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March 27, 2019

A Holy Home – The Archbishop’s Residence

The Archbishop’s Residence, sometimes called the Archbishop’s Palace, was built in 1864 for Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Tache. It is an early example of Georgian architecture and one of a few pre-Confederation Georgian buildings still standing in Western Canada. Located at 151 Avenue de la Cathedrale, it has housed the St. Boniface archbishops for over 150, and allowed Winnipeggers to take a look inside during Doors Open Winnipeg 2018. This historic house was just recently given heritage designation by the City of Winnipeg on February 4, 2019. 

The Archbishop’s Residence circa 2018. Source: Heritage Winnipeg Files

The Archbishop’s Residence is one of the oldest buildings in Winnipeg, and certainly one of the largest residential buildings over 150 years old. As one of the earliest examples of a large stone building in Western Canada, its extant contemporaries: Seven Oaks House, Ross House, and Barber House, are all much smaller, even though they were built for important Winnipeg families at the time. The Archbishop’s Residence was even more high status than the early landholder’s homes in Winnipeg. As the home of the archbishop, the house was one of the centres of faith in the community of St. Boniface.

The Archbishop’s Residence circa 1885. Source: Archive of Manitoba

Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Tache, the house’s first resident, was born in Quebec and
educated in Montreal. In a way, his moving west might have been fated –
he claimed descent from Pierre Gauthier Sieur de Varennes et de La Verendrye.
La Verendrye, as any scholar of Manitoba history well knows, built the
lost Fort Rouge on the Red River in 1738. Fort Rouge marked the
beginning of permanent, non-Indigenous settlement at the confluence of
the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The first beginnings of settlement at
St. Boniface began almost one hundred years later, in 1818. Tache
arrived in 1845, and became the Bishop of St. Boniface on November 5th,

The house was designed in beautiful symmetrical form, with many features categorizing it as a 19th century Georgian house with French Canadian influences. The architect is unknown, with the building likely designed by parishioners that volunteered their skills. To start, the building has a gambrel roof with no eaves. Five dormers project from the front facade, with double-hung windows (typical of Georgian houses). The second level has large rectangular casement windows, originally with shutters. The main level, featuring a large wraparound verandah supported by square posts, has more casement windows. The front door is flanked by two small windows with Roman arches.

The Archbishop’s Residence circa 1890. Source: Archives of Manitoba

Overall, the house is pleasingly symmetrical, without even the verandah to interrupt the mirror images from left to right. Skilled stonemasons, which were prevalent in the Red River settlement at the time, built robust stone walls of the three storey buildings over 90 centimetres thick. Chimneys on either end of the roof  framed a square cupola in the middle, that was topped with a cross. Although the building is fairly simple in ornamentation, the size and elegance of the building would have made it a very high-status residence in the community.

Postcard featuring the Archbishop’s Residence circa 1910. Source: Manitoba Historical Society

When the Archbishop’s Residence was built in 1864, Winnipeg was still
the Red River settlement, Manitoba was not a province and Canada was not yet a country. The French community in Red
River lived largely in the community of St. Boniface, named for the holy
saint who brought the Gospel to the Germans. St. Boniface, with its
French-speaking, Roman Catholic community, was different than both the
British Anglicans and the Scottish Presbyterians across the river. An
interesting quirk of early maps (from the 1870’s and 1880’s) of Winnipeg
is that they usually show only one side of the river – the east
(French) or west (English). Not until later was it common to see both
sides of the river in a map of Winnipeg.

The original main entrance of the Archbishop’s Residence in 2018. Source: City of Winnipeg

The Provencher Salon on the first floor in the Archbishop’s Residence in 2018. Source: City of Winnipeg

The Archbishop’s Residence has sometimes been called “Archbishop Tache House”, but has served as the residence for all St. Boniface Archbishops. It is part of a group of religious buildings in the neighbourhood, including the St. Boniface Cathedral and the Grey Nuns Convent. Over the years the buildings has seen many additions and alterations, but the exterior of the buildings still retains much of its original appearance. Local architect Etienne Gaboury led the major restorations in 1964. The building is now houses a chapel in the basement, offices on the second and third floors, and suites for priests on the third floor. The Archbishop still resides in his apartment on the second floor.

The Archbishop’s Residence as seen from Tache Avenue in July 2017. Source: Google Maps

The Archbishop’s Residence is a testament to the resilience of a community, and the quality of craftsmanship from over 150 years ago. Truly built to last, the building is an integral part of the historic streetscape of the area and remains the heart of the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. As a designated building, it will now be conserved for generations to come, serving both the religious and wider community.

Written by Natassja Brien and Cheryl Mann on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Archdiocese of Winnipeg – A History of the Archdiocese
The Canadian Encyclopaedia – Alexandre-Antonin Tache
City of Winnipeg – 151 Avenue de la Cathedrale
Dictionary of Canadian Biography – Tache, Alexandre-Antonin
Manitoba Historical Society – Alexandra-Antonin Tache
Manitoba Historical Society – Archbishop of St. Boniface Residence
Manitoba Historical Society – Archbishop Tache House
Google Maps

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