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Sunday, 17 February 2019

Manitoba Black History: Alton White Jr.

© 2019, Christian Cassidy. Please respect my research.

Alton White Jr. of Winnipeg is credited with being just the second black professional hockey player. While there has been increased attention about pioneering black players in recent years, such as Willy O'Ree's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame and the NHL's "Hockey is for Everyone" campaign, White is usually left out.

The reason for the oversight, or snub as some consider it, is the fact that White's 145 game pro career in which he amassed 38 goals and 46 assists for a total of 84 points were played in the WHA, not he NHL which often considers itself as the only professional league of record. For instance, White does not even appear on the "Hockey is For Everyone" list of black players.

Here's a look back at the life and career of Alton White Jr..

Alton White Jr. was born on May 31, 1945 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, one of five sons of Alton and Stella White. In 1952, the family moved to Winnipeg where his father got work as a steward-porter with the CNR. By 1955, they had purchased a home at 663 Jessie Avenue.

Though they where likely the only black family in the neighbourhood, White said he didn't feel he experienced racism as a kid. He described Winnipeg in a Fort Wayne, Indiana News Sentinel article in January 2018 as "full of immigrants", saying, “We read about it (racism) in the paper, but you’d say, ‘Does that really happen?' I always hung around with my buddies who were all white kids and never thought anything of it. I was always treated pretty well.”

Aug. 3, 1959, Winnipeg Free Press. PONY champs. White is front row centre.

White first made the local sports pages as a baseball player - a pitcher for the "Braves" in the Winnipeg Optimist No. 2 Little League from 1956 to 1959.

In August 1959, he was a member of the South Winnipeg All Stars team that traveled to Brandon to meet their All Stars and won the provincial PONY league baseball championship and the Free Press Cup. White made two hits, including a triple, and stopped a line drive with a one-handed catch in the seventh to retire Brandon.

While attending Kelvin High School, (ca. 1959 - 1963), White played football for the school team and baseball for Isaac Brock Community Club. He continued with his baseball through his first year at United College.

White of the Rangers scores against the Winnipeg Monarchs on Nov. 29 1963

White learned to skate at age four but it wasn't until he came to Winnipeg that he was introduced to organized hockey.

He once explained to an American reporter that the East Coast was "not particularly known for hockey" and it was too expensive for many kids to play. In Winnipeg, he said, "People were very generous in supplying kids, black or white, with equipment and places to play." He continued, "I was just lucky, that's all. My family moved to Winnipeg when I was eight and here I really started to play, first in playground leagues and then in junior hockey. That gave me my chance"

Despite the relatively late introduction to competitive hockey through Earl Grey, White excelled at it.

White joined the Winnipeg Rangers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League for the 1962-63 season. The following year, he finished seventh best in the league's scoring championship with 22 goals and 29 assists in 44 games. In 1964-65 he was appointed the Rangers' captain.

White would be credited as the first black player to score a hat-trick in 1973, but he registered at least two as Rangers captain. The first came in Selkirk against the Winnipeg Warriors on February 17, 1965 and the second against the Winnipeg Monarchs on March 21, 1965 in Winnipeg.

Despite his scoring touch, there were a couple of things that dogged White. One was his size: just 5' 9" and hovering around 170 pounds, (measurements a reporter once referred to as "generously listed"). The other, as noted by Free Press sports columnist Stan Fischler, "a penchant for playing hockey on the clean side."

Size might have been a factor in January 1965 when White was checked into the boards and knocked senseless. The following day, Victoria Hospital reported him to be in "fairly good" condition with a possible concussion.

Fort Wayne Komets (From: eBay)

Despite his size, scouts took notice of White. In 1964-65 he got a three game tryout with the St. Paul Rangers of the International Hockey League (IHL). For the 1965-66 season, he was off to play for the IHL's Fort Wayne (Indiana) Komets.

Vince Leah noted in his column of November 20, 1965 that the New York Rangers "were taking a long look" at White and he was drafted into their organization.

In October 1966, White was picked up off waivers from the Des Moines Oak Leafs by the new IHL expansion team the Columbus Checkers. White played three seasons with the Checkers averaging more than a point per game, which was impressive considering that the expansion team was taking time to find its legs.

Each of those years White attended the Rangers training camp but didn't make he cut. He said at the time that "they must have thought I wasn't big enough."

http://www.rireds.org/2010website/News_Detail.asp?News_ID=57

The next  break for White came before the 1969 - 70 season when the New York Rangers released him and the Oakland Golden Seals sent him to play for the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League (AHL), one of their minor league affiliates.

White wasn't exactly a stranger to the team. He had been called up in April 1969 to play a handful of playoff games when one of their forwards got injured. It was noted a the time that White was the first, (and would be the only), black player to lace up for the storied franchise.

In each of his three seasons with the Reds, White finished second or third best in team scoring statistics, but his size was still an issue.

When he attended the 1970 Golden Seals training camp, General Manager Frank Selke Jr. told the Tribune: "He's an unbelievably hard worker. He checks well, skates well and has a super attitude. Its just that he's not very big." He noted that while White had managed to put on eight pounds in the off-season he still weighed just 170.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Hockey_Association

In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) was created as a big-time professional league to compete with the NHL. It meant new opportunities for players like White who, it was becoming clear, was not going to make it in the NHL.

Aside from his size, was race an issue? In that 2018 Fort Wayne News Sentinel article he said of his time on the doorstep of the NHL: “I just never got the call. There were a lot of guys up there who I was a better hockey player than, but I never rocked the boat. I just played as well as I could.”  The reporter asked: "Was it because of racism?" White would only reply: “I hate to say that, but…”.

White was on the radar of a at least a couple of teams at the WHA's first draft. Ben Hatskin of the Winnipeg Jets had him on his short list 70 players that he wanted to draft, but in the end the 27-year-old ended up going to the New York Raiders.

AP wire story in Jun 1, 1972, San Bernadino (California) Sun

The signing garnered a great deal of media attention for White as the only black player drafted and only the second black person to play in the big leagues. (The first was Willy O'Ree who played for the NHL's Boston Bruins in 1957-58 and in 1960-61 and at the time was still bouncing around in the minor leagues.)

Some of that attention was in the form of U.S. wire stories out of New York that ran in dozens, if not hundreds, of newspapers across the country, even in non-traditional hockey markets like Florida and Texas. Black publications that normally wouldn't cover hockey, such as Jet and Ebony, also wrote about White.

In a 1972 Associated Press wire story the reporter tried to make a comparison with Jackie Robinson, something White dismissed immediately due to what Robinson had to endure off the field: "He had to undergo all kinds of hardship. He couldn't eat with he other guys, he couldn't stay in he same hotels."

White went on to say in a CPI wire story a few months later: "(Robinson) opened the door for every black person in all sports. I would like to think I would have put up with what he went through but I don't know."


While his signing was celebrated, sadly his parents were not there to see it. His mother died in 1966 and his father in 1970. His wife, Linda, was there. They two met in Vancouver at a West Indian Independence Day dance and married in 1969. They settled in Vancouver.


By November 1972, White had only played 13 games for New York and most of that was spent warming the bench. He asked to be traded and later that month got his wish when he was dealt to the  Los Angeles Sharks, a new WHA expansion team.

Under coach Terry Slater, White got his ice time and in his first 16 games with LA he managed 12 points including the game winning goal against his old team a week after the trade.

White had played against Slater and said that he was one of the main reasons he wanted to go to LA. Slater called White a "good two-way player always hustling for the puck" and that he helped make up one the best forward line in the league.

Arguably the most famous night of White's career came on January 10, 1973 when he scored a true hat trick in the second period of an 8-5 win over the Chicago Cougars.

The Sharks started the 1973-74 season off badly and by late November were in last place in their division. Four players, including White, were sent down to he farm team in Greensboro, North Carolina. White returned to he lineup on January 8, 1974 and registered two assists and praise from his coach in a win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Nov 9, 1974, Syracuse Post-Standard

The Sharks, which became the Michigan Stags before the start of the 1974-75 season, tried to trade White to another WHA team, but the deal fell through. He ended up being sent down to one of their affiliates, the Syracuse Blazers of the minor professional North American Hockey League.

White played his first of 46 games for Syracuse starting on October 23, 1974. He was later recalled to the Stags to play out the remaining 27 games of the season.

After that 1974-75 season, White's WHA career was over. It is unclear if he toiled in other junior leagues, though there are a couple of April 1977 mentions in the Winnipeg papers of an Alton White playing for the Warroad Lakers of the Western Canadian Intermediate Hockey League.

According to the 2018 Fort Wayne News Sentinel article, White returned briefly to Winnipeg before moving back to Vancouver and getting into the construction business with his brother. He and Stella still reside there.

Also see:
Alton White career statistics
Alton White broke colour barrier Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Rink Rookie Makes Hockey History Ebony

More of my Manitoba Black History Posts:
Percy Haynes (an expanded version of this post in the Winnipeg Free Press)
Jesse Owens at Osborne Stadium (an expanded version in the Free Press)
Duke Ellington, Omar Williams and their 1946 Banning Street jam session
Behind the Photo: Railway Porters' Band of Winnipeg
The Craig Block

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Diana Van Der Vlis: From Winnipeg to Broadway

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
 
Van Der Vlis on Broadway, 1957 (by Walter Curtin / Maclean's Magazine)

Diana Van Der Vlis was born in Toronto on June 9, 1935, one of two daughters of Adrian and Anne Vandervlis. (She added the spaces to her last name to make it easier to pronounce circa 1956.)

When Van Der Vlis was a child the family moved to Vancouver for a year and then to Winnipeg from 1947 to 1953 due to her father's work as an interior designer and architect for the HBC. He worked at HBC House on Main Street and the family settled at 188 Ferndale Avenue. The girls attended the old Queen Elizabeth School on Kenny Street.

Van Der Vlis' parents sent her to local vocal coach and actress Ethel Lloyd Jones to correct a slight lisp. While the young girl disliked the exercises, she fell in love with the dramatic readings that Lloyd Jones would have her do and performed in recitals and school plays. (Sister Sylvia, meanwhile, took classical music lessons and for a time was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.)

In October 1950, under Lloyd Jones, a fifteen-year-old Der Vlis won the "B Division" Manitoba Drama League Rose Bowl for her reading of two dramatic works: The Appointment and Pantomime. In May 1951, she was runner-up in the Winnipeg Drama Leagues annual three-day drama festival for best original script. She also acted in one of its performances.

These awards led to a scholarship at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the summer of 1951 where she appeared in their year-end production of Peter Pan.

U of M Digital Collections, Stobie Family Fonds

From there, it was back to Winnipeg where she got parts in Winnipeg Little Theatre's The Man Who Came to Dinner (May 1951), The Philadelphia Story (October 1951) and The Male Animal (Dec 1951). She also did some voice work on local radio.

Van Der Vlis likely attended Wesley Collegiate for high school and lists having studied drama at U of M in her stage biography.

In the summer of 1952, Van Der Vlis was back at Banff. She was offered a third summer scholarship in 1953, but could not take it because she and her mother were in New York to audition for the U. K.'s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Of two hundred finalists, she was one of ten chosen to attend.

When Van Der Vlis and her mother returned to Canada in 1954 it was to her native Toronto where her father had moved back to. There, she joined the Crest Theatre for the 1955 -56 season.

She tried to get acting gigs with the CBC butt, according to a Maclean's article from 1957, "Nathan Cohen, pungent critic for the CBC observed, 'She can’t act at all. but she’s awfully pretty.'  She got a few parts on CBC radio but was rejected for television."

Right: June 15, 1956, Winnipeg Free Press 
Left: December 28, 1956, Winnipeg Tribune

In early summer 1956, Van Der Vlis went to New York to visit theatre friends but after a while got "caught up in the excitement" and began to make the audition rounds. Her first on-screen gig came when NBC casting director Martin Begley, brother of actor Ed Begley Jr., cast her in a live TV commercial on the Red Buttons show.

Van Der Vlis got an agent, Baum - Newborn, and they managed to get her a screen test for Warner Brothers in the summer of 1956 opposite a young Dennis Hopper. The studio didn’t sign her and she later took a three picture deal with an independent studio that appears not to have panned out.

It was while in Hollywood that she met the director of an upcoming Broadway play The Happiest Millionaire starring Canadian Walter Pidgeon who was returning to the stage after two decades in movies. She got the part of his daughter, Cordelia.

In The Happiest Millionaire

The Happiest Millionaire's pre-Broadway tryout began in early October 1956 with runs in Wilmington, Philadelphia and Washington, D. C. and opened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre on November 20, 1956.  It ran for 271 performances until July 13, 1957.

One reviewer said Van Der Vlis was "full of vitality"  and "first rate." In fact, the role earned the 20-year-old a Tony Award nomination for Distinguished Supporting or Featured Dramatic Actress (1956). Her next Broadway role was in the comedy Visit to a Small Planet replacing Sarah Marshall in September 1957. It ran until January 11, 1958. (For a list of her Broadway credits.)

It was truly a Cinderella story, one that even Van Der Vlis had trouble believing. She told a reporter in 1957 that she thought it would take a couple of years for her to start getting such choice parts.

https://artbank.ca/art-piece/diana-van-der-vlis-new-york/
1956 portrait by Walter Curtin, (Canada Council Art Bank)

What was it about Diana Van Der Vlis that caused a stir during her first years in New York?

She was tall, good looking and "classy". Some articles said she had an air of Grace Kelly about her. This was helped by her hard to place accent she once described as a "combination of English, American and Canadian."

Van Der Vlis had a commanding stage presence and powerful, deep, throaty voice which she credited to childhood asthma. She admitted that during The Happiest Millionaire she had to be taught to tone her voice down so as not to drown out others on stage with her.

When the question was put to Van Der Vlis in 1957 by syndicated columnist William Glover, she replied: "I think perhaps its a combination of vibe and appearance and an indefinite quality that I'm not aware of."

In 1976, she said in another interview that: "Acting was the first thing that I found that I really enjoyed doing. It was an enormous release for me to be totally free, physically and emotionally free on stage. I had marvelous parents; there weren't any objections from them about my career ambitions."

Man With the X-Ray Eyes, 1963

During the 1950s Van Der Vlis also made numerous of television appearances, mostly one-offs on serial dramas. Ironically, some were on the CBC in anthology series such as On Camera and The Unforseen. In a September 1958 interview with syndicated Hollywood reporter Harold Stern, she mentions having shot a TV movie pilot called "You Know Me, Al" 'with Dick York, who would go on to star in Bewitched, but it didn't sell.

Frank Morriss wrote in one of his 1956 Winnipeg Free Press columns: "Now that Vandervlis, former Winnipegger, has been set to play opposite Walter Pidgeon in the play The Happiest Millionaire, Hollywood might take a new interest ...”. It appears that it didn't.

A United Press story from October 1956 reported that David Susskind signed Van Der Vlis to a non-exclusive three-picture deal that would pay her a total of $110,000. He made the offer after seeing her in The Happiest Millionaire in Philadelphia.

While Susskind was active on both sides of the camera during this period, according to IMDb Van Der Vlis has just four movie appearances in her  career. The first, a small role in the 1957 B-movie The Girl in the Black Stockings, then The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963). Neither of them appear to have been Susskind films. Her final movie role was in the Richard Burton film Lovespell, (1981). (For her filmography.)

With her children, April 1970 TV Radio Talk, (source)

In June 1960, Van Der Vlis married Roger Donald who worked at a publishing house and the couple initially lived in New York. She told a daytime TV magazine that the two first met on the ship to London when she was off to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. They met again four years later in San Fransisco where she was appearing in a play and they married soon after.

The couple had two children, Adreinne, ca. 1962, and Matthew Powers, ca. 1964.

Later in 1960, Van Der Vlis returned to Toronto to play the lead in Death is a Spanish Dancer, part of CBC's General Motors Theatre drama series. Through the rest of the decade she had numerous guest roles in American TV series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E and The Fugitive.

1965 publicity still for NBC TV

In 1971, Van Der Vlis landed her first role on daytime television when she joined the cast of the CBS soap Opera Where the Heart Is. When the show ended in 1973 she vowed not do do another soap due to the grueling schedule.

By the mid-1970s, Van Der Vlis and her family had moved to Boston where she continued to do stage work. She was part of Noel Coward's Present Laughter starring with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Washington D. C. when she got offered another daytime television role.

ABC was creating a new soap called Ryan's Hope and she was cast as Dr. Nell Beaulac who was killed off in the first year. She returned to Ryan's Hope in 1987 playing an entirely new character called Shelley Rowan for two years.

TV Guide, November 1958, mistakenly credits Winnipeg as her birthplace, (source)

A rural retreat was something very important to Van Der Vlis. It was a throw back to her childhood in Toronto when she spent summers on a farm in Northern Ontario and summers in the Whiteshell when her family lived in Winnipeg.

In 1971, she told a soap opera magazine that it was her dream to live on a ranch in the U.S. Midwest or Australia and raise cattle. At the time, the family had a summer ranch in Claverack on the New York - Massachusetts border.

It appears that Van Der Vlis eventually got her big ranch. In the late 1990s she and her husband divided their time between New York City and Montana.

Diana Van Der Vlis died on October 22, 2001 at Missoula, Montana after a brief illness. She was 66 years old.

Also See:
Obituary Playbill
The Calmest Little Bombshell on Broadway Macleans
YouTube Interview, ca. 1971
Clip from Man with the X-Ray Eyes, 1963
Clip from Ryan's Hope, 1975

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II), Poland, Cassidy
The rail from Auschwitz to Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp

I must say that I am surprised that its is only 20% of Canadian youth who don't know about the Holocaust.

Back in 2013, I went on a Holocaust tour of Europe to see places like the Warsaw Ghetto, Belzec, Treblinka, Josefow, Auschwitz I and II, Neuremberg, etc. in person.

What struck me is how in such a short period of time a basic message of "Make Germany Great Again" and run-of-the-mill prejudice against people who didn't look like "real Germans" caught hold. This, despite the fact that the bogeymen didn't live an ocean away, but were in many cases working and middle class families that lived amongst them, who tended the stores that sold them their bread, who fixed the roads they drove on and who administered treatment when they were sick.

A large segment bought into the narrative and were willing to commit mass murders on a large scale by hand, eventually creating or serving a network of extermination factories to increase the scale. Another large group, I guess numbed by the daily narrative, were complicit in letting it happen and keeping silent.

There was nothing special about Germany in the 1930s. Germans were not evil monsters. Jews weren't their evil overlords that needed to be put down. A small group of people made them both into that and a large group followed along.

Yes, it could happen again.

If you are the parents of youth, who will be voters soon, they need to know about this chapter in our history. Even if its just a Hollywood movie introduction to the subject. Don't play a part in letting recent history repeat itself.

Oh, and in the end, it didn't make Germany great again.


Treblinka, Poland, Cassidy
Treblinka, Poland

Belzec, Poland, Cassidy
Belzec Extermination Camp Memorial, Poland

Auschwitz, Poland
Auschwitz I Concentration, Extermination Camp

Prague, Czech Republic, Cassidy
Prague, Czech Republic

Auschwitz, Poland
Auschwitz I Concentration, Extermination Camp

Belzec, Poland, Cassidy
 Belzec Extermination Camp Memorial, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II), Poland, Cassidy
 Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Camp

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Tragic Endings: Rose Eiler of Winnipeg

© 2018, Christian Cassidy

 Tragic Endings: In over a decade of blogging and other historical research I have come across hundreds of stories about Manitobans whose lives were cut short due to tragedy. If they weren't related to the building or event I was writing about at the time, I sometimes bookmarked the stories with the intention of coming back to explore them in further detail at some point.

Information about these deaths comes mainly from newspaper stories of the day as, in most cases, inquest documents, court transcripts and investigators' notes are no longer available. This means that the information I will provide may include the same gaps in coverage, prejudices, or errors in reporting that originally appeared in the papers.

If you have additional information about any of these stories feel free to contact me at cassidy-at-mts.net

Rose Marie Eiler of Winnipeg (1933-1939)

January 25, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

From the outset, news about the murder of six-year-old Rose Eiler was as bizarre as it was shocking.

Stephen Eiler, Rose's father, was an unemployed brick layer living at a rooming house at 243 Young Street. On the evening of January 24, 1939, he was playing cards with the resident owners in their another suite while Rose and her younger sister, Joan, slept in their beds. Also with them was his live-in housekeeper, Kay Rykunyk, 24.

Eiler returned to his suite around 10:30 p.m. to find Rose dead on her bed, a pair of her panties stuffed in her mouth. Rykunyk was bound, gagged and tied to a table. Youngest daughter Joan was unharmed and asleep in her bed.


Initial news stories were based on what police said Rykunyk told them happened that night. A tall man in a long, brown coat with a sallow complexion entered the suite around 9:00 p.m. demanding to see "papers to do with the divorce". When Rykunyk told him she didn't know what he was talking about, she was knocked to the ground, tied up and gagged while the man ransacked the place. She said she was too scared to cry out.

During the commotion, Rose woke up and began crying. The man stuffed a pair of her panties in her mouth to shut her up and bound her hands and feet. He then grabbed some papers and left.

As the the manhunt began, Rykunyk was brought to General Hospital suffering from shock and Mr. Eiler was taken to police headquarters for questioning.

Eiler told detectives that he had received a letter in the mail that day from a man named "Jack Evans" who said he had information that would help in the divorce and that Eiler should meet him at 8:00 p.m. any night that week at the Stock Exchange Hotel. Eiler said he went that night, but there was no man there by that name.

Having already arranged for Rykunyk to watch the children, when Eiler returned to the house he visited with the home's owners and socialized.

Police also questioned the resident owners and other tenants who all said they heard nothing, some expressed surprise considering they were just meters away and awake at the time.

Mrs. Rose Eiler

Another character in Rose Eiler's story was the mother, Rose Eiler. According to Manitoba Vital Statistics she and Mr. Eiler were married on June 4, 1932 in Winnipeg. Rose, their first child, arrived January 8, 1933 and Joan the following January.

Mrs. Eiler told a Winnipeg Tribune reporter that they had separated in April 1935 and she initially got custody of the children. She then got sick and spent nine months in hospital. While she was there, a judge granted sole custody to Mr. Eiler in November 1935. Mr. Eiler filed for divorce in November 1938 citing abandonment on her part.

Since her release from hospital Mrs. Eiler had been convalescing at the home of her parents on Trent Avenue in East Kildonan. She said she hadn't seen her children since the summer and did not know the who the mystery man or Jack Evans could be.


What appeared to be the start of a drawn-out investigation and manhunt came to an abrupt end at noon on Thursday, January 26 when police chief George Smith told the press "We've got the man and woman. It's a Greek tragedy".

The two were Stephen Eiler and Kay Rykunyk. They were being held on coroner's warrants until after the coroner's inquest, at which time they would be formally charged. Police provided little additional information other than to say that it was a statement given to them by Rykunyk from her hospital bed that led to the announcement.

Joan, left, and Rose Eiler

As for Rose Eiler, little was written about her as she had just started her life.

It was said that she and Joan were close as their father moved around a lot for his job and usually to places without other children. She attended Elim Chapel Sunday School off and on. It was four children from that school that acted as her pallbearers.

One of the teachers at the school said that Rose was shy and very close to her father. She had been off school for two weeks earlier the month with tonsillitis and insisted on walking to the school with her father so that she could tell the teacher in person why she had to be away.

The Saturday following her murder there was to have been a birthday party for Rose, who was born January 8th but had to postpone it due to her illness. It was to have been a birthday party shared with Joan, also born in January.

Because he was not yet formally charged, Mr. Eiler was free to attend the funeral at Thompson's Funeral Home on Broadway. He did so under police escort for his own safety. He and Mrs. Eiler, who was distraught and sobbed throughout the ceremony, did not acknowledge each other. Kay Rykunyk did not attend.

Both newspapers reported that thousands of people came out to attend the funeral, most had to mill around outside the funeral home.

After the ceremony, Rose was buried in a small white coffin at Brookside Cemetery.

February 4, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

The coroner's inquest took place in early February and heard from fifteen witnesses, including doctors, neighbours and police officers, but it was the testimony of Kay Rykunyk that everyone wanted to hear.

Rykunyk was still feeling the effects of her ordeal. She broke down on the stand to the point that she could not testify. Instead, the statement she gave to police while in hospital was read out.

She said that Stephen Eiler was frustrated that his divorce proceedings were stalled. His lawyer told him the fact that Eiler and Rykunyk had been living together for months at numerous different addresses around the province would make it difficult for him to claim abandonment.

Eiler then came up with a hoax that he felt would speed matters up by making it appear that Mrs. Eiler and her new boyfriend were trying to use strong arm tactics against him.

Eiler got Rykunyk to write the Jack Evans note that was mailed to their address. Before he left to go to the hotel, (hotel staff testified that they had seen him there around 8:00 p.m. asking for a Jack Evans), the two messed up the room to make it look as if the place had been ransacked.

Rykunyk waited for Eiler to return then sneaked him into the house so that the other occupants would not hear him come in. They they returned to his suite, bound and gagged Rose, (Rykunyk said it was Eiler who did both, she just held Rose's feet up as they were being bound - she cried a little, according to Rykunyk). It was then Rykunyk's turn to be bound and gagged.

Eiler then went to the owner's suite to play cards for a while before returning home.

The last sentence of Rykunyk's statement read: "I had no intention of killing Rose Marie and this thing was only done to speed up Steve's divorce."

It was unclear from the statement whether Rykunyk had realized that Rose stopped breathing. A doctor testified that Rose's tonsillectomy of a couple of weeks earlier may have caused her throat to have been more prone to swelling than usual.

Mr. Eiler was not called to testify.

In the end, the coroner's jury concluded, in part: "From the evidence adduced, we the jury find the said suffocation of the girl was caused by having been gagged and said gag having been placed in her mouth by her father, Steve Eiler."

The following morning, both Eiler and Rykunyk were charged with manslaughter.

May 17, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

The two had separate trials that took place in May 1939.

Eiler plead not guilt and did not testify at his own trial, but Kay Rykunyk did and her story had not changed. A jury found Eiler guilty after just 45 minutes of deliberation.

Mr. Justice Donovan said: "This is not a case for a heavy sentence. Eiler's chief fault was his foolhardiness. It really might be termed a neglect case." He was later sentenced to nine months.

Rykunyk plead guilty at her trial and was considered only an accomplice in the death. She received a suspended sentence.

June 21, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune 

In a final twist to the story of the death of Rose Eiler is that Stephen Eiler committed suicide in his cell at Headlingley Jail at around 4:00 a.m. on June 21, 1939. The jail's governor said that Eiler appeared to be brooding over the death of his daughter more than usual. Newspaper articles do not mention a suicide note or a confession.

As for the other people in the story, any newspaper mentions of them end at the end of the trial.

Soon after the murder, little Joan initially went to live with an aunt on her mother's side. Both the aunt and a police source in late January said that Joan  had woken up during the commotion but was too scared to move. She was still terrified of the "man with the dirty face" who was in the apartment that night and too young to understand that her father and Rose were not coming home.

Before the coroner's inquest began in February Mrs. Eiler applied for custody of Joan. After the inquest found him the cause of Rose's death she filed for divorce citing adultery.

A search of variations of the names of Mrs. Eiler, including using her maiden name and her mother's last name, turn up no news stories. The same can be said for Joan. 

One can only hope that they managed to find some sort of peace and happiness with new names and, perhaps, in a new city.

Read coverage of the death at the U of M's Tribune archives:
Jan 25, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune
Jan 26, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune
Feb 4, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

West End Apartment Fires - Help Needed


Earlier this month, there was a sad but familiar headline in the news: fire at a West End apartment block. This time, it was two on the same block.

A coalition of West End organizations are working together to reach out to those who lived in these buildings, assist with rehousing efforts and offer donations of clothing and household goods to help get started again.

 If you were displaced by the fires, stop by Spence Neighbourhood Association at 615 Ellice Ave Tues, Wed, or Thurs 9am-4:30pm to speak with Housing staff or contact SNA's Housing Coordinator: 204-783-5000 ext. 106 or housing@speceneighbourhood.org

 If you would like to donate clothing or household items they can be dropped off at the John Howard Society Building on Ellice. For more information, contact 204-783-5000 ext. 106 or housing@speceneighbourhood.org.


One of the buildings that damaged by fire was Mansfield Court at 626 Ellice Avenue. As of last week, tenants in all but eight suites in the building were allowed to move back in.

Built in 1908 -09, it is one of the earliest remaining landmarks in the neighbourhood. You can read more about its history at my Winnipeg Places post.


The second and more heavily damaged building was the Maryland Apartments at 426 Maryland Street. It was unclear as of last week whether it was salvageable. A second fire in the block certainly did not help matters.

For more about its history see my Winnipeg Places post.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Sanford, Manitoba's grain elevator disappears

© 2019, Christian Cassidy

Sad news that Sanford's grain elevator was demolished over the weekend, (also see.) I had photographed it and began researching its history as one of a trio of buildings for my next southern Manitoba Real Estate News column. This gives it a new wrinkle.

I'll jump the gun and share the information I found now.

Sanford, Manitoba, then called Mandan, got its first grain elevator in 1902. It was constructed by the private Canadian Elevator Company alongside the new CNR track. A note in the local paper in December 1902 said that the elevator was welcome: "but owing to their tactics at offering 5 to 7 cents below track price, they got little wheat". (The proximity to Winnipeg, just 20 minutes away, may have provided better alternatives to selling locally.)

The provincial government took over the elevator in 1910 and soon leased it to United Grain Growers, who bought it out in 1926. Two years later, it was sold to the Sanford Cooperative Elevator Association and became a Manitoba Pool elevator. The Pool tore it down and built a new structure that same year.

(Image: Sanford grain elevator and train station ca. 1915 from Sanford-Ferndale.)

The new Manitoba Pool elevator went into service in 1929. It cost $25,000 and had a capacity of 70,000 bushels of grain, which later increased due to the addition of an annex.

In the late afternoon of September 22, 1948, a fire started in the elevator's cupola and within minutes the structure was engulfed. Fire departments from Carman and Winnipeg were called in to assist the local volunteer fire brigade to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby oil tanks from destroying the town.

The wind was on their side and the town was saved.

Originally reported to have caused around $160,000 in damage, when its contents of 98,000 bushels, (56,000 of that was wheat, the rest was oats, flax and barley), were added the estimated loss was closer to $300,000 according to R. H. Preston, the elevator's buyer.

(Image: Winnipeg Free Press, September 23, 1948)

 
Not long after the fire, the Elevator Association began construction on a new one. Work was well underway in December 1948 with workers wintering in a nearby bunk house and kitchen building.

One of the association's directors, W. J. Parker, went on to become the president of Manitoba Pool and a director on the board of the CBC.

The new Pool elevator was in operation in early 1949. In 1998, it was rebranded Agricore after Manitoba Pool's merger with Alberta Pool. The 3,180 tonne capacity structure was last used in the 2000 – 2001 crop season, then was sold off for private grain storage.  

It was demolished on January 14, 2019.

Related:
More Sanford Elevator History: Manitoba Historical Society
More Sanford History: Sanford-Ferndale, 1871 - 1987
More Manitoba Pool history: McKee Archives - Manitoba Pool Elevator Fonds

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Harvey E. Harrison of Brandon

© 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 remember some of the Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts follow this link.


Born and raised in Brandon, Harvey Harrison was one of at least seven children of Thelismar and Jennie (Cummings) Harrison. By 1915, two of the siblings had died at ages eighteen and nine, two daughters had married and moved away, and three, Harvey, Clifford and Jessie, still lived at the family home at 429 Third Street.

In February 1915, Thelismar, a retired farmer and businessman, died at the age of 76.

October 1916 ad, Brandon Sun

Harvey worked at the clothing store owned by his brother, Clifford who was eighteen years his senior. C. W. Harrison Clothiers was located at 723 Rosser Avenue.

Three months after his father's death, Harvey enlisted with the 78th Battalion -  Winnipeg Grenadiers. It was led by Lt. Col. James Kirkcaldy, a former Brandon police chief, but based out of Winnipeg.

Harrison, 20, went overseas in the spring of 1916 and by November was admitted to hospital with a series of issues, including a back injury, blistered feet and measles. He returned to the front in April 1917.


On September 2, 1918, the Grenadiers were fighting at Somme, France when they came under fierce attack. The record of his death, as noted in the Supplement to the London Gazette of December 2, 1918:


"The officer (Lieutenant H. E. Harrison) led his platoon with great skill, overcoming the resistance of a machine gun, killing one and wounding another of the crew himself. When all the officers of his company became casualties, he assumed command and met an enemy counter-attack with determination. When ordered to withdraw, he remained until the last section got away, his coolness and judgment having a splendid effect on all ranks.”

February 9, 1919, Brandon Sun

Harrison was also wounded with gunshot wounds to the abdomen and neck. His medical records note that he was considered "dangerously ill" before succumbing to his injuries on September 15, 1918 at the age of 23. He is buried at the Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France

For his actions, Harrison was posthumously awarded the Military Cross with one bar, one of just 324 given during the war to commissioned officers “for distinguished and commendable services in battle”.

Around the time of his death, two members of the 78th Battalion were awarded Victoria Crosses: James Tait for actions on August 9, 1918 and Samuel L. Honey for actions on September 27, 1918.

Also around the same time, five men in Harrison's battalion were killed on or around August 11, 1918, but their bodies were not found until 2006. They were buried in 2015.

Related:
Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry
Attestation Papers and Military File