Picture “The Golden Girls” but in a castle.
That’s the vision for Clonmel Castle, a heritage property in Port Dover that has been lovingly restored by owner Lynneee Steffler over the past six years.
Steffler’s plan will see the castle’s six suites sold as fully furnished condominium units and the eventual construction of 12 stacked townhouses on the three-acre Prospect Street property.
The result, Steffler hopes, will be a community of seniors like herself who can share in the cost and benefits of living in a stately mansion whose history dates back nearly a century.
“You live in a $4-million home for a fraction of the cost, and you get to enjoy Clonmel,” said the castle’s self-described “chatelaine” during a recent tour.
Steffler said a dream drew her to the historic village of Dover in 2015 following the death of her husband. She bought the property — built during the Depression by ancestors of Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett — for $620,000 and ran it as a bed-and-breakfast and event space.
Visitors were drawn to the antique furnishings and stories of buried pirate treasure and wartime intrigue dating back to the War of 1812, Steffler said.
But her goal was always to create an established community of older adults.
“I love the fact that it can be shared with people permanently — no more coming and going,” she said.
She especially hopes to appeal to women who are widowed or divorced and in need of companionship.
“I’m a widow and I live alone, so I understand their issues,” Steffler said.
It took six years and over $1 million in renovations to modernize the building while retaining its historic character as a Georgian Revival estate. The process sped up during the pandemic, once Steffler could no longer welcome guests.
“I just thought, ‘This is the perfect opportunity to do renovations,’” she said. “So I got a million-dollar mortgage.”
Suites at Clonmel are now on sale from $400,000 to $700,000, depending on size and amenities.
Residents will enjoy the castle’s classically appointed common areas — decorative touches include several suits of armour and a chair from Sir Isaac Brock’s dining room — and the services of a housekeeper, chef and gardener.
Steffler expects the units will appreciate in value and said buyers will later have the first opportunity to move into the new townhouses, which she said will “complement” the castle by using similar building materials and being of lesser height than the mansion.
“It’s going to look like Clonmel. I want it to blend in with the atmosphere,” she said.
Steffler plans to live in whichever suite is left unsold after the first five are snapped up.
That might happen quickly, as Steffler said she has walked more than 500 people through the property and fielded serious inquiries from people living as close as down the road in Port Dover and as far away as Russia and China.
“This will become a really interesting house, I think,” she said.
The Oct. 15 decision of Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to approve Steffler’s new vision for the Clonmel estate ends a sometimes contentious process that saw many neighbours rise up in revolt against the perceived desecration of Port Dover’s most prized property.
But after months of negotiations between Steffler, her neighbours, county planners and the province, they reached a solution Steffler said was very much like what she first proposed for the site.
“They were afraid,” she said of opposition from some neighbours, which dissipated once they toured the renovated building.
“They were able to see then, with their own eyes, that this isn’t threatening. Nobody cut her up. Nobody changed anything.”
With everyone reassured Steffler’s vision will enhance rather than spoil the castle and the picturesque grounds, the chatelaine of Clonmel can again confidently gush about Art Deco flourishes and imagine a future where the castle’s halls again ring with laughter and fellowship.
“I’m just so proud of it, because some people said, ‘You shouldn’t do it,’ ” she said.
“It’s an unbelievable house — and I get to live here.”
***Correction: This story was updated Oct. 19 to correct an earlier version, which incorrectly stated that Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal approved the sale of six condominium units inside Clonmel Castle. In fact, LPAT approved the addition of a single block of up to 12 townhouses on the grounds of the estate.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator