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Heritage Home Finds New Life in the Community

Written by Laura Wiens, Heritage Winnipeg Marketing and Communications. On Behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Milner House located at 51 Balmoral Street was built in 1909 and stands alone on the east side of Balmoral Street.  It is the only remaining home from the turn on the century on this side of the street, although most all of the homes across the street have remained virtually unchanged and intact since the First World War.  The homes that sat adjacent to Milner House were all demolished in the 1970s, and it has stood alone ever since. Milner House has been vacant since 1990, but now, two and a half decades later, this heritage home will find new life in the community

Milner House in 1995. Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives
Milner House is a fine example of Dutch Colonial and this style of architecture originated in the North American Dutch colonies, present-day New Jersey and New York. One of the common features of Dutch Colonial style is the gambrel roof, the type of roof you picture when you think of a red barn. In the early 1900s, Dutch Colonial became popular all across North America for suburban homes and cottages and it was especially popular in Winnipeg from 1905-1912. There are other examples of Dutch Colonial homes in Winnipeg, but Milner House is one of the best preserved.

Milner House under construction in 2016. Photo Courtesy of Prairie Architects    

At the time Milner House cost $8,000 to build, and was built by George Ford, who served as the Architect and Contractor. Ford was listed as the original owner, although he never lived in the house. Upon its completion the home was immediately sold to William Edwin Milner, a prominent businessman.Milner was born and grew up in Brampton, Ontario in 1865 and went on to become the Mayor of Brampton for four years. He moved to Winnipeg in 1907 and was the Western Manager for the Maple Leaf Flour Mills Company. In 1916 he became the Director of the Maple Leaf Company, and that same year became President of The Grain Exchange. Throughout his life he held several other high level positions in Winnipeg’s business sector.

A woman stands outside Milner House. Possible William E. Milner's wife, Charlotte
Other houses along the street that were demolished in the 70s are visible
Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives
As a powerful businessman, it made sense that Mr. Milner chose this location. At the turn of the twentieth century residential neighbourhoods were starting to develop outside the city’s core, and Broadway and Osborne were wealthy neighbourhoods where many prominent people of the day lived. Milner House is also located near Armstrong’s Point, one of the most exclusive historic neighbourhoods in Winnipeg at the time, and even still today. It was very fitting that a prominent businessman would build his home in such a significant area.

Milner House in 2003. Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives

A 1992 report on the home from the City of Winnipeg stated that Milner House was not as large or imposing as some of the homes that surrounded it, but it was a well built, spacious, and “radiated comfort and stability.” It is 2 ½ storeys, and its gambrel roof is considered one of the most distinctive features of the home’s exterior. The interior of the home is larger than one would guess from looking at the exterior, and it was also more luxurious than you would expect. It had dark wood paneling, wood floors, and ornate light fixtures throughout the house. The living room and parlour had doors that could be closed, and the handles would spring out or recede with the click of a button. 

Milner House main hall. Photo taken in 2013, after over 20 years of vacancy. 
Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives
Like other homes of the wealthy and well to-do of the time, Milner house had a smaller staircase designed for the hired help. This would allow them to  move between the kitchen and other areas to cook and clean without having to access the "public" areas of the house.

Main Staircase. Photo taken in 2013, after over 20 years of vacancy.
Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives
Milner died on July 1, 1942, at the age of 77 and left behind his wife and two sons. His wife kept possession of the house for a decade until 1952, when she sold it to her oldest son, named William after his father. His son William was born in Brampton before his parents made the move to Winnipeg.  He served in the First World War, and upon his return he finished his law degree. He also worked for the Eaton’s Company for over 30 years. He died in November 1990 at the age of 97, and after his death the house was sold to Great West Life Assurance Company (Great West Life.)

A third floor room in 2013. The ceiling is heavily sloped, due to the gambrel roof.
Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives
First floor living room in 2013
Photo from Heritage Winnipeg Archives

Milner House was designated as a heritage building by the City of Winnipeg on August 9, 1995, but for quite sometime thereafter Milner House’s fate was unclear. In 2004, a private citizen attempted to have the home moved from its original location to a new one where it could be preserved, but it turned out to not be feasible. The City of Winnipeg’s Historical Buildings Committee viewed this as a last resort, as typically relocating a heritage property is not a preferred conservation approach. After four years, they gave up on that endeavour, as he was unable to find a suitable lot.  Along with being too cost prohibitive, the West Broadway and heritage communities wanted this historic home to stay on its original site, and somehow contribute to the future of the neighborhood.

Milner House, Date unknown.
Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg
In 2015 Great West Life came up with an innovative and very practical use for the home. Great West Life then hired Architects from Prairie Architects to integrate a design of the old with the new.  It was originally built for a family, and now it will continue to serve families in the area. Milner House is currently being restored and along with new construction will serve the children of Great West Life employees and others in the community, as a one of a kind Daycare Centre. It will provide approximately 95-100 child care spaces of which two thirds will be reserved for the children of the GWL employees, and the remaining spots will go to the community. Two additions will be built on either side of the house, so it will no longer be standing alone.

Rendering on the completed Milner House project
Photo courtesy of Prairie Architects.
The childcare facility is being designed with sustainability in mind. Energy efficient heating and cooling, LED lighting, water use reduction, and increased ventilation for indoor air quality. This significant project is targeted to be complete and then be occupied by the first quarter of 2017.  We applaud Great West Life for ensuring this historic home will now continue to be an integral part of the heritage and the social fabric of our community for generations to come.