The De la Canal family and home
By Jesús Ibarra
In 1732 the Villa de San Miguel el Grande was at the beginning of its heyday. Located at the crossroads of the Camino de Tierra Adentro (Inland Road), travelers and traders coming from the capital of New Spain to the northern territories passed through the village. At that time, a 31-year-old man arrived in San Miguel. He held one of the largest fortunes in New Spain and was descended from Spanish nobility. His name was Manuel Tomás de la Canal and Bueno de Baeza.
Manuel Tomás was the only son of don Domingo Gómez de la Canal y Velez, an infantry captain who had arrived in New Spain in the late 17th century from Lebeña, in the region of Cantabria, Spain. Don Domingo was a successful exporter and importer of agricultural products, livestock, textiles and groceries. His businesses allowed him to enter the Diputación del Consulado de Comerciantes de la Ciudad de México (a group of merchants in Mexico City) as well as to access major trade routes and fairs that were held in different parts of New Spain. On May 22, 1689, he married his second wife, a creole woman named doña Agustina Bueno de Baeza y Oviedo. The couple had four children: three girls and one boy, Manuel Tomás, born January 3, 1701. Manuel Tomás inherited his father’s fortune and held the positions of alderman and mayor of Mexico City. A great religious patron and ardent devotee of Our Lady of Loreto, Manuel Tomás paid for the shrines of Guadalupe and Los Remedios and also helped build the Holy House of Loreto in the Jesuit church of San Gregorio in Mexico City, as well as the chapels of San José and Loreto at the Jesuit college of Tepozotlán. In 1730, he joined the Order of Calatrava.
In 1732, Manuel Tomás came to establish his residence in this village. He had come into contact with some members of the elite of Real de Minas de Santa Fe de Guanajuato, among whom was the wealthy miner, alderman and mayor of the town, don Juan Hervás, married to doña Eugenia María Flores de Liñán. This family had a 21-year-old daughter named María Josefa Gabriela. Don Manuel Tomás was taken with the girl and began courting her; they were married on October 5 of that year.
The newlywed couple set up residence in San Miguel el Grande in a stately home located in the neighborhood of San Antonio, today known as Instituto Allende. The house included an orchard that occupied the site where Barrio de la Aldea and the Hotel Posada La Aldea are located today, including the confluence with calle Orizaba. In this orchard he grew mainly fruit trees, including mandarin oranges, peaches, custard apples and zapotes, but also walnuts and olives. When the family moved, the manor became a textile mill. The De la Canal family also owned the hacienda of San Joaquin in Trancas, between Dolores and San Felipe, which is now a resort.
Don Manuel Tomás had decided to spread the devotion to Our Lady of Loreto in the villa so, from his own pocket, he sponsored in 1735 the construction of a chapel dedicated to the Virgin, a replica of the one he had sponsored in Tepotzotlán, in the left transept of the Oratorio church. On the altar, an Italian sculpture of the Virgin of Loreto was placed. Currently, on both sides of the altar one can see the life-sized polychrome statues of don Manuel Tomás and his wife, doña María Gabriela, at the foot of which the mortal remains of both spouses lie.
According to historian Francisco de la Maza, Manuel Tomás “spent more than 200,000 pesos of his own money to adorn and beautify the town, raising churches and houses, building roads and doing works of charity. Thousands of families owed him a living and the industrial boom that had come to San Miguel was largely due to him. He favored the weavers of blankets and shawls, lending them large quantities of wool and cotton and other raw materials without interest.”
The water system in San Miguel was also sponsored by don Manuel Tomás de la Canal. It consisted of underground tunnels leading water from El Chorro throughout the city, giving rise to the myth of the famous underground tunnels of San Miguel. In later times, these tunnels when not conveying water anymore were used in critical moments during the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War as a hideout. Local historian Graciela Cruz says that during the Cristero War even religious services were held inside them.
According to Cruz, there are documents that prove that at the end of the decade of the 1730s don Manuel de la Canal already owned the lot where the Casa de la Canal (now owned by Banamex ) is located, at the corner
of calles Hidalgo and Canal. Originally there was an adobe house on that land, and in those years Don Manuel had already started beautifying it with cal y canto (masonry), initiating a process of construction that would last about 80 years, under three generations of the family, don Manuel, his son, José Mariano, and his grandson, Narciso María Loreto, ending abruptly in 1810 with the outbreak of the independence movement.
Cruz says that it is unknown who built this house, but according to the styles the construction has been attributed to three different architects in different stages: Francisco Martínez Gudiño (1708–1775), who designed the Convent of the Immaculate Conception in San Miguel; Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras (1759–1833), creator of the Teresitas convent in Querétaro and several works in Celaya; and Manuel de Tolsá ( 1757–1816 ), creator of the equestrian statue of Carlos IV (El Caballito) and the Palacio de Minería in Mexico City.
Currently the Canal House as a whole is not open to the public. People can only visit the ground floor, occupied by the help in the 18th century and currently housing the Museum of Fomento Cultural Banamex. Graciela Cruz, the museum’s director, said that on the top floor of the house there are four rooms overlooking calle Canal. These rooms, originally occupied by the family, were small and meant for short stays and had no bathrooms. In each room there was a washstand and under every bed a chamber pot. For the owners to bathe, the servants went from room to room carrying a bathtub. There is also a family chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, but according to Cruz now it contains an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. There is a room where the family gathered to drink chocolate or girls to do embroidery and an anteroom where banquet tables were assembled. The house also had a mezzanine, whose rooms were used to store furniture that was not needed and the accounting books and to receive the administrators of the estate who came to hand the accounts over to the master. Currently, the upper floor is used to house the bank’s executives when they visit San Miguel and for business meetings. The mezzanine is occupied by the bank’s offices. The house does not retain any of the original furnishings of the De la Canal family, which were lost during the Independence War. The current furniture is part of the historical holdings owned by Banamex. The masonry, ironwork and woodwork of the house are original, including the front door, which is made of oak and cedar. Cruz says that although there are no documents to support this, owing to restorations that have been made, it was found that the wood is original.
Cruz explained that the house also had some accesorías (adjacent spaces, with access from the street) used as shops that sold basic products such as soap, cloth and candles, and others that sold goods from overseas such as porcelain, Persian rugs, silks and spices from Asia, spirits and wines from Spain, perfumes from France, English and Dutch fabrics and paper and beeswax brought from Cuba.
Cruz indicates that the façade of Casa De la Canal has been classified as a mix between Rococo and Neoclassical styles. The cornices and round windows are neoclassical elements from the late 18th century. The cover that frames the door has an eagle on the keystone, which represents the public posts that Manuel and José Mariano held as well as the fact they were subjects of the King of Spain. In the center there is a stone statue of the Virgin of Loreto, the patron of the village since 1736 and patron of the Estate of De la Canal from 1737. On both sides of the Virgin are two coats of arms: on the left, the crest of the De la Canal family and on the right the crest of don Manuel’s wife’s family, the Hervás.
During the War of Independence, the De la Canal House was seized by the Spanish Crown. After the war, it was returned to the descendants of the family, who transformed it into the Hotel Allende, where the singer Angela Peralta stayed in 1875 when she came to inaugurate the theater that bears her name. Later the house was acquired by Don Albino Garcia’s family, who sold it to Banamex in 1981.