The listing: 422 Mountsberg Rd., Flamborough, Ont.
Asking price: $3,750,000
Taxes: $3,770.21 (2021)
Lot size: 16.3 acres
Agent: Karen Lilja, Re/Max Escarpment Realty Inc.
When Alba DiCenso and Brian Hutchison bought their home at 422 Mountsberg Rd., they were looking to get out of Hamilton for a little more quiet reflection. They have that in spades with more than 16 acres of trails, ponds, wetlands, forest and pasture clearings. What they weren’t expecting, but have enthusiastically embraced, is a conservationist mission that seeks both to enhance the natural landscape and support some of the threatened local species of flora and fauna.
The lot is almost right in the middle of a triangle of mainly rural land between Hamilton, Milton and Guelph. This is equestrian country; satellite maps show a half-dozen oval tracks within a couple kilometres of the home. Initially, the couple invited the local conservation authority onto their property for advice on where to site a gazebo they hoped to build.
“We didn’t know anything about these things when we moved here,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Once we connected with them we had an annual visit. … They’d look around and point out things we should consider doing. And then we began to learn all they could do to help us. Up until last year we had a grant to remove large (non-native) buckthorn trees and poison them so they wouldn’t come back. They brought extractors, dug out all sorts of trees. We’ve had at least four tranches of trees and shrubs they’ve provided to us.”
That partnership has allowed them to enhance and improve the property in sometimes unexpected ways over the years.
“In one of our walks an expert pointed out a big patch of periwinkle, an invasive plant,” said Ms. DiCenso. Periwinkle, though non-native, does provide a pretty blue forest carpet, and so it was with some reluctance that they brought in a team to uproot it all. “I was astonished. … Within the next year, we had a forest floor filled with [local species] trilliums and bloodroots, trout lily and mayapples. … It’s such an excellent example of what happens when you get rid of invasive species.”
They also heard from conservationists that bluebirds were endangered, so they allowed a collection of nesting boxes to adorn a clearing where they put a picnic table. They also have five duck boxes along the stream, for wood ducks and hooded mergansers, which lay upwards of 17 eggs in a clutch that are often preyed upon by raccoons.
And as it turns out, if you take care of nature it can take care of you. “Four of our 16 acres are conservation land, it’s wetland area, and that’s eligible for 100-per-cent tax exemption,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “The other 11 acres get reduced taxes for managed forest. … Our taxes here are less than $4,000 a year.”
The house today
Down a winding lane through thick forest is the house at 422 Mountsberg. It sits near the rear of the rectangular lot, and close to Mountsberg Creek, which runs through the property.
Originally there was a cottage on the land with an addition that was built in 1971. The couple hired custom-home builders Thomas Cochren Homes and architect John Williams of Williams Residential Design to reimagine the structure. The cottage wasn’t salvageable, but the addition was mainly kept and that footprint was converted into a wing containing the primary bedroom and living room. “When [Mr. Williams] designed the house, he wanted to ensure we’d have a beautiful view from every window. … Sixteen years later I find myself wandering from window to window,” Mr. Hutchinson said.
It’s a ranch-style home with red siding and white trim, and the outbuildings have the same cladding. Through the half-glass front door is a foyer tiled in slate that leads directly into the formal dining room. On the left is a door down to the large unfinished basement, on the right the closet, and then hallways branch off at 90 degree angles. The same warm golden oak flooring is found everywhere but the bathrooms in the rest of the house.
Down the hall to the right is what might be called the guest wing. There’s another central foyer here that opens into five separated spaces: an office, two bedrooms, a powder room and a full bathroom. The office feels like the biggest room with its double French doors and large bay window, but it’s actually smaller in size to the two bedrooms, both of which have windows on two walls. The guest bath has a tub-shower and large vanity and storage cabinets, the powder room is right next to it and only has a vanity and toilet.
The kitchen is through a doorway from the central dining room, also accessible from the hallway and the living room, and is a separated space with a large eat-in area and a wall of windows. A U-shaped run of counters (with bold red upper and lower cabinetry) contains the double wall oven, gas range and double sink that faces the wall of windows. The fridge is on the shared wall with the dining room, next to a shorter run of cabinets and counter with a second prep sink.
Turning left out of the kitchen is the living room, with a large fireplace with a brick-and-wood mantle on an interior wall, and almost floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Every major room has large windows that draw the forest closer and flood the space with light.
Going back to the interior of the house is a section of the T-shaped hallway that connects the foyer, the kitchen, and the primary bedroom. Off that hall is also a mudroom entrance with laundry, pantry and a secondary fridge and stove, which very helpful for cooking the polenta for big Italian family get-togethers according to Ms. DiCenso. “That’s what I grew up with; there’s usually multiple things that need to be in the oven at the same time, a baked pasta dish, and a turkey or a ham.”
The primary bedroom also has windows on two walls, and about a third of the floorplan is dedicated to the large walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom. With separate shower and tub, double vanity and one feature that’s a little unusual: a wall-mounted urinal next to the toilet. “It was a strong request that Brian had when we designed this house. And I must say, that all the men who visit and see it are very impressed,” Ms. DiCenso said.
The best feature
Without a doubt, the woods.
“I take a 20-minute walk around the property every day,” Ms. DiCenso said. “I go up the sugar maple forest, to the picnic area, down the hill to the coniferous forest, and then walk along a lovely slope parallel to the road, then a trail that takes me into the wetland, streams, over a bridge to the pond, a walking path along the stream, and then back home.” In the winter they will sometimes cross-country ski or snowshoe the same route. “We spend time on the pond, on the dock, often for a drink in the afternoon,” she said.
One of Mr. Hutchinson’s retirement projects was to build a sugar shack to make that most Canadian of condiments. “This year I made 30 litres of maple syrup,” he said. “There are 42 taps on plastic tubing, but there’s potential for lots more because it’s quite a large sugar maple bush. I have a 65-gallon collection tank that drains into a wood-fired evaporator, and it’s become a slick operation now.”
In August, Mr. Hutchinson turns 80, and while it’s too soon in the year to get one last syrup batch the couple hopes to host one last big party to wish a sweet goodbye to their forest home.
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