Is it a love story fit for Valentine’s Day, or an act of vengeance perpetrated by a bitter lover from beyond the grave?
One of the more unusual provisions found in a will was made by Emily Margaret Waddell. When Emily died in 1908 in Rochester, Minnesota, following an operation, she left her estate to her husband Thomas as specified in her will prepared in 1904.
According to the terms of will, her “beloved husband” Thomas inherited $56,000 “for his own use and benefit.” But it was what followed that made the will among the strangest in Manitoba’s legal history: “I appoint my said husband Thomas Waddell to be the executor of this my said will. In case of his marrying again, $10,000 is to be expended for a public fountain in Central Park, Winnipeg.”
Why had she included the remarriage provision in her will?
Over the years many have speculated, but no one has really come up with a reason that can be absolutely proven as fact.
“Was it spite or whimsy that moved Mrs. Waddell to have her husband fork over $10,000 for a fountain if he married again?” asked Val Werier in a column published in the Free Press on July 6, 1983.
“Had Mrs. Waddell often strolled through the park, musing that what it needed was a fountain?” asked Clare Marcus, another Free Press writer in a September 17, 1960, column.
At the time of its initial construction, Central Park was bordered by Cumberland and Qu’Apelle avenues and Edmonton and Carlton streets, and was amid one of the city’s more fashionable neighbourhoods, surrounded by stately homes owned by professional and business families. The 1.4-hectares of land that became the park was purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company Reserve for $20,000 in cash and debentures (The Year Past, a city of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee publication). The HBC was willing to sell the land as it was unsuitable for development due to poor drainage. “Thousands of loads of soil and manure were brought in to correct the problem and form a base for Central Park’s lush lawns.
“This passive ‘ornamental square’ soon had walkways and gardens, followed in 1905 by a bandstand and two tennis courts.”
The Waddells, prior to Emily’s death, lived on Sargent Avenue, near the park.
Whatever the reason for the will’s provision, Thomas wanted to remarry in 1911, the year in which the unusual clause in Emily’s will came to the attention of the city’s parks board, which was quite prepared to receive the money in order to build the fountain in Central Park.
But there was a problem, as Thomas didn’t have $10,000 to hand over to the board. In 1911, the estate had $14,000 in debts, which the newly-remarried man said had resulted from bad real estate investments. Thomas, who was noted as a “temperance leader and all-around solemn citizen,” claimed he needed more time to come up with the money.
The parks board expressed its impatient and continually reminded Thomas that he was obligated to raise the funds for the fountain.
It took Thomas, an influential member of the Methodist Church congregation, a couple more years to finally raise the $10,000 specified in the will. When he handed over the money to the city in 1913, it was time to come up with a design for the fountain. It took several meetings before a final design was agreed upon between Thomas and a special committee appointed by city council.
“The design chosen is an imposing shaft of about 36 feet in height, containing four sanitary drinking fountains at the base,” according to a report by the parks board in March 1914. “It is to be constructed of stone and marble and will add materially to the attractiveness of Central Park. It was also decided that the fountain shall be erected near the Cumberland Avenue entrance.”
The parks board report stated: “The design is novel, with an extremely artistic effect and withal is unique in additional to being ornamental.”
The design was based upon a 55-metre Gothic Revival monument to Sir Walter Scot, one of Scotland’s most noted romantic poets. The monument in Edinburgh, Scotland, was designed by George Meikle Kemp and built in 1844.
The architect selected to design the Winnipeg fountain in memory of Emily Waddell was John Manuel. The local architect is noted for his designs for the University of Manitoba’s Science Laboratory (1919-1920) and a two-storey extension of the university’s Science Building in 1923.
“Manuel’s symmetrical and steeple-like fountain is a reduced example of High Victorian architecture, characterized by elaborate design and ornamentation (The Year Past). The White Stone and concrete structure is dominated by a series of flying buttresses which connect the main body; four-flange nodding ogee arches; and a crocheted pinnacle. Other arch and floral motifs are prevalent.
“Four lions’ heads containing the water spouts are attached to the lower half of the main tower beneath the ogee arches. Water flows into a double tier of basins, then overflows into a moat.”
All the stonecutting and dressing occurred in Winnipeg under the supervision of the William Penn Stone Company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the remaining work performed by day labourers.
For years, four drinking fountains, one at each corner, quenched the thirst of visitors, until their removal 30 years after the fountain was built.
The final cost for the fountain came under budget at $9,722. To put that amount into perspective, by adding a few thousand dollars more, it could have purchased one of the city’s more lavish homes in an affluent neighbourhood.
The Waddell Fountain suffered the fate of Central Park over the years, when the wealthy homeowners moved away and their mansions were demolished to make way for high-rise apartments and social housing. By the 1960s, the park was in a state of deterioration in an area that had become rife with crime.
Since the 1930s, repairs were periodically made to keep the fountain from falling apart and being further marred by vandalism, but what it needed was a massive overall of the Manitoba Historic Site, which wasn’t announced until 2008. By 2010, designers Staliff Miller Murray Landscape Architects had converted the landscape into a park that revitalized its importance to the neighbourhood with a multitude of amenities for use year-round, as well as a fully-restored Waddell Fountain.
The reason behind the 100-year-old fountain remains to this day an enigma. Was it the request of a loving wife to her beloved husband? Or was the motive more sinister; such as, placing a burden upon a husband to prevent him from remarrying following Emily’s death?
We’ll never know, but it is perhaps a bit more appropriate on Valentine’s Day to regard it in a more romantic light.