History and Architecture

Willistead Manor: A Bit of the History

Willistead Manor, vintage black and white photograph of the manor1899 Niagara Street (at Kildare). Windsor, Ontario N8Y 1K3 Canada. (519) 253-2365 willistead@citywindsor.ca.

Willistead Manor was built in 1906 for Edward Chandler Walker, the second son of Hiram Walker, founder of the world-renowned distillery.

View Willistead Manor's Virtual Tour.

Design, Creation, and Construction

Albert Kahn, a noted Detroit architect of the day, built three buildings on the 15-acre estate: the Manor House, the Coach House, and the Gate House. Designed in the 16th Century Tudor-Jacobean style of an English manor house, the main building was started in 1904. No expense was spared in the materials or labour. The exterior of gray limestone, quarried in Amherstburg, was hand-cut at the Willistead work site by Scottish stonemasons specifically imported for the project.

The Residents & Ownership

Edward and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Griffin Walker, moved into Willistead Manor in 1906. In naming the estate, Edward commemorated his older brother Willis, who had died some years before. Edward lived in Willistead Manor only nine years, until his death in 1915. He was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard across the street from his property on Niagara Street.

In 1921, five years after Edward’s death, the Walker Family deeded Willistead Manor to the town of Walkerville. Upon amalgamation of the Border Cities in 1935, the City of Windsor inherited this magnificent gift from the past.

Some Architectural Features

Stepping into the Manor, it is easy to be overwhelmed by its beauty.

A large oak door, on heavy solid brass hinges, opens into The Great Hall. This room features an Elizabethan fireplace with an elaborate over-mantle carving, rich wood paneling, exquisitely detailed hand-carving throughout, and showcases the artistry of noted Austrian craftsman Joachim Jungwirth. Albert Kahn designed the impressive great staircase in the fashion of the 17th century – made of oak, wide and straight with large landings and elaborately carved newel posts.

The Dining Room, the Drawing Room and the Conservatory occupy the South Wing of the main floor. The Dining Room features mahogany paneling, a green marble fireplace, and a wall-panel that conceals a large walk-in safe where the family stored their silver. The Drawing Room features a white Carrara marble fireplace with a ceiling-high mirror garlanded with carved and enameled white oak, and walls re-hung in blue silk damask.

The North Wing consists of the Morning Room, the Library, and the Billiard Room. The Morning Room features a Tudor Rose motif in the paneling, a fireplace, and a partially concealed door that leads to the terrace. The Library fireplace is flanked by carved cabinets, and the walls of the room have been re-hung in green velvet fabric.

Paul Martin Gardens

In September 1996, the Paul Martin Gardens, a floral memorial to the late Senator Paul Martin was officially opened in Willistead Park. The gardens are an enjoyment for all visitors. One Windsor resident, Desi Colussi, has donated a perennial garden that he has been developing for 30 years. Here, you can also find the Nell Martin Rose, a rose developed and dedicated to Mrs. Martin.

Throughout his entire life, Mr. Martin was a student of international affairs. He served as Canada's Foreign Minister, held the office of High Commissioner to Great Britain and many times represented his country officially at the United Nations. Mr. Martin was first elected to the House of Commons in 1935 in the old riding of Essex East.

He represented the riding on both government and opposition sides of the house until 1968. At that time, he was appointed Leader of the Government in the Senate, a position he held until he became High Commissioner to Great Britain in 1974. In all, his cabinet positions made him the longest serving cabinet minister in Canadian history. Paul Martin was an outstanding Canadian and a proud Windsorite.

Friends of Willistead

The Friends of Willistead is a community group dedicated to the heritage of Willistead Manor. They offer special events throughout the year.

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