Urbex: The Truest Story About the Abandoned & Eccentric Pastor Lee House

This past weekend we explored the well-known urbex site – the Pastor Lee House in Haldimand County, Ontario. It’s been abandoned forever, has unfortunately been “trashed” and is still a time capsule of bizarre oddities.

The video accompaniment to this blog can be viewed here. Trust me it’s worth the watch!

We spent a couple of hours here … we could have stayed for the whole day poking around, taking turns wandering each room, uncovering different objects and parts of the story or making up our own and sharing them with each other. I’ll definitely be going again, there was just so much to absorb and take in.

Some call this property “creepy”, I prefer to call it eccentric, even interesting. The house belonged to the Lee family. From some of the research I’ve done, it appears as if Esther Gladstone Lee was born on November 3, 1893 (died 1997).  Her husband Arthur Lee appears to have been born in/about 1897 (died: 1971). From the framed diploma found in the house, she graduated from the Moody Bible College in Chicago on August 9, 1923. Not long after, she was married to Arthur and together they had 3 children: Gordon, Dorothy and Donald.

From the road, it resembles almost any other rural home. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something a little different about this property … the bizarre messages that trail off … painted all over the property are just the first sign.

“Mr. Barry Sheets and his wife, R.R.1 Caledonia opened this door without knocking! And sent thier (their) small child to ???. I was intending to give away four prize winning white roosters. However ?? for breeding. ??? was tricked.

Together they were 5 living in this small country home. They appeared to be somewhat musical from the piano in the living room. Slide negatives show family vacations and outings. There are plenty of video reel and cassette tapes strewn around the property. Oh the tales they would tell if someone took an interest in transferring them to digital (at the time of the visit, I didn’t have the app on my phone that transfers negatives to photo).

The house appears to have been in relatively decent condition until about 2012 from previous vlogs and blogs posted, and then some not so savourables seemed to get a hold of it. The house itself is located in Haldimand County and for reasons as I’ve just mentioned, I won’t be sharing the exact city/town or location.

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Family Info

Esther: Esther left behind a lot of correspondence and seems to have been well-connected and presumably well-liked by people in the area. There were also a number of local history books in the area (history of Renfrew County, On the Trail of the Conestoga) which means she likely had an interest in Ontario local history, pioneers, etc. Perhaps she had pioneer ancestry or she was interested in it from a religious angle. These may have also been Gordon’s. Esther’s health and wellbeing seem to have declined starting in the early 1980s: “A year later mother had a queer spell for two days and laid on the chesterfield and wouldn’t eat or talk. Mother was bother about…” (inferred 1980). She would have been almost 90 by then so it would not have been surprising. Esther died in 1997 according to her gravestone, which would have made her well over 100 years old.

Update – July 17, 2021: A search of my Ancestry.ca account shows her father as being one George Easton Gladstone (B:26 Oct 1858 Ayr, Waterloo Co., Canada, D:24 March 1928 Gentry, Missouri, USA). Her mother appears to be Ella (unable to currently locate her maiden name) (B:6 Oct 1870 Gentry, Missouri, USA, D:24 Jul 1948 , Gentry, Missouri, USA). Esther appears to have been born on Nov 3, 1893 in Gentry, Misouri. By 1920 the US Census has her living in Washington, DC as a “roomer”. We know that she graduated from Moody Bible College in Chicago in August of 1923.

 Balmoral United Church Cemetery in Hagersville, Haldimand, Ontario, Canada

Arthur: Researching Arthur’s military record is troublesome because of several other, much more famous Arthur Lees who were also in the RAF/RCAF. The only 24-year-old Arthur Lee in Canada in 1921 that is a plausible match is a farmer’s son in Alberta – unlikely for a man who apparently graduated from McMaster a few years later. There are no plausible 23 year old Arthur Lees. There aren’t few good candidates in the 1911 census either. It would make sense if Arthur was local to the area because of the McMaster connection and the specific Lee family history in the area, but it could be the reverse – Arthur settled in the area after his time at McMaster. Arthur could have also been American.There are no obvious candidates for Arthur among WWI military records, though he would have been a more appropriate age for that war than for WWII. Arthur died in 1971 according to his gravestone.

Update – July 17, 2021: I’ve been able to locate his actual DOB and location as being 11 Aug 1897 • Brockville, Ontario, Canada. So that removes the possibility that he may have been American. Now we’re getting somewhere. Since I’ve been able to confirm his actual birth information, I was able to narrow down my search and revisit the military records …. and I found them …. his Attestation Papers state that he joined the military on Oct 28, 1915 (he was 19 yrs old and 2 mths). His next of kin is noted as being his mother, Maggie (nee McVish) and James Lee, they lived lived in Mount Denis (which is a part of Toronto). He was listed as being Methodist. He was 5’7.5″, and was considered fit for the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force). Unlike my great-grandfather’s, there was no regimental # noted on his file – it does have a notation at the top left – “11th Field Ambulance” – so it looks like he was part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

More research has lead me to locate a document from the Library and Archives of Canada. For greater details, see this link here.

11th Field Ambulance

Left Halifax 22 May 1916 aboard ADRIATIC.
Arrived in England 29 May 1916.
Strength: 10 Officers, 179 other ranks.
Arrived in France 11 August 1916.
4th Canadian Division.
Demobilized at Toronto in May 1919.

Arthur Lee graduated from McMaster University in 1924, became a Reverand and traveled to Africa for missionary work. On November 7, 1925 Esther departed New York City for Africa as part of a missionary group from Sim International. In August 1927 the couple married in Africa.

Gordon: Gordon either has not yet died, he was not yet buried at the family plot, or the gravestone website hasn’t been updated. If Gordon were alive, he would be well into his 90s. There is a photo presumably associated with him, found by an explorer, which says “Fern Bertrand – This is the only girl I ever kissed and hugged. 1946.” He would have been 18 at that time. His hobbies and peculiarities make him being a lifelong bachelor unsurprising.

It is assumed that he was the family member who was interested in radio technology and electronics, UFOs, and dead/mutilated animals. 

Electronics

Gordon seems to have been obsessed with electronics, television, radio, and other technology of the “golden age” of the 1950s-60s. This house would have been a collector’s treasure but unfortunately much of it seems to have been smashed, stolen, or has decayed through exposure to weather. This likely tied into his obsession with “weird” phenomena.

Gordon seems to have also had a strong interest in photography and audio/video recording equipment, with numerous film reels and cassettes around the house. Interestingly, many of these cassettes are labelled as “Found along [the nearby highway]”, implying that Gordon didn’t record them.

Some electronics around the property include:
  • Many, many old television sets, a combo unit upstairs of television + record player + speaker
  • What is likely a dosimeter made by the Victoreen company — not exactly a consumer item

Weird phenomena

Gordon seemed to have a fascination with “odd” phenomena such as UFOs, people struck by lightning, and strange happenings. It seems very at odds with his parents, who seemed to be very traditional.

Dead animals

The picture albums of dead animals are one of the most widely speculated-about aspects of the house. There are the photos of dead animals, some skinned, some decapitated – the pages were strewn throughout the house – they appear to have been part of a scrapbook at one time, just as the UFO scrapbooks had been. The photos included geese, possum and racoons. It could be that these were animals injured from passing traffic or by coyotes and Gordon had an interest in photographing them or something darker.

The oddest was a photo we found was of a coon propped up on rods on which he writes on the back “dead racoon, propped up on rods, I wished I could have trained it to be my watchdog!”

Shameless plug to check out the Youtube Vlog, but it’s worth the watch. Photos are great, 100%, I love photography, but I recently started taking up shooting video since it lends different. Here’s the link again. A lot of the stuff not captured by photo are in the vlog and I think we did a really great job at cutting down 2 hours of footage down to 19 mins or so.

IMG_5685

Many of the photos seem to date from the 1970s or maybe 1980s. The nearby highway was well-known as a trucking “shortcut” in the mid-20th century for Detroit-Buffalo and other American trucking lines, and especially with the decline of parallel railways like the Michigan Southern/CASO, it would have seen an abrupt increase in trucking traffic, likely at all hours of the day and night, that local people and wildlife would have been unprepared for. Today this has largely abated as a result of the newer freeway that runs parallel.

Gordon seems to connect some of the animal deaths to rabies, which is possible in the case of animals like the raccoons. The sheer amount of roadkill would be explainable if the photos were taken over many years, and if walking or driving the highway was one of Gordon’s main pastimes – which would make sense if he spent his entire life living with his mother and needed to get out of the house.

Dorothy: Dorothy moved to London, Kentucky, and married Dr. Edward Lauber. Her obituary is very brief.

Donald: He seems like a much less impactful figure than Gordon or his parents, but nevertheless seems to have participated in “cleaning up” the property at some point around 1994 and helped Gordon paint the messages around the exteriors of the buildings. They seem to have been friendly with each other. It is unknown how much time Donald spent at the house as an adult and whether or not some of his areas/possessions might have been misattributed to Gordon — or perhaps they shared similar interests in areas like technology. Talking Walls site says he moved to Mount Hope. He had a wife (Joan) according to his obituary, but no children are mentioned. In his obituary Gordon is not listed as being predeceased.

Here’s what I do know. We owe it to Gordon and his family to not judge based on the tincy wincy bits and soundtracks we find by invading their home, a place they called safe and felt free from judgement. I just read a really great blog over at Dark Blue Journal about this and encourage to yo give it a quick read. Click link here. Plus, I hope we can all just be better.

For a family of 5, there were way more beds than than there ought to have been. The house has 3 bedrooms upstairs, well the 1 room is so small you can hardly consider it a proper bedroom, but they faceted it as 1. There were also 2 single beds in the front enclosed porch, 2 handmade bunkbeds in a back enclosed/addition to the house and a double sized bed right smack dab in the kitchen. There was also a cot/stretcher found at the top of the back crawlspace which connected both sides of the house. I have located nothing about this, so I am purely speculating here … maybe this was part of their ministry? If she and Arthur were part of the church (Arthur was a Reverend) then maybe they took in folks in need as part of their ministry, wanderers, people who were down and out or provided end of life care? Or maybe they just had a lot of visitors?

Other Bips and Bops of the house ….

Bips and Bops of the Exterior

Property mini timeline

The earliest recorded owner and likely first settler was Harmon Haynes, who lived in the area since at least the 1850s and possibly since the beginning of settlement. He would have been in his 40s then. It is difficult to track later ownership changes due to the constant restructuring of the county and township, which broke up records across different authorities and led to poor record-keeping.

It was purchased by the Lees in 1948 from a Russell Aden Murphy. In the 1921 census, Russell is living with his parents and was only 7 years old, meaning he was likely born around 1914 and would have been in his mid-30s in 1948. His father was 30, meaning he was contemporary with Arthur and Esther. Genealogy sites show the Murphys going back to the 1860s in Canada and seem to have lived outside of the county.

In 1952, there is a set of “release of legacy” actions by various seemingly unrelated people for reasons that are hard to understand, each being $100-300. It could have been people leaving small amounts of money in their wills to Arthur and Esther that was paid directly to their mortgage? This would be in line with the guess that they provided end of life care.

Also in 1952, Arthur and his wife grant a symbolic $1 to the directors of the Veterans’ Land Act, likely due to financial assistance they received in buying the home because of his status as a WWI veteran. The $1 is sent back in 1964.

In 1971, there is some land title activity relating to Arthur’s death, but it doesn’t list an actual title grant to anyone — presumably the land went to Esther and a title change/official grant wasn’t necessary. Paper records end in 2008, long after her death, with nothing more shown. Perhaps they also didn’t feel the need to record ownership changes as a result of inheritance, only transactions, but it shows the house wasn’t bought or sold before that point, and that Gordon is likely still the legal owner, if he is still alive. She may have died without her will being properly executed, which would put the house in legal limbo.

Dauphin Connection

I’m currently and unfortunately embroiled in a landlord-tenant matter with some tenants in 1 of my properties in Dauphin, Manitoba. I lived there for 2 years from 2015-2017.

Whilst my urbex partner Thomas was researching the family history, he documented that the Lees lived in Dauphin, Manitoba at least in the year of 1943.

Well isn’t that ironic, don’t ya think, a little too ironic (thanks Alanis for the lyrics) I’m heading back to Dauphin in a few short weeks to deal with that matter.

THE STORY of THE LEES isn’t over yet folks. When I’m back in Dauphin, I’m going to research them and see what I can come up with. We’ve also decided to go back to the house to see if we can dig up any more photos of their time in Dauphin. Why? What would have brought them to Dauphin of all places? Was it part of their Ministry? Hmmmmm ….

Dauphin is not a thriving metropolis, even now I think the whole surrounding community has approx 8,000. Back in 1943, it would have been so much less. To put it in a bit of perspective compared to Ontario, in which currently the whole GTA (Greater Toronto Area) has approx 6 million people, Manitoba’s population was only 921,686 in 1961.

For now I have this go start my search … and I know the location they’re talking about … I wonder if that house is still there?

Thomas also found a photo during the explore and took a picture of it (ironic) … the back of the photo says … “Donald Lee in centre with girls At Mrs Chase’s (not in view) house on first street north of railroad across street from station. Dauphin Manitoba about 1943. Looking west towards Vermillion River”

Thanks for reading, this has been an amazing explore and this is why Thomas and I do these explores. For us it’s not about being the first to a location, it’s not about taking the best video or the best photos … for us it’s about getting in touch with the people who lived there, their lives, who were they, what happened … for me it’s the connection and this story is still be to continued.

Stay tuned for Part II of the Lee story –> now completed, click here for Part II.

If you like what we’re putting out, please feel free to like, comment and follow for more awesome urban explores. You can also do the same for the YouTube channel.

Shout to to Thomas, who was able to locate facts, not just lore, or what other explorers have found and documented, but actual facts – which I have not seen online to date. You rock!

5 thoughts on “Urbex: The Truest Story About the Abandoned & Eccentric Pastor Lee House

    1. Thank you so much, it was a great house to visit and research … the story continues – stay tuned! I’m in Dauphin, MB where they lived in 1943 and I am going to see if I can locate information about them and their life here …

      Like

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