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William J. Magrath

Magrath Mansion

Many real estate developers became successful and in fact quite wealthy during Alberta's first real estate boom in the 1910s. Among them was William J. Magrath, born in Peterborough, Ontario, in 1869. He later owned and operated a butter and cheese company in Belleville, Ontario. Seeing potential in the developing west, Magrath and his wife Ada moved to Edmonton in 1904. While Magrath and his partner Bidwell Holgate built homes in Bellevue, City Park Annex, Windsor Park and West Glenora, they are best remembered for developing the Highlands neighbourhood. In 1912, Magrath and Holgate purchased 23 lots in the Highlands area for a total of $35,000. At the time, the district was in the remote and Postcard undeveloped east side of the city. They proceeded to build homes that sold for an average of $4400 each. The Highlands district, along the scenic north bank of the North Saskatchewan River became an upper-class neighbourhood complete with sidewalks, street lighting, sewage and water, and a city streetcar line that allowed for easy access into the downtown core. Holgate and Magrath paid $20,000 to have the transportation line extended to the Highlands.

As president of the Edmonton Industrial Association, Magrath said that he had seen many cities, but proclaimed Edmonton the "fairest and the best of all." Content with his new surroundings, Magrath built a permanent home in the city. Magrath Mansion, along Ada Boulevard (named for Magrath's wife), became the most prestigious house in Edmonton, and the first home in Edmonton to receive a historic designation. Magrath built the home in 1912, covering the equivalent of ten lots, for a sum of $85,000. He had architect Ernest William Morehouse design the mansion using only the finest materials - mahogany, Italian marble, Listing hand-painted silk, linen wallpaper, and bohemian crystal. Inspired by Georgian architecture, the Magrath mansion was made of red bricks featuring porticos, verandas, and giant classical columns. Inside the three-storey house, there were 14 rooms, four fireplaces, seven bathrooms, a ballroom, a billiards room, a library, an intercom system, a swimming pool, a bomb shelter, a two-door garage, a carriage house, servant's quarters, and a home for the butler.


Unfortunately, Magrath had little time to enjoy his mansion. The real estate crash of 1914 left Magrath destitute; he soon became ill and in 1920 he died, at the age of 51. Magrath left the house to his wife Ada and their son Adrian. Unfortunately, Ada was unable to pay the city taxes on the mansion. By 1931, she was evicted and the city took possession of the house. In 1953, the Ukrainian Catholic Church bought the mansion for $25,000 to house the local bishop. The Church spent another $25,000 to restore and upgrade the property. In 1975, the mansion was declared a Provincial Historic Resource, the first residence in Edmonton to receive this designation. Magrath mansion is now owned by Sid and Nellie Braaksma, who bought the house in the 1990s for $750, 000.


Buffalo Bill is Honor Guest at Noon Luncheon of Boosters; Mayor Knocks Local Newspapers. Edmonton Journal, July 22, 1914.

City of Edmonton. Naming Edmonton: From Ada to Zoie. Edmonton, AB, CAN: University of Alberta Press, 2004.

Herzog, Lawrence. Discovering the Highlands. Real Estate Weekly, 24 (13), March 30, 2006. Retrieved July 3, 2008

Herzog, Lawrence. The Houses of Ernest Morehouse. Real Estate Weekly, 22 (3), January 22, 2004. Retrieved July 3, 2008

Lifetime Memories Photography. Elegance and Originality Became A Little Bit Of History From A Breathtaking City. Retrieved July 3, 2008

Macdonald, Jac. Georgian Manor now Home to Ukrainian Diocese. The Edmonton Journal, September 14, 1984.

Rooke, Charlene. Edmonton: Secrets of the City. Edmonton: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002.

Person, Dennis and Carin Routledge. Edmonton: Portrait of a City. Reidmore Books.

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