Solving the mysteries of home ownership: one Toronto woman’s passion for history

by Evan De Souza
Maya Akbay, Evan DeSouza, Robin Burgoyne, Tichoan Tapwamba at Centennial Journalism Advanced Interviewing class 2012

Maya Akbay, Evan De Souza, Robin Burgoyne and Tichoan Tapawamba at Centennial Journalism

Toronto – For Robin Burgoyne, real estate has always been a part of her family. Her father owned his own real estate appraisal business in Calgary and her great-grandfather founded a brickwork in Wales. She credits them for her fascination with homes and her current business endeavours.

Burgoyne founded her business Caerwent HouseStories in 2008. Mixing her passion for real estate and history, Burgoyne researches the history of homes and provides the information in various types of books or powerpoints.

Burgoyne was recently in the news when she helped uncover the mystery behind the Maple Leaf Gardens time capsule. Given only a name, address, and date, M.B. Campbell 124 Lindsay Ave 9/21/31, Burgoyne discovered the real name was Millard-Breuls Campbell and found Jan Breuls-Durang, who is a descendent.

Burgoyne first worked as a production coordinator in the film industry, working on Canadian films, but said it was a “natural” transition to her new job.

“I didn’t want to do that kind of work anymore so I just drew on my background,” Burgoyne said.

After her sister mentioned a man in Vancouver who researched homes for a living Burgoyne decided to start Caerwent HouseStories, with the help from a government self-employment benefit program which helped make the process very “helpful and easy.”

Burgoyne has already researched more than 25 houses. She often spends 100-1500 hours on one house and frequents the land registry office and Toronto archives.

When it comes to researching Burgoyne’s biggest advice would be to follow your instincts.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes,” she said.

Although researching the home itself is a main part of her job, Burgoyne’s real passion is the social history surrounding the home.

“I like finding out who lived there, and what changes the families went through while they were living there,” Burgoyne said.

Burgoyne often gets so involved when researching a home she imagines the former residents as characters in a story. She said her partner Matthias Mayer and she have talks about the residents in the houses.

Out of all the houses Burgoyne has researched her favourite belonged to a merchant who started the first big safe company in Toronto near Front Street. He had a safe manufacturing business and sold safes to various banks and Canadian Mints. A main reason Burgoyne is so fascinated with him is because she found out he built six houses next to his and rented them out to people who were not as rich as he was. It was this sense of generosity that Burgoyne admires.

Burgoyne has even researched her own home and said she feels more connected to it.

“I think people are generally becoming more interested in history and their roots,” Burgoyne said.

Burgoyne can be reached at her website