Saturday, 30 April 2016

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Albert C. Ross of Winnipeg

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.

By the time World War I broke out, Albert C. Ross had already lived a very full life.

Born in Ontario around 1871, he came to Manitoba in 1885. He was a member of a Northwest Rebellion veterans organization, so could have come as a teenager to take part. He then settled in Winnipeg, eventually becoming a police officer.

Top: April 29, 1905, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: November 25, 1904, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1903 he left the force to set up the Ross Detective Agency at 646 Main Street. His clients included the likes of the CPR and HBC, many of his cases had to do with employee theft.

A few months later he also opened the A. C. Ross restaurant at King and Alexander.

He operated both business under one roof, first on king Street then at 646 Main Street.

In April 1911 a small notice in the Winnipeg Tribune noted that A. C. Ross was seriously ill in hospital, though no further information was provided. He recovered and soon took a job as a deportation officer for the Department of Immigration, then possibly as a police officer with the Manitoba Provincial Police based in Virden.

107th On Parade, May 14 1916
WWI Museum Pilot Mound / Winnipeg Free Press

On August 13, 1915, Ross enlisted with Brandon's 79th Battalion as a cook. When Lt. Col. Glen Campbell was forming his 107th Battalion, he selected Ross as one of his handful of officers which gave him the rank of Sergeant - Cook.

Ross left for England in September 1916 and then on to France. He was stationed in the kitchen of the battalion's field headquarters which came under fire, once being destroyed by a mortar attack.

It appears that Ross did make it home for at least one visit. In March 1916 he gave away his daughter, Ethel, at her wedding in Winnipeg.

Ross contracted influenza in France and died in a field hospital on January 16, 1918, at the age of 47. His body was returned to England and was buried at Shorncliffe Military Cemetery.

He left behind a wife, Mary, eight daughters and two sons. Four of the daughters still lived at the family home at 475 William Avenue at the time of his death. 

A son in law, W. J. Lee, also with the 107th, was killed in action five months earlier.

Attestation Papers
Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry
Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Burnell Street's Sporting History

Today, 280 Burnell Street is home to the fabled Thistle Curling Club but the site's sporting roots date back much further. Since the 1920s it has been home to one of Canada's largest softball leagues, the West End Orioles Athletic Club and the Valour Road Curling Club.

For a look back at the site's history, check out my recent Winnipeg Downtown Places post !

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Chalet Hotel up for grabs?

Later this month, the Chalet Hotel on Archibald Street, better known as the home of Teaser's strip club, was to have gone on the block in an auction sale, (that sale has since been postponed / cancelled.).

I thought I would take a look back at the history of the hotel and the site. Though the current structure is circa. 1964, that site has been home to a hotel for over a century. One incarnation was the scene of the bloodiest day in Manitoba policing history.

 Top: 1920. Bottom: 2016

It turns out this isn't the first time a hotel there has been put up for sale in this manner. The same thing happened when it was known as the Stock yard Hotel in 1920!

You can check out my post at Winnipeg Downtown Places.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

"Largest tax increase in the province's history..." Really?

See update below !!

Source: YouTube

I decided that I wasn't going to post much, if anything, about the provincial election. That is, until one of the parties decided that they were going to rewrite history.

A Progressive Conservative election ad currently airing on TV calls the 1% increase in the PST imposed by the Selinger government in 2013: "The largest tax increase in the province's history...." That actually isn't true. In fact, it's the PCs themselves that hold that record !

Until 1967 Manitoba and Alberta were the only two provinces in Canada without a provincial sales tax. The Progressive Conservative government of Duff Roblin introduced a PST of 5% that went into effect on June 1st of that year.

By my math that's five times higher than the recent hike.


Between the mid to late-1960s, Premier Roblin was responsible for a massive modernization of the province's infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and cultural institutions.

One example was replacing the ca. 1905 Grace Hospital on Arlington Street with a $7.5 million facility in St. James. Gone were the ca. 1911 versions of Kelvin and St. John's high schools in favour of state of the art facilities at a combined cost of $2.7 million.

Cultural places built during that period include Winnipeg's Centennial Concert Centre Complex, replacing the 1930 Winnipeg Auditorium, and Brandon's Centennial Auditorium. Check the cornerstones of the buildings on any of the province's major university or community college campuses and you'll be sure to find many that date to this period.

To raise the money for this modernization Roblin needed new tax revenue that only a provincial sales tax could bring in.

June 1, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press

The imposition of the sales tax set off a province-wide spending spree.

In the last days of May 1967 car dealerships stayed open until midnight, people lined up at liquor stores and one department store manager, who asked not to be identified, told the Free Press that they were busier than they had been at Christmas.


On "the Twitters" my post has raised a lot of discussion as the different tribes take up shields for their various parties. Before I start to get death threats or anything, here are a few additional points that I made on Twitter that I'd like to add here.

Some have pointed out that the issue is the total dollars raised by the tax increase versus the actual percentage tax increase. (I did try to find stats as to what the additional tax brought in for the year following each increase, then adjust for inflation, population etc. I simply couldn't find them and I am sure that even the writers of the ad didn't have them, either.)

If they did crunch those numbers before producing the ad, shoot them over to me and I will ad it to the post above that the math was done.

In my defence, when it comes to tax increases, most people think of them in terms of percentages. If the property tax goes up 3% this year, it goes down in the books and in people's minds as a 3% tax increase. this, despite the fact that the actual number is likely not 3% after assessments are factored in. people consider a 2% tax increase to be lower than a 3% tax increase when, in dollar terms, it might not be. Therefore, someone raising a tax from 0 - 5 % is a huge increase compared to a 1% rise.

The point of my post was not to be political. Instead, I was trying to point out a huge pet peeve of mine.

I regularly hear or read statements from individuals, politicians, organizations stating that something is the first, or the worst, or the last "in history" when, in fact, it usually isn't. We often confuse "in recent memory" with "in history" and the two are not the same thing.

Try sending a correction to a media story that erroneously claimed that something was the first or the worst, even with a newspaper clipping or link to something that proves it isn't and it will NEVER be corrected. Why? Historical accuracy isn't part of the fact checking of a story. As long as something is in recent memory, that's good enough.

We should strive for better than that.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Winnipeg's earliest cycling infrastructure

Cyclist ca. 1900 (Source: MHS)

My latest column in the Winnipeg Free Press, The Path of Most Resistance, takes a look at the short-lived Cycle Path Association. Created in March 1899 under the leadership of brewing magnate Frederick W. Drewry, it was an attempt to bring much needed cycling infrastructure to the urban landscape.

"With thousands of wheelmen and wheelwomen in the city it was thought that much in the way of improving roads and constructing paths could be done if those interested could be induced to act in unity, and at a very small cost to any one person."
Manitoba Free Press, March 24, 1899

1902 Bicycle licence tag. For more see manitobaplates.com

One remnant of the Cycle Path Association, and its successor the Cycle Path Board, that some may still remember are bicycle licences. The licence fees went into a fund to construct and maintain paths and also acted as a way of tracing stolen bikes. Though the board disappeared in 1906, the licences were still issued until 1982.

Warren and Mary Beggs in 1943

One thing I had to leave out of the article was the story of Warren Beggs. He was the Special Constable hired to enforce cycling rules, dubbed the "Terror of the Scorchers". His job ended with the dissolution of the cycling committee in 1906 but continued with police work and was the chief of the St. James police department from 1908 to 1920. 

After retiring from policing, the Northern Ireland native went back to work for various departments within the city and retired in 1946. Beggs, a resident of Atlantic Avenue, died in King Edward Hospital on September 29, 1957 at the age of 91.

More about Beggs and his work enforcing the city's cycling rules can be read here and here.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Dimitro Sinizki of Winnipeg, (Shot at Dawn)

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.

Shot at Dawn memorial (source)

Dimitro Sinizki was born in Kiev, Ukraine, (then part of Russia), in September 1898. Exactly when he left his homeland and how he ended up in Winnipeg is a mystery. His parents, however, remained in Kiev, so it is likely he came as an adult.

By 1915, Sinizki was a labourer and gave his address as 188 Euclid Street. This was a boarding house, one of a handful built for Alphonsus Cherrier to house working class people in the Point Douglas area. In 1915 the owners, likely the co-owners as Cherrier was a sort of silent partner in the houses, were Lorne and Alvah Havens, proprietors of the Golden West Cafe on Alexander Street.

The house had 10 to 12 rooms, though it did not have that many people listed as living there in the Henderson Directory, likely indicating that some of its residents were there short-term. Roomers had occupations like steamfitters, labourers, carpenters and retail clerks.

There is no specific listing for Sinizki or a variation of that name in the Henderson Directories in the 19-teens.

March 4, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

On December 3, 1915, Sinizki enlisted with the 144th Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles), which had only been recruiting for less than a week.  The name typed on his attestation papers, which he ended up serving under, was "Sinicky". Whether this was a typo, which sometimes happened, and he didn't bother to correct it. If he intentionally decided to serve under a different name, which also sometimes happened, it is unclear.

The 144th were a sporting group. Just days into the recruitment drive, one of its officers, Lieutenant K. Hilton Brown, also president of the province’s British Rugby Association, got permission to create a "platoon of footballers" that played exhibition games in Winnipeg and Camp Huges. They also had a large band and even put on an military vaudeville night at the Winnipeg Theatre.

Sinizki's name does not appear in any newspaper articles about the battalion.Nor does he appear in the group photos of the Battalion's various platoon's shown in their vaudeville night program. His name does, however, appear on their Nominal Roll of September 1916, just before they were sent to England, so he was definitely part of the battalion.

September 15, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

The 144th spent months in Manitoba, training at Winnipeg and Camp Hughes, before heading east, eventually setting sail to England in September 1916.

By the summer of 1917 a number of men from the 144th, including Sinizki, had been sent to France as reinforcements for the 52nd Battalion (New Ontario) while under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel W. W. Foster.

For some, such as Lieutenant Herve Grant, it meant heroism. While with the 52nd he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions while capturing a machine gun post at the end of August 1917. he died from his wounds in October before he could receive the medal.
Death or Deliverance

For Sinizki, things did not go as well. As described in the book, Death or Deliverance: Canadian Courts Martial in the Great War, by Teresa Iacobelli:

“…he (Sinizki) seems to have broken down, according to records, he refused to continue up to the line with his battalion. He eventually continued under escort but the next day he continued his protest, sitting down and stating that he would rather be shot than return to the trenches.”

Sinizki's Canadian Great War Project entry offers the following quote from A. B. Godefroy's For Freedom and Honour: The Story of the 25 Canadian Volunteers Executed in the Great War: to show how his military leaders saw it:

When on active service, misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice.  Refused to put on equipment and move to the front. Next night, while the accused was being marched up to the front under escort, he sat down and refused to move. Accused said he was afraid and feared being wounded.

Sinizki was charged with cowardice by his commanding officer and found guilty on September 12, 1917. At dawn on the morning of October 9 he would be shot at dawn. The military protocol for a firing squad would have played out:

"When the time came, the offender was tied to a stake, a medical officer placed a piece of white cloth over the man's heart and a priest prayed for him. Then the firing line - usually made up of six soldiers - was given orders to shoot. One round was routinely blank and no soldier could be sure he had fired a fatal shot.  Immediately after the shooting, the medical officer would examine the man. If he was still alive, the officer in charge would finish him off with a revolver." (Source.)

Sinizki's Circumstances of Death card simply notes that he was: "Shot by order of Field Marshal" and is buried in Ecoivres Military Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France. He was 22 years old.


Of the more than 200 Canadian soldiers sentenced to death, only 25 executions were carried out. Of those, Sinizki was the only one execution for cowardice.

Sinizki's side of the story will never be known. The newspapers of the day were not informed of, or at least did not report, such deaths. As yet, he doesn't appear in Library and Archives Canada's Courts Martial of the First World War database, (thought it is doubtful that it would include statements or testimony by him, just the military's case against him.)

Reading through modern resources that have studied those shot at dawn, there is certainly a case to be made that for some, their cowardice or desertion were likely suffering from "shell shock" or other mental or physical ailment at the time.

Years after the war, as the memoirs of some of those directly involved were published, the issue of these men did come up from time to time.

Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier, a captain in the Canadian Army from 1908 - 1912 before enlisting and serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers for World War I, published A Brass Hat in No Man's Land in 1930. He dedicated a chapter of the book to a detailed account of one young solider under his command who was shot at dawn for cowardice.

On the one hand he was sympathetic, stating that “fear is no more a crime in war than peace” and notes that part of his preparation of the man for his execution was to "leave behind him enough liquor to sink a ship” the night before, so that he was so drunk he had to be carried to the post the next morning. Still, he concluded that it was was an act that had to be done: “...the inability to control or smother fear is an unpardonable and dangerous crime in war and must be treated like any disease in peacetime, namely, abolished.”

In 1935, the Winnipeg Free Press wrote an editorial in response to a rumour that the military was going to release detailed information about Canadian soldiers shot at dawn. The Free Press agreed that some of the men did not deserve to die, writing that“Guilt of this type of cowardice remained debatable even when proved by circumstances. Men ran, but unnerved, were they not actual casualties before they bolted?” But concluded that publishing detailed accounts would do more a disservice to the men and their families than simply keeping it buried.


Over time, and perhaps due to more recent conflicts and an increased awareness of due process in the military and mental disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, opinions about these men changed for some.

As The Telegraph (UK) reported in 1997:  "Transcripts made public 75 years after the events suggest that some of the men were underage. Others appeared to have wandered away from the battlefield in states of extreme distress and confusion, yet they were charged with desertion."

In December 2001, Canadian Veterans' Affairs Minister Ron Duhamel rose in the House of Commons to speak to the issue, (to read his full statement see Sinizki's CVWM entry.) He said, in part:

"While we cannot relive those awful years of a nation at peril in total war, and although the culture of that time is subsequently too distant for us to comprehend fully, we can give these 23 soldiers a dignity that is their due, and provide closure to their families."

He then read out the names of the 23*, including Sinizki's, so that they could be added to the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. (*25 Canadian soldiers were executed, but two were for murder. Their names were not added.)


In 2006, the British government granted posthumous pardons to 306 British Empire soldiers of World War I who were shot at dawn for "cowardice, desertion or attempted desertion, disobedience, quitting post, violence, sleeping at post, throwing away arms or striking a superior officer; and for connected purposes." On the list is Dimitro Sinizki (spelled Simizki).

In June 2001 the Shot at Dawn memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in  Staffordshire, UK.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry 
Attestation Papers
Canadian War Graves Commission entry

More about those Shot at Dawn:
Canadian War Museum
Shot at Dawn: Cowards, Traitors or Victims? BBC History
Shot at Dawn Chloe  Dewe Matheson (photography)

Thursday, 17 March 2016

John W. Dafoe House on Spence Street ready for wrecking ball?

Top: 509 Spence in March 2016

The house at 509 Spence Street, long-time home of Winnipeg Free Press editor John Wesley Dafoe and family, is looking worse for wear. Perhaps even ready for the wrecking ball?

The Dafoes were the first residents of this home, though it is unclear whether they had the house custom built or bought it from a listing. The original building permit was taken out in 1900, the year before they arrived in Winnipeg, but the 1901 Henderson Directory does not note a house, or even house under construction, at this address. In the 1902 directory, the Dafoes are listed as the homeowners.

At two and a half storeys and 2,181 square feet its size is not out of line with others on the street. It is set apart by the fact that it was built of brick, a much more expensive material than the timber used for the vast majority of West End homes. The double-sized lot, which gives it a 58 foot frontage, appears to be original as the property immediately to the south is numbered 507.

509 Spence would have bustled with activity as the Dafoe family consisted of wife Alice and seven children. The eldest six were born in Montreal in the 1890s, while the youngest were born in in Winnipeg in 1903 (died in infancy) and 1905. In 1911 John’s parents, Calvin Wesley and Mary Elcome Dafoe of Killarney, Manitoba, also resided there. Mary died at the home in 1913.

In 1927, when John was 62, he and Alice moved to much swankier digs at 1325 Wellington Crescent. Their youngest three children, Marcella, Elizabeth, at the time a library assistant at the University of Manitoba, and son Van, who worked at the Free Press, moved with them.

The next owner of the house is John “Jack” D. Johnstone and family, which appears to have consisted of his wife and at least four older children, Phyllis, Helen, George and Edward. Mr Johnstone worked for the Winnipeg Electric Company, the streetcar operator.

The Johnstone's always had at least one lodger and as the 1930s progressed and their children moved out, they turned it into an owner-occupied rooming house. By 1941 they rented out 5 rooms to people with occupations like machinists, carpenters, accountants, salesmen and hotel employees.

Another long-time owner was David MacVicar, from about 1944 to 1951. David and wife Martha had six children, though all were adults by this time, so they kept up the rooming house tradition.  

In 1952 it was taken over by a tenant, a widow named Mrs. Sigurborg Miller who also worked at the YWCA.

The house is not considered historic by the city of Winnipeg, though it does have signage and a plaque as part of the Spence Neighbourhood Association's historic walking tour.

Here's a bit more about the man and hist time on Spence Street:

Dafoe was still in high school when his writing got him noticed and hired by the Montreal Star, soon appointed to its editorial board and sent to be part of the Ottawa Press Gallery. At the ripe age of 20 he served briefly as editor of the newly created Ottawa Journal. His first stint at the Free Press was from 1886 - 1892 when he worked under editor W. F. Luxton. It was then back east to be the editor of the Montreal Herald, then the Montreal Star.

In 1901 the 35-year old Dafoe returned to Winnipeg to become the Free Press' Editor-in-Chief where he remained until his death in 1944. During that time, he brought the paper to national prominence and, thanks to his participation in and coverage of international events, his words had a Commonwealth-wide reach.


Aside from his newspaper work and raising his family, there were many other significant events that happened in Dafoe's life while living at 509 Spence.

He wrote two books:Over the Canadian Battlefields: Notes of a Little Journey in France, in March, 1919 (1922) and Laurier : a study in Canadian politics (1922). Two shorter works, The Imperial Press Conference: A Retrospect with Comment (1909) and his address to the Imperial Press Conference, Ottawa, August 6th, 1920, were also published as stand-alone documents.

Dafoe was also chosen to be part of the Canadian delegation to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. In 1926 he was given an honourary law degree from the U of M, (which he served as chancellor for during the 1930s and was credited with helping to save it from bankruptcy after John Machray embezzled the university's funds.) He is said to have turned down a knighthood during this period.

Winnipeg Tribune, Jan 10, 1944

On Dafoe's death in 1944, Prime Minister McKenzie King said, “Mr. Dafoe contributed to shaping, as well as writing the history of our country. He was a recognized authority on international constitutional and political questions. On public affairs his views and opinions were widely sought. To leaders in public life he was a wise counselor and helpful friend." (Source: CP wire story in Jan 10, 1944 Winnipeg Tribune.)

Opposition leader John Bracken said, " With strong convictions and well-based principles, he exercised a wide influence throughout the land. He had a breadth of vision that never left him parochial in his views. he never championed a cause that left Canada, as a whole, poorer for his actions.” (Source: CP wire story in Jan 10, 1944 Winnipeg Tribune.)

Even the competing Winnipeg Tribune wrote in an editorial, 'The sudden death of Dr. J. W. Dafoe on Sunday robs Manitoba of her most famous citizen and makes this Dominion poorer by the loss of one of the greatest Canadians of our time.... A great man has gone from among us, whose like we shall not look upon again." (Jan. 10, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune.)

Spence Neighbourhood Association commemorative plaque

For more about John Wesley Dafoe:
Manitoba Historical Society
U of M Library and Archives
Winnipeg Hall of Fame
John Wesley Dafoe Park (Combermere, Ontario)

For More about Elizabeth Dafoe:
Manitoba Historical Society

Library and Archives Canada