Minister's Island National Historic Site of Canada

Minister's Island, New Brunswick
View of the façade of the Main House, showing Shingle styling and its roofline interrupted by a single dormer and deep front porch the length of the building’s central core, 1995. (© Parks canada Agency/ Agence Parcs Canada, L. Maitland, 1995.)
Main house
(© Parks canada Agency/ Agence Parcs Canada, L. Maitland, 1995.)
Address : Minister's Island, New Brunswick

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1997-09-22
  • 1889 to 1915 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Sir William Van Horne  (Person)
  • Lucy Adeline Hurd Van Horne  (Person)
  • Adeline Van Horne  (Person)
  • Edward Maxwell  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Minister's Island  (Designation Name)
  • Sir William Van Horne Estate  (Other Name)
  • Sir William Van Horne Estate on Ministers Island  (Plaque name)
  • Covenhaven  (Name of contributing resources)
Research Report Number: 1996-020


Existing plaque:  New Brunswick

Sea and sky, field and forest: this remarkable island landscape captivated Canadian Pacific Railway President, Sir William Van Horne. The summer estate, begun in 1890 and maintained by the family until the 1940s, reflects Van Horne's vision of the importance of tourism and agriculture in Canada's development. Montréal architect Edward Maxwell designed a unique collection of highly original structures, including a cottage, barn, dairy, bathhouse, windmill and gas plant. The buildings are in the Shingle style, popular for resort architecture in Canada in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The estate captures the characteristic features of landscape design of the time, including formal gardens, a farm, recreational facilities and forests, all integrated into Atlantic Canada's rolling landscape and dramatic views. A talented amateur artist and collector, Van Horne used this island estate to encourage Canadian landscape painting.

Description of Historic Place

Minister’s Island National Historic Site of Canada is a well-preserved, picturesque summer estate and gentleman’s farm, developed in the late 19th and early 20th century. It comprises all of a 280-hectare island in Passamaquoddy Bay, on the eastern coast of New Brunswick. At low tide the island is connected to the mainland by a land bridge. The estate consists of a complex of buildings designed in an elegant, but relaxed, version of the Shingle style, surrounded by forests and fields. The landscape comprises four interconnected zones: the main house with its ancillary buildings, lawns and gardens; the agricultural lands and buildings to the north; the recreational lands comprising the beaches, tennis court, croquet lawn, paths and carriage roads; and the forest covering a third of the island. The main house is supported by ancillary buildings including a garage, a carriage house, a windmill, a gas plant, and a bathhouse. Agricultural buildings include a barn, a dairy, a bunkhouse, a gardener’s cottage with the remnants of a vinery attached, and a late 18th-century, stone farmhouse. The designated place comprises the entire island with all its buildings and landscape elements.

Heritage Value

Minister’s Island was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1996 because: as a summer estate it is a remarkable regional landscape and it served as an inspiration to Van Horne, a giant of Canadian history, and allowed him to pursue his interests in, and involvement with, tourism, agriculture, and landscape painting; the estate consists of a handsome collection of Shingle-style buildings set in a landscape with four zones of usage: gardens, recreational facilities, agricultural lands, and forest; and while its design is rooted in the late-19th century British and American landscape traditions, its adaptation to its locale ties it indelibly to the sea, and the farms, fields and forest of Atlantic Canada.

The estate speaks eloquently about the life and times of the builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne. In developing the property, Van Horne was actively assisted by his wife, Lucy Adeline Hurd Van Horne, and their daughter Adeline, who continued to develop the estate after Van Horne’s death. The estate is directly associated with Van Horne’s business life and reflects his wide-ranging interests.

Architect Edward Maxwell of Montréal, one of Canada’s best-known residential and commercial architects, designed the estate’s residential and farm complexes. The structures represent fine examples of Shingle style buildings and turn-of-the-century aesthetic ideas about the need for harmonious relationships between buildings and landscapes.

In its comfortable blending of ocean horizons, beaches, farm, fields, forests and buildings faced in stone and wood, the estate is a personal and regional response to country estate traditions drawn from British and American models. The estate influenced the development of other resort communities, most notably, St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1996; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 2004.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: the organization of the island into a grand estate, with a core residential area, formal gardens, recreational spaces, agricultural spaces and forest; its residential, recreational and agricultural buildings, including their shared styling and materials, spatial relationships, and placement within the designed and natural landscape; its internal road and pedestrian circulation systems; stone pillars marking road turnings; its recreational spaces, including the beach, bathhouse area, tennis court, and carriage roads; remnants of gardens and fields dating from Van Horne’s residency; stretches of lawn that lead to the uncultivated bush at the cliff’s edge; the forest covering the northern third of the island; viewscapes of the sea from throughout the island;

Key elements that relate to the heritage value of the residential complex include: the Shingle styling of the main house (Covenhoven), as seen in its asymmetry, the south façade with its roofline interrupted by a single dormer and deep front porch the length of the building’s central core, the porte cochère, the variety of exterior finishes including red sandstone, shingles, clapboard, and of rounded, shingled facing between second-storey windows; the relationship between the main house and the surrounding landscape, as seen in the leaded glass wall of the main reception room that provides exterior views; features of summer home architecture, including its two fireplaces, simple wood trim, and leaded glass skylights; the Dutch tiles of the nursery fireplace and frieze in the main house, painted by Van Horne for his grandson; surviving ancillary buildings, including the garage, the carriage house, the windmill, the gas plant, and the bathhouse; the Dutch character of the windmill, with its rounded walls covered in fieldstone and shingles, surviving original exterior and interior fabric and kerosene-fired gas plant, including surviving mechanical systems; the timber-frame, clapboard-sided carriage house, with its interior stalls, carriage drive and apartment; the tall, circular, fieldstone bathhouse, with its views to the sea, exterior winding staircase, cone-shaped roof, and its close physical relationship to the sea;

Key elements that relate to the heritage value of the agricultural buildings include: their Shingle style detailing, as seen in the use of wood shingles for exterior cladding, and the extensive use of field-stone masonry for foundations and exterior walls; the combination of decorative and utilitarian forms and detailing in the showpiece barn, as seen in its symmetry with two large shingled silos, wood-shingled hipped gable roof with ornate ventilators, extensive fenestration, and the use of quality materials for the stone foundation; surviving interior layout and finishes of the barn, including the drive floor, stalls, stall hardware, wood and tile floors, floor channels and drains, attached silos, stairways, and milking room; the siting of the barn on a slope; the dairy of sandstone construction; the two-storey, wood frame bunkhouse with its mansard roof; the one-and-a-half-storey, stone farmhouse of vernacular construction and design; the wood-framed, shingle-sided gardener’s cottage; the remnants of a wood-frame vinery, attached to the gardener’s cottage.