One of the grandest historic homes in Red Deer recently went up for sale. It is the large brick Edwardian residence on the corner of 55 Street and 46 Avenue in the Woodlea subdivision of Red Deer.
It was built in 1908 by Thomas Ellis and his wife Edith Pennington Ellis. Tom was born in Colne, Lancashire, England. He came to Western Canada in 1884 and joined the North West Mounted Police. He was posted to Fort Saskatchewan, but in 1889, was stationed at Fort Normandeau, just west of the current site of Red Deer.
In 1893, he married Edith Pennington, a member of a pioneer family at Penhold. The Penningtons had operated a stopping house on the old Calgary- Edmonton Trail. After the townsite of Red Deer was created in the early 1890s, the family took over the Queen’s Hotel, located just east of the Calgary-Edmonton (C.P.) railway station. It was an excellent location as it was one of the first things travelers saw when they got off the train in Red Deer.
In 1899, Tom and Edith built the much larger Arlington Hotel on the site of the Queen’s. With large numbers of settlers flooding into Red Deer and district and a general boom in the community, the hotel did extremely well. In 1904, a large addition was built onto it.
In April 1906, the members of the Alberta Legislature, including the first premier and along with the Lieutenant Governor Bulyea, were hosted at a lavish banquet at the Arlington. The Arlington was picked because it was considered the finest establishment in the community and the local dignitaries wanted to persuade the M.L.A.’s to designate Red Deer as the capital city of the new province of Alberta.
The speeches went on until quarter to five in the morning. The next day the M.L.A.’s took the train back to Edmonton. Once there, they voted to name that city as the capital instead of Red Deer.
With the hotel business doing so well, in 1907, the Ellis’s decided to build a substantial new brick residence on the south side of Douglas (55) Street, east of Waskasoo Creek. The cost was $7000. To put that expense into context, at the time, $2 per day was considered a very good wage.
Tragically, in January 1908, Tom Ellis was hit with a severe stroke. A second fatal stroke struck in July, only a few weeks after he and his wife had moved into their new home.
In August 1910, when Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to Red Deer as part of tour of Western Canada, he stayed in the Ellis house as it was considered to be sufficiently grand to be suitable accommodation for the prime minister of Canada.
Two years later, when the Alberta Ladies College was built on the East Hill of Red Deer, students stayed in the Ellis house until the College building was ready for occupancy.
Meanwhile, Edith Ellis was remarried to James McCreight, a local veterinarian. She was well-known as a formidable and energetic person. After her son Harry served overseas in the First World War, she became the president of the Great War Veterans Association Women’s Auxiliary.
Edith Ellis McCreight took a strong interest in municipal affairs. She was noted for her searching and pointed questions at the annual ratepayers’ meetings. In 1926-1927, she became the first woman in Red Deer to be elected to public office, as a trustee of the Red Deer Public School Board.
After her death in 1933, the house was inherited by Harry, who also owned and managed the Arlington Hotel. His wife Zelda passed in 1958. Harry then remarried Kathryn Martin. After Harry passed away, Kathryn continued to live in the house for a few years.
The house was eventually sold in 1969. The residence became the home of Justice John and Joan MacKenzie. They lived there for 37 years. The current owners, the Terpstras, who bought the home from the Mackenzie’s, have now put this storied residence onto the market. It will be a real jewel for whoever buys it next.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.