Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Private George McLean of Douglas

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at some of the Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

George McLean was born November 8th, 1894 at Dauphin, Manitoba to Charles and Bella McLean. The family eventually farmed near Douglas, Manitoba. 

He was working on the family farm and listed his occupation as teamster when he came to Winnipeg to enlist with the 44th Battalion in August 1915.

Mclean was single but was given permission by the military to get married on January 26, 1918 to Winifred. She lived on Manor Street in Chelsea, London and became his next of kin.

According to his military file, in June 1916 McLean spent six weeks in hospital recovering from a  broken ankle, something that happened while playing and not on military duty. 

He was killed in action on August 20, 1918. There are no details in his file about the circumstances of his death.

McLean's remains were never found. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France and the Douglas, Manitoba war memorial.

A brother, William McLean, survived the war.


Virtual War Memorial Entry
Attestation papers and Military File* (If you are interested in how extensive one's military file could be, this is by far the most detailed one I have come across.)

Monday, 18 September 2017

Farewell, Wet 'N' Wild Waterslide Park?

©2017, Christian Cassidy

After years of demands from local government officials, it appears that the abandoned Skinner's Wet 'N' Wild water slide structure on Highway 44 in Lockport might finally be demolished.

Top: May 1993 Interlake Spectator ad
Bottom: In better days, (1990 newspaper ad)

In May 1984, it was announced that Wet 'N' Wild would receive up to $150,000 from Destination Manitoba to build a water slide park at Lockport, Manitoba. (DM was a 1980s government initiative funded 60% by the feds and 40% by the province to promote tourism and tourism development projects in the province.)

The ownership group of Wet 'N' Wild included Al Thompson, owner of Skinners restaurants, and local area NHLers Wayne and Dave Babych.

The seven-storey structure featuring four, 130-metre long slides officially opened in 1984. Surrounding it was a recreation site that eventually comprised of two baseball diamonds, mini-golf, bumper cars, a golf course and a batting range.

The slides weren't just a big tourism draw for the area, attracting about 1,200 customers on the average weekend in the 1990s, it was also where a few dozens area kids found their summer job each year.

August 23, 2005, Winnipeg Free Press

In the early aughties, a couple of unseasonably cold summers cut attendance and the increasing costs of both maintaining the aging structure and purchasing liability insurance for it, made the business economically unfeasible. It was closed in 2005.

Around 2007, Skinners sold the 30-acre piece of land, including the intact water slide structure, to a development company. (A 2013 Free Press article says Skinners sold to Santa Fe Developments of India, which is has since relocated to Winnipeg. More recent stories say that Sante Fe purchased it more recently from a foreign developer.)

The assumption was that it would soon become a residential development.

The land was never developed and the structure became a favourite haunt for late-night partiers.

With concerns about the safety of those sneaking onto the site, St. Andrews municipal officials called for the structure's demolition in 2013, in 2015 and, after an out-building on the site was set ablaze, in 2017.

Heavy machinery recently appeared on the site which has led to the speculation that the structure may finally be torn down. (Also see.)

The Santa Fe Development website says that the land is slated for redevelopment in 2017 - 2018.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sears, founder of Garden City Shopping Centre, bids farewell

July 14, 1970, Winnipeg Tribune

When Sears Canada announced earlier this summer that it would close 59 of its 129 stores across the country it meant bad news for the Garden City Shopping Centre. That location is now being liquidated and Sears has sold the building to new owners.

The disappearance of Sears from Garden City's retail lineup means more than just the lost of an original tenant. In fact, it was Simpsons-Sears, as it was known at the time, that made the ambitious mall plan a reality.

Check out my history of the Simpsons-Sears store jut posted at my Winnipeg Places blog for more!

P.S. Fun fact: the last original tenant appears to be Shoppers Drug Mart. When it opened in 1970 with the mall, it was the first Shoppers in Western Canada !

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Haynes' Chicken Shack is Fading Away

Sadly, the former Haynes' Chicken Shack is looking worse for wear.

From 1952 to 1998 it was home to one of the city's iconic live music spots, where greats like Billy Daniels, Oscar Peterson and Harry Belafonte came to jam after their shows.

For more about Percy and Zena Haynes and their restaurant, check out my 2012 post about them: http://westenddumplings.blogspot.ca/2012/02/manitoba-black-history-percy-haynes.html

Sunday, 3 September 2017

West End Boxer Frankie Battaglia

Top: Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame
Bottom: Jan. 13, 1933, Scranton Republic

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about the career of Frankie Battaglia. He was one of the best boxers our city ever produced and his exploits in the ring, including a title bout at Madison Square Gardens, were a great distraction for Depression-weary Winnipeggers.

I first learned of Battaglia while researching a blog post about the history of 690 Ellice Avenue. Now Gelyn's Wedding Lounge, from 1906 to 1926 it was home to Battaglia Fruit and Confectionery store on the main floor and the Battaglia family, which comprised of eleven children, including Frankie, who lived upstairs.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Private Reginald Johnston of Fairford

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at some of the Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

UPDATE: More information on the burial of Reginald Johnston.

Reginald Joseph Winfield Johnston was the second-youngest of seven children of a pioneering family in the of Fairford, Manitoba area. When he enlisted with the 107th Battalion at Winnipeg on January 19, 1916.

20-year-old, unmarried Johnston listed his occupation as "homesteader".

Top: February 17th, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: 107th Marching, Aug 1916. (Pilot Mound WWI Museum/ WFP)

The 107th Battalion was recruited by a popular local war veteran and Lt. Col. named Glenyon Campbell. He was a draw at public recruitment events and even took out personal ads asking people to join him.

In fact, when was it was announced that the 79th Brandon Battalion, which Campbell recruited for, would be going overseas without him so that he could raise another local battalion, the 107th, it was reported in the Winnipeg Tribune in December 1915 that at least 200 men from the 79th applied for transfers.

Campbell made use of the network of Indian Agents to also spread the word and, as a result, the 107th was notable for its large number of Aboriginal and Metis recruits. (Johnston was, seemingly, Metis.) Recruits came from places like Roblin, Kelwood, Brandon, Gilbert Plains and Winnipeg.

Top: 16th Battalion badge (source: eBay)

After arriving in England, Johnston was transferred to the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Canadian Scottish). He was killed in action during the Battle of Hill 70 on August 15, 1917.

Johnston's body was not found until a munitions clearing exercise in the small town of

of Vendin-le-Vieil, France in 2011 discovered skeletal remains. The Department of National Defence's Casualty Identification Review Board determined that they were Johnston's.

Johnston will be buried August 24, 2017, in the Loos British Cemetery in Loos-en-Gohelle, France. Five members of his family will be in attendance for the ceremony.

Battle of Hill 70, Casualty Identification National Defence
Attestation papers and military file Library and Archives Canada

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Injecting a bit of history into a community pollution debate

Last week there was media coverage about polluted soil samples found in the yards of some Old St. Boniface homes. The residents, media, and even researchers seemed, in various degrees, to be pointing the finger at a modern-day car shredding business on rue Messier Street.

When I heard the name of the street I thought they couldn't seriously be blaming a car shredder for their pollution issues? Over the past century, Messier Street has probably has been home to the worst collection of industrial polluters of any street in the city. 

I also was a bit surprised that testing wasn't something that was regularly done in the area. I'll bet that 50 years ago the pollution levels would have been even worse.

How do I know about Messier Street?

A few years back, I wrote a blog post for my Winnipeg Places blog about an interesting looking old building on Messier Street. To figure out its history, a Domtar building, I had to do a lot of background research on the street, right back to its origins, around 1920.

Using Henderson Directories and newspaper archives, I discovered a very industrial street. When I say industrial, I mean messy industrial, such as iron foundries, oil refineries, tar products manufacturing and a commercial coke furnace. Not to mention, it has also been home to the storage end of a small railway yard, the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway, active since 1915.

Forget the pollutants belched into the air or that have seeped into the ground by these establishments, just the amount of coal smoke from the furnaces and engines required to keep them powered must have been quite the sight.

Source: Manitoba Maps on Flickr

Another way to get a snapshot of the street is through the fire insurance maps of 1959 that include Messier Street. Though late in the street's development as an industrial hub, they show in detail the buildings that remained at the time.

There are a selection maps that include Messier available at Manitoba Maps on Flickr:


As both sources show, this was a not a short industrial period limited to a few years. Many of these industries were active into the early 1960s, after which the level of industrial manufacturing on the street seems to drop off.

While folks seem to be targeting a small industrial shredder on Messier as the root of their issues, St. Boniface's pollution woes are probably much, much worse than that. Efforts should be spent finding out what 50 or more so years of having some of the most insipid industrial pollutants raining down on the surrounding community has done to the land.

This might be a parallel ... In the early 1980s, it was found that the Domtar site in Transcona closed in the 1970s had leeched chemicals into surrounding lands where new housing developments were being built. Over 40,000 tones of earth was removed from the area and, in the end, the former Domtar site was still so polluted that it couldn't be built on. It is now a parkway.

I am guessing that not one single shovel full of soil has ever been removed from Messier Street or the residential neighbourhoods close to it since the closure of these businesses.

Here are just three of the major industrial players that have called Messier Street home over the decades.

Dominion Wheel's Cobourg, Ontario facility (source)

Western Wheel and Foundries Ltd. was established by the Dominion Wheel and Foundries of Toronto in late 1919 for the manufacture of rail car wheels and brakes. Serving all of Western Canada, it was expected to produce up to 100,000 wheels per year with that number increasing in the years to come.

The above photo is of their Cobourg, Ontario facility which would likely have been smaller than the Winnipeg plant.

St. Boniface council, eager to attract new industry, gave the company tax incentives to locate in their city. In exchange, Western agreed that fifty per cent of the men they hired would be from St. Boniface and that the name "St. Boniface" be stamped into their products.

In October 1919, a building permit was taken out for their original $65,000 cluster of buildings designed by Firmin Wyndels. it included a 200 x 72 foot main shop; a 100 x 45 foot cupola room, and an 80 x 40 foot wheel brake room.

Business was good and in 1921 they expanded, spending $30,000 on new buildings and doubling its capacity to 200 employees.

The site later became known as Canada Foundries Ltd. and as of 1960 were still operating on the site.

October 25, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

North Star Oil Refinery
, like the rail yard, backs onto Messier Street. The first newspaper reference of an oil and gas company on this site comes in 1919 and was expanded again in 1921.

The site changed its names a number of times over the years. By the 1950s it was known as North Star Oil refinery.

In 1955, the site underwent a $12 million expansion of its facilities which included 173 acres. The new plant could refine 12,000 barrels of crude oil a day. There was also a massive tank farm, its largest units had a 55,000 gallon capacity and there were eight of them.

July 25, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

Domtar had been operating in Transcona for a number of years when, in 1923, they announced that they were opening a chemical manufacturing and tar distilling plant on Messier Street.

There were some who voiced concern that the smells and pollutants from the site could harm patients at the St. Boniface Hospital. Whether it was those concerns, or other reasons, the company scaled back its plans and the site spent its first couple of years mainly as a warehouse facility next to the tracks.

In 1925, Domtar constructed a factory for the manufacture of of tar paper for roofing. (Alexander Murray and co., another long-time industry on that street, also made roofing products.) A few years later, Domtar built a coke factory, basically a large industrial furnace that incinerated raw coal down into coke that was then sold a s a heating fuel.

Domtar moved from the site in 1962. (You can read more about the Domtar building here.)

Radio-Canada interviewed me about the above information and it is included in their news story:
Sol toxique à Saint-Boniface: le dossier sera traité en priorité