As a huge admirer of local heritage homes, when the opportunity to take a private tour of the Rutherford House presented itself I couldn’t resist! Built in 1909, this stately and picturesque home was the private residence of Alberta’s first Premier, Alexander Rutherford. It stands proudly on the University of Alberta grounds, overlooking downtown Edmonton and the natural beauty of the river valley.
The grand front entrance staircase, featuring an acorn for strength and a thistle for protection carved into the bannisters.
It has remained a prominent fixture in Edmonton’s history over the years, first as the Delta Upsilon Fraternity house, then saved from demolition due to public outcry when the University of Alberta was expanding, and finally opened to the public as a private museum and officially designated a Provincial Historic Site.
The library, featuring around 650 books from Alexander Rutherford’s collection of over 4000 books of predominantly Canadiana literature.
What struck me the most on our private tour, aside from the gorgeous library that I would happily move into tomorrow, was how progressive and community minded the family was for their time. Alexander Rutherford was not only the first Premier of the new province of Alberta, he was also a successful lawyer who willingly took on cases pro bono to help those less fortunate. He believed strongly in education, founded the University of Alberta, and was known to hide dollar bills in books throughout his library, encouraging students to read outside of where their interest lay.
The view from the library into the dining room.
When students inevitably tried to return the dollar bills, (as that was a large amount of money at the time) Alexander would question the students about the contents of the book and if they answered correctly they would get to keep the money! That way he could make sure the students weren’t just shaking all the books to find the hidden cash. My love of books had me itching to curl up on the dark leather sofa and start flipping pages. Heaven!
Mattie Rutherford (Alexander’s wife), was an avid gardener, an amazing cook, and served on various committees in the community and at the university. She regularly opened their home for community events and would advertise in the newspaper to invite the public over for tea. Sometimes over 100 ladies would show up and Mattie would visit with them in the parlour in groups of 5-6 at a time.
A view of the Rutherford’s piano in the parlour. Heavy curtains hung in the doorways on the main floor indicated which rooms were open to the public.
Mattie would also host two to three full Edwardian meals a week in the dining room, and do most of the cooking herself which was unusual for the time. She would invite 15-20 people and serve meals with 10-12 courses! I can hardly get my toast to pop at the same time that I finish cooking my scrambled eggs, so this little tidbit really impressed me.
The dining room, featuring a hidden buzzer button in the floor that Mattie could step on with her foot to signal that the next course could be served.
As most of her hired help were girls that came into her employment while looking for a husband, many of them would only last a year before marriage. It was because of this that Mattie preferred being actively involved in cooking for the household, to keep up quality and consistency. Cooking was a collaborative effort! This makes me laugh because Nathan is 100% the chef in our relationship, and we joke about my lack of traditional housewife skills pretty often.
Post WWI richly hued paint colours are used in the rooms open to the public at the front of the house, as they were more expensive and impressive.
2011 marked the centenary of this beautiful house on the University of Alberta campus, and to celebrate this milestone the Friends of Rutherford House Society commissioned a beautiful coffee table book. Lilacs & Brick: The Life and Lives of Rutherford House shares the history of the house and the stories of the people who inhabited it through beautiful images by Jen Gerbitz, design by Kevin Zak and narration by Gigi Meade Jabs.
A view from the upstairs landing into the sewing nook where Mattie crafted the lace work that she was well-known for.
The book explores the Rutherford House’s important role in Edmonton’s history over the past hundred years, and what role it may play in years to come. For Edmontonians that love learning about the history of our city or for admirers of heritage homes and interior design of centuries past, this book is a gorgeous addition to your coffee table or library.
Lilacs and Brick is now available at The Lilac Tree Gift Shop in the Rutherford House, Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue, and Alhambra Books. Otherwise, you can enter this giveaway and WIN ONE FOR FREE! The giveaway will close on March 3 at midnight, and I will contact the lucky winner directly! Available for local pickup to Edmonton residents only.
Since I only shared pictures of the main floor here, I highly recommend a visit to the Rutherford House in person to get a sneak peek at the upstairs bedrooms and maids rooms. There are some beautiful, bold paint colours on the walls, and textiles that make a girl swoon! For being over a hundred years old, this house has serious style. It’s open from 12pm to 5pm from Tuesday to Sunday, and closed Mondays. Visit the website for more information.
To learn more secrets and stories from the Rutherford family and their home, enter to win the giveaway today! Good luck!