Reinventing a relic

Theal house

From left: Scott Roper, Tom Arkell, Alun Hughes

It’s a fate Samuel Theal couldn’t have imagined 200 years ago — the house he likely built with his own hands is home to Brock University’s Parking Services.

The family home built on property Theal acquired in 1825 is now on Brock lands, located south of Sir Isaac Brock Circle and east of parking lot S. The building has had many uses over the years, from housing the Niagara Symphony (earning it the name “Symphony House”), to the campus radio station, to being mere storage space for the last six or seven years.

After 13 weeks of renovations this fall, the building has a new look and lease on life. It houses Parking Services, and soon, a visitor’s centre.

“It’s terrific it’s been refurbished,” said Alun Hughes, Geography professor and local historian. “I’m really glad it’s still there. I’m really glad history has been recognized and that it’s been given the name the Theal House.”

In past bids to save it from demolition, Hughes has done extensive research on the house. There is no evidence of anyone living on the land – known as lot 18 – before the War of 1812, he wrote for a historical society newsletter earlier this year.  The first evidence of the house in historic documents is in the will of Zalmon Theal, the son of Samuel Theal, in 1869.

However, census returns in 1828 show Samuel Theal living on the lot in 1828, and assessments by two architectural consultants point to a pre-1850 construction date.

Whatever its age, the house is one of Niagara’s earliest examples of domestic architecture, Hughes said. Theal likely built it with stone he hauled from the escarpment.

The floor had a 10-centimetre (four-inch) slant, and charred wood in the interior indicated a fire had taken place, said Scott Roper, Facilities Management project manager.

“(The house) probably wasn’t built all at once,” Roper said. “He probably added to it when he had stone to put to good use.”

The building was in better condition than anticipated, Roper said. “I hope we can make the building more a part of the University.”

The house measures nine metres by 12 metres (30 feet by 40 feet) with two floors. The whole project cost less than $500,000.


Arkell, Roper and Hughes chat in a new Theal House meeting room.

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