History of The Shannon House
Saamis Memorial Funeral Chapel, Crematorium and Reception Centre
#1 Dunmore Road SE
In 1888, William James Shannon began his sojourn West. The following year William began ranching in the Dirt Hills near Regina, Saskatchewan. However, the West continued to beckon him. In 1895, he purchased the property at the bottom of Dunmore Hill and a team of horses from Mr. Powels for $40.00. He returned to the area in 1896, arriving at Empress, Alberta, where he began the Red Deer Ranching Co. with 300 head of cattle. Later, his brothers, Robert, David and Lesley joined him in his ranching endeavour. William married Mary Elizabeth Blair of Ottawa and they had nine children—Horace (1891-1977),
William “Albert” (1892-1960) Herbert “Bert” (1898-1989), Hartley (1902-1980), Gordon (1907-1976), Jean (1900-1978) as well as George, Beatrice and Ethel, who all died at a young age.
William & Mary Shannon's Wedding
At the urging of his wife, William erected a small house where the present day Shannon Monumental Ltd. stands. Mary Shannon had desired a more urban environment in which to raise and educate her children. However, the mortuary custom of the local natives was to suspend their deceased loved ones in the trees on the property rather than bury them. Consequently, before the Shannon family could build on the property, these human remains had to be removed from the trees.
William's idea was to have his family spend the winter/school months at this location and return to the ranch at Empress in the spring. Mary had quite a different plan; she would remain at this location year round and William could go back to the ranch in the spring and return to her in the autumn. In 1904, her adamant perseverance witnessed the construction commencement of the present Shannon House and saw its completion in 1906. This home was not only to become the core of the Shannon business ventures for three generations, but also to become an integral part of the Medicine Hat Community. In fact, today, its location remains the hub of the city's main road system.
For many years the Shannon property served as a campground and picnic destination for area residents. Around 1930, the entrepreneurial Shannon Family built the Maple Leaf Motel on the site. It was in this decade that William and Mary both died leaving the property to their sons, Gordon, Bert and Hartley, who, along with their families, continued to live in the home. During the 1950's, natural gas replaced other heating methods. Again, this entrepreneurial family was at the forefront of this new industry with Hartley Shannon developing and manufacturing gas conversion devices.
Circa 1960's - L to R: Douglas, Gordon, Pat, Greta, Norman & Bert Shannon
The Shannon Bros. Manufacturing Co. was built on the site of the original small house and is presently home to Shannon Monumental Ltd. The three brothers, having decided that the tourist trade was perhaps too demanding, developed the property into a mobile home park. Consequently, many local citizens, at one time or another, have had ties to the property, either as residents or visitors.
Bert's sons, Norman and Douglas, eventually moved away from the family home. However, Hartley's daughter, Patricia, who also had relocated, returned to Medicine Hat. For a number of years Bert and she resided in the Shannon House. As time passed, the mobile home park became too labour intensive for two people. Eventually the park closed and the property listed for sale. The Shannon House had been home to three generations of Shannons, and it was important to them that the home be retained and restored as much as possible to its former grandeur. They hoped it would become an historical symbol to Medicine Hat, a community to which their family had contributed so much toward developing. In 1989, the Shannon House and property was sold to local residents who in February, 1990 the three partners opened Saamis Memorial Funeral Chapel. Over the next few years, this endeavour grew to include, its own crematorium and cemetery, as well as an on-site monument shop and counselling service.
The Shannon Family's vision of having their family home continue to play a prominent role in the community has been realized. Besides being a funeral home, the community has come to view the property as part of their history. Many families celebrate the special events in their lives by having their family portraits, graduation pictures and wedding photographs taken on the property. Often, people can be seen sitting on one of the benches having their lunch-a quiet retreat from the busy Dunmore Road businesses and traffic.
Second Generation Shannon Brothers
Gordon, Bert & Hartley
A special thank you is extended to Pat Shannon for her stories about her family and the Shannon House and to David Stewart of the Medicine Hat Museum Archives.
Compiled by Roger Glenn Sept
To view additional heritage photos please click here