Over the last hundred years this historic house has been a place to stay for many influential people throughout the period including, parliamentarians, ex prime ministers and bishops. In 1904, Duncan Kirk constructed the building on land owned by his wife Anna Kirk. A serious fire in 1910, in which, according to reports, Anna Kirk narrowly escaped with her life led to the first of several refurbishments. Fortunately throughout the life of the building the character and elegance of the house have survived and the property remains an important historical landmark of the town.
A wealthy merchant, Duncan Kirk had several commercial interests in Antigonish and throughout Nova Scotia. His business empire included a hardware store, several department stores and a woodworking company. Indeed, his original department store – a large brick built building – can still be seen on the corner of Church and Main street in Antigonish labeled the ‘Kirk Building’. His passion in his limited spare time (he had 11 children) was for agricultural shows and horses, in particular breeding Holsteins – it is rumored that one of his prize horses is buried somewhere on the property!
The house was to be a manifestation of the Kirk’s commercial success. For his ‘dream home’, to be called ‘Brierdene’, he retained the prestigious architect William Critchlow Harris and opted for a fashionable ‘Queen Anne’ style home. The house was emblematic of the turn-of-the-century North American appetite for opulence and ornamentation. The house’s most distinctive features are it’s corner turret, originally fitted with curved glass, and conical roof, as well as hipped dormers, one of Harris’s trademarks. Also of note were the eye-catching array of chimney pots, verandah’s and bay windows and fanciful ‘dental trim’ around the eaves. Many of these features can still be seen today.
Among the interesting features that can still be seen at the house is a ‘walk-in’ vault in the cellar that was latterly used as the Bishops vault. The original locks and large brass cross still adorn the heavy steel door.
In 1943 ‘Brierdene’ was sold and became ‘The JL MacIsaac Memorial Home, a hospital under the guidance of the Sisters of St Martha’s. It served as an annex to the main hospital of the town until 1950. The property was then purchased by the Catholic Church who then used the property for the Bishop’s residence until 1997.
The impressive grounds (nearly 5 acres), which stretch to the East river, border Columbus Field where the highland games are still held to this day. At the bottom of the property is a small-secluded area surrounded by trees, which has always been known as ‘Pipers Glen’. This area was always used, as it is now, for competitors at the games to practice before performing at the games.
The Building was extensively, but sympathetically, renovated in 1997, retaining the character and grace of the original, including the oak flooring and paneling that feature throughout the home. A local business couple supervised the renovations and, in 1998, launched ‘The Antigonish Victorian Inn’. Since its launch many dignitaries from celebrities to ex prime ministers have used the Inn.