Above: Fulford Place exterior. Photo: Doors Open Ontario (Glyn Davies)
My first introduction to Fulford House Museum was when I was fourteen. Anxious to get involved in the mysterious museum world, I was hoping to land a role as a volunteer docent. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what a docent was at the time. I just wanted to get inside. I had also spent the summer watching Downton Abbey, which is perhaps more of a motivator for my volunteering intentions than I would like to admit. My mom walked with me up the grand stone steps that lead to an enormous wooden door. Fulford Place is an early 20th century mansion, but to me it seemed like a palace. I knocked nervously on the wooden door, which creaked open a minute later and I was greeted by the excited curator. Volunteers were and are still hard to come by, so what I interpreted as an intimidating job interview turned out to be a warm welcome into the Fulford Place family.
I only realized later that I had knocked on the wrong door. The visitor’s door is located around the side of the building off of the parking lot, and guests are welcomed into the former kitchen-turned-giftshop, connected to the servant’s staircase so volunteers can quickly rush down from the third floor offices to start the tour. If I had entered from the basement, I would have followed the tour guide into what used to be the laundry room and currently housed the tea room. Then, the dark wooden panelled servant’s area would give way to the lushly decorated area of the house where the Fulford family would have once inhabited. Because I had entered through the front entrance of the house, my first impression of the house was actually what George Fulford had intended: I stepped into the grand hall of Fulford place, with its soft intricate carpets, restored art hanging on the walls, and gorgeous carved wooden ceilings. I instantly felt overwhelmed by the luxury, just as his guests must have back in 1901, when the house finished construction. As I followed the curator up to the offices, my love affair with Fulford Place began.
Fulford Place was built between 1899-1901, a surprising short amount of time for how modern and extravagant the mansion is. George Taylor Fulford was a businessman who would later go on to be a senator. He had made his fortune after purchasing the patent to “Pink Pills for Pale People”, which through a series of brilliant ad campaigns, convinced people that it could cure pretty much everything, from headaches to poor complexions. In reality it was a sugar coated iron pill so it benefitted anemic Edwardians but that was about the extent of its “miracle” healing properties.
The mansion was unparalleled in its luxury when it was first built, which was what Fulford was hoping for. He wanted Fulford Place to dazzle his guests and be a show of his wealth. With its landscaping done by Olmsted Brothers, who also designed Central Park in New York city, passerbys didn’t even need to enter the house to be taken back by its grandeur. The house has played host to its fair share of famous guests. Sir Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King were known visitors, the latter of which supposedly held seances with Fulford’s widow, Mary.
The mansion was donated to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1991 by the Fulford Family. It has been carefully restored by the Trust and is maintained by a small staff and a group of passionate and tireless volunteers. Under their care, Fulford Place has become not only a jewel of Brockville tourism, but also a hub for the community. Its Victorian Christmas celebrations are a staple for many growing up nearby. Every summer, summer students plan educational camps that welcome children into the museum.
Fulford Place is a tour guide’s dream. The family has its fair share of doomed love stories, tragic deaths, and eerie ghost stories to keep any group of tourists entertained. Set against the backdrop of unparalleled Edwardian luxury, there is no other place quite like Fulford Place. Passionate tour guides, many of which have been volunteers for decades, know the story of the Fulfords like it is their own family history. Thanks to photographs taken for insurance, the house is able to be accurately presented the way it appeared in the early twentieth century. Visitors will get to hear the chime of the dinner bells just as the Fulfords had, and will gaze up at the intimidating portraits of George and Mary Fulford as they make their way up the gorgeous staircase which has been featured in films. The upstairs dressing room hosts a rotating exhibit which allows for visitors to learn more about local history.
Fulford Place is a culmination of careful restoration, heritage designation, and a dedicated group of volunteers. The result is a museum that any visitor would be enthralled by. There is truly something for everyone. Those interested in architecture would be hard pressed to find a better example of a beaux-arts mansion so well preserved in Ontario. For anyone who loves a good ghost story, ask the tour guide why a bookcase in the drawing room is empty. Or, if you’re like me and you just want to pretend you’re at Downton Abbey for the day, Fulford Place is waiting for you.
Admission: $6 per adult. $5 per senior. $15 family pass
Location: 287 King St E, Brockville, ON K6V 1E1, parking is free
Accessibility: The house is wheel-chair friendly, with an elevator to bring guests from level to level.
History of Fulford Place. The Ontario Heritage Trust. Accessed May 15th, 2021. https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/properties/fulford-place/history.
The People. Ontario Heritage Trust. Accessed May 15th, 2021. https://www.heritagetrust.on.ca/en/properties/fulford-place/history/the-people.
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Brianna Davies (she/her) is a public historian and emerging museum professional based in Toronto. She has worked and volunteered for a wide variety of museums and can tell you her favourite ghost story from each. She is in her last year at the University of Toronto completing an undergraduate degree in History, after which she will be pursuing a Master's degree of Museum Studies. She is passionate about historic house museums, LGBT+ history, and Victorian material culture. You can find more of her work at https://briannadavies.wixsite.com/teasingthedead