Friday, 8 June 2018

My last Free Press column


My column in last Sunday’s Winnipeg Free Press was my last.

I’ve been writing the column since September 2014 and felt it was time to step away so that I could redirect some of the dozens of hours of research and writing time that went into each piece towards other pursuits, including my personal life.

My hat goes off to those in the news industry who deal with the constant drumbeat of deadlines. How people with more demanding ones than I had don’t end up going bat-shit crazy after a couple of years is beyond me.

The goal of my research is to tell the stories of the people, places and events that shaped this province but never made it into the history books. I’m proud to say that I was able to do that in most of my columns, which are now part of a permanent archive for others to read and, hopefully, expand upon. (If my math is correct, there were 64 columns filling 128 broadsheet pages with text and images.)

I want to thank the Winnipeg Free Press, Margo Goodhand at the time, for reaching out to encourage me to write a column and for giving me such a ridiculous amount of space to work with.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my columns over the years. My work will continue on my blogs and in other places!


Sunday, 3 June 2018

Pride Week: Remembering former Winnipeg city councillor Charles Spence

Watching coverage of the Pride weekend celebrations, I find myself thinking about a man I wrote about back in December for my Winnipeg Free Press column.

Charles Harold Spence was a rising public figure in Winnipeg in the 1950s and early 1960s with a high-profile job and a seat on city council. He also had a secret: he was gay.

A member of the city's police commission, Spence locked horns numerous times with chief Robert Taft. Their dislike for each other was referred to as a "running public feud" by one reporter.

Spence's public life came to an abrupt end when he was the subject of an all night police surveillance operation on July 1 - 2, 1961. It led to a charge of attempted gross indecency for propositioning a man inside Spence's Ellice Avenue apartment block.

Spence resigned his seat and eventually left town to find work. In 1980 or so he did return to Winnipeg but did not resume any public life and died in 1987 at the age of 62.

It is nice to see so many people, including elected officials, celebrating how far the community has come in the past 50 years. Thankfully, there will be no more Charles Spences.

As for the Spence column, I put many dozens of hours of research into that piece. It hung around in my hard drive for a couple of years while I hoped to find a person or a detailed document pertaining to him. I did not and I know that I only scratched the surface of what had really happened.

Friday, 25 May 2018

2018 Doors Open Winnipeg - Sherbrook Pool

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool today for its first-ever appearance at Doors Doors Open Winnipeg. The pool is not part of day two, but check out some of the other 100 or so building and walking tours on offer.

Here are a few links related to the pool....

- My four-part series on the history of the pool written in 2012.

- My Free Press column about the pool written in 2016.

- Select before and after renovation photos of the pool.

- My Flickr album of around 150 photos of the pool.

- Four national record holders who trained at the pool in the 1930s and 1940s: Vivian King; Ethel Gilbert; Catherine Kerr; and Vera Tustin.

- Friends of Sherbrook Pool website and (more up-to-date) Facebook page.

- Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool hours.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Brandon's Fire: a third historic building destroyed

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

Top: As Cockshutt Farm Equipment,, ca. 1955 (McKee Archives)
Bottom: As Collyer's Sales and Service, ca. 2016 (Google Street View)

The Cockshutt Plow Company, later the Cockshutt Farm Equipment Company, was founded in Brantford, Ontario in 1882. It manufactured farm implements such as thrashers, spreaders and plows.

The company had a small sales office and parts depot in Brandon since at least 1905. Five years later, Cockshutt went on a major corporate expansion in the west which meant a much larger facility for the city. 

Top: ca. 1911, McKee Archives
Bottom: September 8, 1910, Brandon Sun

The Brandon Sun of September 8, 1910 noted: “City Engineer Speakman has granted a building permit to the Cockshutt Plow Co for the erection of their new warehouse on Pacific Avenue and Sixth Street.”

The three-storey building cost about $20,000 to construct. It contained a showroom, repair department, sales offices and an extensive parts depot.

December 8, 1948, Brandon Sun

World War II had a major impact on Cockshutt's business. Its factories in Ontario were retooled as aircraft and munitions factories which put a halt to new equipment and parts.

After 1944, they followed how car manufacturers sold and serviced their equipment by finding local dealerships to lease a franchise. In Brandon, that dealer was Brandon Farm Equipment Co. which took over the building in 1945.

On May 25, 1946, there was a fire in a wooden warehouse situated behind the Massey-Harris Building across the street. Burning embers drifted across the street to the Cockshutt property. Both buildings burned to the ground.

Brandon Farm Equipment relocated temporarily to the Brown Block at Princess and 12th Street.

What made the fire particularly awkward was that five days later, George Cockshutt, company president, was arriving in town as part of a western tour to see the company's facilities and to speak to the local Board of Trade.

Cockshutt Farm Equipment, ca. 1955, McKee Archives

Cockshutt Plow, which still owned the building, rebuilt sometime in late 1946 and Brandon Farm Equipment returned to the site. The new building was just a single story but wider than the original structure.

In the early 1950s a couple of dealerships came and went at this address and by 1955 it was simply known as Cockshutt Farm Equipment.  In 1958, Adrian Roy's Roy's Sales and Service was the new dealer.

In 1962, Cockshutt was acquired by the White Motor Company of Cleveland. There was already a dealer for White's line of tractors in town, Lawson's on 9th Avenue. Within a year or two the Roy's / Cockshutt dealership disappeared in favour of Lawson's.

July 11, 1974, Brandon Sun

The building appears to have sat empty for a number of years until divided into three addresses, 545, 601 and 603 Pacific.

The eastern portion of the building, 545 and 601, became a Standard Auto Glass shop in 1973. Through the 1980s and early 1990s it was a Westroc Battery centre. In the 1990s and early 2000s it was home to moccasin maker Fleece Line, before they relocated to Winnipeg.

In 2001, Roddy Batson and Noel Harding opened the Brandon Boxing and Fitness Club on the second floor of the Massey-Harris Building across the street. In 2006, The Massey Manor sent the club packing and they leased the former Fleece Line space.

The club was destroyed in the fire.

June 11, 1976, Brandon Sun

The western portion of the building, 603, was Body Shop Supply Ltd. in the late 1970s, then Rob's Auto Parts store fro 1980 to 1986.

Collyers Sales and Service, the tenant at the time of the fire, traces its roots back to 1967 when Ward Collyer opened Collyer's West End Service, an auto garage, on 26th Street at Victoria. In 1970, the business relocated to 702 Pacific, across the street, and became Collyer's City Centre Service.

In 1977, the company was rebranded Collyer's Sales and Service and in 1986 relocated to 603 Pacific Avenue.

My other Brandon-related posts:

The Strand Theatre's 100th birthday gift West End Dumplings
Taking a Strand Winnipeg Free Press column
Brandon's deadliest blaze Winnipeg Free Press column
Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon, 1916 West End Dumplings
Deadly day in Brandon Winnipeg Free Press column
 (also see my updated Winnipeg Free Press column about the tragedy)
Brandon's first WWI Casualty West End Dumplings
Going off the rails Winnipeg Free Press column

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Brandon fire destroys two historic buildings: 638 Pacific Avenue

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

While 705 Pacific Avenue was home to a series of distinctly local businesses, 638 Pacific Avenue's origins were national.

Designed by Brandon architect Thomas Sinclair, the three-storey, 70,000 square foot building was constructed in 1913 - 14 for the Gordon McKay Company of Toronto, the largest dry goods wholesaler in the country. This was to be its Western Canadian headquarters.

City officials were so taken with company president J W Woods and his estimate of $1 million in annual sales and good paying jobs during a time of deep recession that they worked out a sweetheart deal with the company.

The city donated the land and borrowed $165,000 to construct the building. The company itself put in about $30,000 and would pay monthly "mortgage" payments to the city.

Gordon McKay took over the building in Spring 1914 and began making payments but never moved in, citing the recession, then the war, as reasons for not setting up shop. In 1917, the building became property of the city.

During the war, the building was used to house troops and later for agricultural conferences.

November 26, 1920, Brandon Sun

In late 1920, thanks to the efforts of the Board of Trade and its president P. A. Kennedy, a buyer was found. Toronto's Massey Harris paid around $130,000 for its new Manitoba warehouse operation.

Massey Harris took over the property effective January 1, 1921.

1966 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1964, the building became home to Voy's furniture store which was previously located on 9th Avenue.

The company had deep roots in the city, starting out as Brockie Furniture and Funeral Service. In 1925, Alfred Voy went to work for Brockie and eventually became a partner.

When, in 1947, the decision was made to split the company, Voy took over the furniture business.

1971 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1971, the building's major tenant was the home furnishings department of Macleod's department store. When it left in 1973, the building appears to have sat vacant for long periods.

In 1985, some renovations were done and toy and game retailer Toyland moved in until around 1990.

Rear of 638 Pacific. City of Brandon Report, 2008

In 1994, the building became home to a consortium of organizations that collected items for reuse and recycling under the banner Westman Recycling. It included a consignment store and what eventually became known as the Re-store run by Canadian Mental Health Association - Brandon Region.

In 2007, the CMHA, Habitat for Humanity and Brandon Friendship Centre announced a $6.7 million plan to convert the building into affordable housing units to be known as Massey Manor. The CMHA owns bottom two floors and Brandon friendship centre the top.

Of the 58 suites, fourteen are market rate condominiums and four are emergency shelter beds.

All were severely damaged or destroyed in the fire. At last report, everyone made it out alive.

Brandon fire destroys two historic buildings: 705 Pacific Avenue

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

In 2015 (C. Cassidy)
The oldest of the two historic structures that burned today is 705 Pacific Avenue, built for the Hanbury Hardware Company in 1907.

John Hanbury was born and raised in Ontario and worked in the building trades, eventually becoming a contractor. He came to Brandon in 1882 to set up business here and oversaw the construction of dozens of buildings, from houses and small commercial buildings to significant landmarks such as the original Brandon Hospital and post office building.

"Industries of the Hanbury Manufacturing Company"
Source: Illustrated Souvenir of Brandon, 1909

In 1891, Hansbury expanded his business by opening a lumber yard and woodworking shop called Hanbury Manufacturing Co. in the 600 block of Assiniboine Avenue.

The company made sashes and doors and their custom woodwork included office and hotel furniture and fixtures.

Ca. 1911 (Source: McKee Archives)

In 1907, Hanbury had this five-storey, 42,000 square foot building constructed at 703 - 705 Pacific Avenue for a new wholesale venture, Hanbury Hardware.

The main floor consisted of corporate offices for the four companies Hanbury was involved in: Hanbury Manufacturing Co, managed by A. C. Ayre; Hanbury Hardware Co, A E Carmichael, manager; Canadian Coal Co., A B Fleming, manager; and Manitoba Hardware and Lumber Co., W M Tyndall, secretary. The upper floors were warehouse for the hardware company.

By this time, Hanbury had long been the second largest employer in Brandon after the CPR.

In 1920, Hanbury sold off his hardware division to Wood, Valance and Co. of Hamilton. The company distributed the contents of the warehouse to its branches in Winnipeg and Regina.

Five years later, the remainder of his Manitoba assets were sold off and Hanbury died in B.C. in 1928.

October 17, 1923, Brandon Sun

In 1923, much of the former Manitoba Hardware Company space was leased by the provincial government for the city’s first post-prohibition, government-run liquor store. Its first manager was James Kirkcaldy, the city’s former police chief.

On October 17, 1923, the Brandon Sun reported: “There was a line up of cars waiting…” when the store opened that morning. The store closed soon after Brandon got a new, self serve liquor store at Tenth Street and Victoria Avenue in 1970.

1935 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1922, the building became home to farm implement dealership Cameron and Rathwell. The company was formed earlier that year when W A Campbell and William F Rathwell joined forces in business.

To diversify its business, the company purchased a car repair garage and used car lot in 1928 and moved the sales area to an adjacent property.

1965 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1941, Christie School Supply took over the building.

The company was created in 1881 by E. L. Christie, first as a book store on Rosser Avenue. It then got into the business of distributing school supplies, including school furniture and textbooks.

By settling at 1941 they were able to their offices and warehouse together under one roof.

Over the decades, the company moved into the office furnishings and supply business, changing its name to Christie's Office Plus and continued to operate at this address until fire destroyed the building in 2018.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Birdtail Creek train disaster - 50 years later

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press looks back at the Birdtail Creek train disaster of 1968 that killed three men and shook the railroading community in two provinces.

Fifty years later, family members talk about eh tragedy and I discover that a scheduling change that night prevented what would have been the deadliest train disaster in Canadian history.