Description of Historic Place
Macdonald House is a grand, 2 1/2-storey red brick mansion built in 1895. Part of an early downtown Winnipeg residential neighbourhood filled with similarly scaled structures on expansive, well-manicured grounds, it is now surrounded by more modern buildings, mostly three-storey apartment blocks. A Winnipeg institution, the house has operated as a museum since 1974 and now includes a major addition on the rear. The City of Winnipeg's designation applies to the building on its footprint and the entire interior.
Macdonald House, 'Dalnavert', is one of the finest examples of Queen Anne Revival architecture applied to a pre-1900 luxury residential structure in Manitoba. Designed by an early and influential Western Canadian architect, Charles H. Wheeler, the dwelling features lively massing, a variety of materials and many fine architectural details drawn from Norman, Gothic and Romanesque influences. The house's interior, restored for museum use to the period of its original occupants, also has a high degree of integrity. While it now stands isolated in a neighbourhood of modest apartment buildings, Macdonald House was once surrounded by other large homes of Winnipeg's well-to-do in what was until about 1905 the city's foremost residential area. During the tenure of its original owner, Sir Hugh John Macdonald, and his family, the house was a major social centre, where Lady Macdonald was a renowned hostess amongst the city's upper class. Sir Hugh John, son of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, was a lawyer and politician who served as Manitoba's premier (1900) and police magistrate in Winnipeg (1911-29).
Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee Meeting, March 10, 1994
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Macdonald House site include:
- the large landscaped grounds, with Victorian-era-style flower gardens, and the house set back from the front property line and connected to the public sidewalk by a formal walkway
Key elements that define the building's impressive Queen Anne Revival style include:
- the lively massing, with undulating floor plans expressed externally by projecting bays, a bay window, verandah, large chimneys, etc.
- the roofline composed of a large hipped section with small shed-roofed dormers and pedimented roof sections atop bays, etc.
- the tall wooden panel main doors and the variety of window shapes and surrounds, including round-arched on the main facade's second storey and segmental-arched on other faces, with all windows of the main facade capped with impressive stone surrounds and all window glass held within a distinctive wooden framework, etc.
- the verandah, which wraps around the front and north sides, with its heavily ornamented entrance section (with second-storey balcony) and elaborate woodwork throughout
- the three large and tall chimneys with their elaborate brick and stone caps
- the contrasting materials and wealth of details, including red brick for the main parts of the walls, fish-scale shingles in the dormers, corbel tables, stone bands, all wooden elements painted dark brown, etc.
Key elements that define the home's ca. 1895 layout, features and interior finishes, and its connections to the Macdonald family, include:
- the ground-floor layout with a central hallway; the south side of the building featuring a formal dining room, solarium and library; the north side including a large parlour; the large kitchen at the rear, including a larder and butler's pantry, etc.
- the second-floor layout, accessed via the main staircase or servants' stairs running off the kitchen, that includes a central hallway lit by a large Art Nouveau stained-glass window; the master bedroom in the southwest corner with fireplace, bathroom and small dressing room; three bedrooms on the north side; family bathroom facilities; a sewing room and bedrooms for the cook and maid located at the rear and placed two steps lower than the rest of the floor
- luxurious finishes and details in various rooms, including heavy, elaborate woodwork throughout, such as casings around windows and doors, wainscotting in various rooms and hallways, heavy wooden doors and French doors in the parlour; ornate wood and tile fireplaces in the main bedrooms, library and parlour; elaborate cove mouldings in various rooms, including heavy wood mouldings in the main hall; the highly decorative main staircase with elaborate newel posts and delicately turned balusters; the deep colour scheme in most rooms and Victorian-era wallpaper throughout; etc.
- the presence of the latest in technological advances for the time, such as heavy steam-heat radiators in several rooms, bathroom fixtures (tubs, toilets and sinks), electric lights, walk-in closets in bedrooms, speaking tube, bell box in the kitchen, etc.
- pieces of furniture dating to the Macdonald era, including couch, china cabinet, etc.
- functionally appointed servants' rooms