Self guided tour
Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site
1. House introduction
- Built in 1880, this is the original house in which Norman Bethune was born.
- In 1972, the Canadian Government officially recognized Norman Bethune as a Canadian Figure of National Historic Significance. This house was then purchased from the United Church by the Canadian government in 1973, and restored to look like it would have in 1890, the year Norman Bethune was born here.
- It is now operated by Parks Canada, (which is the part of the Government of Canada that looks after many of Canada’s important historical and natural places.)
- Parks Canada was fortunate to have found many items which actually belonged to the family. The rest of the house contains items which are the same age and style that we believe they would have had, based on three years of research into what a church minister’s family in Ontario would have owned and the Bethunes’ particular preferences.
- All of the pieces in the house are very old and often fragile, so please do not touch them.
- The Bethune family lived here for the first three years of Norman Bethune’s life. After living here, the Bethunes moved to seven other towns in Ontario before Norman Bethune graduated from high school. Each town’s church provided them with a house to live in.
- The house was owned by the Presbyterian Church, where his father worked as a church Minister. Later it became a United Church minister’s residence. A succession of ministers lived here from 1880 until 1973.
- This home was considered to be an upper-middle class home in 1890. It might appear wealthy to us today, perhaps because of the ornate antiques. But many of these items were commonplace at that time. And remember that this family didn’t own the house: it was owned by the church for whom Reverend Malcolm worked as a minister.
- There was no electricity in this house in 1890. They would have heated the house with wood stoves and used oil lamps for lighting.
- This room would have been used for adults to socialize, for special family gatherings and for church meetings. Many couples have been married in this room over the years, too.
- Norman Bethune’s paternal grandfather etched the snowflake design onto the blue plate. It was probably given by him as a gift to a family member. His self-portrait is on the wall, above this plate. The grandfather’s name was also Dr. Norman Bethune and he helped to found the University of Toronto Medical School.
- The two large pictures on your left are not Bethune family: they are Queen Victoria–the Queen of England and Canada at that time–and her husband, Prince Albert.
- The black Papier-mâché chair has a registration date of August 10, 1843 and it is a Bethune Family Artifact. It was probably used by the Bethune family and their guests, in this very room!
- A hand-beaded purse on the chair belonged to Mrs. Elizabeth Bethune.
- There are portraits of other Bethune family members throughout the room.
- The round table near the organ is an exact replica of one made by Norman’s maternal grandfather.
3. Dining Room
- This room was used as a dining room and also for some household chores such as sewing on a machine like the one displayed here.
- Young Norman and his older sister, Janet, might have played in this room so as to be within sight of their mother, but out of the way of church meetings taking place in the parlour.
- On the wall is a gong which Norman Bethune’s parents owned. We believe they may have met in Hawaii, and brought it back to Canada as a souvenir. A family story tells us that as a tradition, they used to ring it on Christmas Day, to invite their children to see their gifts around the Christmas tree.
- This is a kitchen and a general work room for the house. Bethune’s mother, Elizabeth, would have cooked the family’s meals, cleaned and ironed clothes and done other chores in here.
- The family probably had part time house help to assist with some of the chores, as many families did then.
- The green stairs lead to “back stairs”, which were used by the family or house help when doing chores, e.g. to carry water up to wash stands.
- The family would have had a weekly bath in a metal tub in this room–probably on Saturdays, so as to be clean for church on Sunday. The water for baths and other washing came from rainwater drawn from the green pump and was heated on the stove.
- Drinking water came from an outside well near where a replica now stands and an outhouse somewhere at the north end of the back yard served as their toilet facilities.
- The adjacent, small room with shelves is for storing food. The other room is a storage room.
5. Norman Bethune’s Father’s Study / Office
- This is the room where Bethune’s father, Reverend Malcolm, would have conducted the church’s business, such as preparing his sermons and meeting with parishioners.
- Reverend Malcolm is pictured on the large composite photo on the wall above the lounge. He is sitting at the back, left corner of the table, with his hand to his chin.
- The black oval picture frame on the wall contains the picture of Rev. John Bethune, Norman Bethune’s great-great grandfather (on his father’s side). He was also a church Minister and he moved to Canada from Scotland in the 1770s, along with his wife, Véronique, pictured in the oval frame below.
- There are two Bethune family artifacts in this room: The small bookshelf at the back left corner and the black Papier-mâché tray on the desk at the back right were both owned by the family when they lived here. Many other items owned by Norman Bethune and his family are upstairs, in a special exhibit room.
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