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Old vs. New: Brandon's old City Hall and Hanbury House

The Prince Edward Hotel at 100

Hanbury House, which once stood at Fifth and Lorne (and was called

JERRETT PHOTO / S.J. MCKEE ARCHIVES, BRANDON UNIVERSITY Enlarge Image

Hanbury House, which once stood at Fifth and Lorne (and was called "the finest frame house in Manitoba). It was razed in March 1977. Photo from circa 1910.

The Prince Edward Hotel wasn’t the only historic Brandon building threatened by progress during that era.

Old Brandon City Hall, seen from the roof of the Prince Edward Hotel.

Enlarge Image

Old Brandon City Hall, seen from the roof of the Prince Edward Hotel. (COURTESY KENNETH JACKSON)

Another view of Brandon's old City Hall, with the Prince Edward Hotel in the background. Circa 1912.

Enlarge Image

Another view of Brandon's old City Hall, with the Prince Edward Hotel in the background. Circa 1912. (DAVIDSON AND GOWEN / SJ MCKEE ARCHIVES, BRANDON UNIVERSITY)

A partial list of long-gone structures that made way for parks, parking lots and "progress" would have to include:

  • the city’s ornate old City Hall (torn down in 1971, now Princess Park)
  • portions of the old gaol at Rideau Park
  • Hanbury House (demolished in March 1977), once called "the finest frame house in Manitoba."
  • the Wheat City Arena (razed in 1969)
  • a plethora of schools, including Park School, Alexandra School, Central School and King George School

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Each, in its own way, was lamented as a loss — though some more than others.

Even though preservationist Steve Magnacca lamented the loss of Brandon’s City Hall, for example, he realized that it was too far gone to save.

Magnacca, who later led an effort to save the Prince Edward Hotel, was still mayor when he took a Brandon Sun reporter on a tour of old City Hall in 1967.

He drew the reporter's attention to the fuse box in the forward part of the building.

"It blows fuses every day," he said, gingerly pulling his hand from the hot box. The mayor attributes the blown fuses to antiquated electrical wiring, and to the overloading brought about by the increase in the number of new machines in city hall that depend on electricity for their operation.

As well, he is concerned about the public.

"Three people fell down those stairs yesterday alone," he said, referring to the stone stairs at the front of the building.

Upstairs in the committee room the mayor poked his finger at rotted wood in a window frame and the wood broke away.

By that time, two-thirds of the building — its basement (with dirt floors) and the former opera house (tie rods keeping the walls from falling outward) — had been condemned as unsafe, and city workers were squeezed into the remaining third of the building.

Could the structure have been saved? Possibly, although an engineer’s report in 1957 had assessed it as at the end of its life span and five years later, the fire department opined that bringing the building "up to today’s standards for public buildings is an impossibility."

There were worries that a crumbling civic building made Brandon look bad.

"What impression does this building leave on people who come to Brandon seeking industrial sites and are taken to that old city hall?" asked alderman Glenn Brown in 1968. "It certainly makes this city look backward."

Once a new City Hall was built, in 1971, the old one was torn down. The land, touted as valuable commercial real estate,  was eventually turned into Princess Park, and a housing complex — built "with no regard for planning"  — erected on part of it.

A housing complex was also built at Fifth Street and Lorne Avenue. But until March of 1977, that corner was home to one of the most historic residences in town: Hanbury House.

Although much of business left for Vancouver around the turn of the 20th century (where they were closer to raw lumber), for decades Hanbury Manufacturing was one of Brandon’s biggest employers.

After first coming to Brandon in 1882, Hanbury had contracted build to city’s original post office, a hotel, the general hospital and many other of the city’s early buildings.

Like all big companies, the company had its detractors — especially in the Duck Mountains, where much of Hanbury’s timber rights were located.

"Old timers of that area recall with hate the name of Hanbury," wrote Kaye Rowe in 1977 Brandon Sun feature. "He was the man whose crews denuded a wide landscape of its trees."

But the lumber baron, who also owned a mill to turn the trees into windows and doors, certainly had a beautiful house.

The 14-room house, built around the turn of the 20th century, was described at the time as the finest frame house in Manitoba.

Three storeys tall with a tower, it had many large windows and three entrances — one each at the front, rear and side. The house was noted for its delicate wood carving over the porticos, with matching work on the veranda and fence.

A giant fireplace dominated the living room, with another fireplace in the master bedroom. The butler’s pantry was elegant in panels of fine wood and stained-glass partitions. The den to the right of the main entrance had been an office, music room and nookery where children could play quiet games or read. The capacious furnace was stoked with Souris coal. The grounds, too, were immaculate, and used for lavish entertaining or for games of croquet.

The home, though, passed out of the Hanbury family before the Second World War. It was rented out, used by the Salvation Army to house visiting wives and mothers of service personnel. Then, it was carved up into small apartments.

And then it was demolished.

Some were incensed.

"Someone, I hope, will one day have to find the words to explain how a provincial organization — Manitoba Housing and Renewal — could be unfeeling enough to turn a bulldozer loose on the old Hanbury House ... smashing to kindling one of the most gracious remnants of yesterday," wrote Garth Stouffer in a Brandon Sun column a few months after the house had been taken down.

But in the same column, he allowed himself a measure of gloating, too.

"Realization of value in things of the past is finally, belatedly, coming to Brandon," he wrote. "Fortunately, there is a move afoot to preserve the old Prince Edward Hotel … to restore it to life as a structure to serve the community, perhaps not as a hotel and centre of the social life of the city but as a new centre of the cultural life of a community."

Unfortunately, Stouffer’s hope turned out to be optimistic.

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