An early 21st Century construction controversy in Groat Estates at the southern end of Westmount concerned the development of the property surrounding Sylvancroft, located at 12717 Stony Plain Road. Situated close to some of the city’s oldest and most desirable neighbourhoods, the two acres around the 1912 mansion were once heavily wooded with oak, elm and evergreen trees.
The original owner, Harry Evans, who went on to serve as Edmonton’s fourteenth mayor in 1917-18, came to Alberta from Ontario as an entrepreneur, and created sufficient wealth from his mining, finance, and real estate business ventures to enable himself to import Sylvancroft’s stucco and trees from Scotland. In the winter, the yard was flooded for hockey and skating parties and a January 4, 1913 article from the Edmonton Saturday Mirror described how “on New Year’s Eve, gathered together such a happy, fashionable crowd as have not danced and made merry together, in many days. Mr. and Mrs. Evans received their guests at the entrance to the quaint dining room, the master of the house with a happy word of greeting for everyone.” Edmonton historian, Lawrence Herzog, wrote that “the mansion quickly became an integral part of Edmonton’s upper-class social scene, and it frequently hosted dignitaries and visiting celebrities”.
In later years, Audrey Hodgson, who has lived at 10338 127 Street from 1957 onwards, described how the Evans family lead a somewhat different life from their neighbours in Groat Estates. The children had had governesses who taught them in the mornings, and every afternoon they did sports at the rink. “It would be a different kind of a life from what our kids experienced,” recounted Hodgson. The mansion’s expansive grounds provided the venue of backwoods adventures for generations of local residents, including the six Hodgson children in the 1960s and 1970s. Its proximity to the river valley also attracted a wide variety of wildlife including coyotes, cougars and an elk that impaled itself on the fence surrounding the swimming pool.
On the death of Harry Evans’ granddaughter in 2007, the property passed out of family ownership. It had fallen into a state of disrepair in the early 21st Century, and despite being listed for sale in 2010 for $3.62 million, it was estimated at the time that it would require an additional $2.5 million to restore and upgrade the mansion to its bygone grandeur. In 2011, Jinny Hilliard, whose aunt had been the last Evans owner, made a public plea for the property to be saved and restored. “As our history slips past us and more and more development happens, you can’t go back and rebuild it. So I feel that the more people who know about it, the more people who experience it will understand why we believe it should be saved,” she explained to CBC reporters as she planned to host an open house to demonstrate the mansion’s history. Although it is listed on the City of Edmonton’s Inventory and Register of Historic Resources, Sylvancroft mansion has no legal protection. Thus, Beljan Development, the company overseeing the redevelopment of the Sylvancroft area, is able to demolish it if an interested renovator cannot be found. The property’s carriage house was torn down in 2012, although the developer was able to preserve its cupola and parts of the roof. No decision has been made on the mansion’s future as of the end of 2014, but exclusive new houses are being built by Beljan in the immediate vicinity on what used to be Sylvancroft’s grounds, and offer a stark juxtaposition between Westmount’s early years and its early 21st century revitalization.
by Tim Berrett
This post is part of Archiving the Present, Documenting the Past, a series of photos and narratives that delve into Westmount’s history and daily life.