McDougall Cottage, ca.1858, a granite and a limestone labourer’s dwelling, is located in downtown Cambridge in the historic factory district.
This charming vernacular cottage, with its equally charming pocket-sized garden has been home of two families of hardworking Scots for more than a century. The McDougalls, born of a Highland clan, first raised its walls using local limestone, dressing its street-side with carefully-matched blocks of handsome granite. By the dawn of the new century, a second family, also from the heather hills of Scotland, had taken ownership of the cottage. Newly married in 1901, James Baird and his wife Margaret, moved in and set about “renovating” their first home. The most fashionable of all the “modern decor” that the Bairds would add to the cottage were the exotic landscapes and trompe l’oeil ceilings that James’s brother Jack painted in the young couple’s dining room and study. James, being a skilled woodworker, began to renovate and update his home consistent with the fashion and taste of the period. He added the rounded portico with its Tuscan columns, the glassed-in sun porch on the river side, likely laid the hardwood floors and may have upgraded the heating system, installing the beautifully cast radiators which bear the patent date 1887.
When James died in 1959, the house was purchased by the Johnson family who in their later years found the upkeep a burden. By 1987, when its painted interiors were discovered to be intact and its historical significance as a Scottish labourer’s cottage recognized, it was purchased by Heritage Cambridge and subsequently resold to a private citizen with stringent conditions for restoration. Tim Drennan agreed to the covenants, took on the daunting task of restoring the rather derelict-looking building in just twelve short months and, doing much of the work himself, was responsible for much of the skilled restoration work you see today. 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.
Now owned and operated by the Region of Waterloo since 2002 this marks the beginning of McDougall Cottage’s new life as a public facility. Showcasing its unique painted interior landscapes, functioning as an interpretation centre, staging exhibits of local interest and collecting research resources for use by the public.