History of the Cottage

McDougall Cottage was home for more than a century to two families of hardworking Scots, the McDougalls and the Bairds.

In the late 1700s, developers began to buy land around the Grand River from the Six First Nations led by Joseph Brant. In 1816, a purchase of approximately 90,000 acres of this land was made by Scottish-born lawyer, Mr. William Dickson.  His intention was to divide the land into smaller lots that would be sold primarily to Scottish settlers whom he hoped to attract to Canada.

A popular assumption is that property at 89 Grand Avenue South (formerly known as Lot 61) was once owned by Dickson and rented to the McDougall family[1] .  However, a thorough search of land title records, tax assessments, local directories and the Dickson papers at the City of Cambridge Archives show no evidence of this, or that Dickson owned Lot 61 after subdivision.

John McDougall begins to appear on the tax assessments for Galt in 1856 and is first shown as living on West Main St. (now Grand Avenue South) in 1859 and owning his own property there. (Although John McDougall was a carpenter, we do not know whether or not he was involved in the building of the home.)

After John’s death in 1895, his eldest son, Robert, passed the ownership of Lot 61 to his daughter, Elsie.  Robert and his family continued to live in the house until 1901 when it was sold to a second family of Scots, newlyweds James and Margaret Baird.  James Baird lived in the cottage until his death in 1959.  The cottage was then sold to Jack Johnson and his wife in 1960 who lived there until 1987.  In their later years, the Johnsons found the upkeep of the house a burden and it fell into derelict.

 Cambridge Reporter, 26 November 1987; Heritage Cambridge pamphlet, McDougall Cottage.

[1]Cambridge Reporter, 26 November 1987; Heritage Cambridge pamphlet, McDougall Cottage.

 When its painted interiors were discovered to be intact in 1987, and its historical significance as a Scottish labourer’s cottage recognized, it was purchased by Heritage Cambridge now ACO Cambridge and subsequently resold to private citizen, Tim Drennan, with stringent conditions for restoration. Drennan agreed to the covenants and between 1988 and 1992 took on the daunting task of restoring the rather run-down building, doing much of the work himself. (The friezes and ceilings were conserved in 1990/91 by In Restauro Conservart Incorporated of Toronto with grants from the Preserving Ontario’s Architecture Program.)  Drennan lived in the Cottage until 1992 was responsible for much of the skilled restoration work you can see at the Cottage today.  The cottage was then sold to the Hardings who lived there until 2001.

When the house was put up for sale again, instead of having a new commercial rezoning approved, Heritage Cambridge, the City of Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo came together in the purchase of the Cottage and in 2002 it became one of the Region of Waterloo museums.

McDougall Cottage

The Cottage

Constructed from dolomite limestone and granite, McDougall Cottage is a wonderful tribute to the Scottish stonemason’s art.

Its street facade was trimmed with carefully matched blocks of gray granite. The grey stone blocks of the cottage were split, squared, colour-matched and then laid in regular, horizontal courses approximating ashlar work. 

Two rows of granite fit into the height of each limestone quoin stone.  The distinctive Galt area feature of limestone Welsh arches are present, as are striated sandstone sills for the windows and door of the front façade.  There are three original limestone chimneys.  The granite work was used only on the front facades of the main cottage and slightly later addition kitchen wing; all other elevations display rough rubble stone walls.

Nowadays the word “cottage” refers to a summer vacation home, although traditionally a “cottage” referred to a simple house, often just a single storey.  Many houses like this were built in the mid-1800s in towns and villages across the province. They looked similar in design and layout and became known as Ontario Cottages.

Wherever they were built in the province, Ontario Cottages are similar to McDougall Cottage in their square floor plan and relatively low-pitched roof which slants on all four sides – also known as a hipped roof. Ontario Cottages frequently have a roof peak over the front door with a window to light a second floor hallway. As McDougall Cottage does not have a second floor, it does not have a peak with a window. The round portico at the front door was an addition in the early 1900s.