By Courtney Sidders
Sitting high on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Alberta, in the heart of the University of Alberta campus, sits a beautiful brick mansion—Rutherford House. It was once home to the renowned Rutherford family: Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first Premier of Alberta, his wife Mattie, and their children, son Cecil and daughter Hazel. The family travelled from Ontario to the west in 1895 and lived here from 1911 to 1940. Today their historic home is a provincially operated house museum offering tours, curriculum based education programs and special events.
Visitors can also enjoy an elegant culinary experience in the intimate Vintage Fork at Rutherford House restaurant within Rutherford House, where its chef creates a new, fresh menu each day.
When walking up the steps of this stunning mansion, you’ll feel as though you have travelled back to a time when family traditions, elite gatherings, and community involvement were an important part of life. The architecture is grand and unique, reminiscent of what you would imagine in England, like a smaller Downton Abbey. We were greeted at the entrance by Ron, a Historical Interpreter, wearing a very fashionable look from the early 1900s, complete with an impeccable handlebar moustache of which my husband was instantly in awe. Ron invited us into the parlour, an elegant room restored to how it would have been furnished when Mrs. Rutherford entertained guests for tea, a notable and consistent event for Edmonton’s high society.
As Ron shared the history of the Rutherford family and explained what life was like for them in the young province of Alberta, we were enamored by the intricate details of the home and furnishings. The house was designed to be a place where many people of the community would gather, so ensuring the home was furnished to look rather well-to-do was important. Mrs. Rutherford was known to be a bit shyer than her influential husband, but the parlour was frequented regularly by members of the community and she was nothing but a gracious hostess. As a testament to this, Mrs. Rutherford had servant bells located in discrete spots of the room, with the parlour bell hidden behind the green curtains in the doorway so she could call for help without breaking the conversation. Manners were of great importance during these times, and we learned that the green curtains carried a key message when one would be welcomed into another’s home. Curtains hung in the entrance to a room meant you were welcome to enter this room, eliminating the embarrassment of wandering into a private area.
A special moment came for us when Ron turned on the Victrola record player, a phonograph powered by wind-up springs. Purchased by their son Cecil, this would have been a showstopper piece sure to impress guests, and still is today. As I listened to the beautiful tones flowing from the impressive machine, I could imagine enjoying a cup of tea with Mrs. Rutherford in the parlour. It was quite a magical moment that is sure to be the envy of my Instagram followers.
As Ron continued to take us back through the lives of the Rutherfords, we learned how Mr. Rutherford ended up in politics, having been a successful lawyer in Ontario without interest in politics. The community convinced him to start his political career in the west by winning a seat in the North-West Legislative Assembly on his third try. He eventually became Premier of Alberta. Mr. Rutherford left politics in 1913, resigning after a bit of controversy. Following this explanation and summary, Ron led us into the library where the rest of Mr. Rutherford’s legacy lives.
Mr. Rutherford was Education Minister during his time as Premier and education was always a priority for him; no surprise he became the founder of the University of Alberta. Mr. Rutherford’s library showcases an impressive collection of rare books, which he was known to lend out to students. Some of this array still remains in the library, covers showing their age and use. We were once again blown away by the beautiful embellishments in the library’s furnishings, especially the wood details on the entrances.
The stunning wood design continues throughout the house, with a grand staircase leading up to the second floor where the family’s bedrooms and servant quarters were. We marvelled at the gorgeous, elaborate banisters, with details inspired by Mr. Rutherford’s Scottish heritage. It was unfortunate to hear that only one banister was original; however, the new posts were so well carved it was difficult to tell the difference.
As we ended our tour, I couldn’t help but notice the important role women played throughout the history of Rutherford House. Not only was Mrs. Rutherford a talented hostess and unflagging supporter of her husband’s career endeavours, she was also vital to the history of Alberta. Being a strong backer of Mr. Rutherford’s work founding the University of Alberta, Mattie Rutherford was the honorary Vice-President of the Women’s Educational Association and was an inspiration to the young women of the school. Her contributions to the Edmonton community inspired the University of Alberta Women’s Club to successfully campaign to preserve the Rutherford’s home after the University of Alberta’s expropriation of it in 1968. Without Mrs. Rutherford and her lasting legacy, this beautiful and important piece of Alberta’s history may have been lost forever.
It’s Alberta. It’s crazy fun and super interesting, and all you have to do is get Out There! Discover the architectural beauty of Alberta’s first family year-round at Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site at www.rutherfordhousephs.ca. Be sure to share your experience on Facebook @rutherfordhousephs.
Rutherford House Events:
Rutherford House Remembers
November 3, noon – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/events/rutherford-house-remembers
A Christmas Past
December 8, noon – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/events/christmas-past
Family Day Open House: Visit Rutherford House for Free!
February 17, noon – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/events/family-day-open-house-visit-rutherford-house-free
April 14, noon – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/events/easter-eggstravaganza
July 1, noon – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/events/dominion-day
Doors Open Festival 2020
July 2-7, 10am – 4pm
More information: https://rutherfordhousephs.ca/doors-open-festival-2020
Explore More Nearby:
- Royal Alberta Museum, 9810 103a Avenue, Edmonton, AB
- Fort Edmonton, 10205 100 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB
- John Walter Museum, 9180 Walterdale Hill NW, Edmonton, AB
- Alberta Legislature Building, 10800 97 Ave, Edmonton, AB
- Father Lacombe Chapel, 3 St Vital Ave, St. Albert, AB
- Varscona Hotel on Whyte, 8208 106 St NW, Edmonton, AB
- Metterra Hotel on Whyte, 10454 82 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB
- HI Edmonton Hostel, 10647 81 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB
- Chateau Lacombe Hotel, 10111 Bellamy Hill Rd NW, Edmonton, AB
- Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, 10065 100 St NW, Edmonton, AB
- Vintage Fork- Rutherford House, 11153 Saskatchewan Dr NW, Edmonton, AB
- Feta & Olives, 9106 112 St NW, Edmonton, AB
- Highlevel Diner, 10912 88 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB
- Old Strathcona’s Restaurant Directory