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Tuesday, 17 May 2022

West End Street Oddities - Part 2: Why does Valour Road have no boulevard trees?

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

This is the second post in my series on West End Street oddities.

Google Street View

A question I often get asked is why are there no boulevard trees on Valour Road when those around it are your typical West End streets lined with century-old elms?

I've never found a definitive reason in a newspaper story or history book, but I am fairly certain that the answer has to do with a streetcar line that never materialized.

Here's a deep dive into Valour Road's early development....

Delayed Development?

May 26, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

One of the theories people suggest to me is that Pine Street, as it was called until 1925, was developed later or differently than surrounding streets and somehow missed out on the city's original round of boulevard tree planting. This does not appear to be the case.

Both Pine Street and Ashburn Street were marketed as the "Argyle Park" suburb by the Argyle Land Company between 1905 and 1907.

This was not an unusual practice for a land company to buy a sliver of land, market it under a cool name, then begin selling off lots before city surveyors came in to formally lay out the street and add services such as water, sewer, sidewalks and boulevards. Some lots would have been built on right away but most would have sat empty until these services were run and the lots or the houses on them would fetch a lot more money.

June 30, 1906, Winnipeg Tribune

The city got around to installing boulevards and sidewalks on Pine Street from Portage to Ellice in 1907 and from Ellice to Sargent in 1912. The addition of water and sewer mains were announced in 1908 and likely built the following year. The timing of this infrastructure work on Pine is similar to the streets around it.

It would have after water and sewer were run that the city would have moved in to plant boulevard trees. I could find no mention in local papers as to why streets such as Spruce, Clifton, Ashburn and Strathcona got them and Pine did not.

The early development of the street can be traced in editions of the Henderson street directory.

1907: There were 6 homes, all between Portage and Ellice.
1908: There were 34 houses, all but 5 between Portage and Ellice.
1911: There were 56 homes, all but 5 of them between Portage and Ellice
1914: There were 98 homes, all but 7 of them between Portage and Ellice
1916: There were 130 homes, all but 15 of them between Portage and Ellice.

There was a also spike in home construction immediately after World War I into the early 1920s.

The West End's Public Transportation Woes

As the West End grew, so did the need for public transportation. There were long-established east-west street car lines running along Portage, Sargent, and Notre Dame, but not many options to bring people north or south onto those lines.

Sherbrook Street had streetcar service since 1897 and in 1908 a single car line was added on Arlington Street from Notre Dame to Portage. This was to have been part of a central beltway stretching from the city limits at West Kildonan into Fort Rouge but never materialized, (you can read more about that here.)

By the time Arlington Street was added to the streetcar system, there were already calls to add another cross street further west with Pine Street being one of the top contenders.

March 6, 1924, Winnipeg Tribune

The expansion of public transportation in the area had to wait until the early 1920s because of the economics of running the streetcar service.

Winnipeg's streetcar system was operated by a private entity called the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company. Because of the enormous cost involved to build each kilometre of new streetcar line, it was not interested in running them down residential streets where it would take decades to recoup their costs. Even for the city, which was constantly demanding expanded service on major routes, service along residential streets was a low priority.

In 1923, the streetcar company agreed to extend Sargent Avenue's streetcar line from Dominion Street west to Pine Street. Instead of turning onto Pine, a wye or turnaround would be built so that the car could travel back down Sargent, (that wye is where the Valour Road Memorial Plaza is now.)

To appease the city and residents who were hoping for more, it proposed a bus service along Pine Street from Portage to Sargent. The streetcar company was given permission to use buses as feeders for streetcar lines in Wolseley in 1918 and by the mid-1920s had about a dozen short routes in operation.

October 18, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

The provision of bus service would take care of another long-standing bugbear of Pine Street residents - the fact that their street was never paved. It was a muddy, rutted mess for much of the spring and the streetcar company said its condition was so poor that it would not run a bus unless it was graded and asphalted. The city agreed and in late July 1924 began work on the section from Sargent to Portage.

Buses began running on Pine Street on the morning of October 20, 1924, with service every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight.

Pine Street never got its streetcar service and the Sargent line was never extended any further west.

In 1938, Sargent Avenue's streetcar line was converted into Winnipeg's first trolley bus line with vehicles that used the overhead electrical wires of the streetcar system but ran on rubber tires.

Streetcar service was discontinued city-wide on September 19th, 1955.

The Sargent - Valour trolley, ca. 1940s (City of Winnipeg Archives)


Unlike neighbouring streets, Pine Street was left without boulevard trees and unpaved after water and sewer mains were run in 1909. This, coincidentally, was the year after the West End's first north-south streetcar line was added on Arlington Street with Pine often mentioned as the next cross street in the loop.

If this was a proposed streetcar route it would not have made sense to pave it as they would only have to tear it back up to install tracks.

As for boulevard trees, they would have been a problem given how narrow Pine Street was. To add streetcar service, the city may have wanted to widen the street slightly to add a narrow lane down the middle, similar to Arlington Street. If kept at its original width, trees would surely have interfered with the poles and overhead wires needed for such a service.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Jon J. Vopni's West End

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

January 2, 1915, Odinn

Jon "John" Jonsson Vopni is a name I have come across many times over the years. He was one of a number of Icelandic builders active in the early 1900s who developed the West End into a residential neighbourhood and helped dot the city's urban landscape with three-storey walk-up apartment blocks in the period leading up to World War I.

I only knew Vopni through his connection to fellow Icelandic builder / developer Thorstein Oddson who I wrote about in greater detail here.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by a member of the Vopni family who had read one of my "What's in a Street Name?" columns in the Winnipeg Free Press' Canstar Community News. She shared the story of how the circa 1905 Vopni Avenue in Brooklands was renamed Park Lane Avenue in 1981. It is something the family and many in the Icelandic community felt was a snub and are still calling on the city to overturn the decision or name a new street for him.

The story was a perfect fit for my column and I wrote about it here. Doing the research for the column, I came across too much interesting background information about Vopni that it was way too much to fit into a 500-word column.

Here's a more detailed look back at the life and work of John J. Vopni.

January 1, 1898, Almanak Olafs S. Thorgeirssonar

Jon "John" Jonsson Vopni was born in Iceland in 1864 and came to Manitoba in 1887. It's believed that "Vopni" is taken from the family's ancestral home of Vopnafjordur, Iceland.

Initially, Vopni settled in the Gimli area but by 1891 can be found in Winnipeg street directories as "John Vopni, carpenter" living at 646 Ross Avenue. He married Sigurbjorg Magnusdottir in October 1893 and the couple settled on Ross for the next few years and began a family.

The first newspaper mention of a construction contract for Vopni comes in 1899 when he was awarded the federal government tender to build the first permanent pier at Gimli Harbour.

March 24, 1904, Logberg

Vopni tended to work in partnership with other Icelandic builders or developers. In 1899, he joined forces with H. Halldorson to create the construction company Halldorson and Vopni. From 1903 to November 1906, it was with Thorstein Oddson and Skulli Hansson in Oddson Hansson & Vopni, a construction, development, real estate, and insurance firm.

Oddson Hansson & Vopni (OHV) were active just as the West End of Winnipeg was being transformed from a mainly rural enclave on the edge of town into a dense residential suburb between the years 1903 to 1910.

The company advertised regularly offering one or more homes for sale at a time. Ads such as the one above showed they were also responsible for the sale of likely hundreds of residential lots for others to build on.

October 5, 1904, Winnipeg Tribune

At least 120 building permits were issued to Vopni between 1900 and 1906. He received six for Toronto Street in October 1905 alone. Most were for houses in the West End with a cluster around what is now the Health Sciences Centre on Bannatyne.

This is not the true extent of his work as he often worked in partnerships and later funded construction projects as a developer. (As building permits were normally issued to the primary contractor his name wouldn't appear in records.)

It is hard to find examples of Vopni houses today as he tended to build on streets that were newly subdivided. Instead of house numbers, most permits have vague descriptions of the location, such as "East Side Victor Street between Ellice and Sargent".

Some can be traced using owner's names and street directories and they are quite typical of what you see in the West End - everything from small bungalows to the standard 2.5-storey family homes. One of the finer examples is 11 Lipton Street built for his son, John A., in 1922.

Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

An example of a Vopni-built commercial block is the ca. 1902 McKerchar Block at 600 Main Street. Designed by architect J H G Russell, Edward Cass and Vopni teamed up to build it.

Another building he apparently built was the 1903 Dingle and Stewart Block at 263 - 265 Stanley Street for the odd combination of family businesses Dingle Bros. construction and Dingle and Stewart Fruit Merchants. 

Both of these buildings were prior to his involvement in OHV, so it seems his efforts as a builder of commercial blocks was channelled into residential development instead.

September 30, 1905, Winnipeg Tribune

Vopni built the first permanent home of the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church on Ellice Avenue and Beverley Street in 1905. It was described in a newspaper article as measuring 32 x 80 feet with room for 300 worshippers.

The congregation built a new church in 1913 and the old building became home to Elim Chapel for a year or two until they moved on. In the 1940s, it was a Holiness Movement Church.

Despite some of these churches having a well-documented history, finding a photo of this church is difficult.

December 6, 1906, Winnipeg Free Press

A mixed-use building that opened a month or so after the OHV partnership dissolved was the 1906 Vopni Building at Ellice and Langside which was also designed by architect J H G Russell. The name of the building lasted only a year or two which suggests he may have sold it off soon after it opened. The building has been demolished.

This is not to be confused with the Vopni Block, an apartment building on Lydia Street and Bannatyne Avenue which was the same intersection as the family home. It went by this name from about 1906 to 1914 and was demolished likely for a schoolyard.

1908 Henderson's Directory of Winnipeg

The Vopni Building on Ellice contained apartments upstairs and a general merchant store called The Vopni-Sigurdson on the main floor. It sold everything from crockery to boots to hardware.

The business was a partnership between John Vopni with his wife Sigurborg, Sigurd Sigurdson with his wife Jona, and local butcher Halldor J. Vopni. It appears to have lasted until 1910.

May 26, 1909, Winnipeg Free Press

In May 1909, Vopni was awarded the contract to build 20 stations, 14 section houses, and various outbuildings along section F of the new National Transcontinental Railway line.

The line is described in the 1911 - 1912 Seasonal Papers of the Dominion of Canada as "That portion of the line between Winnipeg and Lake Superior Junction - the junction point of the G.T.P Railway Company's branch line to Fort William and the main line of the National Transcontinental Railway...".

The contract was worth $118,743, about $3 million in today's money, and appears to have taken a couple of years to complete.

It is said that Vopni then got into developing apartment blocks. This is likely the case as many of his contemporaries, such as Arni Eggertson, G. Johnson, and Thorstein Oddson, did just that. Icelandic builders and financiers helped dot Winnipeg's urban landscape with hundreds of three-storey walk-ups in the pre-World War I period.

December 2, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

Vopni turned his attention to community service after the war.

He was elected twice, in 1917 and 1918, to city council representing Ward 4. In his rookie year, he was appointed to the good roads committee, pension committee, and the prestigious post of chair of the city's property and works committee, a position previously held by Mayor Fred Davidson. He also sat on the 1918 Special Committee on Amalgamation that recommended a sweeping reorganization of the city's bureaucracy.

In the lead-up to the November 1918 civic election, which he ended up losing, the Winnipeg Tribune reported that “…Alderman Vopni has handled his civic duties commendably and especially his duties as chairman of the board of works, city officials aver.”

After the election, Vopni served on the board of trustees of the Winnipeg General Hospital. He was first elected by hospital subscribers, (it was a private, charitable institution at the time), in April 1919 and served until his retirement 22 years later.

Other organizations that he was a long-time executive member of included First Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Synod, Gimli's Islendingadagurinn - serving as its president in 1907 and 1919, and the Jon Bjarnason Academy board of directors from 1914 to 1921.

1936 Jon Bjarnason Academy Yearbook

Vopni got involved in the printing business later in life and it was something that would define the future of the family as many of his sons went on to have careers in the printing or publishing business.

In the 19-teens he was on the board of Columbia Press, the publishers of Lögberg newspaper, and served as the paper's business manager.

In 1920, he founded the commercial printing firm Art Press and built a building for it at 106 Lydia Street which was located in the back yeard of the family's Bannatyne Avenue home.

It was a family business with a number of his sons working there, including John A Vopni who went on to the newspaper publishing business, and  Bill Vopni. Son Edward Vopni carried on the business into the late 1980s and the company still exists today.

As for his personal life, John and Sigurbjorg Vopni moved from Ross Avenue to 620 McDermot around 1902, then to a large house he built at 597 Bannatyne Avenue in 1904 where they would remain for the rest of their lives. There was also a family cottage at Gimli.

The Vopnis had twelve children: Aurora Vopni (Ross) 1895-1993; Anna Vopni (Bardal)1897-1919; John Anthur Vopni 1898-1972; Bjorgvin Magnus (Bud) Vopni 1900-1989; Edward Vopni 1902-1992; Wilfrid Herman Vopni 1903-?; Rakel Margaret Vopni (Lloyd) 1906-1996; August Vopni (Clark) 1906-1973; Wilfred Halldor (Bill) Vopni 1911-1973; Richard Leon Vopni 1913-1941; Helen Jona Sigurborg Vopni (Munday) 1915-2021; baby boy 1919. (Source: Vopni family member)

The Vopnis in 1943 at their 50th Anniversary
Western Canada Pictorial Index, Gunnlaugsson Collection

Sigurborg Vopni came to Winnipeg from Iceland with her family at the age of ten. When she wasn't rearing children, she was involved in First Lutheran Church and a member of the Jon Sigurdsson Chapter of the IODE for which she hosted numerous events, such as silver teas, at the house.

Starting around 1920, as the children moved out, the Vopnis rented out rooms to lodgers. By the 1940s they were advertising three rooms. They remained at the house until their deaths.

John J. Vopni died June 11, 1956, at St. Boniface Hospital at the age of 92 and is buried in Brookside Cemetery. (It is a place he knew well as back in 1897 won the bid to erect a mortuary chapel on the site.)

Sigurborg Vopni died August 7, 1957, at the age of 81 and is buried in Brookside Cemetery.

Thanks to Dorothy Mills of the Vopni family for additional information.

Family waits 40 years to redress name change Winnipeg Free Press
Thorstein Oddson's West End West End Dumplings
Architect Paul M Clemens West End Dumplings

Friday, 8 April 2022

Winnipeg Parkade Tour


On April 9 and 23 I'll be hosting parkade walking tour!

We will visit five of the first six above-ground parkades built downtown (1954-64). I'll talk about their history, design, and how the city dealt with the post-war 'parking crisis' of the 1950s.

Check out the WAF website for more info and to register. If parkades aren't your thing, there are ghost sign tours, a postcard tour, Transcona Trail tour, a film festival, and more all going on for Design Month.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Urban history in Selkirk MB: Selkirk Lift Bridge

© 2018, 2022, Christian Cassidy

In 2020, I had a chance to do a lot of historic research for the City of Selkirk for their new online museum and archive collection. This series is a brief summary of some of the interesting buildings and places that I found there.  If you want to try someplace new or an urban walk, definitely check out Selkirk!

This research originally appeared in my Winnipeg Real Estate News Column of August 2018.

Selkirk Lift Bridge
Designer and Supervising Engineer: Arthur J. Taunton, Department of Public Works
Substructure: Macaw and MacDonald
Superstructure: Dominion Bridge
Official Opening: May 3, 1937

The Selkirk Lift Bridge was funded by the federal government as a depression relief project. The engineer in charge was Arthur J. Taunton, assistant engineer for the federal Department of Public Works office in Winnipeg.

The bridge was completed for the most part by March 1937 but a debate broke out over who would operate and maintain it. The town of Selkirk and R.M. of St. Clements said they could not afford it. The feds said that wasn't part of the original funding deal and that if it had to assume responsibility, it would charge a toll.

Residents who had become fed up with negotiations took matters into their own hands on April 29, 1937. They laid timbers over the span in the bridge so that people could cross it. (The centre span wa left raised until the ownership of the bridge was worked out.)

This prompted the governments to reach a cost sharing agreement and the bridge officially opened with little fanfare on May 3, 1937.

My photo album of the Selkirk Lift Bridge
Selkirk Lift Bridge Selkirk Museum

Urban history in Selkirk MB: Selkirk Arena and Memorial Hall

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

In 2020, I had a chance to do a lot of historic research for the City of Selkirk for their new online museum and archive collection. This series is a brief summary of some of the interesting buildings and places that I found there.  If you want to try someplace new or an urban walk, definitely check out Selkirk!


The Selkirk Arena and Memorial Hall
368 Jemima Street, Selkirk MB
Prime Contractor: Ralph Walterson of Selkirk
Officially opened: December 9, 1949

The sod turning ceremony for the Selkirk Arena and Memorial Hall took place on September 28, 1948 by Mayor W. E. Gordon and Kinsmen Club president J. C. Erickson

The prime contractor was local builder Ralph Walterson whose team of paid workmen was supplemented by volunteer work parties on evenings and weekends.

The rink hosted its first ice-free event, the Selkirk Rotary Club Carnival, in September 1949. The official opening took place on December 9, 1949.

The man who cut the ribbon was 94-year-old John W. Jones who built and operated Selkirk's previous arena, the Alexandra Rink ,for over 20 years.

My photo album of the Selkirk Arena and Memorial Hall

Urban history in Selkirk, MB: Daerwood School

© 2021, Christian Cassidy

In 2020, I had a chance to do a lot of historic research for the City of Selkirk for their new online museum and archive collection. This series is a brief summary of some of the interesting buildings and places that I found there.  If you want to try someplace new or an urban walk, definitely check out Selkirk! 

This research first appeared in my column in the April 17, 2018 edition of the Winnipeg Real Estate News.


Daerwood School
211 Main Street, Selkirk MB
Architect: Edward Prain
Officially opened: January 26, 1951

Daerwood school was built to replace the ageing South Ward School built in 1907 on this site. By the 1940s, the old building had become outdated and, like all schools in the area, very overcrowded.

The architect chosen to design the $150,000 structure was Scottish born and trained Edgar Prain from Winnipeg. 

Though he had some experience designing or expanding urban schools Prain chose to do something very different in Selkirk. Rather than the traditional brown or buff brick inlaid with decorative Tyndall stone features, he used a variety of coloured bricks in alternating patterns. The simple silhouette and curved main entrance gives Daerwood School a distinct art deco feel.

The school division turned to its pupils to pick a name for the new school. The winning essay came from 10-year-old Barry Gordon, son of mayor W. E. Gordon. For his efforts Barry received a $15 prize.

Ground was broken in April 1949 but the discovery of an underground stream beneath the site meant that the contractor, Leitch Construction of Winnipeg, had to drive 65 steel caissons before construction could continue. This caused a significant delay in construction time and inflated the price tag.

On July 15, 1950, Daerwood school’s the cornerstone was laid.

The ceremony included acting mayor Steve Oliver, Mr. C. Harper, chair of the school board, Edgar Prain and a performance by the Selkirk Male Voice Choir. The person who got to lay the cornerstone, inside of which is a metal box containing "many documents of interest" including Barry Gordon's winning essay, was provincial education minister C. Rhodes Smith.

The school officially opened to the community on Friday, January 26, 1951. Over 1,500 people showed up to get a tour of its eight classrooms and gymnasium before classes began on Monday.

Some areas of the school, like the basement home economics area and some equipment, had to be put on hold due to budget constraints. Long-time school principal Mae Gardner hosted a tea during the open house to raise money to furnish her own office and teachers’ lounge.

The school has been expanded a number of times. To the credit subsequent school division officials, they chose to hide the additions behind the original building leaving its unique, colourful façade intact.


Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Urban history in Selkirk MB - Selkirk Curling Club

© 2022, Christian Cassidy

In 2020, I had a chance to do a lot of historic research for the City of Selkirk for their new online museum and archive collection. This series is a brief summary of some of the interesting buildings and places that I found there.  If you want to try someplace new or an urban walk, definitely check out Selkirk!

Selkirk Curling Club
381 Jemima Street, Selkirk, MB
Architect: Moody Moore and Partners
Opened: January 13, 1962

The six-sheet, $100,000 Selkirk Curling Club was designed by Moody Moore Partners of Winnipeg. It was constructed by a consortium of local contractors and building supply companies that wanted to be part of the project.

The sod breaking took place in August 1961 on the old Selkirk and District Fair Grounds and the first game was played in the new complex on December 27, 1961. It officially opened to the public on January 13, 1962.

For my photo album of the Selkirk Curling Club
More Selkirk urban history links
The Selkirk Museum