Historic house that won’t die reopens

149-year-old home now a seniors' centre

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One of Winnipeg's oldest and most storied houses will finally reopen today after more than 30 years of neglect and two fires that almost destroyed the historic building.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/08/2011 (4071 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of Winnipeg’s oldest and most storied houses will finally reopen today after more than 30 years of neglect and two fires that almost destroyed the historic building.

Barber House was once the home of 19th-century journalist and businessman E.L. Barber and is Winnipeg’s oldest residence on its original property. The house, built in 1862, stood vacant and was left to rot for decades before a Point Douglas community group called Sistars decided to breathe new life into it.

Sandy Dzedzora, chairwoman of Sistars, said the building is fully restored and ready to open its doors as a community hub. It will function as the home of the North Point Douglas Seniors Association, a group of area residents over 65 who deliver food to inner-city seniors, and will provide activities such as gardening, crafts and bocce. A daycare behind the two-storey log structure will make it an inter-generational facility.

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Rick Caslake prepares the renovated Barber House for its official opening today as the North Point Douglas Seniors Association centre.

“It is so important to have a space where children can learn from their elders and a place where seniors can meet and socialize,” Dzedzora said. “When they have a place where they can meet new people and network, they ultimately feel safer in the community.”

The revitalization of the historic house at 99 Euclid Ave. has been in the works for five years and Sistars is the second community group trying to do so, she said.

In the 1990s, plans to make the historic home a community centre were cancelled after the house caught fire. Eerily, when Sistars gained possession of the land from the city last year, the house was set ablaze again the very next day.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, this is the end of Barber House,’ ” Dzedzora said. “It was horrible. I first heard about it on the news, actually, and I was in front of my TV, just devastated.”

But the fire helped speed up efforts to restore Barber House, she said. The blaze burned off the roof and destroyed the interior, meaning only the exterior could be restored, saving the community group close to $15,000.

“The house is a phoenix and it has risen from the ashes,” Dzedzora said, adding she calls Barber House a “stubborn old lady.”

“She is just wanting for us to get it done and restore her to her former glory,” she said.

HADAS PARUSH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS It doesn't look like one of the city's oldest buildings now.

Wins Bridgman, the architect of the renewed Barber House, agrees.

“The Barber House has become a symbol,” Bridgman said. “It was never that important of a house and the Barbers weren’t one of the important founding families in Winnipeg, but it’s become important because of its phoenix-like quality.”

Because of that, Bridgman decided to expose all the house’s original wooden beams — even the one charred by the fires.

“The history of the wood is very important,” he said. “When a community fights to survive and fights to be revitalized, much like the Barber House has, it has certain scars, and you could wear those scars with honour and even celebrate them.”

Bridgman, along with members of Sistars, federal cabinet minister and Provencher MP Vic Toews and Barber family members will be at the house today at 2 p.m. to commemorate its grand reopening.

Dzedzora said descendants of E.L. Barber will present a 400-year-old Bible that belongs to the family, which will be put on display to maintain a link between the family, the building and its history.

Barber House will eventually contain a historical collection by area residents relating to its origin.

KEITH CAMPEAU PHOTO / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Firefighters at Barber House after the June 7, 2010 blaze.

daniela.germano@freepress.mb.ca

Barber House

Address: 99 Euclid Ave. Built: 1862

Grand reopening: Today, 2 p.m.

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