Description of Historic Place
Ralph Connor House National Historic Site of Canada is located in central Winnipeg Manitoba, in the residential area of Armstrong’s Point. This spacious and dignified three-storey brick and stone residence was built from 1913 to 1914 for the Reverend Charles Gordon, a well-known Presbyterian minister who, under the pen name of Ralph Connor, also wrote best-selling novels. Gordon lived in the house until his death in 1937, after which it became the home of the University Women’s Club of Winnipeg. The site includes the main house, a coach house and the surrounding landscaped property. Official recognition refers to the legal lot boundaries at the time of designation.
The Ralph Connor House was designated as a national historic site of Canada in 2009 because:
- built by the Reverend Charles Gordon, this large, well-appointed house reflects his very public position as the best-selling Canadian author of the early 20th century, and his prominence as one of Canada's best-known writers at that time;
- 13 of the 22 Christian adventure novels Gordon wrote under the pen name of Ralph Connor, many of them exciting, fast-paced stories preaching a message of salvation and hope, were published while he was living in this house;
- it represents the public face of the Reverend Gordon, a leading Presbyterian churchman who for twenty-five years used the house as a manse from which he undertook many important activities in the area of social activism.
The heritage value of Ralph Connor House lies in its associations with Reverend Charles Gordon and his very public position as a best-selling Canadian author under the pen name Ralph Connor. Constructed from 1913 to 1914 when Gordon was at the height of his career, 54 West Gate is closely associated with the life and legacy of the minister and novelist. Gordon chose Armstrong's Point, an exclusive central neighbourhood of Winnipeg's social and financial elite, for his family home. It is a fine example of houses built in this area, featuring asymmetrical façades, an irregular roofline, bay windows, and exterior walls of rich red brick trimmed with Tyndall stone.
While the house was not a subject of his writings, 13 of Gordon’s 22 novels were published while he was living at 54 West Gate. As one of Canada’s best-known writers, he played a prominent role in Canadian Authors Association, established in 1921. At the national level, Gordon was a member of the association’s first council, and served as president for two terms in the mid-1930s. He was also active in the Winnipeg branch, which for years held its meetings at 54 West Gate.
The house also represents the public face of Reverend Gordon as, for twenty-five years, it acted as both the manse and the family home of this leading Presbyterian churchman and social activist. The layout of the house clearly reflects this dual role. The formal front entrance was the “business” entrance used by his parishioners, leading to an office and to Gordon’s study. The carriage entrance with porte-cochere and terrace on the south side was the family entrance, leading to the private spaces of the house. The house was well designed to accommodate Gordon’s congregational work and social activism. The study was where he composed his sermons and conducted parish business. The front entrance of the house opened into a vestibule where parishioners were received; a hallway led to a secretary’s office and then to Gordon’s study, furnished with a large desk, comfortable chairs, and dictionaries and reference books on stands. This area of the main floor was designed to give privacy from the family rooms of the home.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2008.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location in Armstrong’s Point, an exclusive central neighbourhood of Winnipeg's social and financial elite, in Manitoba;
- its setting on a landscaped lot overlooking the Assiniboine River;
- the three-and-a-half storey asymmetrical massing;
- the semi-circular driveway in front of the house, which branches to a side lane leading to the coach house at the north-west corner of the lot;
- its exterior features, including the lively, irregular gabled roofline, the prominent chimneys, the contrasting, lighter-stone trim around the doors and windows, and the discrete corbelling at the eaves;
- the east façade with windows of differing bays to the left of the entranceway and a substantial main floor bay window on the right; with Tyndall stone window trim, mullions, high foundations and decorative entablature at the roofline;
-the south façade entranceway deeply inset in a stone Tudor arch with two levels of stone-trimmed windows above it;
-the west façade with its asymmetrical roofline and composition, including a wide bay window, a two-storey veranda and a sleeping porch;
- the dignified and spacious interior planning that reflects Gordon’s public position as Reverend, including an imposing hallway and staircase, a manager’s office and study, a large meeting room, a lounge and cloakrooms;
- its interior, including an central hallway, around which are found a library, sunroom, drawing room, and dining room, as well as a kitchen and butler’s pantry, furnace, laundry and storage rooms;
- its interior details, including the exposed beam ceiling and rich quarter-cut oak paneling, the extensive dark woodwork, carved details, leaded glass, prominent fireplaces and coving;
- viewscapes from the site to the prestigious and secluded neighbourhood of Armstrong’s Point and across the Assiniboine River.