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The Gated Glory that was Kilmorie: The Nanton Estate

In the early 20th century, Kilmorie, the estate of Sir Angustus and Lady Nanton was at the heart of Winnipeg's elite social and business circles. A family home, philanthropy base and entertainment hub, it was a sprawling, beautiful and luxurious property that spoke to the prosperity of the young city. Its grandeur was its downfall, demolished by the very people who owned it, unwilling to cover the cost of its upkeep. Now the gatehouse, converted into residential space, is also facing the wrecking ball, another piece of Winnipeg's irreplaceable history soon to be lost.

Kilmorie in 1929. Source: Archives of Manitoba.
Augustus Meredith Nanton was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1860. His alcoholic father, a barrister, passed away when Nanton was just 13, leaving a wife and five children behind. To help support his family, Nanton left school and took up a position as an office boy for the real estate firm. After two years in real estate, Nanton moved to the brokerage firm of Pellatt and Osler to work as a junior clerk. The move was a shrewd decision by the teen aged Nanton that would ultimately influence the rest of his life. Nanton had an exceptional talent for investment, quickly rising through the ranks of Pellatt and Osler. When the firm broke up, Nanton stayed with Edmund Boyd Osler and joined his new firm of Osler and Hammond. By 1884 Nanton  had become a junior partner in Osler, Hammond and Nanton, and was sent to Winnipeg to open the company's western branch.

Sir Augustus Meredith Nanton in 1902. Source: Manitoba Historical Society.
Osler, Hammond and Nanton found success in providing mortgages to settlers on the prairies, and later expanding into investments, land development, grain, fossil fuels and oil and gas rights. With a large and diverse portfolio and investors from both Europe and North America, the company continued to grow as others withered during boom and bust cycles. They built the Osler, Hammond and Nanton Block at the corner of Main Street and McDermot Avenue in 1890, soon after moving to a new building at Main Street and Lombard Avenue. By 1908 the still expanding company built the Nanton Building on Portage Avenue, near Main Street.

The Nanton Building, the five storey building on the right, was designed by famed architects Darling and Pearson and demolished in the 1980s. Source: SkyscraperPage.com
In Winnipeg, Nanton moved to 29 Roslyn Road. It was a desirable street to live on, with large properties, expansive yards and leafy riding trails. Home to many of the city's wealthiest families, it was beyond hustle and bustle of the growing city. Nanton and his second wife, Ethel Constance Clark, must have found the area favourable, as they purchased five acres on the Assiniboine River at 229 Roslyn Road and started building a home in 1900. Designed by prominent architect J.H.G. Russell in the Classical Revival style, it was a large family home, with room for raising six children and entertaining society's elite. Built of brick with a sprawling veranda across the front, the main floor featured a library, sitting room, music room, dining room, sunroom, kitchen, nursery and maids' sitting rooms. The second floor had a bath, sitting room, veranda, bedrooms and storage. The third floor was tucked under the roof, containing four maids' rooms, a sewing room, a bathroom and even more bedrooms. Beneth it all, the basement was fully equipped for fun and games, featuring bowling alley, pool and ping-pong tables.

The sitting room at Kilmorie in 1924, featuring oak panelling and a stone fireplace. Source: Archives of Manitoba.

The dining room at Kilmorie in 1924, decorated in the Adam style. Source: Archives of Manitoba.
The property was heavily treed, landscaped with a formal garden, grassy lawns and riding trails throughout. A large L shaped stable was built to house the Nanton's five beloved horses, who shared one wing with a cow while the other wing housed carriages and sleighs. An ornamental cupola rose where the two wings met, providing ventilation and space for the tack room. The final building on the property was a small gate house, where the groom and coachman, Charles Wright, lived. The gatehouse sat just inside an enormous wrought iron gate, flanked by massive limestone pillars. It was a commanding entrance the assured all who passed that someone important lived there!

The stable of Kilmorie, converted into a home around 1940, seen here in 2009. Source: Winnipeg Free Press.


Contextual View
The main gates of Kilmorie, seen here in 2006. Source: Canada's Historic Places.
Kilmorie was home to much of Nanton's war effort, with the 27th Battalion Working Guild meeting there, soldiers on leave using the basement for recreation and local women meeting to assemble care packages to send overseas. Beyond Kilmorie, the Nanton's cottage at Lake of the Woods had additional quarters built so that 50 soldiers at a time could convalesce there. Despite struggling with his hearing and not having an outgoing personality, during the First World War Nanton rose to the occasion, leading such successful fundraising campaigns that resulted in him being knighted in 1917.

Beyond his work with the firm, Nanton held countless other important positions and was a generous philanthropist. Vice President of the Great-West Life Assurance Company, Director of the Dominion Bank, Director of the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company, President fo the Manitoba Patriotic Fund, Governor of the Winnipeg General Hospital and President of the Winnipeg Board of Trade were just some of the positions he held. Acquainted with politicians and the social elite, countless dinners, parties, dances and meetings were hosted at Kilmorie. The Prince of Wales even attended dinner at the estate twice. This all came to an end when Nanton was elected President of the Dominion Bank, which resulted in him moving back to Toronto in 1924.

But the move for the Nanton family was short lived. Only six months after leaving Kilmorie, in April of 1925, Nanton passed away. His wife and children then returned to their beloved Winnipeg home on Roslyn Road. Lady Nanton remained in the home until 1935, when the overwhelming cost of maintaining the home resulted in her decision to demolish it. Prior to the demolition, some of the materials from the house were salvaged and used to decorate the gatehouse, which was expanded and redesigned to become the Lodge. Architect Herbert Moody used oak panelling, tile, hardwood flooring, stone fireplace surround, light fixtures and hardware from the main house to create a comfortable home for Lady Nanton. It was an excellent example of adaptive reuse, well ahead of its time!

The interior of the Lodge. Source: Heritage Winnipeg files.
The stables were purchased and converted into a home in 1940 after being vacant for several years. They still stand as of 2019, listed as 61 Roslyn Crescent. Lady Nanton died in 1942, and the Lodge was sold, with several different people calling it home until it was sold to a developer in 2013. The developer wanted to build a multi unit residential property, which was met with much resistance by the community. The property was sold to another developer, who instead proposed to build a duplex on the site. Under the impression that both the gates and Lodge (former gatehouse) were both protected by a municipal designation, Heritage Winnipeg could not oppose the new development of the property. All too late is was discovered that the designation only covered the gates, and that the proposed development included the demolition of the Lodge, which the developers claimed was structurally unsound.

The proposed duplex to be built on the former Kilmorie Estate. Source: Canstar Community News.
Kilmorie was a symbol of Winnipeg's success as a young city, when the best and brightest from around the world can to make their fortune where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet. An opulent home that could not bear the weight of its own magnificence, it was torn down by the very people that built it, after standing for only 35 years. It is unfortunate that the owner of the last remaining remnants of the once grand house do not see any value in them, purchasing them only so that they could be torn down. In January 2019, the City of Winnipeg approved the rezoning of the property at 229 Roslyn Road so that the duplex project can move forward. The only positive outcome of the city's decision was their final recommendation, "That the applicant work with Heritage Winnipeg to preserve, reuse and repurpose heritage aspects within the buildings." It is one final chance for the glory of Kilomrie to live on.


Written by Cheryl Mann on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.


SOURCES:
Canada's Historic Places - Nanton Estate Gates
Canstar Community News - Gates to stay up when new project built
City of Winnipeg - Former Nanton Estate
Dictionary of Canadian Biography - Nanton, Sir Augustus Meredith
Manitoba Historical Society - Augustus Meredith Nanton
Manitoba Historial Society - Nanton Estate Gates / Gatehouse
SkyscraperPage.com - Canadian Demolitions
Winnipeg 1912 by Jim Blanchard
Winnipeg Free Press - A little corner of England

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