Manitoba’s Government House
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 25, 1968-1969 season (Special Supplement)
Government House, Winnipeg
Mr. Chairman, members of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, I extend to you a very warm welcome to Government House this evening. It is fitting in the centenary of Manitoba that one of the oldest societies in the Province should meet in one of the oldest houses in the Province.
Garden Party, Government House, Winnipeg, 9 August 1889
The Feast of St. Patrick “with all the honors” was first celebrated in this part of the country exactly one hundred years ago tonight - 17 March 1870. In the morning church services were held and in the evening all good Irishmen gathered at 8 o’clock at the Court House, Upper Fort Garry, to join in a celebration of a convivial nature. The Legislative Chamber was gaily decorated, the flag of the Provisional Government being used along with many other flags. Father Dugas’ band from St. Boniface mingled Irish and French airs. Hon. W. B. O’Donoghue was chairman, and on his right sat the President of the Provisional Government. And there were speeches - the Chairman, the President, the Chief Justice, Father Lestanc, Father Dugas, Father McCarthy all spoke - so did Messrs. Bannatyne, Bunn, Bird and Scott - followed by Dr. O’Donnell, J. H. McTavish, W. Coldwell, J. C. Kennedy, J. Kennedy - and others. 
The President of the Provisional Government, Louis Riel, who sat at the right of the Chairman, was the then occupant of “Government Rouse.” He had seized the residence of Dr. Cowan inside the walls of Fort Garry and was using it as the headquarters of the Provisional Government and he called it “Government House.” 
How did the name “Government House” originate? Why was the term—“Governor’s Residence” not used? At first Government House had a double function - it was the residence of the Governor, later the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor, and it was his office. As his office, it was the place where the actual administrative and political decisions were made. As his residence it was the place where the Provincial representative of the Head of State lived and received state guests. Responsible Government in Manitoba superseded the Lieutenant-Governor as the real source of power, and the ministers and members of the Legislature desired to carry on their deliberations in their own quarters, in order to have greater independence. Government Howe retained, and still retains, its second function, the home of the Lieutenant-Governor and the place where state hospitality is dispensed.
“Government House,” as we know it today has for its core the house built by the Dominion Government as a residence and office for the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba in 1882-83. The first Lieutenant-Governor to occupy it was James Cox Aikins. When he moved into the new house from the old one in Fort Garry in the fall of 1883, the Winnipeg Daily Times (10 September 1883) carried a story Farewell to the Fort, a reminiscence by Dr. Bryce on the history of the Fort, and expressing the pang of regret with which old residents saw the Fort cease to be the centre of Government. For long years it had been centre of Hudson’s Bay Company authority and for thirteen years it had been the site of the residence and office of the Lieutenant-Governors Manitoba.
Manitoba’s first Lieutenant-Governor, His Honour Adams G. Archibald, arrived at night, 2 September 1870, and stayed as a guest of Donald A. Smith at the residence of the Hudson’s Bay Governor in Fort Garry.  Subsequently they agreed, subject to the approval of the Dominion Government and the Hudson’s Bay Company, that the Lieutenant-Governor should use the Hudson’s Bay House, also known as McTavish House, as his official residence until other suitable arrangements could be made, the Dominion Government to pay as rent £300 a year. It was provided that: “Mr. Smith shall be at liberty to retain as long as he finds it absolutely necessary ... to do so, the use of the wing which he now resides, and the kitchen adjoining.”  As Dr. Bryce commented: “It was fortunate for the people that the two kings, representing the old order and the new, were so amicably housed under one roof.” 
This house was originally a log structure and was built in 1840 for Mr. Ballantine, who was at the time in charge of Fort Garry. The contractor was Mr. Drever.  The house being built several years after main Fort, it was located to the north and outside the original thick stone walls. The original walls were extended to enclose the house but instead of using stone the extended walls were of large, solid, square oak logs, laid horizontally in the form of crib work, the space between the outer and inner oak walls being filled with earth. It was at this time that the gateway which still remains in the small Fort Garry Park was erected. 
In 1877 Lady Dufferin wrote in My Canadian Journal: “The Goverment House is surrounded by a wooden palisade, and has a brick gateway, which forms a nice old-fashioned court in front of the house.”
Lieutenant-Governor Archibald was succeeded by Alexander Morris who had served as Chief Justice of Manitoba from 1 July 1872, until his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor on 2 December 1872.  “A man of most genial countenance, a manner wholly pacific, a scholar and a leader of men,” he was only 46 when appointed.  He was not happy with his Government House, describing it as “the old rambling apology for a Government House.” 
A new lease had been entered into between the Dominion Government and the Hudson’s Bay Company for seven years from 1 May 1873, at a rental of $2,000 per annum, and included the portion of the house and garden which Donald A. Smith had retained for his own use, the company reserving the right to build an office on a portion of the northwest garden. 
Morris objected to the possibility of an office being built on Government House grounds. In a letter to the Secretary of State for the Provinces (10 June 1873) he said: “I notice, with much surprise and dissatisfaction, that a portion of the private garden, within the walls and directly in front of Government House, is to be reserved, by the Hudson Bay Company, for building an office upon ...”
“I need scarcely point out that it would not only be exceedingly disagreeable, but manifestly improper, for a business office of any kind to be erected in the garden of Government House ... I enclose a sketch of the position of the house and the grounds.”  Later in a telegram to The Honourable H. Langevin on another subject he concluded: “Hope you have got rid of office in garden.” 
By October the $10,000 had been spent but Morris wrote to the Minister of Public Works, Ottawa, listing further essential repairs estimated at $1,500. A postscript reads: “You can fancy the state of the house when I tell you there was five feet of water in the cellar till middle of July. Year before till middle of August but I am making the H. B. Coy. put in a proper drain.” 
Again, the next spring, 1874, Morris wrote to Ottawa enclosing a detailed estimate of $2,000 for repairs yet necessary. 
Little wonder that by February 1876, the maintenance and repairs of Government House had been put under the control of the Government of Manitoba and the furniture in Government House belonging to the Dominion transferred to the local authority. 
Another person who was not happy with the Government House arrangement at this time, but for another reason, was James A. Grahame of the Hudson’s Bay Company who had arrived at Fort Garry the beginning of June 1874, from Victoria. A few days after his arrival he wrote to the Secretary of the H.B.C.: “I find no place here either for an Office or a Dwelling House for myself; the House referred to by Mr. Smith is an utter ruin and irreparable, being rotten from roof to foundation ... Had the house inside the Fort, formerly occupied by Governor Dallas and Mactavish not been unfortunately leased to the Canadian Government it would have been large enough for both Office & Dwelling house, and considerable expense avoided. I cannot understand why Mr. Smith consented to lease that building ...” 
And again a week later: “... as for the house occupied by the Lieutenant-Governor, the lease effected by Mr. Smith has blocked it up for six years to come ... the place where I am now writing being a mere shed that is not rainproof.” 
No story of Government House in Manitoba would be complete without reference to a house known as “Silver Heights.” When the Canadian Government designated William McDougall to be the first Lieutenant-Governor and sent him to Red River in 1869, it was “Silver Heights” that had been chosen and prepared as his residence.  As an early newspaper described it: “It was prepared for the reception of Governor Mocdugall [sic] but owing to that gentleman’s non-arrival it was not honored with his presence.” 
Explaining his reasons for not going there on his arrival, Lieutenant-Governor Archibald wrote to Ottawa, February 1871:
Governor's Residence, Upper Fort Garry, circa 1880
However the following spring 1871, Archibald did occupy the house at Silver Heights, heading his letters “Government House, Silver Heights.” 
The house was built around 1856 by John Rowand, a retired Hudson’s Bay officer,  and was well known to early travellers as it was situated just north of the Portage Road, on a slight rise of land.  It was said to have derived its name from the silver poplars by which it was surrounded. 
In My Canadian Journal Lady Dufferin described Silver Heights:
There was a tragedy that summer of 1871 at Silver Heights. Archibald had been accompanied from the east by his secretary, a young man named Mr. Hill. Nursey and Begg’s account of Consul Taylor and the July 4th celebrations concluded with:
The Dominion Government asked Archibald to give notice that the Silver Heights house would be given up in September,  and at almost the same time an Attorney, on behalf of “Mrs. Margaret Donaldson, late widow of John Rowan [sic] deceased,” demanded possession of “the house and premises known as Silver Heights, lately and now occupied as a residence by ... Adams George Archibald.” 
The Honourable Joseph Cauchon, who succeeded Morris as Lieutenant-Governor, spent his whole term (1877-1882) in the house at the Fort. His wife died a few days after his arrival at Red River.  She is buried at St. Boniface. For a year or more Miss Nolan, the sister of his deceased wife, presided at Government House, and then he married Miss Lemoyne of Ottawa. 
The need for new public buildings was growing with the increase in population and in 1880 a delegation consisting of J. Norquay, Provincial Treasurer, C. P. Brown, Minister of Public Works, M. A. Girard, Provincial Secretary and G. McMicken, Speaker of the Assembly, went to Ottawa to confer with the Privy Council on a long list of matters concerning the Province. The first item on their memorandum was “Erection of Public Buildings” and read in part as follows:
The Privy Council recommended: “the immediate preparation of plans and estimates and the early commencement of the public buildings.” 
The plans were accordingly prepared by Thomas Scott, the Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works, Ottawa. 
Progress must have been made for there is a sketch of 1874 showing the land reserved for public purposes.  The property was bounded on the South by the Assiniboine River and would appear to be the same as that now occupied by the Legislative grounds and Government House, Memorial Park, the Land Titles Office and Law Courts and North to York Avenue. Colony Creek is shown flowing into the Assiniboine and Broadway is marked on the sketch.
The east half is marked Provincial Government Reserve and the west half Dominion Government Reserve, the latter containing a square barrack ground.
The property reserved, Ottawa committed to the building of a new Government House, and the plans ready, tenders were called, and the contract was awarded to Messrs. Williams and Bowles of Selkirk at the figure of $23,995.  Williams later retired and Major F. J. Bowles was the sole contractor. 
The walls of the house were to be built of “the best quality local brick that will ring when struck together” and there was to be a 2 inch cavity in the centre, “the inner and outer walls to be tied together by two courses of brickwork at level of each floor.” There were to be cut stone dressings and mansard roofs covered with shingles and galvanized iron. 
In speaking of the new house, Canada: Sessional Papers of 1882 state: “The style of architecture adopted is Italian, modified to suit the requirements of the climate.” But the Provincial Architects in charge of the House at present describe the architecture as Victorian, with French influence in the mansard roof. The Sessional Paper continues:
The five original plans referred to in the Specifications bear the date of the contract, 13 May 1881, which would be when Cauchon was Lieutenant-Governor. As Cauchon was succeeded in 1882 by James Cox Aikins, most of the building was done during the latter’s term of office.
Plans filed with the original ones in the Public Archives of Canada show changes made to the basement, the attic and the side entrance. In both the basement and attic a bath and water closet were added; in the basement, two bedrooms and a servants dining room. There are no plans showing it, but contemporary newspaper accounts  state that there was a billiard room in the attic, and Mrs. Ney, daughter of Lieutenant-Governor J. A. M. Aikins, remembers the billiard room being there when they moved into Government House in 1916, that it was still there when the Prince of Wales visited them in 1919 and that later it was made into two bedrooms - probably in 1921.
The Winnipeg Daily Times of 4 November 1882, states that the entire building was to be heated by steam and in his ’Political Manual’ published in 1887, J. P. Robertson states: “The building is heated throughout with steam.”
Though the Plans  show a furnace and fuel room, the Specifications, which are very explicit, make no mention of a heating system, apart from a fireplace in every room on the ground floor and first floor and “7-inch pipe rings and stoppers to each room with fireplace, and to such other positions as shown on plans.” A few years ago, before the House was redecorated, the outline of these stove pipes could be seen on each chimney, suggesting a stove had been placed in front of the fireplaces. However, it was reported that alterations made to the original Plans at the request of the Lieutenant-Governor amounted to $18,000  and the heating system might well have been one of the changes. That it was not too efficient is suggested by the fact that in 1893 the sum of $1,300 was spent on the heating system, and in 1900 it was completely overhauled. 
The drains too were defective as evidenced by a letter written by Lieutenant-Governor Schultz to the Premier, the Honourable Thos. Greenway, in October 1888:
Government House, Kennedy Street, circa 1884
Other requirements called for by the Specifications included: “Sixteen approved patent electric bells, with indicators, press buttons, copper insulated wires - and battery of sufficient power.”
The plasterer was to provide and fix six centre flowers. (Of these now only two remain, one on the ceiling of the front hall and another on the ceiling of the southeast ground floor room, now known as the Aide’s room. The plaster moulding around the archways in the ground floor hall and upstairs hall appear to be the original.)
“Deafening boards” were to be fixed between the floors.
The main staircase treads, moulded handrail, newels and ballusters were to be of oak, the risers and stringers of pine. (I might mention here that both the main staircase and the back staircase have been built in the opposite direction to that shown on the original plans.)
All the windows on the ground and first floor were to be furnished with ... inside shutters. (These are still in place.)
The contractor was to provide and fix a cast iron cresting to the roof of the tower. (This cresting still remains, but one that was added to the main roof during 1884-1885  has since been removed.)
The bathtub was to be 22 oz. copper.
The rain water tank was to be “8 feet in diameter and 8 feet deep, made of 3-inch plank, strongly hooped with iron.” (About twenty years ago the side lawn caved in and it was found that the huge rain barrel was still in the ground.) 
A private company, The Winnipeg Water Works Company, pumped water from the Assiniboine River, near Main Street and they connected their system to Government House in the fall of 1883.  In the summer water is still pumped from the Assiniboine for watering the gardens and lawns.
A separate contract for $18,082 was entered into with Major Bowles for stables in March 1883  and during 1884-1885 a woodshed, wash-house and icehouse were constructed and also a conservatory. Plank walks were laid and the grounds and road graded and the lawn seeded. 
By June 1886, a total of $89,325 had been expended by the Dominion Government on the house, furniture, outbuildings and grounds. 
Stating that as the house was now completed, an Order in Council dated the 10th of July 1885, signed by John A. Macdonald and approved by the Governor General, His Excellency the Marquis of Lansdowne, transferred the residence to the local Government of Manitoba to be used as a residence for the Lieutenant-Governor; and for no other purpose. The words “and for no other purpose” have been added to the Order in Council in John A. Macdonald’s handwriting. 
The House now has three drawing rooms, but when it was built the front drawing room was the library, the middle drawing room was the breakfast room, with a door opening onto the main hall, and the third room was the drawing room. The dining room now consists of two rooms joined by an archway. Originally the house ended at the archway with a bay window which matched the one in the drawing room. These were the four rooms divided by folding doors. The assembly room addition and the kitchen addition have blocked two western windows in the drawing room and one in the dining room.
The room to the left as you enter, now known as the Aide’s room, was the Lieutenant-Governor’s office. I do not know when his office was moved out of the House, but Mrs. Ney says that when her father, Sir James Aikins became Lieutenant-Governor in 1916 the office was no longer here and was probably in the old Legislative Building just North on Kennedy Street. The office is now in the present Legislative Building. The room in the House that was formerly the office has been used both as an Aide’s sitting room and as a breakfast room.
Between the Aide’s room and the dining room were a serving room with a dumb waiter from the kitchen below and a small hall connecting a side door and the main hallway.
On the second floor the room now used as a library was a large bedroom and was connected to the other large bedroom with a folding door.  If you examine the present clothes cupboard in the bedroom you will see it is framed in the moulding of the connecting door.
His Honour and Mrs. Schultz held an “At Home” at which they used these connecting bedrooms for dancing, but the next year it was reported that the drawing room and dining room were arranged en suite for those who danced, the upper rooms having been pronounced unsafe for large numbers, and the upstairs rooms were used for supper. The newspaper account goes on as follows:
A feature of the House which was greatly admired was the gas lighting - such references as the following being made to it: “The splendour of the rooms in Government House were greatly enhanced by the brilliant light from gas in the new and handsome gaseliers.  The gasoliers were shaded with a delicate tint of yellow, which enhanced the beauty of the ladies.”  The cost of the gasoliers was $708.87, according to the household accounts of J. C. Aikens. 
Plan of front elevation, Lieutenant-Governor's residence, Manitoba, approved at Ottawa, 13 May 1881
Plan of interior side elevation, Lieutenant-Governor's residence, Manitoba, approved at Ottawa, 13 May 1881
Except for a greenhouse (which was added to the conservatory in 1886)  there appear to have been few changes to the House except repairs, until the appointment of Col. Daniel McMillan in September, 1900. At the time the Minister of Public Works reported that the “building was found to be in such a condition that a thorough over-hauling was necessary.” Besides the heating already mentioned there was quite an extensive list of repairs, including such things as renewing the plumbing fixtures, cleaning carpets and buying new ones and “the hearths and fire places, being cracked and in such condition as to be dangerous, were taken out, rebuilt and retiled.”
In 1903 public works reported: “A new bath, basin and closet have been installed. Great inconvenience has been experienced in the past owing to the fact that there has been only one bathroom for the use of His Honour’s family and guests.”
Though not mentioned in the public works reports, it was at this period that the first ballroom and the verandah were added to the House. Mrs. T. D. B. Evans, of Toronto, daughter of Sir Daniel McMillan, remembers that her father added these at his own expense. He may have been preparing for the first visit of royalty to Western Canada, for the ballroom was completed by 26 September 1901, on which date it was used as a banquet hall, when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, later King George V and Queen Mary, visited Winnipeg. The ladies at the dinner wore black, grey, purple, mauve or white gowns, semi-mourning for the late Queen Victoria.  Mourning being strictly observed, it was almost a year after the ballroom was built before the first ball was held in it. 
Despite all these improvements to Government House, Town Topics, a weekly newspaper of the time, reported 12 January 1901:
Around 1908 the front entrance was changed, the front porch being closed in as a vestibule and the vestibule becoming part of the front hall. At the same time the room now used as an extension to the dining room was added, but called the palm room, and a new conservatory was directly off it and down a few steps. 
During the term of office of Sir Douglas C. Cameron, 1911-1916, the Public Accounts of the Government of Manitoba show that very little money was spent on Government House, the largest capital expenditure being $1,595.00 paid to Sir Daniel McMillan in 1911 for “pictures and stuffed heads remaining at Government House and purchased by the Government.”
Shortly after T. A. Burrows and family moved to Government House in the fall of 1926, a new garage was built, the stables having been torn down. It was a large garage and access to it was through the old ballroom. 
In those days prisoners known as trusties worked in the kitchens and grounds of Government House. As they were served coffee in the House every afternoon before they left, they were well known to the household and the family dogs, an English bull terrier and a shepherd dog. These dogs slept in the garage and the doors were never locked, as the dogs were sufficient guardians. One morning the chauffeur came in and told His Honour the big car was missing. His Honour could hardly believe it and he went out to the garage with the chauffeur. The dogs were lying there but the car was gone. A trusty was out on parole and had come and taken the car - the dogs knew him so well they had made no fuss. The car was found a few days later as the thief had left a trail, charging gas to Government House. 
Through the thirties and the war years. little was done to the House, until the kitchen wing was added in 1946.  Mrs. Harte, who was chatelaine for her father, J. D. McGregor, has said it was a major feat to serve a dinner hot when it had to be brought up from the basement kitchen, the dumb waiter having a very restricted capacity. In a letter Mrs. Ney states: “Never shall I forget the time the rope of the lift broke when it was full of dishes during a state dinner!” So the kitchen wing was a great improvement, and I am told Mrs. McWilliams was very pleased to have a kitchen and serving room on ground level. The kitchen wing is on the west side of the House and a window in the dining room was used to make a connecting door.
When the Honourable J. S. McDiarmid was appointed in 1953, a very thorough renovation of the House was made before they moved in. A cloak room and a powder room were made from the old serving room, an elevator installed, the side door was bricked in and the back hall made into a cupboard, opening off the dining room. Fireplaces were removed from the first two drawing rooms. The woodwork was painted light. New damask drapes were hung in the drawing rooms and dining room. The grey sculptured broadloom presently on the drawing rooms was installed.
Upstairs, a new bathroom was built for the large guest room. One of the small bedrooms on the north side was divided into a bathroom and a large clothes and storage cupboard. Other bathrooms were changed to give a private bath to each of the four bedrooms on the second floor.  In 1959 the House had its first coat of paint.  It had a sparkling white exterior with which to greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip that July. Under Mrs. McDiarmid’s guiding hand the House took a new lease on life.
His Honour Errick F. Willis and Mrs. Willis moved into Government House in January, 1960. That spring, the old ballroom and garage were torn down and the modern assembly room built. The serving room was enlarged to connect the assembly room and kitchen for catering purposes. 
In 1963 the conservatory was torn down. A sunroom was added to the end of the dining room, giving access to a new, attached, three-car garage, potting room and modern greenhouse.  It was the Honourable Errick F. Willis who christened Government House “10 Kennedy Street.” This is very convenient, for when you give the address “Government House” the clerk says: “And the suite number?”
In 1965-1966, a few changes were made to the third floor. The beaver-board partitions which divided the old billiard room into two bedrooms were taken out to make a sitting room. An extra bathroom and a small kitchenette were installed, walls painted and carpets laid in the bedrooms.
A major change in 1967 was the installation of a fire warning system, connected with the central Fire Hall, which was ordered by the Fire Chief after an inspection. He felt we were in about the same position as Lieutenant-Governor Morris who wrote to Ottawa in 1877 saying: “Will you permit Geological Engineer to sink Artesian Well for use of Government House. Would be great protection against fire ... Have fire engine in Fort, but no water.” 
Like most installations, the fire system had to have the kinks ironed out of it. Meantime, it caused some embarrassing situations - such as going off and loudly clanging just as His Excellency M. le Due, Ambassador for France, arrived at the front door; or in the middle of luncheon when Their Excellencies the Governor General and Mrs. Michener were our guests. The same evening returning from the opening of the Centennial Concert Hall, we were greeted by a calm and collected senior aide, Commander Les Avery, only to find out later that the fire alarm had gone off and the vibrations had shaken loose the screws and down had tumbled drapes and track. When we came in with Their Excellencies all was back in place. An example of the necessary resourcefulness of aides. His Honour began to warn guests sleeping in the House that the alarm might go off. One night when His Excellency George Ignatieff was a guest in the House, we were awakened by cars roaring in the driveway. His Honour went down. The drive was full of fire engines and police cars, the firemen in full dress and carrying walkie talkies. The alarm hadn’t sounded in the House but it had tripped in the station. Regulations were they had to inspect the whole house. They couldn’t waken the Ambassador so they just tiptoed through his room. The next morning he greeted us with: “Say, was I dreaming last night or were there frogmen in my room?”
Government House is rather sparsely furnished and each Lieutenant-Governor adds his own furniture, furnishings and accessories to it. This was not always the case. When the Honourable Mr. McDougall set out for Red River in 1869 he shipped household furniture and goods which he considered a proper outfit for a Lieutenant-Governor, the invoices for which amounted to $3,241. As Mr. McDougall was prevented from entering the territory, most of his goods were left at Georgetown, south of the border, but some were brought into Red River by Mr. Fonseca, who had been travelling north at the same time as Mr. McDougall’s party.  Lieutenant-Governor Archibald’ letters to the Secretary of State for the Provinces, Ottawa, tell the story. On 11 November 1870 he wrote:
26 January 1871 -
A list of four pages entitled “Articles Missing From Among Mr. McDougall’s Furniture” was sent by Archibald to Ottawa and the articles range from 6 dining room sofas to an oil can, from a white wood bedroom set complete, to a bread board, and in between there is every variety of household necessity. 
When two years later, 1873, the Dominion Government authorized the spending of $10,000 on the old Government House at Fort Garry,  $5,000 of this was designated for the purchase of furniture. Donald A. Smith offered to Lieutenant-Governor Morris furniture which he, Mr. Smith, had imported for his own use but which had not yet been unpacked. Mr. Morris being satisfied that it was what he required, purchased the furniture for $4,017.33, plus freight,  and cartage costs from Silver Heights. 
All the better furniture was moved into the new House, some was placed in departmental offices and the rest sold at auction—realizing $385.85  The next year a further payment of $250 was received on account of the sale of old furniture. 
With respect to furnishing the new House the Minister of Public Works, Ottawa, wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor; 3 July 1883:
The money was placed to his account in the Merchant’s Bank and each month lists of purchases and the cheques issued therefor sent to Ottawa.  Unfortunately they do not elaborate beyond-furniture, mirrors, curtains, mats, etc.,  so it is difficult to know if any of the original furniture remains in the House. It is most likely that some of the Victorian era furniture has been here since the House was built. At the time the House was described as being “luxuriously furnished and fitted with all the latest improvements.”  One of these improvements was probably a telephone, as the Public Accounts 1883 list - “Rent to Bell Telephone $26.70.”
The report of the Department of Public Works, 1916, includes re-modelling of Government House. This is the year Sir James Aikins, the son of Lieutenant-Governor James Cox Aikins, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor. I would like to quote to you a portion of a letter from his daughter, Mrs. Helen Ney of Toronto:
The walnut dining table referred to is no longer in the House but I believe the chairs formerly upholstered in leather to be the ones now reupholstered and scattered throughout the House as occasional chairs. Mrs. Harte said they were still covered with leather and in use in the servants dining room in the basement when her father, J. D. McGregor, moved into Government House in 1929, and she had them repaired and moved upstairs.
The fumed oak set is of course still in the first dining room.
The set of eight black, carved chairs upholstered in red velvet were given to Government House by Mrs. Harold Aikins.
The bookcases in the library with the glass doors were designed and built by the Department of Public Works, the plans being dated November 1929.
I have no record of any furniture purchased for Government House after 1916, but there is some bedroom furniture of a later era and some modern furniture was bought for the assembly room when it was built in 1960 and the sunroom furniture (at the end of the dining room) was specially bought for it in 1963. The two wing chairs in the library are new.
As Emerson so aptly said: “The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it,” and this is particularly true of Government House for it is the people who come here that make it unique. Over the years it has played host to thousands of people, both from our own community and from distant places. Amongst its proud moments are those when it has entertained royalty. As already mentioned, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, later King George V and Queen Mary, were the first members of the Royal Family to visit Manitoba, in September, 1901. They travelled by special train with cars built especially for them. An express train arrived the day before with two royal carriages and a dozen horses, which were taken to Government House stables for the night. Their Royal Highnesses’ schedule called for them to arrive in the morning and leave the same afternoon, but the day before their arrival it was changed and they had dinner as well as luncheon with His Honour and Mrs. McMillan at Government House.  As well as their staff and household they were accompanied by the Duchess’s brother, Prince Alexander of Teck, Lady Minto, wife of the Governor General and Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The Royal Standard flew from the masthead of Government House showing the presence of royalty, and inside the reception rooms were lined with guests. As the Duke and Duchess entered the drawing room the ladies made a deep curtsy and as the royal couple progressed down the room the waiting guests were in turn presented to them. Luncheon was served in the dining room and dinner in the new ballroom, where the principal decoration on the royal table was a crown fashioned of maple leaves and sweet peas. In accordance with the custom of the day, after dinner the guests were treated to some musical selections. I would hazard a guess that there were three people who did not enjoy their dinner - Miss Wilson who sang Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break,” Miss Miller who was heard in her favorite song “Dreams,” and Mr. Stanley Adams who rendered “The Troubadour” in excellent style. 
The visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, 24 May 1939, was the first time our reigning monarch had come to Canada. Colonel E. A. Pridham was an A.D.C. to the then Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, the Honourable W. J. Tupper, and Col. Pridham kept a diary of the royal visit. He recalls it was raining when the royal train pulled in, stopping just at the line on the track which had been put there for that purpose. Prime Minister McKenzie King and his secretary, Arnold Heaney, formerly of Winnipeg, accompanied the party. The Prime Minister’s limousine and one of the Governor General’s were on hand. As King George and Queen Elizabeth entered the limousine designated for them, the Queen requested the top, which had been put up on account of the rain, be put down again. The morning was filled with ceremonial at the City Hall and the Legislative Building. Government House meanwhile must have been bustling with activity - quarters were set aside for the King and Queen to change from their wet clothing, the King changing from naval uniform to morning coat. The Queen’s maid rushed in with a large tartan design suitcase containing Her Royal Highnesses clothes. In the basement kitchens there would be the frantic last minute preparations for luncheon. The radio men would be working on the installation for the King’s broadcast. At one o’clock the King broadcast to the empire from the library of Government House. He wished to be alone in the room, so arrangements had been made for the Queen to listen in another room and the guests for luncheon, assembled downstairs, listened there. The table he used is now in the Aide’s room and bears a brass plaque commemorating the occasion, as well as a picture of the King at the micro-phone. There were about 120 people for lunch, following which their Majesties received the guests in the drawing room.
Many of you will remember the 26 mile drive the King and Queen made through the City, allowing all the citizens to see them. They left Winnipeg in the late afternoon.
When the present Duke of Windsor was here as the Prince of Wales in 1919, Helen, daughter of Sir James and Lady Aikins, was asked to open the ball with the Prince. She describes it now as “an unnerving experience for one still in her teens.” His second dance was with Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, the then Governor General of Canada. Lady Dorothy later became the wife of former British Prime Minister Harold McMillan. The Prince with two of his staff and valets stayed in Government House. 
In 1927 the Prince of Wales was accompanied by his younger brother, the Duke of Kent. His Honour T. A. Burrows and Mrs. Burrows entertained them at dinner. 
The Duke of Kent was also a guest at Government House in August 1941, when he was on war duty. The Honourable R. F. McWilliams was Lieutenant-Governor. It is interesting that though his brother was King George the signature of the Duke of Kent in the Guest Register is “George.” 
Queen Elizabeth was here in 1951 as Princess when His Honour and Mrs. McWilliams were at Government House, and in 1959, as Queen, during the term of the Honourable J. S. McDiarmid. Both times she was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Prince Philip stayed at Government House in 1967 when he came to open the Pan-Am Games, and Princess Alexandra and her husband the Honourable Angus Ogilvy dined here, also in 1967.
(Since this paper was given, Government House has received Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, 15 July 1970.)
The visits of Governors General, their wives and staffs are always times of gaiety and excitement at Government House. In the past many a ball was held in their honour, the pattern today having changed to dinners and receptions and luncheons. It would take too long to mention all these occasions, but there are three who have left contemporary accounts of their time in Manitoba - two of them journals by wives and one a journal by an A.D.C.
Lord Dufferin was the first Governor General of Canada to pay a visit to Manitoba, and he came in 1877, accompanied by his wife and their daughter Nellie. His Honour Alexander Morris and Mrs. Morris were residing in Government House Fort Garry, but the Dufferins stayed as guests of Donald A. Smith at Silver Heights. Between 7 August, when they arrived, and 29 September when they left Manitoba, they travelled extensively through the Province, camping most of the time.  In Lady Dufferin’s My Canadian Journal she records calling at Government House, dining there before a civic ball and having a cup of tea with the Morrises just prior to boarding the “Minnesota” when they departed. One entry in her journal is: “Nellie spent the afternoon at the Government House, where there are three children; but she dined with the grown-up people, and enjoyed herself very much.” The most important social event of their visit was the ball held in Government House to honour Lord and Lady Dufferin. According to the daily Free Press of Friday, 10 August 1877, a ball-room was erected for the occasion. In My Canadian Journal Lady Dufferin gave the following account:
Lord and Lady Aberdeen stayed at Government House with Lieutenant-Governor and Mrs. Schultz in September, 1894. There was a constant round of activities for both of them  and Lady Aberdeen was busy organizing the local branch of the Women’s Council (The Canadian Journal of Lady Aberdeen). There was a state dinner on Thursday evening, and Friday evening most elaborate preparations had been made for a state ball. Over a thousand invitations were issued, the space for so many guests to be provided by two immense marquee tents, joined together and connected with the front portion of Government House. In these tents a wooden floor had been laid and waxed for dancing. Connected with this by covered pathway to the North of the House were three other tents to be used as dressing rooms, while connected to the dancing tents on the South side was the refreshment tent. This tent was carpeted and like the main tent decorated with palms, flowers and flags. All the tents were brilliantly lighted; but alas the weather. Though threatening all day, the clouds would break and till the last minute it was hoped the tents could be used. But then the rain came in torrents and the wind blew, making anything but solid walls useless. As the ball was then held indoors  and as this was before there was a ballroom, I can only hope that the in-clement weather kept some of the thousand invited guests at home!
Lady Aberdeen’s Journal mentions a return visit in July 1895. His Excellency was to open the exhibition at Regina, and they arrived in Winnipeg Sunday at noon, had tea at Government House and went to St. Stephen’s Church, stayed at a hotel overnight and left Monday for Regina. Lady Aberdeen’s comment in her Journal: “Mr. Gordon’s service tonight was very nice.”
In July 1900, Lord and Lady Minto visited Winnipeg and His Excellency opened the Winnipeg Fair. They arrived in the evening and were greeted on arrival by Lieutenant-Governor Patterson. From the station to Government House Their Excellencies were accompanied by a torchlight procession, a score of bands, and the houses and buildings along the route were brilliantly illuminated.  The grounds of Government House were filled with Chinese lanterns and the front of the House lit with colored electric lights. 
The next day was Sunday, and in his journal, Captain Graham, A.D.C. to the Governor General, describes the church service at Holy Trinity in the afternoon and then says: “A large dinner at Government House closes the day satisfactorily.” The next day: “Breakfast is fortunately a moveable feast here, some of us preferring to feed at an early hour, while others stroll into the dining room at ten a.m. The comptroller solves the difficulty by not coming down at all until the sun is high in the heavens.”
Of the Lieutenant-Governor he says: “His Honour Lieutenant-Governor Patterson has only one failing, and that is an appalling generosity, which causes him to give away everything that he possesses. While a guest in his house it is absolutely unsafe to admire his pictures or praise his cigars, as he invariably insists upon at once making you a present of the object of your praise or admiration. If you say that his champagne is excellent, which it certainly is, you find twelve dozen bottles ready packed in your room on the day of your departure; if you chance to commend the tone of his grand piano, he will have it delivered at your house within a week, and the extent of his hospitality and the boundlessness of his generosity become, after a short visit, almost overwhelming.”
On Tuesday, 24 July: “At eleven p.m. the party leave Government House for the Car, where the night is spent, and in which we depart the next morning, deeply sorry to say goodbye to the City which has given us such a welcome, most regretful of leaving the “Liberty Hall” where we have been made so comfortable, and yet more sad to bid adieu to the kindly host whose bounteous hospitality we have so enjoyed.“ 
As well as royalty and vice-regal couples, Government House has had as its guests - statesmen, authors, musicians, explorers, scientists, teachers and preachers. It has also had as guests hundreds of thousands of Manitobans and their visitors.
Winston Churchill stayed here in 1901 when he was on a lecture tour;  the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Stanley Baldwin, was the guest of His Honour and Mrs. Burrows; Sarah Bernhardt was entertained at luncheon by Lady Aikins. While he was British High Commissioner, Lord Amory, the present Governor of Hudson’s Bay Company, was twice a guest of His Honour and Mrs. Willis. The House has opened its doors to John Philip Sousa, Kathleen Parlow, Amelita Galli-Curci, Philip Gibbs, Bramwell Booth, Billy Graham, Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Earl Jellicoe and Countess Jellicoe, Earl Haig and Countess Haig, Princess Christina of Sweden, Margaret Laurence, Laurens Van der Post, Lord and Lady Baden Powell; the list could go on and on. The guest register of His Honour and Mrs. McWilliams, which is in the Public Archives of Manitoba, reflects the travelling of war years with signatures of guests from the Gold Coast, Iceland, India, London, New Zealand, Switzerland and two from Ottawa, with in brackets France Libre. Ruth Draper and Gracie Fields were here, Alexander of Tunis, and Vernon Bartlett. H. V. Kaltenborn of Washington, D.C., the well-known news commentator and analyst of war years, came to Winnipeg in the early forties in connection with a war bond drive. He broadcast from Government House, using the same room and the same table that King George VI had used a few years earlier. 
The pattern of entertaining changes very little - last week we entertained the Cabinet at dinner before the opening of the Session. At the opening of the first Session of the first Parliament of Manitoba, His Honour Adams G. Archibald held a state dinner at Government House. Dr. O’Donnell, who was there, described it thus:
Next week we hold a reception in honour of the members of the Legislature. When Lieutenant-Governor Schultz entertained in their honour: “At the close of the reception the band played the National Anthem, and as the inspiring strains swelled through the hall the guests still remaining rose and sang with true British loyalty.” 
The New Year’s Levee of modern times varies little from those described in the newspapers through the years, with the gentlemen of the Province calling to pay their respects to the Queen’s representative.
In the past, the chatelaines of Government House received on Thursdays, and both men and women called. I think the equivalent today would be the receptions that are held for national conventions and distinguished persons.
Next month the Lieutenant-Governor will welcome to Government House the 40 or 50 chiefs of the Indian bands associated with The Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. Lieutenant-Governor Cauchon received a letter dated 29 December 1877, addressed to the Great Chief of Manitoba which read:
And so Government House remains, the building having withstood a few attacks such as the description of it on its completion in 1883: “It is an unpretending looking structure, of nondescript architecture and with no outside ornamentation.”  And in 1957 the comment of the then Provincial Architect, Gilbert Parfitt, that the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence was the one “jarring note” in the beauty of Manitoba’s Legislative grounds.  The Architect of the Legislative building, Mr. Simon, had envisioned a magnificent new Government House south of the building, on the river bank, a drawing of which is in the Provincial Archives.
However, Victoriana has become more popular and this House is a charming place to live. But today many problems are involved. In the early days of Manitoba when large houses were common, the help to run them was readily available. In 1887 the Government employed, for Government House, a chief messenger, assistant messenger, yard-man, engineer and caretaker, day fireman and general help, night fireman and gardener, housekeeper and foreman carpenter.  The Lieutenant-Governor’s accounts for the year 1918 show that a maid called in to help one day was $1.75 and a maid called in to help one evening was 75¢.  Even as late as the 1940s there were five maids and a cook living in the House, plus a full-time chauffeur.  Today, our Government House is staffed by the personal employees of the Lieutenant-Governor, and in common with everyone else, it is increasingly difficult to find people who will do this work cheerfully and satisfactorily. We have a couple who live in, and by day various numbers of girls to housekeep and cater. It is an ever present problem which could erupt at any time. Elsewhere this problem has been resolved, at least to some degree, by making all the employees of Government House civil servants, with civil service benefits and security.
But to live here, to try to always have the necessary help on hand to properly run a House of 23 rooms and 11 baths, where visitors are welcome and frequent, is a very exciting job. I use the word “exciting” in its connotation of an exhilarating challenge with an always uncertain result.
Originally there was a real need to provide a residence for the Lieutenant-Governor, but today this in itself is not a justifiable reason for the House.
In its role of dispensing state hospitality, the House is quite admirably designed, and in this capacity our Government House performs a function similar to Government Houses elsewhere in Canada. The late Governor General, The Right Honourable Vincent Massey, in his memoirs What’s Past is Prologue, referring to Rideau Hall, Ottawa, wrote: “The main function of Government House is to dispense hospitality.” Our present Governor General, His Excellency The Right Honourable Roland Michener, added another function: “to provide a neutral and friendly environment for the discussion of different points of view.” 
Recognition of distinguished visitors, of distinguished citizens and of distinguished service to mankind, is common to all states and all forms of society. In performing this sometimes difficult but always important function, Government House relieves the Premier and his ministers of many formal, time-consuming and necessary duties.
Whether the preservation of the House for its role today is justified is a matter of opinion, and this opinion varies as much today as it did when the following editorial was written at the beginning of the century:
The value of Government House cannot be assessed on a cost-benefit survey - its value can only be reckoned in terms of its service to Manitoba.
12. Letter, A. Morris to E. A. Meredith, 26 January 1875 - PAM
21. James A. Grahame to W. Armit; Fort Garry, 8 June 1874 - HBC
22. James A. Grahame to W. Armit; Fort Garry, 15 June 1874 - HBC
24. Manitoba History Scrapbook, Manitoba Provincial Library.
27. Manitoba Free Press, 25 November 1892 - Manitoba History Scrapbook, Manitoba Provincial Library.
32. Letter from J. J. Hargrave to The Right Reverend The Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land, Cambridge; Fort Garry, 16 January 1872 - HBC
33. Letter of condolence from Winnipeg City Council to The Honourable Joseph E. Cauchon; 11 December 1877 - PAM
34. Manitoba As I Saw It, John H. O’Donnell, M.D., C.M., 1909.
36. Report of the Privy Council approved by the Governor General, His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne, 8 April 1880 - PAC
40. Order in Council approved by the Governor General, His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne, 25 March 1881 - PAC
41. Winnipeg Daily Times, 6 September 1883.
56. Contemporary Newspaper Account, Manitoba Provincial Library.
64. Mrs. J. S. Lightcap, daughter of His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, T. A. Burrows.
72. Letter to the Secretary of State for the Provinces, Ottawa, from the Honourable A. G. Archibald, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba; 26 January 1871 - PAC
77. Telegram - A. Morris to Honourable H. L. Langevin, 16 August 1873 - PAC
98. Manitoba As I Saw It, John H. O’Donnell, M.D., C.M., 1909, p. 71.
105. Mrs. R. F. McWilliams.
Page revised: 13 June 2022