Last spring, my husband and I spent a few days in New Orleans exploring the Big Easy. One of the highlights was strolling through the glorious Garden District. Amid the sweet aroma of magnolia trees, the residential neighborhood is filled with magnificent mansions, each with a strong history of the city's elite.
The funny thing is, we could have done the very same thing in our own city. Winnipeg is a city rich in history with neighbourhoods that are filled with beautiful houses from the turn of the 20th century.
Crescentwood is my favourite area -- and not just because my grandparents lived on Yale for 50 years. Stately old mansions grace tree-lined streets and today many people have restored these beauties to their original grandeur, albeit with the modern conveniences.
A few weeks ago my grandmother lent me a copy of the most interesting book. Published in 1993, Crescentwood, A History was written by Randy R. Rostecki for The Crescentwood Home Owners Association. The book takes an excellent look at the history of the area, the houses and those who have in them over the years.
The land south of the Assiniboine River was first developed in the late 1880s by Charles H. Enderton, a lawyer and real estate developer who came to Winnipeg with the building of the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway. Striving to create a distinguished neighbourhood away from the city's busy centre, Enderton began marketing Crescentwood to the public in September 1902.
Enderton ran an ad in the Free Press extolling the virtues of the area as "the most desirable residential property in Winnipeg, and the highest priced." The ad also included specific building conditions residents had to adhere to. Before then, no public zoning existed so a lot owner had no control over what was developed on adjacent properties. Enderton wanted to ensure houses built in Crescentwood would uphold a high value.
No dwelling could cost less than $3,500 and each house had to be set back 60 feet from the street. On Wellington Crescent, dwellings were to have a completed value of at least $6,000 and be set back 100 feet. Houses on side streets had to have a completed value of at least $4,000. Only one dwelling could be built on each lot and only for residential purposes.
In setting those conditions, Enderton created the first subdivision in Winnipeg with building restrictions to ensure residential quality. As a result, he was successful in attracting members of Winnipeg's more affluent classes to Crescentwood.
Well-known names like the Richardson family and the Ashdowns were among the city's elite to call Crescentwood home. Lots sold well and grandiose houses were quickly erected along the stately streets. The R.C. McDonald residence, located at 26 Amherst (now Avonherst), received the first building permit for the area in April 1905.
St. Mary's Academy, built in 1902-03, continues to be a neighbourhood landmark. The James H. Ashdown residence, built at 529 Wellington Crescent from 1912 to 1913, was a glorious home for many decades. The family sold it to the Shriners in the late 1940s and today it is the upscale 529 Wellington restaurant.
While many of the houses still stand today, others have unfortunately been demolished. The Alexander Rae Davidson residence, at 10 Ruskin Row, was the most celebrated building to be demolished in Crescentwood. Completed in 1913, the 37-room mansion had a whopping $100,000 price tag. Imagine what it would cost today!
According to an unconfirmed source in the Crescentwood book, an English craftsman and his family spent four years in the house just to carve the elaborate woodwork in the Elizabethan-style ballroom. The victim of a bad foundation and large size, the mansion was torn down in 1963.
For every house that has been torn down over the years, there are many others that people have lovingly restored to preserve their rich heritage. Take a step back in time and explore some of Winnipeg's history -- it's the perfect thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon..