Leisure, People, Our Creativity
Home Is Where the Magic Is
Curated by Barry Marshall
Storytellers: Ted and Marion Outerbridge
November 10, 2021
Occasionally, things seem to happen for a reason. Such coincidences are often chalked up to mere chance, but sometimes, fate appears to have a hand in our lives. This was certainly what Ted and Marion Outerbridge experienced when they began their search for a home several years ago.
Ted and Marion are famous illusionists. They were living in Montréal in a duplex and in 2018, they started to consider finding a new place to call home. During their search, they stopped in Vegas, and David Copperfield gave them comps to see his show in the front row. They considered moving to Vegas because of the affordable real estate, but their hearts were not convinced. On the ride home they scoured the web for old Victorian houses between Toronto and Montreal. This is how they found Smiths Falls. Upon their first visit, they instantly fell in love with it– they knew they had to move there.
“In the beginning, we felt discouraged because all of the houses we liked sold in a flash.” Not letting a difficult market deter them, Ted and Marion persisted in their search for a Victorian home. It was then that they found the Keyhole House; the affectionate local nickname for the unique Victorian home they ended up buying. Even before they bought the Keyhole House, curious events began. During the inspection they found a newspaper in the attic ceiling from 1946 titled "dance little ladies,” which they felt was auspicious as Marion had a prior career as a dancer, so they took it as a sign to buy the house. They moved into their home November 30th, 2018.
Ted and Marion say they “fell in love with the bones of the house the first time we crossed the keyhole door,” but they felt the interior design needed some work. Soon more mysterious things began to happen. At first, the doorbell didn't work and “the house interior was hideous, with wall-to-wall carpeting.” They immediately began redecorating. When they removed the sixties carpeting and lighting in the hall the doorbell suddenly started to work again. On December 24th, Ted’s aunt came to visit, and they found a candy cane on the stairs to the attic – they never found out who left it there. They found several other amazing things, which helped spark Ted’s passion for learning about the local history. One day, Ted was removing the door frame in Marion’s sewing room and a note fell out of the wall. It was dated 1892 and said, ‘on this day in the name [of] God and the Queen, we pledge ourselves to a life of soberness and love.' It was signed by three people. Upon further investigation, Ted learned that two were carpenters and one was the deliveryman for the materials. He found the name of another carpenter signed on the moulding.
Learning about Keyhole’s previous owners sparked another round of strange coincidences. Agnes Lamb, the original house owner, was the niece of Alex Wood, a partner of the Frost & Wood company that was once one of the largest farming equipment manufacturers in Canada. The University of Guelph maintains archival materials on the Frost & Wood company. George T. Martin was the first owner and architect of the Keyhole house. He also designed an addition for the local Methodist church in the late 1800s. Another bizarre connection to Keyhole House soon occurred. Ted and Marion found an elegant gothic lantern in a local antique store that fit the era and style of the Keyhole House, and mysteriously, the day they brought it home was the day the doorbell started working – the same day they removed the carpeting. Then they learned that the lantern had once hung in the Methodist church George Martin had designed. Ted and Marion like to think that the ghosts of Agnes and George approve of their interior design choices.
Ted never cared much for history until he and Marion started renovating and researching the Keyhole House, then they “totally fell in love with the people and the history.” Ted and Marion started an Instagram account to document their restoration of the Keyhole House and to highlight and share all the pieces of history they uncovered in their research about the house and town. Ted was then invited to write a local history column in the Hometown News entitled “Smiths Falls: History and Mystery.” His first article is about the former opera house in Smiths Falls, which nobody knew existed. Intriguingly, a German magician gave performances at the opera house in 1888. It was located where the current post office stands. Recently he also wrote an article about Herbert Allen and Matthew Ryan, the Smiths Falls brick makers who built over 100 houses in the town in 1887 alone. Allen also built the grand Moorish arch at the entrance of Ted and Marion’s Keyhole House.
As illusionists, Ted and Marion have received awards such as the Touring Artists of the Year award from B.C., and the Award of Excellence from Ontario Contact. They have travelled all over the world doing tours. They have been to China, Germany, on cruise ships, they’ve travelled coast to coast from Happy Valley, Goose Bay, to Whitehorse in Yukon (although they haven’t been to Newfoundland yet). Despite their international showmanship and prestige, Ted and Marion feel right at home in Smiths Falls. Ted and Marion have been “travelling four to six months of the year every year, for twenty-two years, and Smiths Falls is a pretty nice place to live after checking out a lot of other places; we’re happy here.” Part of it is the feeling of rural community. In Montreal, Ted felt he was “just a number, a house, but in Smiths Falls, we live at the Keyhole House, and it’s our duty to mow the lawn because people are driving by, and we are proud to be in this town. I find it’s a little different in a small town. We matter more because we can make a difference and I like that a lot.” In contrast to their international stage presence, Ted and Marion found something unexpected in Smiths Falls – a feeling of belonging.
The Keyhole house, and rural life in Smiths Falls more broadly, blends perfectly with Ted and Marion’s professional life. They perform regularly at the local “Station Theatre”, a former CPR Railway Station converted into a small theatre, where seats to their shows consistently sell out, even during the pandemic with its restrictions. They are currently devising ways of working their house into their show - they want to do a magic show based on its history, including a grand illusion with them moving into the house and featuring the ghost of Agnes Lamb. As an illusionist, Ted is skeptical of séances but they are considering working theatrical re-enactments of séances into the show that will bring audience members up onto the stage to interact with the ghosts of the past. A séance poses a unique opportunity to blend the past and present and enhance the story. Ted and Marion hope their new show will reflect their “experience with the house.” Meanwhile, Ted is writing a book about the house to be released around the same time as the show’s opening. Moving to the Keyhole House in Smiths Falls opened a new chapter in Ted and Marion’s life together, one that brings their past and present together through a magic that can only be found in a true home.