Good News about Kennedy House

By Marilyn Williams


In mid-February, I received an email with good news from the committee to save Kennedy House. For those of you unfamiliar with Kennedy House, for many years it was a popular teahouse, surrounded by a lovely garden on the Red River near St. Andrews. It was built in 1866, for Captain William Kennedy, a Hudson Bay Company fur-trader, sailor, explorer, and magistrate. He was born in 1814 at Cumberland House, Sask. as the fifth child of Chief Factor Alexander Kennedy and his English/Cree wife, Aggathas Margaret (Mary) Bear.

William Kennedy married Eleanor Eliza Cripps, a well-educated, upper-class woman and an accomplished musician, businesswoman and a devout Christian, in 1859 in London, England. They had one son and one daughter.

When William’s mother, Aggathas, passed away, he inherited her property at Lot 63 in St. Andrews Parish. There he and Eleanor built Kennedy House, then known as Maple Grove, using stones quarried from the banks of the Red River nearby St. Andrews Rapids.

According to the Manitoba Historical Society, “The Gothic Revival style of the Kennedy House is architecturally distinctive, compared to the other old stone houses built in the Red River Settlement, which reflect Georgian influences. By contemporary Eastern Canadian or British standards Kennedy House was simple and unadorned. By Red River Settlement standards, however, it was very fashionable. Since the destruction of several early stone houses along the Red River, Kennedy House now stands as one of only seven remaining.”

Husband and wife both had fascinating careers and roles in early Manitoba during its formation. One of William’s nieces married John Norquay, the first Manitoba premier of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. After William’s death, Eleanor spent several years in Virden. Perhaps we will share the whole story of this amazing couple with you at another time. Meanwhile, here is the good news.

Hello all!

Great news!

I received a call this morning from Tamara Stephensen, who oversees the Kennedy House resource for the province. Tamara reported that the Phase II interior upgrading and refurbishment of the main floor areas has begun. So, if you pass by the house, you may see some fencing and signs of construction activity.

To review: the Phase II work now in progress will ensure the building meets fire and life safety codes, necessary for public access. The main floor bathroom space is a primary concern. The building structure prohibits enlargement of the bathroom, and it requires relocation to what was Kennedy’s den, adjacent to the main entrance. The existing bathroom space will be incorporated into the kitchen which will allow for a larger and more functional space. Equipment and food preparation areas will be upgraded. As reported previously, the kitchen will remain suitable for light food preparation only: grills and fryers will not be accommodated, as this would require significant structural changes not in keeping with the heritage building.

Supplied photo of Kennedy House.

Interior finishes will reflect the era of the building, using wood, wallpapers, and paint colours to brighten the rooms but respect the history of the home.

Conclusion of this work is targeted for late spring/early summer. Possibly, Phase III waterproofing of the foundation and landscaping, including repairs and upgrading to the patio may begin later this year.

Tamara and her team have been very forthcoming with information regarding progress at the house and their willingness to communicate with us is deeply appreciated. It allows us to keep you informed and respond to continuing enquiries from the broader public.

We have forwarded an information package and management proposal to the new Minister, Hon. Tracy Schmidt, and well as to Tourism Minister Glen Simard, and the Premier. In the package we introduce the Kennedy House Renewal Committee, review the progress made to date, and present our proposal and continuing interest in the reopening of the House to the public.

The management proposal suggests a partnership between the Province and the Municipality and is modeled after a similar agreement between Parks Canada and the Municipality for the operation of The Rectory National Historic Site, now in successful year-round operation for a decade. The KHR Committee has Council’s approval to enter into discussions on their behalf and we are hopeful that we will be able to meet with the Minister in the near future to discuss our proposed partnership in detail.

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Marilyn Williams is the Secretary for the Kennedy House Renewal Committee. We posted her letter on Canada’s Local Gardner Facebook Group page and to date there have been more than 53,000 viewers, which shows the interest and support for this project. She can be reached at [email protected]

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