The Hiram Walker Historical Museum

The Hiram Walker Historical Musuem
Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Installed in the old Francois Baby House, the
earliest brick house in the Northwest, dating back
to 1811. The Baby House was restored by Hiram
Walker and Sons and depictis early life in the district

This postcard likely dates to 1958, when the building was first rehabbed and opened as a museum. Note how the river was visible from Pitt St. Today, the site is enclosed on all sides by the riverfront hotels and the Cleary Auditorium St. Clair Centre for the Arts.

The building is on the register of historic places, despite it being in far from original condition.

As you can see in the mid 1930’s the house looked like a Victorian era duplex.

There is a good history of house at the Walkerville Times.

The ensuing years were not kind to the Baby House a fire in 1850 caused considerable damage and Baby did not have the energy to do much to restore his home. After his death in 1852, the house was passed down to his son Edmond who made several major structural changes including reducing it to two stories.

Further changes by future owners significantly altered the exterior of the structure the addition of bay windows and gingerbread trim transformed it into a “Victorian” dwelling. In 1930, the house was abandoned and soon became a virtual ruin.

In 1933, George MacDonald, a Windsor merchant with a growing collection of local historical artifacts, wrote to Baby’s great granddaughter in Detroit asking her if she would sell the house for museum purposes.

Although he did not receive permission from her, when the house reverted to the City of Windsor for non-payment of taxes at the end of the decade MacDonald got his wish.

But it wasn’t until 1948 that restoration of the house began. The Windsor Historic Sites Association was formed that year to help facilitate the restoration and accepted title to the property for a token one dollar.

Lacking the original plans, the work was based on research of what the house may have looked like when it was built although the ten feet removed by Edmond Baby was never restored.

Encroaching urban development among other things, including the proposed Cleary Auditorium, threatened it. In 1956, Hiram Walker’s & Sons Ltd. stepped in with funds to save the museum. (Interesting fact: the exhibition galleries are lined with cypress saturated with Canadian Club salvaged from Hiram Walker’s old fermenting vats!)

Other donations allowed for successful completion of the project and The Hiram Walker Historical Museum opened its doors in 1958.

12 Comments on The Hiram Walker Historical Museum

  1. Great picture of the house without the Cleary in the background!

    The second picture makes me shake my head. Just look at some of those structures and tell me “what could have been for downtown”.

    Andrew, do you know what was in the blue building to the left of the Baby house in that photo?

  2. I read somewhere that originally, what is now the front of the house, was actually the back. The front supposedly faced the river – I have no idea if this is true or not.

    (I’ve also seen something similar about the house on McKay near Riverside – the original front faced the river. I think this is more obvious though – you can clearly see the remains front facade when viewed from the Riverside Dr.)

  3. If you click the Register of Historic places link above…

    Since its construction in 1812, the Fran├žois Baby House has undergone a number of structural modifications and repairs, and as a result, much of the original structure has been lost. All that remains at the present time is its rubble foundation, the back of the fireplace in the basement, two end walls, a majority of the north wall, and the supporting wooden timber under the north entrance.

    The structure that stands today (facing south) is the result of major restorations and alterations undertaken according to the designs of the architectural firm of Sheppard and Masson, in 1948. It is a two-storey, symmetrical, Georgian Revival style home with a lateral gable roof clad in cedar shingles, which features partial English Bond brick, and a central hall plan. It is important to note that the front facade originally faced north toward the river.

  4. Georgian Style homes were usually design with a 7 to 8 room layout, There would be a centre hall that runs from front to back with a staircase. There was usually 3 to 4 rooms on the main floor and four bedroom upstairs, one in each corner of the house. Many times the front and back of these houses would be totally identical. The doors and windows would line up exactly front and back. The one thing that indicated the front from the back of the house in the direction the staircase, Usually staircases always lead up from the front door towards the back of the house.

    I visited a Georgian style house up around Dutton that was on lake Erie, This house was built around 1820 and still retain many of the original characteristics. Over time the road was moved from the front to the back of the house, but it was hard to tell because both looked identical.

    I find this link an interesting resource for researching architecture in Ontario

  5. So it is! I wasn’t sure if it was a smaller factory of some sort or not. Interesting place. Do you know the name of it or have any pictures of that apartment?

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