Gilt-framed oil paintings, Turkish carpets, hand-carved fireplace mantles and other elegant touches finished the interior. Out back, foxhounds from Isle of Wight stock lounged in their kennels and thoroughbred horses lodged in the stables – stone stables that included mahogany-lined stalls with brass nameplates.
Sounds like a mansion straight out of a Victorian novel but no, this was a bachelors’ pad in the late 1800s in rural Saskatchewan. The magnificent 18-man bunkhouse and foreman’s residence lay a stone’s throw from the village of Cannington Manor. There one can see more houses – on a less grand scale, mind you – along with a clutch of buildings necessary to village life: a store, hotel, blacksmith shop, school and church.
And there many residents played out a lifestyle as English as the setting.Foxhunts, croquet, cricket, tennis, poetry readings and dramatics societies were the order of the day at Cannington Manor. Hardly seems possible that this went on in the heart of the Canadian prairie, but it’s all the more reason to visit Cannington Manor Provincial Historic Park.
There the long-ago village has been partially reconstructed at the original site 26 kilometres southeast of Moose Mountain Provincial Park, minus the luxurious bunkhouse that is now in rubble on private land. Enough former buildings have come back to life, along with a well-appointed visitor centre, to convey the spirit behind this bit of transplanted Jolly Olde.
During the 1880s and 1890s, the Canadian government and other groups promoted establishing a British agricultural society on the Prairies to settle the west. Accordingly, Captain Edward Pierce came from England and started Cannington Manor. To get this envisioned upper-crust English colony going, he built an agricultural college and advertised for students among the sons of well-heeled English gentlemen.
Three of these students built the ostentatious house that became home to the young bachelors who formed part of the social order in the fledgling village. Homesteaders and tradesmen, some from other parts of Canada (some originally from Britain and some directly from there) were another group, and a significant one, although often overlooked.
Then there were the upper-middle class families such as Pierce and fellow Brit James Humphrys. This bunch wanted to live as gentlemen farmers, but supported themselves through their business ventures; the Moose Mountain Trading Company that Pierce and his partners established, as well as the Humphrys’ Pork Packing Industry and two cheese factories.
The opportunity to be a landowner – something not readily available in England – helped draw people to the village, says Sarah Schafer, park program co-ordinator for the southeast park area.
“In England there was such an emphasis on owning land.”
The idea of expanding the British Empire was another reason behind Cannington Manor, she says.
The village quickly reached a population of 200. For a while life was good and there were some successes amongst the trades and business people – miller Harold Fripp won first prize at the 1893 Chicago World’s fair for his Snowdrop brand of flour, for instance. However, the death of founder Pierce in 1888, combined with a drought and falling grain prices, led to Cannington Manor’s decline. The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s regional branch line 10 kilometres south of the village rather than through it was the final nail in the coffin. It wasn’t long before the remaining residents returned to the mother country or struck out for jobs in other parts of the west.
What you will find at Cannington Manor today:
Visitor Centre – Start here for a look at the modern displays to acquaint yourself with the village.
The Le Mesurier Home (or Bachelor’s Cabin) – similar to the cabins most of the bachelors built. Unlike most of the young men who left the village to seek further adventures, Arthur Le Mesurier married and settled permanently in the area.
Newman house – home of carpenter Joseph Newman and his wife Elizabeth
Carpenter’s shop – where Newman made everything from utilitarian furniture to coffins
Blacksmith shop – where blacksmith Hume Robertson shod horses, repaired machinery and ran a Massey-Harris implement dealership. Like the Le Mesuriers and the Newmans, the Robertson family settled in the area for good.
Maltby house – Ernest Maltby was the village postmaster as well as a partner in the Moose Mountain Trading Company and the best lawn tennis player around. His wife, the former Mary Humphrys, was a talented amateur artist.
All Saints Anglican Church – Built on land donated by Edward Pierce, this log church dates back to 1884. It is the property of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle and is still used by the local congregation.
Humphrys/Hewlett house – This large three-storey three kilometres west of the main village stands as it was built in 1888. Signs outside tell visitors what lies inside the heritage building, which is not open to the public due to safety concerns.
Between 3,000 and 3,500 visitors stop at Cannington Manor annually. Many are from the surrounding communities, as well as Moose Mountain Provincial Park, Schafer says. Others are travelling across Canada and a few are international, from England in particular.
Educational programs are held for students in late May through June. Special events over the summer include the annual Cannington Fair on the Sunday of the Civic Holiday weekend, church services followed by a Victoria tea, horse and buggy rides and evening lamplight/candlelight tours.
Chosen as an historic site in 1954, the initial commemoration was a cairn and marker. Further development followed in the 1960s and the site officially opened in 1965.
Cannington Manor received provincial park designation in 1986. The park is open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday to Monday (closed Tuesdays) Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day.
The Village of Kenosee, Moose Mountain Provincial Park, White Bear Casino and Kenosee Superslides are just minutes from Cannington Manor Provincial Park.