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Dalnavert Museum & Visitors' Centre (Sir Hugh John Macdonald House)

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Dalnavert Museum & Visitors' Centre (Sir Hugh John Macdonald house)

"Built in 1895, Dalnavert is a fine regional example of the Queen Anne Revival style, popular from about 1880 to 1914. Its asymmetrical composition in brick, varied massing and rich interior decoration are typical of this eclectic style, which is loosely based on late medieval and early Renaissance British models. The expansive verandah, common to the style in Canada and the United States, unites the house and its setting. Designed by Charles H. Wheeler, Dalnavert was built for Sir Hugh John Macdonald, premier of Manitoba 1899-1900." ~ text from plaque installed by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (1995) ~

Brief History of 61 Carlton Street


Photo of Dalnavert from the provinicial archives (courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report)
Dalnavert - Photo from the Provincial Archives, Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

1893 - Hugh John Macdonald purchases the land at what is now 61 Carlton Street.

1895 - The house at 61 Carlton Street is built for Hugh John Macdonald and his family for a cost of $10 500 by architect Charles H. Wheeler (the average house at this time was built for about 
$1 000). The house is named "Dalnavert" after both his father's home in Toronto and his maternal grandmother's birthplace in Scotland. The house is outfitted for one of Canada's most prominent political families with modern conveniences such as central heat, full plumbing, and electricity.

A recent Dalnavert brochure.
From a recent Dalnavert brochure.

1929 - Sir Hugh John Macdonald passes away after a recurring illness and Dalnavert is sold and converted into a rooming house. The majority of the house's contents are sold at auction and Lady Macdonald moves to the Roslyn Court Apartments. Over the next 40 years, many changes are made to the house to suit its new purpose.

1970 - After being owned by four separate individuals, the building is once again sold and slated for demolition to make way for a high-rise development. The Manitoba Historical Society purchased the house and over the next four years, spent $559,000 restoring Dalnavert to its 1895 appearance. Most of this money was raised through the private efforts of the Manitoba Historical Society, through the Manitoba Historical Society Bingo, and donations from corporations and individuals. For more information on the restoration of the house, click on the brochure under "Recent Controversies" below.

Dalnavert - from the Heritage Winnipeg files

1974 - The Dalnavert Museum opens on June 18, serving as the Manitoba Historical Society's celebration of Winnipeg's centennial (1874-1974). In September of this same year, Dalnavert was awarded the  Prairie Regional Prize from the Heritage Canada Foundation as one of the most outstanding works of restoration in this area.

1975 - Dalnavert is given an award by the American Association of State and Local History.

1985 - Heritage Winnipeg recognizes Dalnavert at its Annual Preservation Awards with an award for architectural conservation.

A recent Dalnavert brochure
From a recent Dalnavert brochure.

1988 - Dalnavert is designated as a Provincial Historic Site.

1990 - Dalnavert is designated as a National Historic Site.

1995 - The unveiling of Dalnavert's National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque.

2005 - Official opening of the Dalnavert Visitors' Centre.

2013 - In the fall of this year, the Dalnavert Museum closes its doors. For more information about this and recent developments on the plans for the museum see "Recent Controversies" below. The museum can still be viewed through the virtual tour here.

"A Perfect House" article from the HSMBC pamphlet prepared in 1995
"A Perfect House" article from the HSMBC Pamphlet prepared in 1995 - click for PDF

Sir Hugh John Macdonald 


Sir Hugh John Macdonald, 1921. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Sir Hugh John Macdonald, 1921. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report

Sir Hugh John Macdonald was the only surviving son of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister (1867-1873 & 1878-1891) and his wife, Isabella Clark. Hugh originally came west with the Wolseley Expedition of 1870 to suppress the Red River Rebellion, however, seeing no action, he returned east to complete his legal training and eventually joined his father's law firm in Toronto. 

In 1876, he married Jean Murray King. Shortly thereafter in 1877, she gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Isabella Mary, nicknamed "Daisy". After the death of his wife in 1882, Hugh returned west to establish his own law practice in Winnipeg. 

Dalnavert when it was owned by the family, 1900
The family home at 61 Carlton, 1900. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report

He remarried in 1883, to Agnes Gertrude Vankoughnet, the daughter of a friend of his father's. A few years later, in 1885, their son John Alexander, was born and Hugh was a Captain in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles against the forces of Louis Riel.

Four months before the death of his father in 1891, Hugh was elected federal member of parliament for Winnipeg and was sworn in at his side. For the next nine years he served in both provincial and federal politics, culminating in leading the victory for the provincial Conservatives in 1899. He served ten months as Premier of Manitoba before resigning to run in the federal election. He was unsuccessful against opponent Clifford Sifton.  
Political caricature of Sir Hugh John Macdonald circa the early 1900s, courtesy of the Manitoa Historical Society website
Political caricature featuring Sir Hugh John Macdonald circa the early 1900s, courtesy of the MHS website.

Hugh was appointed Police Magistrate for the City of Winnipeg in 1911 and was knighted in 1913. He passed away in 1929 following a recurring illness and was buried in St. John's Cemetery alongside his son, who had died in 1905. 

For those interested in a more thorough chronology of Sir Hugh John Macdonald's life, one can be found on the MHS website here.

Winnipeg Free Press Articles November 2013 - May 2014


Photo of Dalnavert, 1963
Photo circa 1963, courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report

Old brochure from the Dalnavert Museum
Old brochure from Dalnavert Museum - click for full-sized PDF
Old brochure from Dalnavert
Old brochure from Dalnavert Museum - click for full-sized PDF

What Happens Now

In September 2013, the Manitoba Historical Society (MHS) closed the historic 1895 Dalnavert Museum to the public.  They then began discussions on whether to repurpose the heritage house or to allow it to continue as a museum possibly under a new ownership and management model. After the MHS completed a proposal stage and only after pressure from concerned groups and individuals was a vote to repurpose the home reversed. 

In response to input from MHS members and from the wider community, a decision was made in May 2014 that the MHS would work with the Friends of Dalnavert Museum (FDM), which is made of up representatives from the heritage and museum sector as well as Dalnavert volunteers. Over the summer months, meetings were held with the FDM to discuss how to achieve the goal of re-opening the museum and how to make the museum financially sustainable so that future generations can enjoy its history and the important stories this house tells.  

In October 2014, Friends of Dalnavert Museum, in cooperation with the Manitoba Historical Society, received funding from The Winnipeg Foundation to begin conducting a feasibility study .  This study will be completed prior to the Christmas holidays.  Part of the study is to hold a public Town Hall meeting so people can come and get informed on this project as it moves forward and to see how they can get involved in helping to support new leadership and direction.   Contents of this study will be discussed by both the MHS and the Friends in the New Year, with the ultimate goal of re-opening Dalnavert Museum


Dalnavert Museum and Visitor's Centre


Date: Saturday, November 22, 2014
Time: 2:00pm-4:00pm
Location: Dalnavert Museum and Visitor's Centre, 61 Carlton Street, Winnipeg

In September 2013, the Dalnavert Museum was closed to the public. Friends of Dalnavert Museum  are undertaking a study with the goal of seeing Dalnavert reopened as a museum. 

Interested members of the public are invited to take part in an upcoming informational town hall meeting. We are looking for your input on how to reopen Dalnavert as a sustainable museum. Please come out and show your support for the museum's reopening. 

- 2 hours free parking is available on the street
- Please RSVP to by November 20, 2014 

Sources & Links

City of Winnipeg Historical Reports 
City of Winnipeg Museums Board - Dalnavert
Dalnavert commemorated as national historic site (June 2, 1995 media release)
MHS on the Dalnavert Museum
MHS Dalnavert Museum Chronology
MHS Memorable Manitobans: Sir Hugh John MacDonald

Do you have fond memories of Dalnavert or an opinion on what should be done with it? 
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