Winnipeg’s Oldest House

by Lillian Gibbons

Manitoba Pageant, Spring 1974, Volume 19, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Bulletin: The owner says he will demolish the house if it is not sold now. He can no longer keep up the property. J. B. Graham is past president of Point Douglas Property Owners.

It looks lonely, Winnipeg’s oldest house, No. 99 Euclid Ave., just north of the CPR station. It’s half turned away from the neighboring houses, seeming to look at something they can’t see: the past. It faced old Fort Douglas and the Logan house long before the railway was built on a high embankment bisecting Point Douglas jutting out into Red River.

A log house neatly plastered and stuccoed in white, trimmed with mustard color paint, its neat face looks down a long garden path to a picket gate. Gone is the little veranda across the front, and the railing over the veranda, but the nine-paned windows are intact, the one in the gable-end set corner-wise.

“Listen, it gives out a sound like iron. It’s so firm it’ll last a hundred years, given ordinary repairs, like seeing to the roof,” said Lily Barber Sparrow, a daughter of the house, a realtor, when I first visited 99 Euclid Ave. I ate cherries on the veranda, then screened, and followed Mrs. Sparrow’s example of rapping with the knuckles on the breast of the house, to hear its strong voice.

Her father, Edmund Lorenzo Barber, built the house around the original shack called Thistle Cottage. He came here in 1860 from Minnesota, trading settlers’ goods, escaping the American Civil War. The Yankee adventurer from New Haven, Connecticut, was 26. He met Barbara Logan, daughter of Robert Logan, retired fur trader. In 1862 he changed her name to Barbara Barber and settled down to keep store in the cottage within sight of the twelve room Logan house.

The wanderlust still wasn’t out of his feet: the winter of 1867-8 he was back at St. Paul, Minn., buying goods for his store on Point Douglas while local woodsmen were cutting oak logs in the bush of West St. Paul, north of Winnipeg. His eldest daughter, Harriet Jane, at 99 remembered moving into the enlarged house with upstairs rooms, a Carron stove in the front hall, built into the wall with red tapestry brick like a fireplace. It gave heat to hall and parlor—and for a century delighted visitors, old and young.

Today that stove stands, free of walls, in the open space of Inkster House museum hallway. When a fire occurred at 99, when the Barber descendants first rented to a tenant in the 1960s, the fire chief ordered the stove removed from the wall. It was like transplanting a heart, a stalwart heart ordered from the foundry at Carronshire, Scotland, by Robert Logan, who bought the Fort Douglas property from the Selkirk heirs in 1825. He had been governor here, protem, in 1819, while Alexander Macdonnell went home to Scotland. Robert’s daughter Barbara, and her husband with the magnificent name, Edmund Lorenzo, brought up their five children in the warmth of that stove. When I first saw it a reed-woven arm chair covered with a bear skin kept it company. There was a motto on the parlor side, in the parlor: “Two hours from worry.”

That must have comforted young Mrs. Schultz when her husband, the red headed doctor John Christian Schultz escaped from Riel’s custody at Fort Garry and made his way north. His bride of a few months found shelter at the Barber house. Little Harriet watched her walk up and down while a new dress was fitted.

What was E. L. like? Lily Sparrow reminisced “Like King Edward, everybody said.” “Who is that King?” asked a cleaning woman, looking up at the neat bearded face in the oval walnut frame.

What was Mrs. Barber like? “Tiny, with an 18 inch waist, size two shoes. She was proud of her figure. Her best clothes came from England. She was the twelfth child of Robert and Mary Logan, reared by Sarah Ingham, who became Robert’s second wife and bore him four more children. Mrs. Ingham was engaged in England to teach school at St. John’s Ladies’ college but she was soon wooed and won by the merchant pioneer. She lived 20 years after Robert. When she died in 1886 the paper said, “She was the first English gentlewoman of the remote and isolated country.”

That’s what 99 has in its memory: the history of the settlement at “the forks” that grew into Winnipeg. Logan House was pulled down, on George Street as the property became, in 1899. Out of it came Barbara’s brother Alexander, Sandy to everybody, four times mayor of Winnipeg in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

When Lily Barber Sparrow died in 1959, at 87, and Harriet Barber Graham gave up housekeeping to live at the Leland Hotel, at 96, the family cleared out the accumulated papers: eight bushel baskets. They found a copy of the deed of 1825 made between the Selkirk estate and Robert Logan, selling him 100 acres, the old grist mill, and what was left of stockaded Fort Douglas for £400. Some of the receipts for store goods were on the letterhead of The Nor’Wester, the first newspaper, bought by E. L. from Dr. Schultz.

Duff Roblin was Manitoba premier then. Historians hoped he would help make the old log house a museum. To save it Point Douglas Historical Society holds winter carnivals and summer fairs.

The owner, James B. Graham, the grandson of E. L. Barber, is anxious to see the house preserved. His last tenant was James Larocque.

Two streets preserve his name: Barber running to the river from 79 Euclid, and Edward—which should be Edmund, behind it. Disraeli E. L. named for a novel he was reading by the great British statesman; Euclid commemorated the pretty street in Cleveland visited on the way to Red River, and Stella was for Stella Hayden of St. Cloud, Minn., whom he nearly married. Only she wouldn’t come to Red River.

A lace gored petticoat worn by Harriet Barber was worn again at St. James-Assiniboia centennial party for senior citizens Dec. 31, 1973. Mrs. Joseph Russell wore it under her crocus colored old fashioned dress, ingeniously designed from a permapress sheet. Harriet was a student nurse at General Hospital, 1889.

Page revised: 12 June 2011