Limestone Hall: Robert decided to become a master builder himself and built Limestone Hall in 1853, right, for John McGregor in Halton County. The following year he married his niece, Ann McGregor. (In the 1960s Limestone Hall was the home of Lt. Col. Allan Burton, DSO, Chairman & CEO of the Robert Simpson Co. of Toronto. Inside was hanging his favourite painting, right, Shooting the Rapids (1930), by renowned Canadian painter Arthur Heming.)
Robert Stewart Company: In 1854, newlyweds Robert and Ann Stewart, moved to Guelph, Ontario, where he started a steam-driven planing, flooring, and sash factory to cater to the enormous building boom going on in this part of Ontario.
Below is the new factory he built in 1869. Robert lived right beside it, in a home he called "The Lilacs," so he could keep an eye on things. The trees on the right are beside The Lilacs, which is shown below right, tight up against the expanded factory in the 1890s. But, adding three extra bays to the factory, above, towards the house, was not a good idea...
The Stewart Chest: As a shelving, sash and flooring maker, Robert Stewart had access to the finest woods to provide to his customers. So it was when Robert - who was one of the leading citizens of Guelph - needed furniture for The Lilacs, that he picked the finest woods and used the best craftsmen in his shop to build it for him.
This chest was probably built, if not in his earlier factory, then in the plant below left, and carried across the yard to The Lilacs, right, where for many decades it would overhear family squabbles and the Scottish burr resound throughout the house. And Robert's children would slam its drawers right open and shut.
The choice woods available to Robert Stewart are evident here in the exquisite bird's eye maple top and tiger maple bottom drawer fronts. And in the finest backsplat we have ever seen adorn a Canadian antique piece of furniture, made of a solid chunk of tiger maple.
The chest would remain in Robert and Ann Stewart's home till 1921. Then it had a close brush with disaster...
FIRE! The biggest fire in Guelph's history broke out in 1921 and destroyed the Wyndham street factory row. Above, the Stewart factory facade is all that remains standing next to the grove of trees around The Lilacs, in the right background, and in the close-up right. Sadly, the mansion was consumed by the fire. Fortunately - one can't help but feel - Robert had died three years earlier, and did not see what became of the dream he had built in Canada for himself, and the Stewart family. It would have broken the heart of the old man.
Luckily, when people saw the fire starting to spread, they began to carry the furniture and belongings from the house. So the chest above, was saved, and remains, today, to represent, what is for many, the finest period of furniture making in Canadian history, and to enshrine the fine crafting traditions of men like Robert Stewart.