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Barnum House and the Founding of ACO

"Now that we had an unpainted house and a ruinous barn on our hands, it was obvious that something more had to be done and, at a meeting in Toronto, the Conservancy was born."

Dr. Eric Arthur

The founding of ARCHITECTURAL CONSERVANCY ONTARIO in 1933 was sparked by the saving of Barnum House near Grafton, now owned and operated by Ontario Heritage Trust. Dr. Eric Arthur, a professor with the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto and a distinguished architectural historian and critic, came across Barnum House in 1933 and, alarmed for its safety, purchased it for $4,000.00.

Barnum House in Grafton has long been recognized as one of Ontario's finest examples of Neo-classical architecture. Once known as The Poplars, Barnum House was built in 1817 by Colonel Eliakim Barnum, a Vermont Loyalist, to replace his earlier home that had been accidentally burned during the War of 1812 by British soldiers billeted there during the retreat from York.

Eric Arthur and his architectural students from the University of Toronto then documented more than 200 buildings, inspiring 83 leading citizens in cities, towns, and townships across Ontario to petition for provincial letters patent to create an organization dedicated to the preservation of buildings, structures, and places of natural beauty. The provincial letters patent was granted in 1933.

In 1940, ACO acquired Barnum House from Eric Arthur and restored it throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In 1982, Barnum House became an historic property of the Province of Ontario, operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust and a local committee. Barnum House continues to be open to the public.

Recent History

ARCHITECTURAL CONSERVANCY ONTARIO has helped save hundreds of buildings all across Ontario, and raised awareness of the importance of preserving Ontario’s provincial, municipal, and community heritage. The first organization to do such work, ACO pressed for heritage legislation and funding in Ontario, and has been followed in the field by such outstanding organizations as the Ontario Heritage Trust, Community Heritage Ontario, and the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

ACO owns and operates Victoria Jubilee Hall in Walkerton and the Sheave Tower in Cambridge. It leases and operates the Caretaker's Cottage in Port Hope, and was involved with other partners in the restoration of the Town Hall in Meaford and the historic Port Hope railway station. Though ACO owns properties as a means to save them, the work of ACO primarily resides in offering support to advocates campaigning for the preservation of heritage sites through programs offering preservation advice to municipalities and heritage property owners.