This grand 70-year-old former private residence in Buena Vista Park was turned into a public space last year. The property has a distinct Early Modern design and is surrounded by greenery.
By Cory Schachtel | July 10, 2020
ALONG THE NORTH SASKATCHEWAN river bend, in Buena Vista Park, sits a residence built by Dennis Yorath on a 12-acre plot given to him by his father-in-law in 1949. Surrounded by trees on three sides, with a lawn leading up to the river’s edge, the property is shrouded in greenery, directly across the river from the Keillor Point viewing area, also known as “The End of the World.”
The home is unique for a few reasons: in a time when single-storey, one-room houses were the norm, the 4,380 sq. ft. Yorath House was an unusual and remarkable structure that stood out. But it’s not just big. Designed by the architectural firm Rule, Wynn & Rule, the home’s horizontal wood siding, flat roof and clean lines provide a fittingly Early Modern design that’s apparent even in black and white photos of the original build (a second-floor suite was added in 1985).
The reason it’s relatively unknown is because it remained a private residence until 1992, when the Yoraths sold it to the City of Edmonton. It sat mostly vacant for over two decades, until renovations by Dialog turned it into a public space last September.
Structural and accessibility issues meant refacing the exterior and adding ramps, but much of the original, defining structure remains. The central fieldstone and brick fireplace, which starts outside and extends up to the second level, hardly needed any refurbishing. And the interior wooden staircase was beautifully resurfaced. Visually, it would fit perfectly in a brand-new build — but a single step up releases the soft creaking of history that only 70-year-old wood can provide.
Elizabeth Yorath-Welsh spent her childhood running up and down those stairs, playing along the river and learning to ride horses in the surrounding area. She remembers tobogganing down the valley and skating on the river. But as she recalls growing up along the North Saskatchewan shore, she keeps coming back to one thing. “Mom and dad always had wonderful parties,” she says. “They hosted the pre- [Canadian] Derby party each year, which were huge garden parties. Those were always fun, but they often ended up in a rainstorm.” They also hosted Prince Phillip as one of the distinguished guests, when he arrived for the Commonwealth Games in 1978.
Both she and her sister got married there, a tradition she’s glad to see continue once it became a public space. Prior to COVID-19, Yorath House was available for a variety of bookings — weddings, corporate retreats, community programs and family-friendly events in the river valley. “I love the fact that it’s being used for receptions and weddings and things like that. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”