Gestingthorpe

A Saskatchewan Stone House

Saskatchewan was a destination of choice for a lot of very interesting people in the early years of the province. I don’t mean this to imply that interesting people no longer move to Saskatchewan in the 21st century. In fact I mean that Saskatchewan’s history is full of surprises. I live in Alberta so naturally I know this province much better than Saskatchewan. Despite my own travels and knowledge of Alberta, I’ve yet to come across any rural Alberta stately mansions that were once owned by people whose rank in society was measured by how close they were to a king or queen. I’ve always known such people lived in Victoria, BC (known as being “more British than the British”) and Vancouver, BC (where only royalty can afford a home) but not the prairies. As a photographer who is now learning about the many majestic stone houses of Saskatchewan, I’ve discovered that a number of these stone houses were owned by people with connections to the many levels of Britain’s high society, or gentry and even royalty. Today’s blog post is about one such family; the Serjeants of Gestingthorpe.

There is very little that is known about the Serjeant family who owned the stone castle-like house called Gestingthorpe. The Serjeants were reticent to mix with anyone with the possible limited exception of those who came from a similar background. According to the local history book; Grit and Growth: The Story of Grenfell, “Mr. Sergeant [sic] belonged to a family of seven who could trace their ancestry back to the time of Charles I when one of the family was maried to Cromwell’s sister”. The book goes on to say that “the name died out with the death of F.V.C. Sergent [sic] in 1956”. That must refer to Feral Serjeant who died in Victoria, BC in 1956.

Even the location is also secretive because, despite my knowing the coordinates, I could not find the structure until the owner gave me directions. Before we dig into the history of Gestingthorpe, let’s see some images of the castle house.

Time has not been kind to Gestingthorpe. The above two images show the difference that 16 years can make. In 2005 the tower was more or less intact. In 2021 the tower was in ruins with only the basic shape of it still visible. One account suggests that this was caused by lightning but other parts of the house are crumbling too. What will remain of the tower in five to ten more years? It is sad but this is not all on the current landowners. A proper restoration of a building, especially a large and unique structure, is a very expensive undertaking. It could even run into the millions of dollars and involve a lot of uncertainty as engineers and workmen discover unseen problems. A partial restoration such as the roof, which goes a long way to protecting the structure from the elements would cost much less but to what end? A farmer could put one hundred thousand dollars toward renovating a roof and windows to maintain a structure that he has no use for, or it can go toward acquiring more land or a tractor. Even a farmer who is a history buff would struggle with conflicting uses of his limited resources. I think it is commendable that the current landowner is happy to give permission to photographers to visit the stone house. Government funding is necessary to protect historic sites but what constitutes a historic site? Could the secrecy that the Serjeants craved also have contributed to their stone house’s demise? With so little being known about the eccentric owners of this structure the government would place it far down on a list of priorities for historical resource designation. “Water under the bridge” as they say, because it’s too last to salvage now.

There is a hill near the house that leads down to the small body of water. When stones fall off the tower they might start forming a small pile of rocks but soon gravity takes control and the rocks roll down the hill and possibly right into the water. Someday this will be just a large pile of rocks and people will wonder what was here?

It’s never easy shooting into the sun. The house overlooks a deep slough.

According to one source, that wooden lean-to extension to the house was where the housekeeper slept. It had no heat or insulation so in cold weather the kitchen door was left open to allow some heat in. Werner Zerbin in conversation with Colin Traub of Grenfell Saskatchewan.

You may be able to see in the photo below how the lower part of the house, which is the kitchen, was made of stone for only half the width of the structure. The second half is made of wood. As stated above, this was likely the maid’s quarters. In the image below, one chimney was in the kitchen for the cooking stove, and the other was more central for heating the main part of the house.

A pleasant place to spend an evening.
Even large homes didn’t have large kitchens. This one is neither large nor fancy.

The image above left is the stairway to the second floor. The railing, at above right is upstairs. It’s of a surprisingly simple design.

The image above to the right shows where you could enter the tower and the final staircase to the top of the tower. I didn’t go beyond this point because the owner said we can explore any part of the house except the tower and I can see for myself that it’s not safe. Perhaps there was something in the tower that we were not meant to see? Isn’t that what the towers of castles were for? The image above to the right is a main floor room overlooking the lake and next to the tower. You can actually see the tower ruins through the hole in the wall.

Who Were The Sergeants?

Bernard Gilpin Serjeant, 2nd Son of the late Rev. James S. Serjeant, and Bernard’s wife Ada, moved to Canada from England, likely in 1857. He set about to learn the business of farming. He did not want or need to learn to farm like a homesteader because, of course, he was a gentleman and gentlemen don’t do that kind of work. However he did seek to be a gentleman farmer so to learn these skills he sought out Richard Lake (who later became lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan) at the nearby estate called Winmarleigh Grange. Bernard Serjeant is said to have paid $500 to learn to be a farmer at Winmarleigh. The local history book, “Grit and Growth: The Story of Grenfell”, uses the phrase “was one of those who came to Winmarleigh Grange to learn farming for a $500 fee” which implies that Bernard Serjeant was not the only one to take advantage of this opportunity to learn “how a gentleman farms”. After that introduction to the country life, Bernard and Ada Serjeant bought land and hired a stone mason to build Gestingthorpe, which is the castle house that you see in these images.

Werner describes them as blue blooded aristocrats. He tells a story to illustrate this. The stable man would bring the horses, hitch them up to the buggy, steady the team as the Master and family got aboard and pass the reins up. Then he would walk behind them as they went to church in Ceylon or on business or socializing in Wolseley. Ceylon was a country church more than twelve miles east of their homestead and Wolseley was a town an equal distance west. When they arrived at their destination, the stableman would receive the reins and hold the horses until the Master returned. He would pass up the reins and walk home behind them and once they had stepped off the buggy, put the horses away. It must have been brutal in the winter.

On the house was a wooden lean-to porch. This was where the house keeper slept. It was uninsulated and unheated in the winter. The kitchen door was left open to allow some heat in the cold weather.

Conversations with Werner Zerbin about Gestingthorp
by Colin Traub (full citation below)

In another part of the document by Colin Traub and Werner Zerbin, Bernard Serjeant is referred to as “a remittance man”. “These were Englishmen who for one reason or another received an allowance from home. This money let them live in the style they were accustomed to. It was said that he was a second cousin to Queen Victoria.

All histories agree on one point: the Serjeants, including John Serjeant, of whom nothing is known except that he died at Gestingthorpe in 1912 at the age of forty-seven, never lifted a hand in the care of their livestock or their half section of land. They didn’t work at all, in fact.

Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings (2008) by Margaret Hryniuk, Frank Korvemaker, and Larry Easton

It is interesting that the Serjeants are remembered for how little they did. It’s my impression that this would not be a derogatory description to Bernard Serjeant but rather a point of honour. A gentleman doesn’t work because a gentleman doesn’t need to work.

Werner Zerbin has some interesting comments about the tower at Gestingthorpe:

There was a stone tower on the house; originally with another eight feet of wooden structure on top. From this vantage point the family could watch the Polo matches. Remittance men (bachelors) from Cannington Manor would visit the Sergeants. Cannington Manor, site of the agriculture college established by Captain Pierce, and home of many English sons, was over a hundred miles cross country. A visit might be two days or it might be a week. It was from this tower that the men would spot game and decide what they would spend the day hunting. With a spy glass they were able to see eight to ten miles.

The Sergeants had made a Victorian lifestyle and spent their entire life raising polo ponies. The couple owned the farm until 1945 when they passed away. A couple of bachelor brothers bought it and resold the same year. Werner Zerbin’s dad took over the farm in the fall of 1945 and in five quarters (800 acres), there was only 63 acres broken.

Conversations with Werner Zerbin about Gestingthorp
by Colin Traub (full citation below)
The Serjeants are gone and Gestingthorpe tumbling down. The tower is near the end of it’s time.

The Departure of the Serjeants

I should point out that the fate of Gestingthorpe differs slightly depending on the source. In the above account by Werner Zerbin, a couple of bachelor brothers bought it and resold it in the same year to Werner Zerbin’s father. In the account by “Legacy of Stone: Saskatchewan’s Stone Buildings (2008)”, Gestingthorpe was willed to Bernard Serjeant’s two brothers; Edward who moved in shortly after Bernard’s passing, and Farel who first finished his career as an English Professor at McGill University before retiring in Gestingthorpe and then moving to Victoria, BC. The two accounts are similar in that both refer to two bachelor brothers owning Gestingthorpe and the Serjeant brothers were indeed bachelors. Werner Zerbin says that the brothers were only there for a year before selling it but that’s impossible because Bernard died in 1921 and both accounts of Gestingthorpe agree that it was sold to a third party in 1945. In the succession of Gestingthorpe, I find that “Legacy of Stone” is the most accurate. It should also be noted that the local history book, Grit and Growth: The Story of Grenfell, has a different spelling for Serjeant (it uses Sergeant), and refers to Bernard’s wife as “Charlotte Ann” rather than Ada Charlotte Anne, as she is known throughout the other two sources. While on the topic of Ada Serjeant, I have not personnally seen her grave stone but all sources agree on a strange epitaph on the marker. It says, “But pray ye that your flight not be in winter“. Does it refer to the fact that winter travel was especially difficult and dangerous in the early century in southern Saskatchewan as it remains today? Or could it be related to another person’s fate, such as that of Mr. Merrifield who became disoriented and lost in the winter of 1893 and is buried in the same cemetery? We’ll never know. Bernard Serjeant’s epitaph is also intersting. It reads, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace“. Curious, and not what I would choose for myself but each to their own.

  • Ada Charlotte Anne (Walker) Serjeant died at Gestingthorpe on February 19, 1914.
  • Bernard Gilpin Serjeant (second son of Rev. James Serjeant) died at Gestingthorpe September 4, 1921.
  • John Owen Montagu Serjeant (Fourth son of Rev. James Serjeant) died at Gestingthorpe March 23, 1912.
  • Edward Blackstock Wycliffe Serjeant (fifth son of Rev. James Serjeant) died August 3, 1947.
  • Feral Serjeant died in Victoria, British Columbia, 1956. Feral was likely the third son of Rev. James Serjeant. He is not buried in the same cemetery as the rest because he moved to British Columbia.
A GMC Truck parked at Gestingthorpe.

Cannington Manor

Before I end this story I want to share what Cannington Manor is. This where Saskatchewan aristocrates once went to learn how to live without working. Well this is surprisingly not too far from the truth. I’ll quote directly from the website for Cannington Manor so you can decide for yourself:

By the late 1800s, the Government of Canada saw that the West was moving away from a fur trade economy and towards an agrarian one. Established in 1882, the village of Cannington Manor was an attempt by eastern settlers to recreate the aristocratic English lifestyle, all supported by agriculture.”

During its heyday, the villagers of Cannington Manor took part in fox hunts, dramatics societies, poetry clubs, tennis, cricket and croquet. After struggling for several years due to isolation and low grain prices, the village was abandoned in 1900“. Cannington Manor Provincial Historic Park. Saskatchewan never fails to amaze me!

Gestingthorpe’s windows are dark now

References:

Sold out due to the response of readers of this blog. See below for the book Legacy of Worship which shows many old churches in Sasskatchewan as there are still copies of that book.

Frank Korvenmaker has a number of copies of the book Legacy of Worship for sale. They retail at $40 (plus tax) in bookstores, if available. He is selling them at $25 (no tax), plus shipping, usually in the $15-$20 range. For any person or group wanting to buy books in bulk, he is selling them for $10 per book on orders of 10 copies or more. Pick-up of bulk orders may be arranged between the the buyer and Frank in Regina for those who may be passing through. Email Frank Korvenmaker at fkorvemaker@accesscomm.ca for details and to discuss shipping.

32 thoughts on “Gestingthorpe

  1. Great story Glen – lots of interesting people and places in SK. (my first home province)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s also the place where both branches of my family started their new Canadian lives. Thank you Sonia.

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  2. Marilyn Brown May 14, 2021 — 6:07 pm

    I was enthralled reading your blog. I live in Lethbridge,AB so probably will never see this place.. but I do genealogy on my English and Russian family, and this family story was so interesting. I will try and follow your travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Marilyn. You’re actually a lot closer to this old house than I am but I’m happy to have you join me vicariously in my travels.

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    2. Have you ever looked into Hyde, Saskatchewan? It’s not too far from this property in the Quappelle Valley.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think that I have. I do have locations all over Saskatchewan but on any given trip I can only visit a limited number of them. What would I find in Hyde?

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  3. I know a lot about the true story of Cannington Manor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only read what it said at the website. What do you know that is different?

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  4. Another fascinating lesson in history Glen. I tend to wonder just how far much of that stone was hauled in order to build the house. Then I go on to further wonder what they actually did with their time. Yes, I know they were considered aristocracy and that has a certain social stigma, but if they were recluses for the most part as well, I’d think they must have been pretty bored with their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary Anne I think that they could be busy or idle with their time. There was the job of managing the farm (directing staff). They hosted a number of gatherings from Carrington Manor and they would spent time on the polo ponies. I don’t know if they were truly reclusive or just mixed with their own kind. The history we have about them is so brief it’s hard to say. I’m curious as to why they didn’t have children or why the brothers never married. One brother was a professor so he would have met many people. So many questions.

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      1. Mercedes Will May 16, 2021 — 9:55 am

        It’s true, The Beckton Brothers who came to the Prairies were strong, faithful people with many friends and interests.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Were they a famous or well known Saskatchewan family? If so they might be a good topic for a future blog. I would only write about them if I had took photos of their house though as that’s still the main purpose of the blog.

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      3. Mercedes Will May 17, 2021 — 8:47 am

        Yes, that is the family I am talking about. Mary Hewlett wrote a detailed book about them and it is in the Regina Public Library but cannot be removed from the library as it is too rare and fragile. You can only read it if you stay in the library to read it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Well once this Covid-19 situation is under control perhaps I’ll have an opportunity to visit Regina and see that book.

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  5. My first home in Canada was a Stone house 7 miles east of Wilkie, Sask. It was built by my Great Great Grandfather who was a stone smith from Scotland who homesteaded the land. I was two years old and came from Surrey, England with my mother, a war bride. It was here I met my father, a Canadian soldier and Saskatchewan farmer who had already returned from his years of service during WW II.

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    1. Have you been back in the past few years Barry? Do you know if it’s still standing? Neither of the homes that my parents grew up in are still standing (one wood house in SW Saskatchewan and one stone house in SE Saskatchewan).

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  6. Robert Caswell May 19, 2021 — 9:18 am

    My Great Grandfather was the third owner of the Becton Ranch. My Grandfather came with him to work the ranch (farm) and my mother was born in the smaller gatehouse on the property. I have visited the site twice. The mansion was in pretty good condition the first time but by the second visit the entire end of the mansion had fallen out flat on the ground. Sad to see but the builders had not put the foundations deep enough to survive Saskatchewan winters and the corners all cracked and the place is now just a pile of rubble.

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    1. I haven’t heard about Becton Ranch. Was it nearby? Who were the Bectons.

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      1. Robert Caswell May 26, 2021 — 11:24 am

        The Bectons were brothers who were sent as “remittance men” to the area now known as Cannington-Manor. The appear to have tried to set up a little bit of England on the prairies with a large fieldstone manor, a large stone stable for their race horses, tennis courts,and a smaller fieldstone gate house for the servant. Part of the manor was a wing with a large billiard room on the ground floor and a large dormitory on the upper level to house the young men who responded to their advertising that purported to provide training in farming on the prairies. Truth was, they really wanted company on their fox hunts ( they had many fox hounds), tennis tournaments. social events and horse racing meets. The young men received very little practical instruction for farming.
        They built a race course for their horses. I’m told you can still see traces of it if you know where to look.
        When family fortunes shifted they sold the establishment and left the country.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The next time that I am in that part of Saskatchewan I’ll check out Cannington Manor and hopefully I will see the old church and maybe even see the old race track.

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    2. After reading your comment I looked up the Beckton Brothers and their ranch. This was part of Cannington Manor that I referred to in the blog. I haven’t been there yet. It’s great to hear from people like you who have connections to the actual time and place. Do you have any period photos of your Great Grandfather at the ranch? If I’m able to visit the site and especially if I can find the actual Beckton mansion, even if it’s just ruins, I’ll be able to write a blog post about just that area. I still find it fascinating that so many aristocrats moved to Saskatchewan.

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      1. Robert Caswell May 19, 2021 — 11:24 am

        Many of my relatives still live in the Cannington -Manor area. I lived there for three years in my youth. I attended the Cannington-Manor school for two of the three years. That building is now the interpretive center for the Provincial Park that has been set up on the old townsite. The only surviving original building is the old Anglican Church built in the time of Captain Pearce (sp?). Several buildings have been replicated and are inhabited by interpreters in period costume. The foundation of the old flour mill are still there. The mill won prizes for the quality of its flour in several fairs including in Toronto. The railroad went through 10 miles away and Cannington-Manor died and the new town of Manor grew up on the railroad.
        I don’t have any photos of my Great Grandfather. My Grandfather left the ranch and later became a grain buyer at a rural elevator nearby at Service siding, no longer in existence.
        The Bectons owned race horses and had a track on the property. The huge stone stable was in fairly good condition that last time I was there. Each horse had its own box stall with a glass front tack box. In pictures I have seen there was a wooden cattle barn as well but that had disappeared by the time I was there.
        The site is now on private property, the Denis family the last I heard. You need permission to go back across the fields to the site.

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      2. There is so much interesting history in southern Saskatchewan. Thanks for telling me more about the original Cannington Manor. This makes me wonder how many other wealthy Englishmen lived in the area? I know of the Lakes, the Serjeants and now the Becktons.

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  7. Geraldine Ewaniuk May 20, 2021 — 7:35 am

    What great photos and and a fascinating history! You’ve done a lot of research to get the story, which I very much enjoyed. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very Geraldine. I appreciate hearing from you.

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  8. Gerri Ewaniuk May 20, 2021 — 8:20 am

    Hi Glen

    Hopefully this is the right way to send the newspaper article to you.

    Please confirm receipt. Thanks.

    Gerri

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    1. Geraldine Ewaniuk May 20, 2021 — 9:04 am

      Re-sent to your email address.

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  9. We visited Cannington Manor fifty years ago and it made a lasting impression on us. It is so good that Saskatchewan has kept this historical place available for all generations to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that it’s very important to preserve these places. I had no idea that Saskatchewan had such an interesting history and both branches of my family lived in Saskatchewan when they first arrived in Canada. I wish I had heard of Cannington Manor when I visited that part of the province in April 2021, although it might not have been open to the public that early in the season. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to see what is there. Thanks for commenting.

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  10. Loved this story and pictures.
    I paint a lot of these historical places.
    Is there, in existence, historical photography of the tower intact?
    *At the front right side of the house there appears to be a concrete structure
    that does not appear to be a part of the building structure. Can you elaborate?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve tried to find older images but didn’t not succeed. You might find images on Flickr that are slightly older but not enough to be significantly different. I’m not sure which structure you are referring to. The house has a tower on one side, a bay window on the next side and a part wood and part stone kitchen and maids quarters on the next side. Off in the distance is a garage or barn structure.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Perhaps you are referring to the buttresses at one corner. That is the big chunk of concrete on the corner. It’s pretty common on stone buildings, especially if they are near water 💦 or in a low area. The building cracks because of the ground moving from the freeze and thaw cycle. I’ve seen some buildings with huge buttresses that really distort the buildings lines.

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