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Tremendous Tudor - The Robert R. Scott House

When Robert Ross Scott passed away on August 17, 1924, his departure from this world made front page news in Winnipeg. He was remembered as an exemplar citizen, philanthropist and businessman. Upon arriving in Winnipeg in 1881, a 24 year old Scott quickly graduated from odd jobs to fruit salesman to head of a fruit empire. His company had grown to serve all of the prairie provinces and Minneapolis, delivering both rare and domestic fruits that always kept customers satisfied. While building his company, Scott had also married, fathered four children, was involved in his church, a member of the Free Masons, Oddfellows and Carlton Club, and was president of the Sovereign Life Assurance Company. Two of Scott's most notable contributions to Winnipeg still stand today, the Scott Fruit Company Warehouse at 319 Elgin Avenue and his magnificent family home at 29 Ruskin Row.

The Robert R. Scott House at 29 Ruskin Row. From the City of Winnipeg.

Scott was born in Pickering, Ontario on July 27th, 1857. He moved to Winnipeg during the boom period of the early 1880s, when the Canadian Pacific Railway first arrived. It was a time of great excitement in the city, people pouring in and fortunes being made on real estate overnight. Seeing potential in the burgeoning city and the development of the west due to the new railway, A. C. Macpherson of London Ontario opened a fruit company in Winnipeg in 1883. Called the Macpherson Fruit Company, they hired Scott as a salesman and buyer during their first year. Scott succeeded in his new career, rising to the position of general manager of western operations by 1896. In 1912, Scott pooled his resources with Donald Ross Dingwall (jeweler), George Grisdale (formerly of the Macpherson Fruit Company), John Graham (lawyer) and Jean Matheson (nurse) to buy out the Macpherson Fruit Company. With $250,00 in capital, the Scott Fruit Company was incorporated on July 10, 1912.

Robert Ross Scott, circa 1914. From the Archives of Manitoba.

The Scott Fruit Company quickly flourished, allowing Scott to embark on building a home for his wife, Kate Matheson and their children; Roberta, Jean, Stewart and Margaret. Having risen through the ranks of Winnipeg society, Scott choose to build on an empty lot at 29 Ruskin Row in the prestigious Crescentwood neighbourhood. Crescentwood was a thriving neighbourhood filled with large, distinctive homes set in expansive manicured landscapes, where the upper echelons of Winnipeg society lived. Named after John Henry Munson's iconic home that anchored the development, the "Enderton Caveat" ensured that all further development was inline with that of an elitist community. With development having started around the turn of the century, much of the neighbourhood was filled when a recession struck in 1913, which brought sales to a halt. But life was still good for Scott, and in 1914 he started building.

Scott's lot stood at the southwest corner of Ruskin Row and Kingsway, with a 11,618 square feet providing plenty of space for a generous home. The street was dominated by Enderton Park (originally Crescentwood Park), a two acre green space featuring an English country garden and located only one block over from the distinguished Wellington Crescent. Architect John N. Semmens was hired to design the house, perhaps because Scott was impressed by the house he designed for Edmund L. Taylor's on nearby Wellington Crescent. Semmens had also just completed work on the imposing Bank of Montreal at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg - an iconic Roman temple inspired building that still commands the attention of passers by today.

The awe inspiring Bank of Montreal at Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg, designed by McKim, Mead & White, emulates the Beaux-Arts style of architecture. From the Heritage Winnipeg files.

As an employee of the New York firm of McKim, Mead & White, most of Semmens work up until designing Scott's house had been in the style of the firm's specialty, Beaux-Arts. For Scott, he went a completely different direction: Tudor Revival. The style was popular in Winnipeg from the 1890s until the start of World War II, with Scott's house being built just prior to the peak of the trend. Easily identified by decorative half timbering, Tudor Revival drew on the style popular in England starting in the late middle ages (1485) and spanning all the way to the end of the Elizabethan era (1603).

An elaborate plan was drawn up for Scott's house, which was then toned down when the house was actually built. Starting with a stone and concrete foundation, the two and a half storey house was built on top of a full basement. The walls of the first floor are composed of three layers of load bearing brick, with the top storeys being wood framed with a half timber exterior. A steeply pitched elaborate roof is finally topped by massive chimney pots. Wide stone steps lead up to the front entrance, accented by decorative brickwork and a balcony above. Two large, front facing gables flank the front entrance, creating a formidable first impression. The building is flush with a menagerie of windows, all with wooden frames and mullions, tall and rectangular. Some stand alone while sets of two, three and four are also found, along with sash, casement, oriel and dormer windows. Adding a final embellishment to the exterior are decorative bargeboards and wood finials at the peak of each of the roof's gables.

The architect's drawings for the Scott House at 29 Ruskin Row. From the City of Winnipeg Planning Department.

The inside of the house is even more elaborate than the exterior, with the ground floor finished with the finest materials. All rooms are centered around the oak panelled main hall, with a grand oak staircase, wrapped in hand carved ornamentation, leading you upwards. Wood panelling continues throughout the main floor common rooms, and is upgraded with African mahogany in the living room and cherry built-ins in the dining room. Oak pocket doors, ornamental plasterwork, hardwood floors and brick fireplaces abound. The south end of the main floor contained the kitchen and servants' staircase, which could both be closed off from the main entertaining spaces.

As you walk up the magnificent staircase to the second floor, three stained glass windows light the way. Likely intended as a more private space for the family, the second floor is slightly less splendidly finished than the floor below but still features an elaborate brick fire place in the master bedroom. Built with modern amenities, the second floor features two bathrooms, but somewhat different than what one would expect in a modern home. One bathroom features only a toilet while the other features a sink and bathtub but no toilet.

The oak staircase inside the Robert R. Scott House in 1991. From the City of Winnipeg.

Moving upwards in the house again, the third floor is minimally decorated, most likely intended as servants quarters. The steeply pitched roof with a multitude of cross gables and dormers creates complexly angled ceilings, which although ecstatically pleasing, likely reduce the functionality of the space. To ease the workload of the servants, both laundry and dust chutes run all the way from the third floor down to the basement.

Interestingly, the basement of the house was not just an unfinished space relegated to doing laundry and other unglamorous household chores. It was fitted out with a formal recreation room for the family to use, featuring an open fireplace to take the chill off the cool subterranean air. The basement was also partially light by natural light thanks to the surprising number of windows in the foundation.

Scott lived in the house with his family until his sudden death at age 67 on August 17, 1924. After becoming "stricken" while in Winnipeg Beach, he quickly took the train home only to pass away a few hours later with his daughter Roberta and son Stewart at his bedside. Scott's wife continued to live in the family home for six more years until in 1930 when she sold it to George Russell Ryan. Ryan was the president of Ryan Brothers Limited, a company composed of four of the Ryan brothers, who sold butchers equipment and manufactured refrigerators. A successful company, they built the Ryan Brothers Building at 110 James Avenue, which still stands and now has been converted into condominiums.

From the Winnipeg Tribune, August 18, 1924.

The Ryan Brothers Building at 110 James Avenue in July 2017. From Google Maps.

Another interesting owner of the Scott House was James Elliott Coyne, who lived there from 1966 to 1991. Coyne, born in Winnipeg in 1910, was a Rhodes scholar, studied law at Oxford University, was Canada's first financial attache in Washington, a member of the RCAF and the second governor of the Bank of Canada. As governor, Coyne was outspoken about the against the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance's desire to increasing government spending and American involvement in the Canadian economy. The public hostility became known as the "Coyne Affair" and resulted in a failed bill to oust Coyne from his position and legal provisions being implemented that gave the government the final say over fiscal policy. Coyne eventually resigned from his position and returned to Winnipeg to help set up the Bank of Western Canada, which eventually failed. In 2012, he was recognized for his achievements and contributions to Manitoba by being inducted into the Order of Manitoba.

James Elliott Coyne receiving the Order of Manitoba from Lieutenant Governor Philip S. Lee in 2012. From the Winnipeg Free Press.

Unfortunately, by 1991, the Scott House had seen better days. Most notably there was a problem with the foundation, resulting in the building being on a substantial slope. To the rescue was Karen and Ken Wiklund, who bought the house that year with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. Recognizing the historic value of the building and the need to properly conserve it, the Wiklunds wrote the City of Winnipeg asking for their house to be assessed and if it met the criteria, placed on the List of Historical Resources, ensuring it would be protected into the future. A year later, the house was officially designated by the city. Designation not only afforded protection from demolition but also helped with funding the renovation, as the Provincial Department of Culture, Heritage and Citizenship recognized the historic significance of the building and provided some funding.

When renovations were finished in 1995, $250,000 had been spent on a house that only cost $20,000 to build (though that would be about $455,000 in 2018 dollars). The renovation included a new pile foundation, heating and electrical upgrade, restoration of the stained glass windows, repairing the walls and ceiling and sensitively modernizing the kitchen. Recognizing the hard work put into conserving this important historical house, Heritage Winnipeg awarded the Wiklunds with the C.W. Chivers Award at the 1995 Heritage Winnipeg Annual Preservation Awards. It is a true masterwork of the Tudor Revival style, the likes of which will never be built again. Rich with history, Winnipeg is very fortunate that this heritage home has been lovingly conserved for future generations to enjoy!

Are you interested in seeing the interior of the 
Robert R. Scott House in all its splendor? 
Heritage Winnipeg is hosting its 2018 Fall Fundraiser 
"Celebrating the Holidays in Historic Crescentwood" 
inside this beautiful historic house! 
For full details and to purchase your ticket, 
Ring in the holiday season while supporting 
Winnipeg's built heritage!

Written by Cheryl Mann for Heritage Winnipeg

Bank of Canada - Inflation Calculator
Canada's Historic Places - R.R. Scott House
City of Winnipeg - 29 Ruskin Row
City of Winnipeg - Assessment and Taxation
City of Winnipeg - List of Historic Resources
Heritage Winnipeg Files
Identifying Architectural Style in Manitoba by Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Citizenship
MHS - Enderton Park
MHS - Winnipeg's Famous Homes: R 
MHS - Robert Ross Scott
MHS - R.R. Scott House (29 Ruskin Row)
MHS - Crescentwood, Winnipeg's Best Residential District
MHS - The Great Winnipeg Boom
MHS - John Nelson Semmens
MHS - James Elliott Coyne
Ontario Architecture - Tudor Revival
Order of Manitoba
Streetside Developments
WAF - John Nelson Semmens

Winnipeg Free Press - 'A man of the highest principle'
Winnipeg Free Press - June 5, 1912, p. 29
Winnipeg Free Press - Rare Jewel: Home in city exceptional example of Tudor styling - October 13, 1996
Winnipeg Tribune - September 24, 1915, p. 200
Winnipeg Real Estate News - Heritage Preservation - March 3, 1995, p. 3


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