Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 28, 2000
Eparchy unloads 'white elephant'
Massive Magrath Mansion lost its usefulness for Ukrainian Catholics
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When Ukrainian Bishop Lawrence Huculak walked into the historic Magrath Mansion he knew he could use it as his official residence. But he said, "No, this is not the building for me."
When Nellie Baaksma jogged by the same house, she said to herself, "Wouldn't this be nice to own and restore?"
Once the sale is sealed in the next couple of weeks, Baaksma and her husband Sid will own and restore the house and relieve Huculak and the eparchy of what had become a "white elephant."
"It wasn't feasible for us to keep," said Ed Hladunewich, the eparchy's business manager.
Monthly maintenance costs for the house averaged more than $2,000, with additional costs regularly. The annual property tax was just under $11,000.
The house was listed for $750,000 and was sold "for a little under that," Hladunewich said.
As thrilled as she is about the offer, which was accepted Feb. 12, Nellie Baaksma is holding back.
"I don't want to get too excited until it's ours," said Baaksma, who plans to take possession at the end of March.
Built in 1913 by real estate developer William Magrath, the more than 4,500-square-foot home, which sits on six lots, was taken over by the city for non-payment of taxes in 1937. The eparchy purchased the house for $25,000 in 1953.
It was the official residence of the bishop and also served as the eparchy's administrative office. The home has 10 bedrooms, five bathrooms, five fireplaces and a billiard room. There was once a swimming pool in the basement. The basement also houses a full kitchen.
It is a provincial historic site.
The eparchy is relieved to finally find a buyer for the house. It had been on the market for more than two years, which Hladunewich said isn't a long time for a property of this calibre.
"It wasn't like selling a three-bedroom bungalow," Hladunewich said. "There's only one of its kind in Edmonton."
Over the years, the home had lost its purpose. Administrative functions were moved to the chancery office, which opened in 1988 across from St. Josaphat's Cathedral.
Along with the bishop, the Magrath was also once the home of several newly immigrated priests from Ukraine. Up to a dozen priests lived at the house at a time, but shortly after Bishop Myron Daciuk took up residence there, it housed only the bishop and a housekeeper.
"It didn't make sense to have such a big house for two people," Hladunewich said.
Huculak lives at the cathedral residence, which he said offers ample living space. "(The Magrath) would be too big for just myself," he said.
Despite the peeling paint and leaky roof, an old house like the Magrath calls out to Braaksma.
"I've got friends who have brand new houses, spic and span, but they don't have any character. This house has years of character."
Braaksma's favourite part of the house is the grand foyer with its round mahogany staircase. "The living room has angels on the ceiling. It's absolutely beautiful."
Braaksma hasn't decided whether she and Sid, who owns Northgate Trailer Industries, will live in the house, but she plans to restore it to its original splendour.
She added her daughter may live in the house during the renovations.
"She said 'I hope there aren't any ghosts in there," Braaksma said. "I said to her, 'The bishops have blessed that house so many times, don't worry about it.'"