There was a time when Brockville was one of the richest cities in Canada. In the 1890s, millionaires were building vacation homes along the St. Lawrence River. One of the most famous of these was Boldt Castle, constructed on a 5 acre island in the 1000 Islands for the American businessman’s wife, Louise. Construction began in 1899 and was discontinued upon her death in 1903. Farther east, one of Brockville’s native sons, George Taylor Fulford, also began construction of his new vacation home in 1899. Built on 11 acres overlooking the St. Lawrence at the east end of the city of Brockville, the mansion was completed in 1901.
Fulford Place was designed by Albert W. Fuller, an architect from Albany, New York. The house features 35 rooms and is about 20,000 square feet in size. An example of the Beaux-Arts style, the house is designed for entertaining, with a dining room to seat over 50 guests, a billiards room with an adjoining moorish smoking room, a rococo-style drawing room for the women, and a gracious veranda overlooking the river and grounds.
The marble facing the house was brought across the frozen St. Lawrence in the winter by sleigh from Gouverneur, New York. The house was bequeathed to the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1991 after the death of George T. Fuller II. Restoration work is ongoing, and stained glass windows are currently being refurbished. The house is now open to the public, with a tea room and tours available.
Landscaping work began before the house was even built. In 1895, Fulford hired Frederick Law Olmstead and his brother John to lay out the gardens. Olmstead is famous for his design of New York City’s Central Park and Mount Royal in Montreal. The remaining Italianate garden is a rare example of a privately-owned Olmstead-designed garden. The rest of the grounds were sold off in later years in order to maintain the house.
George Taylor Fulford (1852-1905) was born in Brockville to a family of United Empire Loyalist stock. After finishing school in Brockville, he went on to Business College in Belleville before apprenticing with his brother, a dispensing chemist in Brockville. Fulford took over the modest apothecary in 1874 and developed it into a successful business.
Fulford’s stroke of genius came in 1890, when for $53.01 he purchased the rights to a patent medicine from a local McGill-trained physician, Dr. William Jackson. At a time when medical care and medications were beyond the financial reach of many, patent drugs promised affordable relief for a variety of conditions. Fulford was a brilliant marketer. He advertised widely, relying on testimonies submitted by customers attesting to miraculous cures. The advertisements were placed in newspapers in a manner that made them look like news articles. The pills were marketed in 87 countries worldwide and Fulford became a self-made millionaire. The name of his product? Dr. William’s Pink Pills for Pale People.
The pills contained mostly sugar, starch and iron sulphate. Anemia was a fairly common complaint, and the pills did likely do some good as an iron supplement, although they were not the miraculous cure-all advertised. Fulford married Mary Wilder White in 1880 and they had three children, including George II. Fulford was elected to the town council in 1879 and served as an alderman. He was involved with the Liberal Party of Canada and was friends with the prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier. In 1900, he was appointed to the Canadian Senate.
George Taylor Fulford died in 1905. He is considered the first Canadian to die in an automobile accident, although the event happened in Newton, Massachusetts, when his chauffeur-driven car was side-swiped by a streetcar. At the time of his death, Fulford was the largest single shareholder in General Electric and was reputed to be considering buying General Motors. It has been suggested by relatives that Fulford was killed in a conspiracy by the Rockefeller family. Fulford was only 53 years old at the time of his death.