New owners of Thomas 'Carbide' Willson home on Vansittart Avenue turn house into bed and breakfast
Woodstock Sentinel-Review ~ November 23, 2016
When South African immigrants Alida and François Joubert bought one of Woodstock’s historic homes in June 2016, they knew they wanted to share the beauty with others.
The couple quickly turned the Thomas “Carbide” Willson mansion on the corner of Admiral St. and Vansittart Ave into a bed and breakfast after buying it in June 2016.
“We love it,” Alida Joubert said. “It’s like living in a museum.”
After spending a few years in Oakville once they arrived in Canada, the Jouberts spotted the property on the Internet. Joubert said she fell in love.
“We probably spent 11 hours in the house before we bought it,” she said. “We were just flabbergasted.”
Previous owners “revamped everything,” leaving the five-floor mansion with a modern kitchen, ensuite bathrooms in almost every one of the eight bedrooms, and 21st-century comforts like heating – though no air conditioning.
“This summer was terrible,” she said with a laugh. “We’re still in the process of sorting out that challenge.”
(Update: "All our guest rooms have air conditioners")
Canadian inventor Thomas Leopold “Carbide” Willson first built the home in 1895 at a cost of $90,000. Willson, who was born in Princeton, is best known for producing calcium carbide, used in manufacturing acetylene gas, which earned him the Carbide nickname.
He built the home for his mother, but he also had a small laboratory there, something that was discovered in later years. A water reservoir in the attic was constructed in case of fire.
It’s a Queen Anne style home, with an interesting shape and red slate roof. The home features a circular tower, which is certainly eye-catching for passersby.
Now flags fly at the top of that tower, proudly showing the home countries of guests staying at the B&B.
“We’re getting a guy from Switzerland in a week’s time so we’ve really got to buy a flag,” Joubert said.
Guests have come from Michigan, California and all across Ontario.
Joubert said most people come for the rich history of the house, which was used as a B&B under previous ownership as well.
“It’s the kind of home that has a lot of memories for people,” added Karen Houston, curator of the Woodstock Museum. She noted that at one point it was a nunnery and some residents might remember taking piano lessons there.
Now the Vansittart Avenue home is known as Château la Motte Guest House, named after the area in France from which François Joubert’s family hailed.
The Jouberts have put their own spin on the home, naming the rooms after their own family lines and outfitting the walls with many paintings from South Africa, including the church where they were married and the neighbourhood where they lived.
But they’ve also embraced Woodstock culture, leaving tiny treats from Habitual Chocolate on the nightstands.
Oxford Historical Society president Kathie Richards is hoping to convince the Jouberts to take part in the Christmas Tour of Homes in future years.
“Particularly the older homes, people are interested in seeing them,” she said. This year’s tour on Nov. 26 features five homes, including three from the 1800s, one from 1950, and one from the 21st century.
“That lady has nine Christmas trees in her house,” Richards said of the newest home on the tour.
Joubert said she and her husband aren’t much for holiday decorations, but they have put up a Christmas tree in the dining room and a few other festive touches throughout the home.
It was the spectacular architectural features – especially the windows – that stood out to Houston on a tour.
“So often with a house like this, the windows have been changed out,” she said. “I’m looking at all the curved glass and the frosting on windows and things of this nature. That’s really impressive.”
The house is full of other historical details.
“It’s the locks, it’s the door handles – the ceilings,” Houston said, gazing upward.”