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Saving Willistead from the Wrecker's Ball

Meticulous restoration of what is truly the precious jewel of
Walkerville and indeed, Windsor, Willistead Manor, began nearly twenty years ago. Built for E. Chandler Walker, one of the seven children of visionary Hiram Walker, founder of Walkerville and Canadian Club, the Manor was designed in the English Tudor style by the renowned Albert Kahn and was completed in 1906.

In 1915, Chandler, known fondly as Mr. Ed by the people of Walkerville, died. His wife Mary Walker, decided to return to her family in the United States in 1921 and the Walker family deeded the home to the town of Walkerville.

Serving at various times as administrative offices, public library and as an art gallery, the Manor exhibited signs of excessive wear and tear both inside and out, by the 1970's. The expense of renovating the Manor caused some to talk of actually tearing it down!

willistead-winter.jpgWindsor City Council instead designated Willistead as a historical site and $1.25 million was raised to begin restorations. These funds came from the City of Windsor, The Heritage Foundation, private donations, a Canada Works grant and Wintario.

In 1981, after three years of structural renovations and extensive revitalization of the interior décor, Willistead reopened in its present capacity as a manor home for public tours and a meeting facility for private and public functions.

Thanks partly to the generosity of corporations, individuals and the government over the last nineteen years, further Willistead renovations and acquisitions have been completed or are ongoing. These include the restoration of the Coach House which served at one time as the Walkerville jail, the revitalization of the gardener's shed last year, the addition of the Paul Martin Sr. Gardens on the east side of the Manor, as well as further improvements to the interior and exterior of the manor itself.

To maintain and operate the Manor the annual budget is $190,000. Fortunately, the Manor is now largely self-sustaining thanks in part to the success of Rotary 1918's annual Art in the Park and the Classic Car Show. However, any gifts from the public or business sector are very appreciated as these allow for specific improvements to the Manor and grounds.

Among the projects the Willistead Board of Directors has slated for the Year 2000 are the installation of refurbished lamp standards saved from the former Town of Riverside throughout the park, landscaping the area around the gardener's shed, and continuing to acquire and install suitable antique furnishings for the Manor.

If you would like to become a part of history by contributing to the Willistead Restoration Fund, please take the opportunity to complete the form at the end of this article and send it to the Willistead Board of Directors along with your tax deductible donation. Perhaps you could send it on behalf of a friend or loved one who has an interest in history or who is no longer with us.

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