Waterfront property in Ontario, at least in the urban area, usually has a storied past. Locals will recount tales of fortunes made and fortunes lost. Families united and torn apart. Riches, renovations, ruins, and—if the property falls into the right hands—restoration.
In Oakville, the stories aren’t quite Downton Abbey, but they still give us a peek into an era now vanished. Here is the tale of one such Oakville waterfront property—now called The Gardens of Edgemere—and how its more than 100 years of history are being honoured by Oakville waterfront developer Anthony DiCenzo.
Calling the property a “gem” is a nod to its first owner, jewelry magnate James Ryrie, who merged his business with Birks in 1905. Ryrie celebrated the union by building his summer home, which he called Edgemere, on Oakville’s Gold Coast shortly after.
The 12-acre property became one of the town’s most lavish lakeside estates, admired across the province. It was graced with almost 1000 feet of Lake Ontario shoreline, and one of Ryrie’s first projects was to construct a promenade along its entire length. Next up was to erect a natural stone wall along Wedgewood Creek, which meanders to Lake Ontario, and plant a magical wooded glen along its course.
A beautiful Arts and Crafts gatekeeper’s cottage and carriage house with stables followed. Then the stunning entrance gates, a greenhouse with indoor pond, winding stone paths, manicured lawns, and a sunken rose garden and aviary.
Charles Ernest Woolverton was the architectural mastermind behind the landscape design, guided by James Ryrie’s strong belief in the need to integrate nature and culture, with each making the other more beautiful.
“While I envision that the estate will become a stately, welcoming residence for my family and their families to escape the heat and bustle of the city, in my heart, I hold a steadfast commitment to preserving the integrity of the [land’s] natural attributes.”
– excerpt from a letter sent by James Ryrie to Burke & Horwood Architects c. 1909
A Japanese tea house, complete with pergola, rock garden, waterfall and grotto, still stands on the highest point of the property. Once built, it quickly became Edgemere’s most lauded feature, offering a stunning view of the lake—a high point of the property both literally and figuratively.
In 1933, the jeweller’s estate was sold to a mining executive, John E. Hammel. A colourful character who had been a professional boxer, Hammel entertained the likes of Prime Minister Mackenzie King at Edgemere and lined the home’s walls with fine art by the great masters.
After Hammel’s death, Edgemere passed through a number of hands and the lakefront property’s brilliance faded a bit. In the early 1990s, Peter Gilgan, founder and CEO of Mattamy Group Corporation, bought the property. He built a 32,000 square-foot Georgian-style mansion, which was put up for sale in 2007 for $45 million—the most expensive residential property ever listed in Canada.
A developer purchased the property, demolished Gilgan’s home and got as far as constructing 12 architecturally unique lakeshore townhomes before going into receivership. Phase two of the project, which was to redevelop the heritage landscape features and elements such as the tea house and gatekeeper’s cottage, was never started.
Edgemere’s stunning landscape architecture and Arts and Crafts-era buildings were fenced off and forgotten, until local developer Anthony DiCenzo made a commitment to bring them back to their former brilliance.
In early 2016, politicians and planners at the Town of Oakville breathed a collective sigh of relief as Nexus Development Corporation, headed by Anthony DiCenzo, purchased the property. DiCenzo’s track record in Oakville, reputation for intelligent development of complicated properties and commitment to restoring the grandeur of Edgemere’s landscape and buildings gave the Town confidence.
Already the pathways and gardens are being restored. Construction of the manor townhomes is scheduled to start in 2017.
DiCenzo renamed the development The Gardens of Edgemere, honouring the property’s original owner’s name for the estate and his vision to create a landscape of indescribable beauty that unites nature and civilization, east and west, past and present.
Follow along as DiCenzo restores and resets this jewel of Oakville’s waterfront. Or see its transformation for yourself by scheduling your private viewing.