Annual IODE tour offers eight unique homes to see

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A fully renovated home on Marlborough Avenue retains many of its original details, including leaded glass windows in the living room. (Photograph by Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen)

If you’ve ever admired the beautiful homes of historic Sandy Hill, you’ll get a chance to see inside eight of them next month.

The Laurentian Chapter IODE’s annual house and garden tour highlights the eclectic urban neighbourhood, which boasts grand embassies interspersed among a mix of modern and heritage homes near the Rideau River.

The tour, which has been running for 51 years, will be held over two days this year instead of one — June 8 and 9 — to accommodate more people.

“We had a core group who could come during the week and in previous years when we switched to a Saturday we saw a new group of people who couldn’t come on the weekday,” says tour organizer Elanor Brodie. “So we decided if we had two days, we could catch everybody.”

Participants can take either a self-guided walking tour or a free shuttle bus that will make a circuit of the houses and institutions on the tour every half-hour starting at 9:45 a.m. The first stop will be the Marlborough Avenue home of artist Claire MacDonald.

The 1927 Edwardian-style brick home is beautifully landscaped with a large gable and stone sills. The MacDonalds have lived in this classic home for four years. It was renovated by the previous owners, but the MacDonalds were attracted by the extensive original details left untouched, including built-in bookcases, thick crown moulding, french doors and leaded glass windows. The classic home was originally owned by John Hewitt Balderson, grandson of the founder of the renowned Balderson cheese company..

One of the four upstairs bedrooms doubles as a library with an attached sunroom that houses MacDonald’s art studio, a serene environment where she draws inspiration from the surrounding trees and a long view that stretches to Strathcona Park and the Rideau River.

Art lovers will soak in the family’s eclectic collection, including two abstract paintings by New York artist Leonard Rosenfeld (1926 to 2009) from his “Coney Island Left Behind” series, another large portrait of MacDonald’s great-grandmother and two Chinese street-artisan landscapes made using fingers and hands instead of brushes or pens.

Reproduction chandeliers are featured in the study, dining room and lower and upper hallway, which overlooks a magnificent wall of stained glass in red rose and vibrant green.

The bus will continue along Marlborough Avenue to a custom infill with an impressive kitchen and private garden.

Then the next stop will be a sleek, top-floor condo loft at Wallis House on Rideau Street, the former site of the old protestant hospital that was built in 1873 on the foundations of an even older armoury and drill hall. Now it’s a fabulously renewed condominium with high ceilings, soaring windows and stylish decor.

The bus will then backtrack to Stewart Street and the residence of the Polish ambassador. Recently refurbished, it features a sophisticated dining room and an eclectic entertainment hall in the basement.

Next it’s on to a Cobourg Street home that holds an impressive collection of medieval artifacts, including a suit of 17th-century armour and a collection of notable Canadian art, including works by Paul Peel.

Also included on the tour is Besserer House on Daly Avenue, one of the oldest houses in Ottawa, although historians continue to debate the date of construction — they believe it was built sometime between 1844 and 1859. The Georgian-style home was built for Louis-Théodore Besserer, who had inherited much of the land in what is now Sandy Hill and sold it in lots.

The house has been partially restored and, like Claire MacDonald’s Marlborough Avenue home, retains many original architectural features. The dining room is now used as a showroom for harps — Vixen Harps ( — where a number of the owner’s fine instruments will be on display.

A few doors down is the former home of Cairine Wilson — Canada’s first female senator in 1930 in the wake of the famous Persons Case, which for the first time recognized women under the British North America Act. Today, the house is an austerely decorated Roman Catholic Dehon seminary, featuring a chapel, stained glass and a collection of wooden sculptures by Father Herman Falke.

A home on King Edward Avenue is the other Edwardian gem on the tour. The century-old terrace house, complete with turret, has been a bed and breakfast for many years (

Experts will be on hand, along with Laurentian chapter hostesses, at all eight locations to talk about the homes and tell their stories. Sen. Landon Pearson, heritage renovator Sandy Smallwood and Michel Prévost, archivist of the University of Ottawa, will also be on hand to answer questions and chat with visitors about everything from the significance of the Persons Case to the francophone presence in Sandy Hill.

During the tour, there are plenty of options to get off the bus and take part in other activities that will include backstage visits to the Ottawa Little Theatre and a talk by local architecture and heritage expert David Jeanes on architect James Mather, who designed Laurier House (Saturday only, 2:30 p.m.).

Participants will also be treated to free tours of Laurier House, can enjoy tea and scones on the veranda ($5) and can walk across Laurier Avenue to enjoy 15-minute concerts by Ottawa cellist Julian Armour and his fellow musicians every half-hour both days.

Le Cordon Bleu (453 Laurier Ave. E.) will offer a three-course luncheon (reservations a must) on Saturday only starting at 11:30 a.m. Le Cordon Bleu is also offering tours of the mansion, including some of its culinary operations.

The IODE is a national women’s charitable organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for individuals through education support, community service and citizenship programs.

If you go

What: Laurentian Chapter IODE 51st Annual House and Garden Tour

When: June 8 and 9, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Cost: $30. Proceeds will go mainly to Nelson House. Other educational projects locally and in Ontario’s North will also be supported.

Tickets: Available online or at Randall’s locations (555 Bank St., 2003 St. Joseph Blvd., 71 Market Place Ave., 120 Robertson Rd.); Mood Moss Flowers, 186 Beechwood Ave.; Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Ave.; Tivoli Flowers, 282 Richmond Rd.; Celadon Salon and Spa, 373 St. Laurent Blvd.; Just Imagine Home and Garden Decor, 5532 Manotick Main St.

Information: Call 613-842-5304, visit or check out their Facebook page at IODE Laurentian Chapter or on Twitter @IODELaurentian.

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