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A little bit of Ontario - in Devon!

wolford chapel flags2Many of you know our SEO guru and copywriter Kirsty is based in the UK, and you may also know she's on holiday this week. However, as she discovered, the links between Canada and the UK run very deep…

When looking for a rural retreat for my week away from the busy world of SEO research and copywriting for Akira, I picked a cottage on Old Wolford Farm tucked high in the Blackdown Hills north of Honiton. However, it seemed that all the signs I saw on the winding lanes up out of the valley pointed to Wolford Chapel, and they all featured a Canadian flag. Was Devon trying to tell me something?!

 

wolford chapel fontIt turns out that our holiday cottage is on the former estate of none other than John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, now Ontario, and he's buried in Wolford Chapel just a mile up the road. What makes Wolford Chapel unique is that it is actually owned by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, quite literally a little bit of Canada in deepest Devon!

 

 

wolford chapel front doorIt doesn't look much from the outside, it has to be said, a rather four-square chapel up a tiny leafy lane, and with a iron grill over the door. Yet open the (unlocked) grill, turn the iron door handle, and a hidden treasure is revealed. Built by the Simcoe family in 1802 on the site of a earlier medieval chapel, it is lined with rescued elements from other local churches, including Jacobean wood panelling and stained glass windows.

However, what really strikes you as soon as you walk in are the flags - Canadian and British side by side, two behind the pulpit, and two framing a plaque commemorating a man who achieved so much in just three years in Canada, from 1792 to 1796.

Simcoe’s family already had links with Canada - his father had died en route to Quebec with General Wolfe in 1759. After joining the British Army, Simcoe commanded the 1st American Regiment in the American Revolution and was a prisoner of war for three months.On returning home, he married Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim in a church we can almost see from our cottage decking.

wolford chapel plaque with flagsAppointed Lieutenant Governor to Upper Canada in 1791, Simcoe travelled with his wife and two of their children to a wilderness, which he promptly had to defend against American forces and organise into a trading province. Ill health saw him return to England in 1796, followed by a year as Governor to Haiti ,and five years preparing southwest England for a possible invasion by Napoleonic forces. Simcoe was taken ill on a secret mission in Portugal, while travelling to take up the prestigious post of Viceroy of India, and returned to England, dying in Exeter in 1806.

wolford chapel Simcoe portraitA glance at the visitor book reveals that Canadians still come here to pay their respects; in the last week, ten Ontario residents had stood on a little bit on home territory. The Simcoe family may no longer own the estate, or the farm we're staying on, but it's somehow humbling to know their legacy lives on on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

 

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