Many consider Dalnavert, the home of the Sir Hugh John Macdonald family, to be the most romantic home in Winnipeg. A stroll through its rooms feels like falling into a Victorian dream of sumptuous patterns and fabrics and cosy, comfortable spaces.
Sir Hugh's father, Canada's first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, died four years before the construction of Dalnavert, but he was always on his son's side as Hugh continued the family tradition of public service.
Sir Hugh arrived in Winnipeg in 1882 when the city was booming as "the promise of West." Sir Hugh held various political positions and served longest as Winnipeg's police magistrate, a position in which he demonstrated insight far advanced for his time. For example, he opened Dalnavert to youth who came into conflict with the justice system when their homelessness always led them back to crime. His career included involvement in many important issues. If these issues were gathered into a book, and a pin stuck into any page, it would mark just about any subject affecting the character of modern-day Winnipeg.
On a daily basis, Sir Hugh walked from Dalnavert to the Law Courts, deep in his thoughts as Winnipeg's police magistrate who was known for his compassion and insight.
Today, Dalnavert holds a special opportunity to provide respite and comfort to those touched by crime. I believe Sir Hugh John Macdonald's tradition of public service remains at Dalnavert where he died in 1929.
Candace House would serve as a resource centre and a supportive place to wait before attending to business at the Law Courts nearby. Within the home's Victorian walls, there can be a much-needed place that directly facilitates the restoration of balance for people impacted by crime and its determinants. As shown in other adapted heritage centres, proper preservation strategy can be maintained during adaptive reuse.
Yes, Dalnavert fosters beautiful dreams. As a museum, Dalnavert may serve as a wonderful outing, and an educational one at that, and may have given us our moments of escapism, but Dalnavert as a museum really does not serve people as fully as does Candace House. Dalnavert reflects a domestic Victorian design ethic and philosophy of comfort in many ways. This is unchanging, and I see this as a heritage value of the home. But Candace House can provide a profound comfort to those who are wounded, afraid, under-serviced and likely alone. If this is the potential of the historic home, then this use necessarily supersedes all others. People truly matter most.
Adaptive reuse with Candace House would not be complete without devoting space to historical interpretation of Dalnavert. Perhaps some rooms should remain as house-museum space. These rooms may also be places where creative and always changing displays could reflect the home's long and evolving history; a story that intertwines so greatly with the circumstances of all Canadian citizens today.
Shirley Kowalchuk is a former guide with Dalnavert