History of Mackenzie Hall

Alexander MackenzieA View from the Past

Mackenzie Hall was built in 1855-1856 by Alexander Mackenzie, who became the second Prime Minister of Canada in 1873. It was the site of many memorable trials including that of Reverend J. Spracklin, the gun toting "fighting parson" of rum running days. Mackenzie Hall served as the County Court House until 1963 when it became the county headquarters.

In 1981, an organization of concerned citizens, the Friends of the Court, formed to save the vacant hall. Within two years the City of Windsor purchased Mackenzie Hall and began an extensive restoration process.

Tour Mackenzie Hall

Phone 519-255-7600 to book a tour of the building.

We can accommodate large or small groups, but it is important to phone ahead, since rooms are rented throughout the week at various times. Adults $3.50, Seniors $3.00, Students $2.00 each.

We also offer a Mackenzie Hall self-guided tour booklet that is available at the front desk for a donation of $2.00 through The Friends of the Court.

Tour Old Sandwich

Old Sandwich Towne, part of the oldest continuous European settlement in Ontario, boasts a number of significant and attractive heritage buildings, including Assumption Church (pictured to the right). Purchase a Historic Sandwich Walking Tour Booklet for $3.00 at Mackenzie Hall, take a stroll through Sandwich and visit one of the local restaurants!

Important Dates in Mackenzie Hall's History

The former Town of Sandwich and the neighbouring Town of LaSalle occupy an area which is the oldest, uninterrupted European settlement west of Montreal.

The Eighteenth Century

  • 1748 - The Jesuit Order established a mission to the Hurons on the Canadian side of the Detroit River and named it L'assomption de la Pointe de Montreal du Detroit. In 1767 it was decreed a parish.
  • 1788 - Parish of L'assomption became the Township of Sandwich, and served as the capital of the newly established Western District of Upper Canada, proclaimed by the Governor General, Lord Dorchester.
  • 1796-1797 - The village of Sandwich was established and was made the county seat through the purchase of land from local Native People - The Huron - by the Honourable Peter Russell, president of the Executive Council. The main street was named Bedford (for Russell's English home), and the parallel secondary streets he named after himself: Peter and Russell. The four corners of Bedford (now Sandwich) and Huron (now Brock) Streets were reserved for the public buildings and the Anglican Church. Lot 8, Bedford Street, east side, was selected as the site for the gaol and court house, as required of each District capital by "An Act for Building a Gaol and Court House in Every District," in 1792. The first Courts of law were held in l'Assomption parish hall, until a wooden storehouse was rafted down from Chatham to serve as the first court building. It was later burned (allegedly by the distraught son of a prisoner).
  • 1798 - A wooden gaol and courthouse was built. It was burned by American troops during the War of 1812. St. John's Church was sacked at the same time.

The Nineteenth Century

  • 1818-1820 - A brick courthouse was built.
  • 1822 - Alexander Mackenzie was born in Scotland.
  • 1842 - Alexander Mackenzie arrived in Canada to find work as a stonemason.
  • 1850 - The Municipal Act divided the Western District of Upper Canada into the counties of Essex, Kent and Lambton. Upper Canada is now Ontario, and the land further down the St. Lawrence River, known as Lower Canada, is Quebec.
  • 1853 - The brick courthouse was declared "dilapidated," and plans for a fine new building were begun. Albert H. Jordan, an architect from Detroit, was retained. He also designed Fort Street Presbyterian Church (1855) and St. John's Episcopal Church (1861), among others, in Detroit.
  • 1854 - The Great Western Railway line terminated in Windsor, and Sandwich began to decline.
  • 1855 - Mackenzie Builders, Port Sarnia, won the contract to build the courthouse. The firm's principal was Alexander Mackenzie, assisted by his brothers Hope and Robert. The cornerstone was laid on May 24, the Queen's Birthday. The firm built Sarnia's Episcopal Church and the Bank of Upper Canada buildings.
  • 1856 - Work was completed, with the gaol cells on the first floor below the Town Council Chambers. The firm of Cochrane Sculptors carved the County seal above the main entrance at a cost of $50. It depicts a pioneer wielding an axe, a cabin and a felled tree. The original roof was flat and sheathed in metal.
  • 1858 - The Town of Sandwich was incorporated.
  • 1859 - A convicted murderer, Alfred Young, escaped custody with the assistance of a guard.
  • 1860 - The metal roof was repaired.
  • 1862 - The first public execution took place on August 2, when George Williams, an escaped slave, was hanged for the murder of his wife.
  • 1870 - Detroit architect Gordon William Lloyd designed a two storey stone cell block on the south west wall, and the 1818 court building was razed. A new slate roof was constructed some time between 1870 and 1891.
  • 1873-1878 - The Honourable Alexander Mackenzie served as Canada's second Prime Minister. A Liberal (or "Grit"), he acted as his own Minister of Public Works, introduced the secret ballot and established the Royal Military College. He refused a knighthood three times, therefore is not titled "The Right Honourable."
  • 1876-1877 - G.W. Lloyd designed a new Registry Office facing Huron (Brock) Street on the site of the old brick court building. The builder was Hypolite Rheaume.

The Twentieth Century

  • 1924 - Fire severely damaged the gaol building. The Windsor architectural firm of Nichols, Sheppard & Masson designed a new jail to the rear of the courthouse and an addition to the Registry Office which harmonized with the existing structure's design, tripling the building's size.
  • 1943 - Two men from Detroit, convicted of the murder of a cafe owner in Windsor, were the last convicts to be hanged in Sandwich. The public was not permitted to view the execution.
  • 1947-1950 - Windsor architect David J. Cameron, designed the one-storey addition along the south west wall to accommodate offices, placed new partitions in the Council Chamber, removed the stairs to the south west ell, and removed three chimneys from the south side. In 1948, the Superior Court left the building, permitting the County Council to relocate its meeting from the Sandwich Town Hall, a few steps to the north.
  • 1961 - Sheppard, Masson, Brand & Langlois installed an air conditioning package in the court room on the second floor, lowered the ceiling to accommodate ductwork, and installed glass block in an unsuccessful attempt to reduce street noise.
  • 1963 - The courts were relocated to a new County Court House in the city's core. The tunnel connecting the jail and the courthouse was closed, and the Gaol Governor's house was demolished. Judge Bruce J.S. Macdonald was the last county court judge to hear cases in the building. Judge Macdonald had been a Lt. Colonel in the famous Essex Scottish Regiment during World War ll, and prosecuted Nazi officer Kurt Meyer at the Nuremburg Trials.
  • 1965 - The County Assessor took over the Council space at the rear of the second floor. The next year, the Welfare Department took over the court space on the first floor. Rooms on the second floor accommodated the Barristers' Room, the Grand Jury Room and the Petit Jury Room, while the Judge's Room was at the head of the north staircase and the Crown Attorney worked in part of the former Council Chamber.
  • 1975 - The County offices were relocated to a new building in the Town of Essex. The court house in Sandwich was sold to the Ministry of Government Services for $123,000 and was boarded up. Four local men formed an association to try to save the empty courthouse from oblivion.
  • 1978 - Windsor's Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee recommended the designation of the former Essex County Court House under the terms of the Ontario Heritage Act. City Council agreed, and designation took place.
  • 1979 - The Ministry of Government Services declared the building redundant and offered it to the County or the City of Windsor "for a nominal sum." The County declined. The Arts Council Windsor and Region persuaded the City to study the feasibility of restoring and adaptively reusing the building for cultural purposes. The Arts Council sponsored a study undertaken by consultants Kalman, Wagland and Bailey, Toronto and Ottawa, paid for by the City and Wintario at a cost of $20,000.
  • 1981 - The last man to be hanged and buried within the grounds of the jail (December 6, 1933), Peter Beyak, a convicted murderer, was disinterred and reburied at Heavenly Rest Cemetery in 1981.

    Just prior to the consultants' presentation to City Council on August 4, the Arts Council expressed dissatisfaction with the report's conclusions and withdrew from the project citing its concern about cost, projected revenue and the decline of activity among member groups. Immediately, The Friends of the Court (Mackenzie Hall, Windsor) was founded for the purpose of providing the City Council with advice on practical alternative uses for the building, and designing a fund drive to secure support on which matching government grants could be based. City Council indicated to Government Services that it would purchase Mackenzie Hall (the new name for the court house, paying homage to the former Prime Minister who built it) for the specified price of $200 in July of 1982 if certain conditions were met:
  1. Provincial designation of the building under the Ontario Heritage Act.
  2. Availability of Ontario Heritage Foundation funding
  3. Availability of Wintario Lottery funding
  4. National designation
  5. Availability of Federal Government financial assistance
  6. Results of a proposal call for private sector development of the building

    The consultants' report was presented at Council, suggesting funding of $1.1 million was required. Then Mayor Albert Weeks declared the building was "not worth one dollar," but The Windsor Star supported the purchase by the City as an important part of our municipal history. The Ontario Heritage Foundation granted $125,000. City Council voted in favour of the purchase of the building for $200.
  • 1983 - The Canada Community Development Program provided a grant of $7,235.67 to The Friends of the Court for restoration work. Elizabeth Kishkon was elected Mayor, and proved to be a strong ally. Donald Hale was hired as Executive Secretary following Patricia Moore. The Own-a-Stone Campaign was launched, and the second Gathering of the Clan was held at the Art Gallery of Windsor. Wintario granted $173,467 for restoration. In June, an open house was held to raise funds. Government Services built a stone wall around the jail property, permitting parking space for Mackenzie Hall.
    The Friends of the Court sponsored a Bob-Lo Island cruise to raise funds. In October, Deagray Restoration Ltd. of Dundas was awarded a $105,519 tender for stone restoration. The Essex County Law Association and The Friends of the Court staged a benefit reception at the Hiram Walker & Sons reception centre with Marc Denhez as the guest speaker. In December, The Friends of the Court received a Federal Community Employment Incentive Program grant of $528,312 through the intercession of local Members of Parliament, The Honourable Eugene Whelan, The Honourable Herb Gray and The Honourable Marc McGuigan.
  • 1984 - The third Gathering of the Clan was held at the Hilton Hotel with James Mackenzie, the great-nephew of Alexander Mackenzie, as Honourary Laird. The long sought cornerstone was discovered at the rear of the south east corner of the building buried under fill, but no artifacts were turned over. Arts groups objected to high rental rates offered by the City. Major restoration work was approved, which included strengthening the floors and the roof, building new interior stairs, and preparing for an elevator. City Council agreed to pay up to an additional $675,000 to guarantee completion of the building in the summer of 1985. In October, Council allocated $940,809 to the project.
  • 1985 - The fourth Gathering of the Clan was held at the Hilton Hotel with Judge Bruce J.S. Macdonald as the Honourary Laird. Artcite Gallery moved to Mackenzie Hall. An apartment building (formerly Vendome Hotel) east of the Hall was destroyed by fire, permitting the City's Parks & Recreation Department, Wintario and The Friends of the Court to acquire the land for park use. City Council granted another $183,000 to Mackenzie Hall, bringing the total to $2.7 million. In October, Mackenzie Hall was opened to the public.
  • 1986 - The fifth Gathering of the Clan was held in Mackenzie Hall. Judge Macdonald, a supporter of The Friends of the Court, and Lieutenant Colonel in the legendary Essex Scottish Regiment, died at the age of 83. Architect Carlos Ventin won a provincial award for his work on the Hall. Norma Macdonald, the Judge's widow, donated a bronze bust of Judge Macdonald, sculpted by Daniel Boles, which is in the Macdonald Room, named to honour the last County Court Judge to hear cases in the building.
  • 2001 - Over the years, The Friends of the Court has continued to raise funds for the enhancement of Mackenzie Hall, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2001 with the installation of an artist designed "chandelier" in the main staircase. The artist, Joseph DeAngelis, called the installation "Lampo Pazzo" (crazy light).
Mackenzie Hall Cultural Centre
3277 Sandwich Street,
Windsor, Ontario
Phone: 519-255-7600
Sandwich Heritage Walking Tour