The House That Jack Built
Hazelbrook Homestead would not be in existence if it were not for dreams pursued and fulfilled, long ago.
If the British Naval architect named John Ings II did not decide to make the big move to lead his family here to PEI in 1830––to lend his expertise to the booming 19th century local shipbuilding industry and eventually become an award-winning successful shipbuilder––then the home we now call Hazelbrook Homestead would not be standing.
It was one of the sons of John Ings II, William Ings, who was the original owner of this property. And all signs point to the fact that, when the construction of this house began in the 1870’s, it was the master shipbuilding skills of William’s father that really brought this stunning Greek Revival style country mansion to life.
The reasons are not directly clear as to why John Ings II would have helped see to the building of this grand home on his son’s Hazelbrook farm property, at a time when both he and his son were aging in their years. But we do know from documented information that William Ings originally had a smaller home on this property, and that from 1847-1854, his father also held the position as the very first lighthouse keeper at Point Prim Lighthouse (a rare colonial lighthouse, the first lighthouse on PEI, and one of the first ten lighthouses in Canada). If you look at PEI on the map, you can notice that the tip of Point Prim can be directly viewed from Hazelbrook – and indeed, if you find yourself on a clear day at the top of the Hazelbrook hill (what the local folks referred to as “The Top of the World” back in the day), then you might just be able to see Point Prim in the distance. According to documents, when John Ings II was working at Point Prim, at a certain agreed time each week, signals would be sent to his son William at the top of the hill here on this farm in Hazelbrook, often regarding how much seal oil supplies were needed to be sent to the lighthouse for that upcoming week.
Perhaps one could go out on a limb and theorize that, when John Ings II retired from his lighthouse keeper position, maybe he felt he owed something to his son for all of that valuable weekly communication help with the lighthouse? So, maybe building a grandiose stately home for his son and his family, years later, was his way of paying him back for all those weekly favours?
It also may have been all about leaving a legacy, a house heirloom to be passed on and enjoyed by generations. Or, it may have been simply a case of “Because we can…” We’ll come back to that notion in a little bit.
In any case, when the house was finally finished (after four years of construction) in 1875, William unfortunately only had the pleasure of enjoying his new home for just five years – as he passed away from rheumatic fever in 1880 at the age of 64.
William’s mother, Sarah, had passed away in 1878 as well – and so John Ings II resided here at Hazelbrook mostly under the care of William’s wife (who was also named Sarah) and family, until his eventual death in 1887 at the age of 99. And, according to a document at the PEI Public Archives, John Ings II was quite a demanding house guest in his elder years. He required a cup of tea to be made for him at midnight. Marks from his cane (as he would rap his cane on the walls and floor to get needed care and attention) were still visible in the woodwork of this house 50 years after he died.
But, what a legacy it truly was that John Ings II lived during his almost century-long life – and the modified English nursery rhyme on the front of a file called “Life of John Ings 1788-1887” at the PEI Public Archives, gives an indication about how much this “house that Jack built” meant to him and the family:
“This is the House that Jack Built
This is the priest all shaven and shorn
That married this pair on a Sunday morn
That sailed for England for over the sea
That worked for the King in the old countree
That come back again to that old PEI
That lived there and loved there until they died
That started the house that Jack built.”
Hazelbrook Homestead’s story that unfolds after the passing of William and of John Ings II is certainly fuelled in family connection – whether it was in the passing of the house caretaker baton from one family member to another, or with regards to bonus amenities to the property that came about through family connections.
For example, when driving up to Hazelbrook Homestead, the Confederation Trail runs directly across the driveway. As history proves it, this is no coincidence.
The Confederation Trail is of course the provincial trail system that was put in place when the railway tracks were removed all over the province in the 1990’s. And so yes, as you’re now guessing it, there was a reason as to why the railway was made to run across the Ings farmland.
William Ings had a brother named John Ings III. In 1847, John Ings III became the publisher of “The Islander” – a PEI newspaper that eventually brought on W.H. Pope (lawyer, and Father of Confederation) as its editor. John Ings III also owned part of the PEI Steam Navigation Co. with Pope and his brother, J.C. Pope.
The office for the newspaper was at the corner of Great George and Water St., in Charlottetown, and it was devoutly in support of Confederation and the construction of
the railroad. These were its main causes especially during its final years of publication. As a side note of interest, in 1855, John Ings III married Mary Jane Yeo, in Charlottetown. Mary Jane was James Yeo’s daughter, who was the most prominent shipbuilder on PEI in the mid-1800’s. John Ings III was thus accumulating a substantial amount of wealth and power in those days, and rose to become one of the wealthiest people on PEI at that time.
Then in 1873, PEI joined Confederation, and construction of the PEI railroad was taken on by the Canadian government. “The Islander” newspaper ceased its publication in that same year. W.H. Pope then took on a position as judge in Summerside, PEI, and John Ings III retired from his publishing position to pursue other business endeavours.
John Ings III and the Ings family continued to have strong political influence, though – and in turn, when the new railway line was eventually constructed in Hazelbrook, the line was made to run directly by the head of this Ings property. According to reports, this made those in the Vernon River area furious that the line ran through Hazelbrook. But William Ings was the brother of a very influential man, and “son of a master shipwright/ shipbuilder,” as he was described in his last census, and so those connections proved to be beneficial with regard to the location of the route for the new railroad.
The connections in the family continued to be the name of the game for Hazelbrook Homestead, as the house was passed along through the family line four times over the course of almost 130 years, before it was finally sold outside of the family in 2016 to us.
“Because we can…”
When you take a good look at the work that has been done on this property through the years, a question of “Why?” might sometimes spring to mind. For instance:
“Why would such a grand house be built on what seems to be an otherwise normal PEI family farm?”
“Why make such a pretty lake on the property when all you really need for the farm is a simple watering hole for the cattle?”
“Why make a beautiful little island in that lake, with even a bridge that went over to it at one time?”
“Why construct a gorgeous fountain here, along with other interesting things on the property, like an ornamental cement ball and blocks and planters?”
And, in all cases, it really seems as though the Ings family members simply answered any question of “Why?” that might come up, with the answer of, “Because we can.”
Adventure, beauty, intrigue, playfulness – it is clear that these are all at the heart of what drove the work here on this property through the early years – and certainly this is still the same case today, as we try to keep saying “Because we can” as much as possible in our endeavours here in this treasure of a place.
“For Others to Enjoy…”
There is the one final theme of the life of this property that needs to be mentioned before this little Hazelbrook Homestead history story meets its end – and that is the theme of “For others to enjoy…”
This is the notion that really jumped out at us when we started to look back at the history of Hazelbrook Homestead, and we realized how much the doors here have always been opened wide for family and friends to enjoy the beauty of this place.
Many celebrations were held here through the years, with lots of music, dancing, delicious smorgasbords of food, and great, memorable times galore.
Ern and Lona Ings, who lived here from the 1930’s to the late 1970’s, never had any children – and instead they welcomed many extended family members to this property, on many occasions through the year, so that they might enjoy the things about this place that they knew were far too good to keep for themselves.
And when we bought the property from Margaret Drake in 2016, she expressed happiness that it was being sold to two people involved in the arts and music, because, “You’ll bring the music back to the place,” she said.
One could even look back to the very start of this house – to the dreams of John Ings II and his son William – and the short time it was that each of them had within this house that they worked so hard to bring to life: It’s clear that this wonderful “house that Jack built” has always been for the enjoyment of others.
And, very much in keeping with this theme, we now gladly open our doors to you and yours – to the magic of Hazelbrook Homestead: Be at ease, be merry, be safe, indulge, and above all, please enjoy this beautiful place as much as we do.
Welcome to Hazelbrook Homestead!
~ Your proud hosts, Todd MacLean and Savannah Belsher-MacLean
*Special thanks to PEI historian, Faye Pound, for her recent extensive research on Hazelbrook Homestead, and the exceptional info that she has provided us on this property’s history.