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House provides an important link
With spring already well underway and with this year marking the bicentennial of the arrival of the Selkirk Settlers, it seems the perfect time to revisit one of West Kildonan’s historic treasures and one of the oldest surviving residences in Manitoba, Seven Oaks House.
Now a museum, the old home at 115 Rupertsland Blvd., was originally built in 1851-53 and was the home of John and Mary Inkster and their nine children. Inkster, born in 1799, arrived from the Orkney Islands of Scotland in 1821 and was a stonemason with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He soon married Mary Sinclair, the daughter of HBC’s chief factor William Sinclair, and decided to try his luck at farming in the Red River Settlement. He later became a merchant as well, selling local and imported goods.
Inkster’s land was one of not too many long narrow strips that ran like ribbons along the west side of the Red River then. But its location was well-known for more than just the creek and the line of seven oak trees that the house was soon named after — for the creek and the trees also marked the nearby site of the historic 1816 Battle of Seven Oaks.
Seven Oaks House is one of a handful of Red River Settlement residences that have survived and now give us a unique glimpse of life as it was lived by early settlers in the Kildonan area.
A log building with a stone foundation, Seven Oaks was the second home of the Inkster family. Construction began in 1851 on the imposing two-storey, nine-room house but was disrupted by the flood of 1852. An early Manitoba Free Press article noted that, "the house was flooded to a depth of four feet" and "The river at the height of the flood was eight miles across." The house was completed in 1853.
After the death of daughter, Mary Inkster, in 1912 who had occupied the home following her parents’ death, the dwelling was turned over to the city of Winnipeg for use as a park. When the municipality of West Kildonan became the owner in 1952, a restoration program began and the house opened as a museum in 1958.
Inkster heirlooms such as handmade furniture and many other items dating back to the 19th century fill the home and help to provide a glimpse of early life along the Red River. A section of the earlier 1826 log house stands on the site and houses a store and post office.
According to board member Ed Yaworski, the museum will open May long weekend and will be one of the featured sites during Doors Open Winnipeg, scheduled for May 26 to 27. An open house is scheduled for Sun., June 10.
Cheryl Girard is a Riverbend-based writer.
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