Winnipeg's historic Milner House set to become daycare

The Milner House, built in 1909, has been sitting empty at the corner of Balmoral Street and Granity Way since 1990 but will soon be filled with young voices.

Great-West Life once tried to have the house demolished to make way for parking lot

The 2 ½-storey Milner House was built for William Edwin Milner, who was once the president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. It became vacant once the eldest of the Milner's children died at age 97 in 1990. (Google StreetView)

The historic Milner House is getting a new lease on life.

The grand old home, built in 1909, has been sitting empty at the corner of Balmoral Street and Granite Way since 1990, but will soon be filled with young voices.

Owned since 1991 by Great West Life, which once unsuccessfully tried to have it demolished, the home's future has been up for debate for years. Now the insurance company has come up with the idea of using it for a daycare and Jenny Gerbasi, the city councillor for the area, is applauding the move.

"An adaptive re-use is always the ideal thing for an historic building, you know, you're preserving what's there," she said. "They are building a structure around it that's designed to kind of fit in to look like a streetscape along with the house there."

The 2½-storey house was built for William Edwin Milner, who was once the president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. It became vacant once the eldest of the Milner's children died at age 97 in 1990.

Once it was among many large homes lining the tree-lined street, but is now the last one along that east side of Balmoral, between Broadway and Granite.

Great-West tried in 2011 to have the house removed from the city's conservation list and clear the way for demolition. The company wanted to expand its surface parking lot but its bid was denied by the city's development and heritage committee.

It's been a long debate for the community, as to what to do with the house, but the daycare proposal seems to be the best solution, Gerbasi said.

"My hat's off to Great-West Life for coming up with a positive solution with us," she said.

"It was kind of frustrating, we seemed to be at a standstill for a while, so it's really nice when people come together and do something that's positive for all involved."

According to a 1992 report by the city's historical buildings committee, the house is characteristic of Winnipeg at the turn of the century and of Milner's prominent status in the community.

And because the house stands alone on that side of the street, surrounded by open space, it is more conspicuous than if it was tucked among other homes. That makes it an important feature on the street, the report states.

Great West Life 'very excited'

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Great West Life says the company is "very excited" to be building a child-care centre that will benefit its employees and the community.

"Our proposed design preserves the heritage value of the red house and it blends in with the overall look of the neighbourhood," the statement reads in part.

"Preliminary work inside the red house has begun already with major construction to begin soon. We're targeting the first quarter of 2017 for the final completion."

The company says the 11,000-square-foot facility will include LED lighting and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

An outside child-care provider will manage the centre, which will accommodate upwards of 95 to 100 child-care spaces. Of the total number, two-thirds would be reserved for the children of Great West Life employees while the remainder would be for children in the community.