The Cawthra Estate in Mississauga, Ontario
by Val Tobin
Originally published February 6, 2013 on Suite101
Republished on SNGS January 8, 2014
Grace Cawthra, or Bee as she was nicknamed, was the eccentric owner of the Cawthra-Elliot estate located at 1507 Cawthra Road in Mississauga, Ontario. The land the house sits on was originally given to Grace's great-grandfather as a Crown grant. Grace had the Georgian Revivalist-style house built in 1926 in homage to the traditional English countryside estates that reflected her family's roots in Yorkshire, England. It is said that Grace's ghost still haunts the attic of the Cawthra house.
Cawthra-Elliot Estate Built for Grace Cawthra
A History of the Cawthra-Elliott [sic] Estate, written by Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committees (LACAC) student Ken Phipps in 1989, contains a complete history of the Cawthras and the estate (accessed Feb. 6, 2013). Phipps paints Grace as a selfish, prideful woman who ruled over her husband and those who worked for her, making them adhere to some strange conditions and tolerate a variety of eccentricities:
- When Grace married 54 year-old Major-General Harry Elliot, he had to add the name Cawthra to his name
- After marrying Grace, Harry had to ignore his children from his first marriage for the rest of his life
- Grace wanted to remain an unadulterated Cawthra and so Harry had to agree before they married that they would never consummate the marriage; however, Grace would later say that she had a miscarriage during their first year of marriage
- She named her estate Cawthra-Lotten, as the parcel of land the house was built on was lot 10
- She wrote to the RCMP requesting them to station a unit at her estate to protect it (they did not send anyone)
- After Harry died, she suspected her staff of theft, putting a sign on a bookcase that said, "Thou shalt not steal"
- She converted Harry's coats and pants into skirts so she would not have to buy clothes
- She only left the estate to visit the dentist, telling a contractor who did work for her that she was an 'hereditary constable,' remaining on Cawthra-Lotten to protect Canada from the United States
- She became miserly and refused to pay for maintenance or upkeep of the property
- She decided she would not die and refused to make a will
Lightning Strikes and Harry Dies
Lightning struck the house in July 1947, consuming the guest wing and some of their possessions. The lightning struck during the night, and 80-year-old Harry ran out into the cold night air to open the gate and let people in to help fight the fire. He contracted pneumonia from which he never recovered and he died in June of 1949.
It was after Harry's death that Grace let the estate fall into disrepair, not even allowing staff to clean the dust off of the furniture. A person who came to work in the kitchen once a week brought her own food and dishes, refusing to eat in the filthy kitchen. Grace's housekeeper, Elisabeth (Liz) Naismith, however, seemed to support Grace's habits. Liz died at the house, and Grace, though determined to live forever, died on October 22, 1974 at the age of 96.
Ghosts in the Attic and a Paranormal Investigation at Cawthra House
Pat Porter, one of a string of tenants of the estate who lived in the house after Grace died, said that she felt Grace's presence most in the attic. However, it was Liz who had lived in the attic, so perhaps there is more than one ghost up there.
In April of 2009, I visited the Cawthra Estate as part of a paranormal investigation team. It was my first official paranormal investigation. That night, one of the team members was up in the attic alone, when he felt as if someone was standing behind him. Then he felt something touch him. He told us later that as he bolted out of the room, he tried to remind himself that he was there to investigate paranormal phenomena and shouldn't be running. Nevertheless, he didn't wait to find out what was there.
EVPs, Footsteps, Flickering Lights, and Swinging Doors
When you are looking for ghosts and hoping to find them, it can be difficult to stay objective and rule out the normal before concluding that something is paranormal. That's why it helps to have equipment with you that can pick up sounds or record visual occurrences.
During the Cawthra investigation, we picked up some interesting anomalous sounds that can't be reasonably explained. During one Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) recording session, we heard a high-pitched sound. There was no explanation for it, and the recording devices picked it up. There were also footsteps in the corridor outside the room we were in, and when one of our group got up to check, there was no one there.
In the same room where we heard the sound and the footsteps, the lights went out with what to me sounded like the flick of a switch accompanying it. I immediately suspected my husband, who was closest to the light switch, and asked him why he had turned off the lights. He said he hadn't touched them, and when we looked, the switch was still in the "on" position. We had to turn it off and then on again to get the lights back. While this would require investigating the light bulbs and wiring in the room to be certain there was no physical explanation, it was startling when it happened.
One occurrence that was verified as non-paranormal was a door that seemed to swing open on its own. Examining the floor and the door proved that if you step in a certain spot on the floor, it causes the door to shift and open.
While there, I felt Grace in the room that used to be hers. Before I was told that it was her room, I could feel that she had died there. There was a smell in it that I encounter when I enter a room where someone has died. Usually no one else can smell it. There is a closet in that room where more than one person has felt ill upon entering it.
Heritage Home Owned by Mississauga
The Cawthra Estate is currently owned by the City of Mississauga, which has designated it as a heritage home. When I was there, there were offices in the various rooms. The organizer of our investigation said that numerous people have had unexplained experiences that they attribute to the spirits of Grace or Liz, and perhaps to other spirits as well.
Its current use allows for functions such as weddings or training courses, and the city holds a variety of programs there for both children and adults. The grounds are protected, as it is home to the Jefferson Salamander, which is an endangered species.
The night we went to visit the Cawthra House, it was raining hard. It was the perfect night to visit a haunted house. That meant, though, that we couldn't spend time outside. But there was plenty to explore inside. The house was beautiful, old, and enormous. If Grace's goal was to recreate an old English mansion, she succeeded. I could imagine the servants bringing dinner up to the dining room from the kitchens below, while the family sat waiting at the table with their sparkling crystal glasses and fine china. It was a place I'd love to explore again someday, and I can understand why Grace is reluctant to leave it.
Image: The Cawthra Estate Plaque in Mississauga, Ontario courtesy of Bob Tobin
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