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Dalnavert Museum: A New Beginning (with interior photographs!)

Guest Post & Photography by Megan Redmond, Volunteer and Membership Services Coordinator at Dalnavert Museum.  
Edited 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.

On May 30, 2015, the Dalnavert Museum and Visitors’ Centre reopened to the public during the Doors Open Winnipeg 2015 event. The official reopening on June 1, 2015 was thanks to outstanding community support and a group of dedicated individuals called the Friends of Dalnavert. 

Under their guidance, the meticulously restored home and adjoining community meeting place has started a new chapter in its already colorful history. The refreshed Dalnavert aims not only to respect the past, but also to support the future of our city and its vibrant cultural community.

So what is Dalnavert exactly?

The Early Years

Originally built in 1895, Dalnavert was once the home of Sir Hugh John Macdonald. You might know him as the son of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, but he was also an influential member of Winnipeg’s community during a time when our little city was still the boom town know as the “Gateway to the West.” 

At the time large homes or estates were often given names that were significant to the family. In the case of Dalnavert, Sir Hugh named his home after the Scottish birthplace of his two grandmothers. The original, Scottish Dalnavert was probably once a small village, but today it is only a single residence in Aviemore, Scotland. 

Dalnavert was the third Winnipeg home that Sir Hugh and his family resided in, and the last. It was custom built by a well-known local architect of the time named Charles H. Wheeler, who referred to Dalnavert as “a perfect home.” 

At the time, the house was quite a marvel, featuring central hot water heating in addition to fireplaces, indoor plumbing and electric lighting. These high-end features came at a costly price for the time – $10,500 – over ten times the cost of an average family home in 1895. 

Some of Wheeler’s other architectural works can still be seen in the city today, including the Holy Trinity Church at Graham and Donald. Wheeler also custom-built his own home, but unfortunately, it has since been demolished.

During it’s heyday, Dalnavert provided residence for Sir Hugh, his wife Lady Gertrude and their son Jack. Sir Hugh’s daughter Daisy also came from Toronto to join her father in the home. However, the family members weren’t the only people to live under Dalnavert’s roof. 

The back half of the house features servants’ quarters for maids and a cook. You’ll notice that the interior is strikingly different from the areas the family lived in – on your visit be sure to take note of the simpler floors and wallpapers.

After the Macdonalds

In 1929, Sir Hugh passed away and Lady Gertrude sold the home to live in the apartment block at the corner of Roslyn and Osborne. It was at this point that Dalnavert entered the second stage of its life, this time as a rooming house.

Not much is known about Dalnavert during this time period, but in 1940 it was sold to Eugene and Olivine Rouillard. They converted the home to a ladies-only boarding house. By 1957, the interior of the home had been divided into approximately 17 suites! It’s remarkable to imagine home many people may have at one time called the large house home.

The Restoration

In 1969 Dalnavert was sold to a company called Ronald Developments. It was at this time that Dalnavert was almost lost forever. 

When Dalnavert was built, the area was almost entirely residential, but by the late 60s the area had been transformed by high-rise apartments and Ronald Developments intended the same fate for Dalnavert.   

 The Manitoba Historical Society stepped in and was able to purchase and restore the house with the help of community supporters. 

The restoration process was quite the undertaking, since the layout of the home had changed drastically since it was built. 

Restoration architect, John Chivers, with interior designer, George Walker, lead the intensive process of recreating the Dalnavert of 1895. 

It took nearly four years and $559,000 to achieve this goal through funds raised by the Manitoba Historical Society. 

The house was then furnished through the joint efforts of Kathleen Richardson and Kathleen Campbell, who acquired a collection that creates a truly remarkable late-Victorian experience.

The Dalnavert of Today

Since its restoration in 1974, Dalnavert Museum has relied on the passion and commitment of community members and volunteers. This is still true today. Without dedicated people offering their time and expertise, this historic home and community resource simply would not exist.

The new stewards of the museum, the Friends of Dalnavert are a diverse group of heritage advocates that hope to give Dalnavert yet another chapter in what has already been a colourful life. 

New programming, events and community initiatives are being developed to give visitors a diverse experience at Dalnavert, whether they tour the museum, rent the Visitors’ Centre, browse in the Gift Shop, or even just stroll through the garden.

The museum is open during the summer from 12:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

 You can stay updated on the museum's progress by following their new Facebook and Twitter accounts while they work on developing a website.

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