building techniques, to provide new sills; on the bitterly cold December day when the sills were delivered, the house was jacked up and Bowman and his two apprentices prepared the 11-inch-square sills, cutting notches where the floor joists would fit.  They put the sills in place and the house was lowered onto them.  

The outside front of the house was originally flush board, a Greek-Revival feature, and the sides were clapboard, but by the time Jim began work all of this had been covered by at least one layer of siding. 13  When he removed this he found that in places the flush board had deteriorated badly.  He collected whatever was still in good condition and used it to replace the rotted parts on the front wall.  Here and there (as Gerard discovered when he was doing maintenance) Jim fitted very short sections carefully together. 

On the roof, Jim had layers of asphalt shingles removed and more rafters inserted.  Then he covered the roof with cedar shakes.  (Shakes turned out to be the wrong material to use: see below for details.)  The brick chimneys were rebuilt and three small dormers inserted into the back slope of the roof because the upstairs bedrooms, under the south-facing side, were intolerably hot in the summer and very dark. 

 The verandah that had been added to the front was removed, and a porch was added at the back.  A woodshed had been mostly demolished at some earlier time, although one wall remains; Jim apparently considered erecting a new woodshed, but building regulations prohibited it.  Moreover, a woodshed built according to the original pattern would have prevented the insertion of a window in the kitchen, badly needed because that space had been very dim. 14

To recreate the front entrance, Jim noted the pilasters still existing beside the front door, 15 and he also followed indications that came to light when the later siding was removed.  Marks in the paint led him to conclude that the house had originally had a portico with two detached pillars.  The whole recessed doorway casing was removed, repaired, and reinserted, and a new portico was added; it is now one of the distinctive features of the house.  The door and its casing – including the transom, the fluted pilasters, and the denticulated cornice – are among the Greek-Revival characteristics.  The columns (which are smooth, without fluting) are Doric; the pilasters at the corners of the house are very plain but have Ionic capitals and bases. 16

In order to preserve the historic appearance of the exterior, Jim had the outdoor wiring, including telephone and TV cables, laid underground.  He was involved in a wrangle with the City because the Ontario Building Code required that the electrical meters be placed on the exterior of the buildings within ten feet of the front.  Jim wanted this unsightly sign of modernity to be put on the back of the house.  At first his request was refused, but he persevered and eventually won.

Inside the house, there were also Greek-Revival features, such as the baseboards and the paneling underneath the windows. 17 Here, too, there was a great deal of work to be done.  For one thing, new doors were needed.  A former tenant had taken most of the original doors to the dump; the only remaining one served as a model for making replicas.  New, period-style windows – six-over-six, double-hung, sash windows – were made by Hoffmeyer’s in Sebringville.  Once the additional floor joists had been inserted, the (pine) floor was re-laid, using partly old and partly new materials.  New insulation, wiring, and plumbing were installed and then new interior wallboard.  The interior trim, which was original, had been removed at the beginning – the pieces numbered for reinstallation – and was cleaned and repaired before being replaced.  So was the kitchen wainscot.  

A white picket fence, its design based on one in Upper Canada Village, surrounds the front garden. 18

From almost the beginning, Jim had a “pipe dream” that the house might become a “museum of the working man.”  As he pointed out, most museum-houses were grand structures, monuments to the rich and illustrations of their lifestyle.  Certainly at that time there were few that were monuments to “working” people, though the number of pioneer villages and similar creations/restorations was increasing.  So, although he eventually sold it for use as a residence, he planned the renovation so that if the building were ever used as a museum it would be easy to make adaptations.  The modern kitchen appliances and cupboards were to be installed in such a way that they could be easily removed, leaving a space that would be usable for museum displays.  He had “museum” wiring installed – separate wires from each room to the service box.  

Instead of a furnace and duct-work he fitted all the rooms with electric baseboard radiators.  His plan was to install a wood stove in the kitchen, with electric heat available as needed, and this is how Norma and Keith Cardiff – the first occupants after the renovation – lived. 19 A subsequent owner replaced the wood stove with a gas fireplace, and in about 2018 Gerard replaced that with a gas wall heater.  

Besides the dream of seeing the building used as a museum, Jim’s other guideline was to make everything as authentic as possible.  When the restoration was nearly completed, he called the building “one of Stratford’s great, although modest, pieces of architecture.” 20

The renovation, which took two years, was of considerable public interest and its progress is traceable in articles published in the Beacon Herald and other periodicals. 21 It was probably the first project of extensive restoration done in Stratford, and Carolynn Bart-Riedstra, then archivist-historian at the Stratford-Perth Archives and therefore a colleague of Jim’s in his position as archivist, told me that she had learned a great deal from being close to the work.

In January 1987, before the renovation was finished, Jim put the house on the market.  Wording the notice carefully so as to attract a certain kind of buyer, he described it as “ideal for someone with antiques and a green thumb.”  The notice caught the attention of Norma Cardiff. 

Keith and Norma Cardiff were living in Tavistock at the time.  Norma happened to hear that the real estate broker was having an open house; through a snowstorm she drove to Stratford and saw the house, its renovation then still far from completed.  She fell in love with it and drove home to get Keith – who, when he saw the kitchen wainscotting still lying in a pile on the floor, said to Norma, “Are you crazy?”  Nevertheless, they made an offer on that same day.  But before they were “allowed” to buy it, Jim went to their home to meet them and see what furnishings they would bring with them.  Seeing that they had a notable collection of Victoriana, he said, “You’ll do.” 22

From then on, the Cardiffs were involved in the work on the house.  Norma contributed to the interior decoration: at Jim’s suggestion, and assisted by his historical research, she designed and applied decorative stencils to the floor in the kitchen and pantry.  A small area of this decoration still exists in the pantry, and there is a colour photo in the scrapbook showing the whole kitchen with the stenciled floor.  She told me that Jim asked her to help pick out wallpapers but that by the time she arrived he had already made all the decisions and only wanted her approval.

The Cardiffs’ son Darcy, a woodworker, built the kitchen cupboards according to designs that Jim prepared, basing them on old Waterloo County styles.  

In June 1987, while the last renovations were still underway, the Cardiffs moved in.  With their collection of Victorian furniture and other household objects they were able to create what was in fact much like a museum.  

One corner of the interior as it was in the Cardiffs’ time.
One corner of the interior as it was in the Cardiffs’ time.

That fall, when the restoration was complete except for the pillars on the portico, Jim and the Cardiffs hosted an open house.  The notices asked ladies to wear sneakers (no stiletto heels) to spare the pine floors.  About 700 people came during the two-day event.  The open house, like the whole restoration, was the subject of newspaper stories.  There were also articles about it in the magazines Century Home and Re-New, and in the Ontario Museum Association’s magazine Currently.  Jim gave a talk illustrated with slides.

As mentioned, one of the features of the house in the Cardiffs’ time, which would have added to the Victorian, “museum” atmosphere, was that (almost from the beginning) they used a wood stove for cooking and heating; it stood where the wall heater now is.  I asked Norma whether it did not take up a lot of space, and she said that it was wide but did not project too far into the room.  The firewood was stored under the back porch.  

From 1990 to 1994 the Cardiffs rented out the upper floor: a sign in front identified it as “The Little Yellow Saltbox B&B.”  Norma’s pottery kiln was in the basement; she did not operate it during the season when there were B&B guests, only in the winter. 23

She sold the house in the fall of 1994 after Keith died.  The next owner was G. Currie, and the one after that was Laurie Linsman, from whom Gerard bought it.



13 The only source I have been able to find that mentions flush board as a Greek-Revival feature is an article about a historic house in New England:  Jim is quoted in a newspaper article as saying that the house had been renovated in 1904 and a wooden siding put on.  There had been another renovation in 1960s.  “The original exterior reveals a clapboard wooden siding on the sides and back of the house. ‘The front wall was dressed up with horizontal flat boards [flush board] in more expensive wood,’ says Mr. Anderson.”  “Bringing new life to an old working man’s home,” Beacon Herald, January 18, 1986.

14 On an annotated floor plan, Jim comments on how inadequate the light in the kitchen would have been without the window that he inserted there.

15 Shown in the photo of Fred and Alice Creasy.

16 Information from Gerard, 28 October 2023.

17 Beacon Herald article of 18 January 1986.

18 The fence that Jim used as a model is probably the one at Maple Grove in Upper Canada Village, illustrated in The Ancestral Roof on p. 47.  No date is given but it is stated that the house was completed in 1820.  According to the caption, the fence was reconstructed from a contemporary one of which only a picture exists.

19 The stove was actually installed by the Cardiffs, not long after they moved in.  (Personal communication from Norma Cardiff on 27 August 2023.)

20 From a letter to William Creasy, 8 March 1987.

21 There are clippings in the scrapbook.

22 Personal communication from Norma Cardiff on 27 August 2023.

23 She stopped potting some time before leaving the house but was clearly still doing it in 1991 when she made the flowerpots for Gerard.  Her creation of pottery meant that the house came close to being the kind of “working [person]’s home” museum that Jim had envisioned.