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Murdoch Mysteries–and Murder–Comes to Ruthven Park
“There’s been a murder, sir,” reports Constable George Crabtree to his superior. “But the deceased is attired somewhat unusually.” “I can see that, George,” says the sharp-eyed Inspector William Murdoch. “He’s dressed as a turtle!”
With this intriguing plot teaser, the camera moves to the out-of-doors.The scene of the crime is a magnificient home–Greek Revival in architectural style–mid-19th century, for sure. And the setting! A sweeping panorama of park and forestland with a slow-moving, broad river as a backdrop complete the stunning exterior scene.
“That’s Ruthven Park!” I announce to Louis, sitting up abrubtly from my usual Murdoch pose–under a blanket with Sophie the Siamese cat in the crook of my arm. ” I know it is.” “Yep,” my partner in historical travels agrees. “Same parkland, same meandering driveway up to the home, and that’s the Grand River for sure.”
We’d visited Ruthven Park, in Cayuga, a 20 minute drive south of Brantford, just the week before. It was #40 on our quest to visit all 266 of Ontario’s Historical Sites. On that fine, early spring Sunday, the home itself was still closed and visitors were few. So we could let the dogs have a lively romp through the sprawling grounds, without distrubing anyone.
As usual, I’d “boned up” on my Historic Site history before we set out. Ruthven Park had risen, of ashlar limestone, between the years 1845-1846. It was the magisterial home of one David Thompson, a principal in the Grand River Navigation Company. At the time, the Company had transformed the lazy Grand into a major transportation artery, carrying goods from Brantford to Lake Erie and beyond. No easy task this. A series of locks, dams and canals had been constructed to turn water into highway.
Thompson had imported famed American architect John Latshaw to transpose his vision for a fine, country riverside estate into reality. The result was one of Ontario’s finest 19th century homes. Ruthven Park melded Classical architecture in a Picturesque design landcsape. The main house, as well as the various outbuildings and open spaces had been so placed to capture the maximum aesthetic impression of the 1600 acre property.
With the arrival of the railway, the importance of river transport lessened and was eventually abandoned. Still, the Thompson family stayed on at their beloved Ruthven, with succeeding generations occupying the property until 1992. Then the land and home was purchased by the Lower Grand River Land Trust. Ruthven Park was named a National Historic Site in 1995. The town of Cayuga designated the property under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1998.
Today Ruthven Park exists as a museum, open to the public. It’s also a popular site for weddings and various social and community events. It’s rich source of wildlife too. The property encompasses an area designated for Natural and Scientific Interest and is a signficant wetland. The Ruthven Blog gives information on various rare bird species such as the Eastern Phoebe and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets which pass through Ruthven property and are banded.
Take a drive this Sunday and marvel at another of Ontario’s National Historic Sites. I promise that you’ll be glad you did.
And as usual Murdoch, with the capable assistance of Crabtree, Brackenreid and Dr. Ogden solve the Ruthven Park murder. But this episode’s Murdoch Mysteries with a twist. The murderer goes free.