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Visiting Woodchester Villa, Bracebridge, Ontario: a remarkable octagon house

Updated on January 17, 2012
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Woodchester Villa: octagon house in Bracebridge, Ontario
Woodchester Villa: octagon house in Bracebridge, Ontario | Source
Historical panel, Woodchester Villa, Bracebridge
Historical panel, Woodchester Villa, Bracebridge | Source
Map location of Muskoka District Municipality, Ontario
Map location of Muskoka District Municipality, Ontario | Source

Remembering the owner of the octagonal 'Bird Cage'

This interesting example of an octagon house is situated in Bracebridge, Muskoka District Municipality, Ontario, and dates from 1882.

When local woollen manufacturer Henry James Bird wanted to build a villa in Bracebridge, he was influenced by the architectural theories of Orson Squire Fowler, who argued for space-saving efficiency and, indeed, health, by building many-sided — as opposed to rectangular — houses. Accordingly, this property built in King Street became what is a fine, Ontarian example of an octagon house.

Among the particular features of this property is — for its size — an extensive balcony, the dimensions of which lend themselves to the octagonal shape of the house.

Ontario writer Ron Brown points out that Woodchester Villa was one of the first of over one hundred such octagon houses in the Province, many of which have not survived, situated mainly in eastern or central Ontario; the northernmost example of an octagonal structure being a barn near Sault Ste.Marie, (ON).

Now as a local museum, Woodchester Villa has recently been undergoing refurbishment plans.

My wife and I can claim a slight connection with the neighbourhood of this historic property, given that several decades ago my father-in-law lived in a property close to this octagon house in King Street.

Various names

This house has been known by various names. Officially 'Woodchester Villa' is preferred by the Ontario Heritage Trust, and, indeed, by the original owner, who was born in Woodchester, England. Locally, too, in reference to the owner's name, 'Bird House' has also had currency.

But also in reference to the owner — and maybe less deferentially — and in view of the building's shape, the house has also been known locally as the 'Bird Cage'. (Or maybe this name came about because members of the same family, as it happened, lived in this house for nearly a century?)


(1) 'Eight Sides to a House: Woodchester Villa', in: Ron Brown, Top 100 Unusual Things to See in Ontario , Erin, Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 2005, p. p. 178-179.

Also worth seeing

In Bracebridge itself, Manitoba Street, with its various gift stores, has some picturesque buildings. The scenic High Falls attract summer visitors.

At Gravenhurst (distance: 18.1 kilometres) the Segwun regularly cruises with passengers on Lake Muskoka. Nearby Muskoka Airport has a collection of Royal Norwegian Air Force memorabilia, dating from World War Two.


How to get there: Toronto Pearson Airport (distance: 179.2 kilometres) to which Air Canada and WestJet fly from many North American destinations, is the largest international airport within accessible distance to Bracebridge, which is situated north of Toronto by road via Highways 400 and 11. Car hire is available at Toronto Pearson Airport. Ontario Northland operates rail services to Bracebridge from Toronto Union Station. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      Peggy W: The house is currently under refurbishment. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      That would be an interesting house to view. Thanks for telling us about it in this hub.