A personal passion for preserving heritage earned Southampton Walker House owners Mary Putnam and Robert Ho the Saugeen Shores Municipal Heritage Conservation Award for 2021.
Bill Streeter, chair of the Saugeen Shores Municipal Heritage Committee and a well-known historian/researcher, told a small group at the Walker House March 1 that the award is presented in recognition of heritage minded individuals and businesses within Saugeen Shores.
He said they seek public nominations recognizing those who preserve heritage, either by protecting original buildings and surroundings or through educating others.
Here are Streeter’s edited comments before the award presentation:
Our committee is extremely dedicated to preserving heritage throughout our Municipality. There are many houses, businesses, barns, and other structures that take us back to the early days of Southampton, Port Elgin and Saugeen Township.
There is also the cultural heritage of the people that lived, worked and gathered in these places. Maintaining these physical reminders of our history is absolutely necessary for future generations. Cultural Heritage is also important to recognize.
Each year the town presents an award that lets us promote and celebrate the valuable role that individuals and organizations play in ensuring that structures and stories from the past continue to be present in our community.
The Walker House nomination came from many sources, but most recently from within the Municipal Heritage Committee. The committee watched the Walker House transform back to its original glory.
Walker House history
On Sept. 7, 1852, the Crown Patent for 7/10th of an acre on Lot 4, North side of High Street was awarded to James T. Conway.
The original structure was built in 1857 by James and Mary Ann Hilbert, Innkeepers. The Census for 1861, for Southampton, shows James and Mary Ann Hilbert, ages 25 and 26. Jas. Hilbert listed as Innkeeper; two children ages 3 and 1. Under the Hilbert’s information, the census lists the tavern as having been built in 1857.
James Hilbert died on May 25, 1866. Mary Ann (Smith) Hilbert married Alex Sinclair in 1869 and continued to run the hotel. Mary Ann owned the hotel until her death in on January 13, 1914.
History of the Hotel’s names:
- Hilbert’s Hotel built– 1857
- Masonic Arms Hotel before 1861 – 1869
- Name changed to Central Hotel – 1870 and was still owned by Mary Ann (Smith) Sinclair.
- In 1888, it was reported in the Port Elgin Times that Mrs. Sinclair had a “foundation laid for a large addition to the Central Hotel and when finished this will be one of the most commodious hotels in the country.” Further expansions were carried in in the 1890’s.
- The Hotel was run by John Creighton from 1904 – 1911.
- Temperance House 1913 -Kugler Proprietor.
- The Estate of Mary Ann Sinclair sold the hotel to Ellen Walker in 1915 and it was then named the Walker House.
There are tidbits of information available for those times in the writings of John Weichel and one promotional piece that caught my eye was from the local paper in November 1861.
It reads: Masonic Arms Hotel, James Hilbert ACKNOWLEDGES WITH PLEASURE the hearty support he has hitherto received from the travelling community and the general public; and trusts that he will continue to give the satisfaction already experienced by his numerous friends.
Stages leave the above Hotel every morning for Goderich, Kincardine, and Owen Sound. An experienced Hostler is always in attendance.” Nov. 1861.
Behind the hotel stood the stable to house the visitors’ horses and their buggies or wagons. These stables stood at the back of what is now the Legion parking lot right up to the 1950’s. The milk delivery horses were housed there up into the 1940’s before delivery was switched to trucks. The dairy building remains, as a Meat Market and Hair Salon.
Harvey and Helen Mahon acquired the Walker House from Ellen Walker in the 1940’s. Ellen Walker was the aunt of Helen Mahon who was also a descendent of the Kugler family that had operated the hotel in 1913 as the Temperance House.
About 1952 they added the Lakeview Room which was then known as the Coffee Shop. This addition created a lot of excitement in our town as it was a new and modern family restaurant spot.
Bob and Barb took the business over from their parents and operated it up until it was purchased by Mary Putman, Robert Ho and family in 2013. This ended a 100-year connection to the hotel by the Kugler, Walker, Mahon connected families.
The love of Southampton that Mary, Robert and their family have to our town and the Walker House, is evident in all the wok that they have done to bring the hotel up to the highest of standards, while maintaining the heritage and historic value of the property.
For me to get into the details of the massive rebuild would not do them justice. It has been eight years of constant reconstruction and upgrading.
They diligently worked around everything that they could to maintain the heritage of the building. Contractors were committed to the careful handling of the many areas of the structure.
Mary and Robert succeeded over these eight plus years in keeping up with the business growth and making efficient use of the available space. All this while maintaining the charm and the history of this iconic landmark.
They can be very proud of their accomplishments. Their outstanding contribution to the heritage of our community is recognized and appreciated.