Whelan children make Belle Vue donation
Terry Whelan remembers coming to Amherstburg’s historic Belle Vue House with her sisters as kids for an annual summer barbecue.
She and Susan were there again Thursday, although flurries and cold temperatures made the idea of summer fun seem like a distant memory.
They huddled on the front steps of the 200-year-old home to present officials from the Belle Vue Conservancy with a $20,000 donation in memory of their late parents, Eugene and Elizabeth Whelan.
Another sister, Cathy Whelan Molloy, was unable to attend.
“This place is a treasure for everyone, not only in Amherstburg but all across Ontario to enjoy,” said Susan. “My parents would have been thrilled that the town has come together with this wonderful group of volunteers to preserve Belle Vue.”
Describing herself as the family’s “museum junkie,” Terry said the donation is the “perfect” legacy for her parents.
Eugene Whelan, a longtime member of Parliament and former agriculture minister, loved history, and Elizabeth took the girls to all the museums Ottawa had to offer when they went to visit their dad.
“They loved this stuff,” Terry said.
Susan, herself a former MP, noted that her father had a long association with Belle Vue.
“It’s meant a lot to our family over the years so it’s only fitting that we be part of the renovations,” she said.
Linda Jackson, chair of corporate outreach for the conservancy group, recounted two occasions where Gene Whelan stepped in to help Belle Vue through its various reincarnations.
In 1962, while an MP, he helped facilitate the sale of the home to the Ukrainian Church and 21 years later, he oversaw a grant proposal worth $156,000 for roof and foundation repairs.
The once-lavish home built in 1816 has stood boarded up and empty since 2003. Heritage Canada’s National Trust placed it on an endangered list for demolition by neglect, a fate avoided when the town purchased it in the fall of 2016.
A group of concerned citizens reorganized their restoration efforts as the Belle Vue Conservancy and embarked on a $1-million fundraising campaign.
The Whelans’ contribution pushes the conservancy’s first-year donation total to $305,000.
As a major donor to the window program, a plaque commemorating Eugene and Elizabeth will be placed below a riverfront window in the pioneer kitchen of the home.
One of five main-floor rooms has garnered a $100,000 donation for naming rights from the Gatfield Family Foundation.
Shirley Curson-Prue, president of the Belle Vue Conservancy, said fundraising efforts continue. In addition to its corporate outreach, the group just launched an initiative aimed at high school students, kicking it off with a visit to Villanova last week.
“We’re trying to hit as many demographics as we can,” Curson-Prue said. “This is your future, this is where your kids are going to come.”