Although it’s now 100 years old, the house at 246 19th St. W. is holding up well for a building of its age.
A sunroom to its rear is sinking and some paint is peeling within the building, but for a building built a century ago, “you wouldn’t expect it to be in perfect shape,” Prince Albert Historical Society curator Michelle Taylor said.
It’s not just the building’s age and interesting architecture that brought more than 1,400 people through its front doors this summer, but its history as Prince Albert’s most recognized citizen John Diefenbaker’s former home.
The building has consistently proven a favourite among local history enthusiasts, who continue to add to the building’s history.
Although Prince Albert Historical Society tour guides are able to share the building’s historical basics, it’s commonplace that those receiving tours share additional insights with the guides.
“They want to learn more about him and share their own stories,” Taylor said, adding that as such it’s become the favourite of many inquisitive summer students.
The building is open between the May long weekend and the end of August. Unlike the city’s other museums, which remain open by appointment during the winter, the Diefenbaker House is closed during the off-season, with its many artifacts put into storage.
Construction of the Diefenbaker House began in 1911, with its first owner and resident Henry T. Jaffray, the manager of the Imperial Bank of Canada.
The second to occupy the building was the Acorn family, according to a Prince Albert Historical Society archival report.
Already a member of Parliament for the Lake Centre riding, John Diefenbaker put a $2,000 deposit on the double lot that housed the building on Aug. 2, 1947.
The balance of the building’s price was $10,000, which included, as stipulated by Diefenbaker, “blinds, curtain rods and jacket heaters,” a Prince Albert Historical Society pamphlet reads.
After Diefenbaker’s first wife, Edna, did in February of 1951, he remained at the home.
When Diefenbaker married Olive Freeman Palmer in 1953, the two took residence at the house, where “her intelligence and personality endeared her to her new neighbours,” the pamphlet reads.
After Diefenbaker moved to Ottawa to take on his role as prime minister, he rented it back to back to two editors of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.
Building’s museum status
Conversation about turning John Diefenbaker’s house into a museum began in 1973, and on May 14, 1974, council passed a resolution that “the council of the City of Prince Albert ask the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker to donate his house and property at 246 19th Street West to the City of Prince Albert for the purpose of the establishment of a ‘John Diefenbaker House’ in the city.”
Negotiations culminated on Oct. 24, 1975, when Diefenbaker signed the building’s title over to the city.
The paperwork read that the following be created: A “public museum bearing the name of the Right Honourable John G. and Olive Diefenbaker Museum and that it will store and display herein memorabilia of the donor and of things and incidents of his continued residence in the city of Prince Albert since May, 1924.”
The building opened to the public in June of 1983, nearly four years after his death.