27-room Lady Smith Manor restored as labour of love
'It's like peeling back an onion,' Miriam Andrews says of restoring 19th-century Dorchester home:
So far, the worst thing Miriam Andrews has discovered in her 27 room manor was a mattress infested with moths, "it was just the grossest thing ever."
Not bad for a house built in 1842, expanded about 40 years later, converted to offices complete with fluorescent lighting, then left empty for five years.
About 18 months ago, Andrews and her husband Stephen Trites decided it was just the project they were looking for and bought it for $125,000.
Since then, they've put most of their free time and money into the Village of Dorchester's Lady Smith Manor.
"It's not a project for everyone," said Andrews with a laugh.
"You have to have that kind of level of passion for it, otherwise you just abandon ship and say, 'I'm done with this' because, you know, that's a lot of work."
The couple were living in Kelowna, B.C.,when they decided it was time to buy property.
Andrew had been running a vintage event rentals and design company for years, and wanted to establish a venue to really showcase her talents and collection of vintage decor. They also wanted something with some history, that could be restored.
Trites, originally from Moncton, mentioned to his wife that property is much cheaper in New Brunswick. She only realized to what extent when she started looking at listings, and came across the manor.
"It just was perfect," said Andrews.
"When we saw it, we fell in love with it."
They bought it, and got to work redoing plumbing, electrical and hauling out five tons of plaster. They've removed vinyl siding that covered a fake brick tar paper, which was also removed to reveal wood siding bevelled to look like sandstone.
Andrews scraped it all down with a heat gun, to then paint it.
Hours of scraping, painting and meticulous restoring has already taken place, and many more hours are needed to return the house to its former glory.
But Andrews said it's a labour of love.
"We have a passion for bringing it back to life," she said.
The Georgian style home was built in two sections by Sir Albert Smith in 1842. He added the second section for his wife, Lady Sarah Marie Young Smith, for whom the house is named.
Smith was both the attorney general (1861) and the premier of New Brunswick (1865-66) and strongly opposed Confederation.
From a well-to-do Shediac family, Smith spent many years in Dorchester before he made the move to Ottawa to take on the role of minister of fisheries under prime minister Alexander Mackenzie in the 1870s. Smith was the first person from New Brunswick to be knighted.
He was integral in the decision to build what is now the Dorchester Penitentiary, and Smith is buried in a local cemetery.
During his political career, Smith earned such colourful nicknames as Bully-boy Smith, the "Smasher of Privilege, the Douglas of Dorchester and the Lion of Westmorland.
According to Andrews, the building's rich history is apparent at every turn.
She's found ancient liquor bottles hidden under floor boards in the attic, a Gillette razor blade still in its package inside the old bathroom wall, and centuries old soot still marking original wall paper.
"We're always finding different items and different layers almost, it's like peeling back an onion," said Andrews.
Despite doing everything they can themselves, restoring 8,000 square feet isn't cheap.
Trites works full time, while Andrews continues to put on events when possible.
She had hundreds of tickets sold for a Christmas market that was cancelled at the last minute because of COVID-19.
But Andrews said the silver lining is the couple have been able to focus on renovations, without taking breaks to set up events.
COVID restrictions have slowed down the couples plans to host people at their home, with the next wedding optimistically scheduled for Oct. 2021.
But they say between now and then, there remains plenty to do.
Andrews has plans for murder mystery evenings, catered dinners, workshops like wreath-making, and liquor tastings, and she is also considering setting up a pub at the back of the house.