Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A look back at the end of Prohibition

Happy Canadian Pot Legalization Day!

A strong believer that "no news is new news", I wondered if there were any comparisons to a century ago when the prohibition on alcohol ended.

My intention was to write a very detailed post about the fears before legalization and the outcomes afterwards, but I simply did not have the time to dig into it as deeply as I wanted to.

Here are some of the things I discovered while dipping my toe into the debate from 1923 that was eerily similar to that of 2018.

July 17, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

There were four main reasons that the provincial government took the plunge into the liquor business in 1923:

1. Prohibition was voted out in a 1921 province-wide referendum. Looking at its options, the provincial government decided that there was no use putting a new Temperance law in place and fighting the public about it.

2. Provinces such as B.C. and Quebec had already gone down the provincial liquor commission route which gave the Manitoba government other jurisdictions to study and learn from.

3. There was lots of profit and tax dollars to be had if illegal producers and distributors were squeezed out.

4. With government controlled sales and distribution the consumption of alcohol could be 'minimized'. (This was a bone thrown to the Temperance movement which was still very strong and threatening to get a liquor ban put back in place.)

Political debate and letters to the editor brought up scenarios of increased crime from drunkenness, people who used liquor "purely for medicinal purposes" through a prescription from their doctor falling through the cracks, and high government markups not actually curbing the black market.

One thing that is different between the two debates is the strong moral leanings against legalization by the Temperance movement and religious organizations which are a shadow of their former selves in today's society.

Winnipeg's first liquor store on Henry Street
Oct 27, 1923, Winnipeg Free Press

The roll out of legalized liquor sales was slow under head liquor commissioner R. D Waugh.

The lawyer and former mayor of Winnipeg was a well-respected citizen. Even former political foes thought he was a good choice for the job which required creating a vast web of regulations and careful attention to detail.

The first liquor store opened in Winnipeg in October 1923 at 425 Henry Street, which was also the MLLC's alcohol warehouse. (Unfortunately, neither newspaper appears to have written about how the first day of legal alcohol sales went.)

Liquor Price List, Oct. 5, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

The first month of sales by the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, MLCC, both through retail outlets in Winnipeg, Brandon and Portage, and to the many thousands of permit holders across the province, such as bars, was impressive.

From September 22 to October 23, 1923, total sales were $239,000, (about $3.5 million in today's dollars.) This netted the commission an profit of about $41,000, (or $600,000 in today's dollars.)

By 1926, the MLLC's gross profit was about $1.1 million for the year and by 1930 had reached $2 million. Profits took a hit during the Depression and were back down to about $1 million per year by 1935.

December 24, 1925, Winnipeg Tribune

The aftermath of legalization is something I didn't get to study in as much detail as I would have liked. Here, though, are a few things I gleaned from newspaper stories:

As for curbing the black market, its hard to say how that went as there were obviously no figures for how much alcohol was being produced before legal sales began. There certainly were still arrests and prosecutions though there did not seem to be a spike.

The MLCC helped its cause by working with Ottawa to strengthen border controls on liquor coming in from the U.S. and even offering a reward in the mid-1920s for tips about illegal importers. 

The Temperance movement predicted a huge increase in cases of public drunkenness and maintained publicly that is what happened after legalization. The numbers don't appear to support their claim.

One newspaper story quotes a source that said the Winnipeg's police chief told him that there were around 1,935 arrests in 1920 and about the same in 1921. In the first 11 months of 1924, the total was only 1,278. (I haven't verified these numbers.)

Interestingly, the number of doctor's prescriptions for alcohol for medicinal purposes dropped by half as soon as liquor stores opened.

The two big takeaways I found when it comes to the legalization of alcohol:

1. Society didn't grind to a halt.

2. The myriad of laws and regulations put in place didn't cover every conceivable circumstance and, nearly a century later, liquor laws are still being retooled to keep up with the times.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: George Bowie of Winnipeg

© 2018, Christian Cassidy

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.

Top: Nov 6, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune.
Bottom: Military file

George Bowie's story is unusual in that he enlisted twice to serve in World War One.

Just 15-years-old when the war began, Bowie had served with the Cameron Highlander cadets as a drummer boy. Drummers were important part of a unit. They not only kept time for marching, but also acted as a messenger, helped with the horses and did other minor jobs for the men.

Drummers often followed their units through basic training and stayed behind when they were shipped out of the province on their journey overseas. This is the case with Bowie.

In some cases, though, they did proceed on to Halifax or to England. Even if their unit did not bring their drummer on to France and the front lines these boys found themselves with military training in a community where recruiters were desperately seeking men. By lying on their attestation papers they could simply sign up with another unit.

It was Canada's way of allowing child soldiers to fight in the war. (See this book and my post about Arthur Taylor, another local child soldier.

Vox Wesleyana, January 1913

George Bowie was born in March 1899 in Nairn, Scotland. His family, which included father, George Sr., mother, Margaret, and at least two siblings, came to Winnipeg and eventually settled at 502 Craig Street. His father ran the Scotch Boot Repair store on Portage Avenue near Colony Street.

At age 16, Bowie got a job as in the shipping department of the Christie Grant mail order house that at the time appears to have operated in part of the Fairchild / John Deere Building at 110 Princess Street.

Bowie first enlisted in December 1915 at age of 16 years and 9 months. He was discharged in mid-April 1916 for being underage.

Ten days later, at the age of 17 years and 1 month, he enlisted in St. Vital, presumably at the U of M, with the 196th Battalion. This was nicknamed the "Western Universities Battalion" as it was made up mostly of students from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. (It does not appear that Bowie was yet attending university.)

Bowie was sent to England in November 1916 and assigned to the Young Soldiers Battalion at Camp Bramshott for training and then to the Cameron Highlanders' 43rd Battalion for active service.

26th General Hospital, (Source: British Red Cross)

On October 1, 1918, Bowie received gunshot wounds to the leg and was brought to the 26th General Hospital in Etaples, France. His leg was amputated but he eventually died of his wounds on November 2, 1918. He was 19-years-old.

Bowie is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery.

Attestation Papers and Military Service File

Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry
Great War Project entry

Monday, 8 October 2018

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Peter Campbell of Selkirk / Winnipeg

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

Peter Allan Campbell was born and raised in Selkirk, Manitoba.

The 1901 census shows the 12-year-old Peter had at least 6 siblings ranging in age from 10 to 25 years of age. His father, also named Peter, was a carpenter by trade. There is no mother listed on the document and it is unclear what happened to her.

The family reminded close-knit. By 1908, they they were all living together in Winnipeg at 95 Inkster Boulevard.

Campbell followed in his father's footsteps as a carpenter and by 1916 was working on a farm in Russell, Manitoba.

Camp Hughes, August 1916 (Source)

It was while at the farm that Campbell chose to go to Camp Hughes and enlist with the 179th Overseas Battalion on June 26, 1916. Later, he would be transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) .

The Camerons fought at both Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge in 1917.

On October 26, 1917 in the early days of their time at the front lines of Vimy, Campbell was reported “missing after action” and presumed deceased.

On June 15, 1918, the Army Council passed an order that: "...this soldier is to be regarded for official purposes as having died on or since the above date."

Peter Allan Campbell was 29-years-old.

Source: Military File

The body of Private Campbell was eventually discovered and he was buried Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium.

Campbel was single and left his possessions to his sister, Janet, back in Winnipeg in a handwritten will, (see above).


Attestation Papers and Military File
Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Farewell, Mac's Milk

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Osborne Street, 2017 (Google Street View) and Sept. 2018 (source)

Couche Tard's rebranding of its Mac's Convenience Stores over to Circle K appears to have finally arrived in Winnipeg as Erin noticed earlier this week in Osborne Village. With it, another familiar name disappears from the local retail landscape after nearly 50 years.

Top: June 17, 1970, Winnipeg Tribune

Mac’s Milk Stores began with just one shop in Toronto in 1962 and by 1970 had grown to 300 Ontario locations. (It changed its corporate name to Mac’s Convenience Stores in the mid-1970s.)

Mac’s entered the Winnipeg market in 1970 by taking over the 13-location Kwik Shop chain created by Jim Penner in the late 1960s. The stores were rebranded and a grand reopening sale celebrating the "marriage" of mascot MacTavish the Cat to a Kwik Shop cat began on June 17, 1970.

The retailer, by this time owned by Ontario dairy company Silverwood Industries, had been contemplating a national expansion for some time and chose Winnipeg as its first target outside of Ontario in order to head off the arrival of 7-Eleven in Western Canada.

The Texas-based 7-Eleven had over 3,000 stores in the U.S. and opened its first Winnipeg location in 1969 at the Westdale Shopping Centre on Roblin Boulevard in Charleswood. Unlike Mac's, 7-Eleven had their stores custom-built with large parking areas so it took longer for it to grow a large presence in the city.

A Winnipeg Mac's store in June 1970

Mac's strength was in its hours: open 9 am to 11 pm, 365 days a week. It carried a wide variety of products but its staples were milk and bread and it even had its own Mac's line of phosphate-free laundry detergent and dish soap.  

The first thirteen stores were corporate owned and overseen by regional manager Ray Pylypiw at Mac's regional headquarters on Barry Street. The plan was to sell another ten as franchises by the end of the year.

Mac's predicted it would have 80 locations in the city by the end of the decade but appears to have peaked in the early 1980s with nearly 30 stores which is about the number 7-Eleven had at the time. By 2000, there were 26 Mac's stores in the city.

A sad fact about the proliferation of late night convenience stores is that they were a target for armed robbers.

In December 1985, Mac's employee Raj Bahri was stabbed to death during a robbery at the Burrows and Keewatin store. The 33 year-old, who left a widow, a two-year-old and a two-week-old child, was relieving his brother early so that he could go to the Mac's corporate Christmas party.

Mac's in 1970 (source), ca. 1980s and 90s, after 2003

In 1999, Alimentation Couche-Tard of Quebec purchased the Mac's chain and replaced MacTavish the cat with their own Hibou, the couche-tard (night owl). Four years later, it acquired the Circle K chain and in 2015 announced that it would begin rebranding its growing collection of retail chains located outside of Quebec under the Circle K banner.

The Spanish Flu in Manitoba ... 100 years later

Nov. 4, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

On October 3, 1918, the moment Manitobans were dreading happened. Two Quebec soldiers, Privates E. Murray and W. Barney, who had taken ill on a train a few days earlier, died of influenza at a Winnipeg hospital.

They were Manitoba's first known cases of "Spanish" Flu and forced provincial officials to admit that the disease was undoubtedly spreading throughout the population at large. Within four months, tens of thousands would fall ill and around 1,200 Manitobans would die from the disease.

A few years back I wrote about the Spanish Flu's toll on Manitoba. You can check it out here and forgive some of the old, broken hyperlinks.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Lead contamination in Weston School ... again.


Last summer, news broke about soil contamination found in some residential areas of old St. Boniface though air tests could not detect pollution.

I stuck my nose in by pointing out that it could be because it wasn't a current issue. For more than a century the nearby St. Boniface industrial park was home to some of the worst polluting industries we know: oil refineries, tar products producers and iron foundries.

It wasn't really surprising to me that residential areas nestled up next to these industrial sites would have some contamination from the particulate emitted by them in the age before any meaningful pollution control regulations. What was more of a surprise was that given the neighbourhood's history soil testing wasn't already taking place on even a semi-regular basis.

Now it is Weston's turn.

For over a century, Weston has been home to many lead producing polluters. In the early 1900s a steel foundry caused so much thick smoke that its nighttime operations had to be curtailed because it created a traffic hazard. In the 1940s, coal fires in the Weston Shops were said to be discolouring the paint on nearby homes. In 1979, another foundry was shut down because its employees were falling sick due to lead poisoning.

In 1981 and 1983 the Weston School yard was surface cleaned due to lead contamination. Now, 35 years later, it is in the news again.

Perhaps the problem is more than just surface deep? Perhaps this and other neighbourhoods that were historically home to heavy industry should be tested proactively for what may lurk deep in the ground?

Here's a look back at some pollution tales from the Weston neighbourhood....

Weston Shops ca. 1903 (Archives of Manitoba / Timelinks)

Weston was created after the establishment of the CPR's Weston Shops starting in 1900. Its small, cottage-style housing was geared to the thousands of employees who went to work there each day. In fact, in many early newspaper stories Weston was referred to as "CPR Town".

Within a few years of its creation, the ever-expanding Weston Shops were operating 24-hours a day and old newspapers are full of stories of some of the pollution that local residents had to deal with.

Rolling Mills ca. 1905 (Timelinks)
(If this was 1905, it is of the Weston, not St. Boniface, plant)

From the early 1900s the Manitoba Rolling Mills had a foundry on Gallagher Avenue at Vine Street that be;ched out a steady stream of thick, acrid smoke 24-hours a day. The city received an increasing number of complaints from residents about not only the smell but that the smoke cloud was thick some nights that it posed a traffic hazard.

In 1908, the city stepped in and forced the company to curtail its operations on certain nights. The following year, the city inspector was sent to monitor the foundry's performance.

An official of MRM told a Free Press reporter in June 1909 that the inspector was, "...taking notes on the number of minutes of black smoke, brown smoke and blue smoke which came out of our stacks." He noted that their operations could not help the amount of pollution they created. "The work is different than if we were burning coal for power purposes. We have to get a certain heat in our furnaces and to get that  we need to force the fire. It means that a certain amount of carbon must be lost through the stack but we must stand that loss.”

Fearing the city was about to impose more restrictions, the company announced that it would instead pick up and move to St. Boniface, which promised not to regulate their operations. Within a couple of years they had left the site.

Sept. 12, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

Another pollution issue was coal burning not just in the various furcnaces around the Weston Shops but in the yard itself.

The amount of coal stores the Weston Shops needed to keep its growing number of foundries and repairs hops going, not to mention powering the dozens of locomotives scattered around the yard, was immense. In the mid 1940s, for instance, a mountain ridge of 100,000 tons was stored on site.

From time to time a fire would start deep down in the pile and smoulder away for days or weeks at a time, which is what happened in the summer of 1944.

Alderman St. John, who kept council updated on the status of the smoking pile, declared at a September meeting that the smell of the acidic smoke was at an all-time high: "The gas is so strong that it is discoloring the paint on residents homes."

An interesting side note is that through all this time adjacent to the McPhillips Street Pumping Station was an open air reservoir storing drinking water for the city !

April 3, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1979, pollution was gain in the headlines. This time, it was specifically about lead contamination in the Weston neighbourhood.

Back in 1976 the provincial health department wrote the Winnipeg School Board to say that it wanted, with parental permission, take blood samples to test for lead in areas "where there is heavy vehicular traffic and industrial activity nearby." The two schools were Weston School on Logan and Lord Nelson School on McPhillips Street.

Tests went ahead but there does not appear to have been any news about the results until 1979. (The NDP opposition took credit for finding out the information and forcing the Progressive Conservative department to release the numbers, though the PC's shot back that the NDP were the ones in power until November 1979 and chose not to release them at the time.)

The 1976 study found that 40 per cent, (119 of 295), students at Weston had lead-in-blood counts between 25 and 50 microns per litre. It was 20 per cent at Lord Nelson. The maximum safe level for children in the U.S. at the time was 30, (Canada did not have its own standards.)

Perhaps to mitigate the embarrassment of not releasing the results, the health department said it would do follow up tests on all of the children. By late May, test results were coming back and according to a Free Press report showed only three students at Weston and one at Lord Nelson had elevated lead levels. (Of course, in three years many of the children had moved on to other schools, even other neighbourhoods.)

 Top: July 25, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: July 4, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

Air and soil tests were also done around the school in 1979, (you can read the 1980 report here), and showed higher than acceptable lead levels in certain places. As a precaution, a cleanup was ordered.

The August 1981 cleanup, according to media reports, involved vacuuming up dirt and dust from a 30 x 300 foot strip of paved land north of the school which showed lead levels of about 5,000 ppm which was double what the province considered a safe level. The paved and sodded areas south and east of the school were not cleaned as the particle counts fell within the limit.

Lead levels remained high and a second cleanup was ordered in June 1983. This time, 430 metres of sod and soil were removed on boulevards along Irysh, Catherine, Whyte, Gallagher, Logan and Quelch. Sod and topsoil was also replaced in the Weston School yard.

At either of the cleanups there is no mention of testing or cleaning residential properties.

June 2, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

The provincial health department maintained that there were two reasons for the lead accumulation in Weston: nearby smelters and leaded gasoline.

The main culprit behind the 1981 cleanup, according to the province, was the Canadian Bronze Company which had a foundry at 15 Bury Street, just 280 metres from Weston school. They manufactured brass goods including tools, brewers equipment, castings, vehicle parts and also did plating in silver, nickel and chromium. A second smelter blamed to a lesser extent was Northwest Smelting and Refinery at 2185 Logan, less than 3 km from the school.

Canadian Bronze, which had been operating in Weston since at least 1966, was actually closed down in May 1979 after some of its employees were found to be suffering from lead poisoning. It eventually reopened and was still operating in 1983 with better pollution control systems.

The 1983 cleanup was blamed primarily on lead from gasoline that was deposited by heavy traffic, (this was back in the era of leaded gasoline.)

A June 1983 provincial report penned by the provincial environment department with the help of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and funded in part by Canadian Bronze led to the second cleanup at Weston School. The 64-page document concluded: "based on the data collected in these studies, the major source of lead levels in the Weston school yard is believed to be the exhaust of vehicle traffic."

In the years after the cleanups the province may have figured that once Canadian Bronze and leaded gasoline disappeared that the problem of lead in the Weston neighbourhood would go with it: it hasn't. Lead levels have remained  stubbornly high.

In 2010, Manitoba Conservation produced a report looking at 2007 and 2008 lead level tests in sites around the city. It noted: "Although lead concentrations were usually less than those recorded in the 1980s, levels in sod and soil at a number of sites still exceed the current CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) guidelines. This includes samples collected from the Weston Elementary School playgrounds...."

Given the neighbourhood's history, perhaps the lead contamination isn't just a surface level problem from modern day polluters. It could be a deeper issue that will take more than just another surface cleaning to take care of.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

My latest Real Estate News columns

I've fallen behind keeping you updated about my column in the Real Estate News. Here's a catch-up:

I take a look at Argyle, Manitoba in the September 21, 2018 edition., including the Brant Argyle School which dates back to 1914, the Argyle General Store and the Argyle Curling Club.

For the September 14, 2018 edition I visited the quiet, tree-lined Glenelm neighbourhood of Elmwood. It starts at the foot of the Redwood Bridge and was marketed as "The Fort Rouge of the North" when first subdivided. I look at the history of Glenlem School and Gordon-King memorial Church.

There's no shortage of history in the River Heights neighbourhood. I wrote about the River Heights Telephone Exchange on Niagara Street and Queenston School for the August 24, 2018 edition.

In the August 17 edition I revisit Steinbach, Manitoba to dig into the history behind "Big Red Car", Steinbach's war memorial and the Millennium Clock Tower.

I revisit Selkirk, Manitoba for the August 3 edition. This time, I look back at the history of the Selkirk Lift Bridge and former post office building.

Selkirk Avenue's Bell Tower, Merchant's Hotel and Palace Theatre were featured in my July 27 column.

In the July 13, 2018 edition I write about the history of the half-dozen or so Fresh Air Camps that used to dot the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The only one with any substantial buildings remaining is now part of Camp Morton provincial Park.

St. Boniface is my subject in the July 6 edition. I look at the history of St. Boniface city hall, the Belgian War Memorial and and the unique St. Boniface Surge Tank on Provencher Boulevard.

- In the June 29, 2018 edition, the history of Steinbach's city hall, cenotaph and post office building.

- June 15, 2018: Stonewall

- June 8: North Kildonan's former municipal hall and Bunn's Creek Centennial Park.

- May 25, 2018: Interlake Roadside Monuments Chuck the Channel Cat, the Gimli Viking and the Petersfield Mallard.

- May 8, 2015: Fort Rouge Transit Garage, formerWinnipeg Electric substation and the Psark Theatre.

- April 27, 2018: Selkirk, Manitoba's Dearwood School, water tower and Garry Cinema.