Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Heritage home in North Point Douglas is an important part of our history

Barber house located at 99 Euclid Avenue is a vibrant centre for seniors in the North Point Douglas community. Before it was a Senior's Centre, it was another vacant & derelict building, and suffered from several arsons. But before any of that, it was a Red River Settlement home that stood as the City of Winnipeg developed around it. Barber house is named for its original inhabitants, the Barber family. It was built by journalist and businessman E.L. Barber. The house is one of just a few surviving examples of the Red River frame construction method employed by early settlers.

Barber House in 1900. Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee


Edmund (sometimes spelled Edmond) Lorenzo Barber (1834-1909) was born in Hamden, Connecticut. He migrated to the St. Paul area in 1854 working for the Minnesota Democrat. In 1859 or 1860, he located to the Red River Settlement to work for his brother's dry goods business. Barber later opened at least one dry goods shop and traded in furs, hides and firewood. He developed business ties with John Christian Schultz, a rising businessman and political figure, through involvement in Schultz’s Nor’Wester and joint real estate transactions.

Schultz may have been rising in the political and business worlds, but he wasn't known for his ethical business practices. This caused friction between him and the francophone community of the Red River settlement. During the Red River Rebellion, Shultz became the leader of the newly formed, anti-Metis party called the Canadian Party. The Canadian Party had small scale military conflicts with Louis Riel's provisional government on numerous occasions. At one point, Shultz was taken hostage by Riel but managed to escape. There are rumours sometimes present as fact that Schultz hid in Barber House before fleeing to Ontario, but ultimately it is unverifiable if he hid there or not.

John Christian Schultz. Politician and leader of the Canadian Party

Edmund Barber married Barbara Logan in 1862. Logan was the daughter of Robert Logan, a well-known fur trader. This marriage allowed Barber, who was bent on establishing himself as a member of the elite, to enter into the social circle of the most well-to-do citizens of the Red River Settlement and early Winnipeg. Barbara's brother Alexander Logan was one of Winnipeg's first Mayors.

In 1873, the same year Winnipeg was founded, Barber bought the Nor’Wester newspaper from John Schultz. Barber would be editor and owner of the paper for the rest of its publication lifespan.  Many of his other business endeavours were not especially successful. The dry goods store he moved to the Red River Settlement to work at was struggling with the rebellion and a poor crop season. Even when Barber was buying up real estate property, he was unable to pay his suppliers for the dry good store, and had perpetually bad credit. A friend of his from Ontario strongly encouraged him to pay off his debts saying "a merchant's good name and credit is everything to him."

Edmund Barber.

Barber never did head his friend's advice. Barber's store theoretically should have bounced back. The rebellion ended, crops had a better season, and the population of the area continued to increase. But despite all of these external factors swinging in Barber's favour, the store was never consistently profitable. In 1871, Barber opened a second store in Portage La Prairie, which promptly failed and closed. In 1873, he bought a saloon which should have been a very profitable venture, but that failed as well.

Edmund and Barbara moved into a tiny home called Thistle Cottage. The cottage was much too small for their growing family, and they desperately needed a new home. Barber house is thought to have been built sometime in the 1860's but lack of records make it hard to say for sure. It is a two-storey, seven or eight-room log house. Like the story about Schultz hiding there, much of the information about Barber house is difficult to verify. It is unclear if the house was built by Barber himself, or if he paid somebody else to build it for him. Some records suggest the house may have been built earlier on and another property, and Barber purchased the house and paid to have moved to his lot.

Barber House, Date unknown.
The house was built using Red River Frame construction, an adaptation of the post-on-sill building method, popular in New France. The house was probably set into a stone foundation with perhaps a root cellar for storage. The frame was probably squared oak logs and the horizontal logs were likely also oak. As oak was the fore most material for permanent construction and the supply of oak on the plains somewhat limited, the logs were probably floated down the Red or Assiniboine from elsewhere.

A one-storey veranda topped by a balustrade once extended across the fa├žade, while a wooden enclosure sheltered the doorway. It is not known whether these were original elements or later additions. Most of the veranda was demolished sometime after 1959. Prior to then, it had been enclosed with windows and the balustrade had been removed.

Barber House, date unknown.
Many other changes were made to the premises over the years. The exterior was stuccoed in the early 1920s, and the roof was clad with asphalt shingles. Interior changes included the addition of wood panelling, floor coverings, and various layers of paint and wallpaper.

Barber House, 1959.
Barber died in 1909,  but his descendants continued to live in the house for decades. The City of Winnipeg purchased the house in 1974 but the Barber House unfortunately sat vacant for many years, and was the victim of several arsons.  It was purchased by a group called SISTARS - Sisters Initiating Steps To A Renewed Society in 2010, with the intent to turn it into a community centre for seniors, but almost as soon as the sale went through, the house was once again set on fire by an arsonist.

After the house was the victim of arson in 2003, Heritage Winnipeg didn’t want to see it vacant and vulnerable anymore, fearing demolition but instead wanted to develop a plan to get a family living in the historic home once more and to take care of it.

Heritage Winnipeg was involved in a restoration/rehabilitation study for the house.  Heritage Winnipeg had numerous meetings with both the provincial government and the city about the heritage elements of the home, both interior and exterior.  They also consulted and had presentations and discussions with the Point Douglas Resident’s Advisory Committee and community memers about occupying the home with tenants, and making it available to the community once a year for Doors Open Winnipeg.

After much searching the SISTARS started working with the federal government to build a daycare on the vacant land behind Barber House. SISTARS had enough money to expand their project. The community of Point Douglas voted to see Barber House become incorporated into the new daycare facility. Through SISTARS dedication to the community, they developed a plan to turn Barber House into a community centre for seniors. The new daycare would connect to Barber House, and it would become a project that would bring generations together, and allow children to learn from their elders.

At this point Heritage Winnipeg saw the community enthusiasm for this use of the home, and laid aside its plans to move forward as a residence. Heritage Winnipeg was excited to hear of the community centre plans, and stayed involved in a support role to help the new community centre come to life.  In 2010, SISTARS made their intent official to turn it into a community centre for seniors, but almost as soon as the sale went through, the house was once again set on fire by an arsonist.

The fire didn't however stop the future plans for this large community project. The rehabilitation project went ahead, and many viewed the house as a metaphor for Point Douglas itself. Point Douglas was one of Winnipeg's first residential neighbourhoods, but after the Canadian Pacific Railway put their tracks through it, the neighbourhood became more industrialized, and began to fall into great disrepair. The population became comprised of mostly immigrants, whose interests were largely ignored or neglected by the government. Barber House, like Point Douglas, spent a long time being ignored and neglected. Residents describe Barber House as "rising like a phoenix," out of the ashes of the 2010 fire. There are many people dedicated to working towards Point Douglas itself following suit, and rise from the ashes.

The daycare and rehabilitation of Barber House was successfully completed and in February of 2012, Heritage Winnipeg held their held their 27th annual Preservation Awards at Barber House and presented the SISTARS organization on behalf of the community with an award for the successful rehabilitation of this historic home and for its integration into the social fabric of the community. 



Barber House in Present Day.

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