BRANTFORD/EAGLES NEST – An historic early home built, it is estimated, around the 1850s, was destroyed by a suspicious fire Sunday night.
At around 7:40 p.m., Dwayne Armstrong, Brantford chief fire prevention officer, and Six Nations Fire Service, were made aware of the fire. By the time firefighters arrived a short time later, “flames were showing and had breached through the windows on the second story,” according to Armstrong.
“It was a very difficult fire”, he added, saying it was a difficult fire to knock down. “It was so involved we used a defensive attack and stayed outside.”
It took until 10 p.m. to put the fire out.
Six Nations Fire Chief Mathew Miller describes the scene.
“Due to a partial roof collapse and the resultant instability of the two-story structure, fire crews were unable to make entry to conduct any primary or secondary searches for victims,” according to a media release. “While fighting the fire it was determined that the home and property are situated on Six Nations of the Grand River lands and contact was initiated with representatives of the Six Nations Police and Six Nations Fire and Emergency Services to transition the scene/investigation to our control.”
There is no damage estimate available but due to the amount of damage the house sustained it is considered to be a complete loss.
The loss of the old Henry House, named after the family that built in and farmed the land around it, was sad enough from a historical perspective. But it could have been far worse.
The Henry House stands in close proximity to the famous Mohawk Chapel — the oldest standing Anglican Church in Canada built to accommodate the Christian Mohawks shortly after Joseph Brant and his Mohawks along with remnants of the others of the Six Nations Confederacy arrival to the Grand River Territory in 1784 under the Haldimand Deed.
Barry Hill, Chairman of the Mohawk Chapel committee, was awakened by a call alerting him of the fire and made his way immediately to Brantford to ensure the historic Chapel was safe.
“It was a very good thing that there was no wind that night,” Hill told the Two Row Times. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Hill was not surprised that something happened to the old Six Nations owned house that has sat vacant for the past three years. He has been warning whoever would listen for a long time now that something must be done to protect this old home.
“It was originally a farm house that was transferred over to the GRCA and then given to the Six Nations in compensation for the building of the dyke back in the 1960s,” says Hill.
“I remember my daughter and I was here back in 1985 when Lincoln Alexander was here,” recalls Hill. “We had tea out here on the front lawn of the house which was being used as a reception house and gift shop at that time. It was really beautiful here.”
The old Henry House was used in that way for a number of years until the Elected Council decided to rent it out. It became a computer shop for a time and then became home for Six Nations Housing clients through the late 1990s. That ended two years ago, leaving the house to deteriorate, which it did rapidly. There has been a number of break-ins to the house which has made Hill very nervous about the safety of the Chapel, right next door.
Hill wanted to restore the old house to be used.
“I got approval from the board to write a letter to Council last August saying it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Hill laments. “I said we have to do something and got assurances that they were going to fix it and it would be ready by September — and here we are.”
The early word from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office who have been investigating the fire since Monday, is that it was an arson, adding to the growing number of suspicious fires in the region.
The proximity to the Chapel made the Henry House an ideal location as a visitors tea house. “I was advocating that we should either fix it up or turn it over the Six Nations Tourism,” said Hill.
Fixing it up as an office for the National Indigenous Bishop which would fit perfectly with this church, being one of only two Royal Chapels in Canada, and the oldest Anglican Indian Church in Canada.
But it’s too late for any of that now. Tuesday Afternoon the old Henry House was flattened and the foundation filled in.
Brantford and Six Nations Police are investigating this and other acts of arson perpetrated over the last couple of months.
From early records maps and an archaeological survey conducted in 1984 by Ian Kenyon and Neal Ferris, it shows scattered homes around the Mohawk Chapel, which were excavated. The name attached to the property the Henry House was built on according to an 1845 map is Catherine John, daughter of Joseph Brant.
Among many other artifacts discovered were two minted coins, a Brock half-penny and a Wellington half-penny both dated to 1816.