Thursday, 14 May 2015

Instead of Terry Fox Day, why not recognize hundreds of Manitobans?

The Manitoba Government is introducing legislation to change the name of the Civic Holiday to Terry Fox Day. (Interesting side note: it appears that it was Winnipeg's first mayor, Frank Cornish, who introduced the Civic Holiday in Winnipeg in 1874 and other cities adopted it. I still need to fully fact check this - stay tuned !)

This post is in now way meant to slag the memory of Terry Fox, but before the only two holidays we have a lot of latitude to rename get named for people (in perpetuity), let's consider New Brunswick's Heritage Day.

Heritage Day is what New Brunswick named their third Monday in February holiday, what we call Louis Riel Day. That Monday happens to be known as Heritage Day nationally, though it is not a national holiday. That is why, for instance, Heritage Canada, Heritage Winnipeg and other history-related groups and museums already did special events that day.

What Nova Scotia did with their Heritage Day is something unique. Each year, the day honours a different historic figure !

For instance,  2015, their first Heritage Day, was in honour of African Nova Scotian Viola Desmond who was arrested when she refused to leave the whites-only section of a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946. They then rolled out the names of the next six people to be honoured.

What a great way to honour the memory and explore the achievements of not only icons like Terry Fox, but unsung heroes who built our province and are a forgotten footnote in a history book, if they were mentioned at all.

Every community has them. They are from every walk of life, every occupation, every race, religion and colour. You could even do them in groups, (for instance, the centenary of the Winnipeg Falcons winning the first gold medal in men's Olympic hockey is in 2020.)

Of course the sucky thing about doing this in August versus February is that schools are out and you might find key people at museums and archives on holidays. Still, for a city and province that is already pretty meh about celebrating history, we have a chance to celebrate hundreds of Manitobans over the next century if we do this right.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Sunday's building losses: 175 Donald and 543 Bannatyne

Sunday was a bad day for100+ year old residential buildings in Winnipeg's core.

543 - 545 Bannatyne Avenue

Bottom: 1918 ad, Winnipeg Tribune

Fire appears to have completely destroyed the apartment buildings at 543 - 545 Bannatyne. They were empty, undergoing renovation so no tenants were affected.

This was a pair of adjoined buildings constructed a year apart as investment properties around 1910. The building on the west was built first, ca. 1909. It was known as Shipley Court, 545 Bannatyne, by architect V. W. Horwood. To the east is the ca. 1910 Bannatyne Apartments, 543 Bannatyne,  G.W. Northwood, architect.

Over time the Shipley name appears to have been dropped and both apartments were referred to as Bannatyne Apartments.

As a number of people have pointed out, this is the same apartment block used on the cover of The Guess Who album So Long, Bannatyne. So long, indeed.

175 Donald Street

Lonely House
Lonely House 3 - Donald Street
Around Downtown

On a completely different scale, one of the last remnants of central downtown's residential past has been demolished. I've always meant to do a full history of this house knowing that one day I would drive by and it would be gone. A bit too late for that now ! Here, though, are a few notes about its past.

ad ca. 1904

It is pre-1900 and has had many incarnations. Early on, it housed a couple of lodgers at a time, one of them being physician Correl C. Field who lived and practised from there until 1904.

When he moved out in 1905, the Family of John E Holland moved in. He was a manager at J C Wilson Ltd, a Montreal-based paper company that just opened a branch in the city. His son, also John, was a bank clerk. They stayed there for over 20 years.

June 18, 1934, Winnipeg Tribune

In the late 1920s and 30s it went back to being a duplex. Tragedy struck one of the families living there, the Dorans, in 1934 when their 11-year old son drowned in the Red River near the Norwood Bridge while swimming with friends.

After the war, the residential fortunes of the downtown began to change as new suburbs were developed. In 1948 this house started a new chapters a commercial building, home to W. J. Schadek Realty who rented out the upstairs suite, usually to pensioners. That firm stayed until 1960.

Lonely House .. gone
Lonely House .. gone

It then became home to R and H Realty. Around 1964 they were joined by Canadian Chamois Co., who appeared to not to sell the product form this site but, for a time anyway, manufactured them there.

the R and H / Canadian Chamois were the last tenants as the sign above the door at the time of demolition attests. The last mention of the address in the Free Press comes in 1981, a classified ad seeking part time bookkeeping help. It did not specify what company placed it.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Winnipeg's oldest home furnace !

October 31, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

A local company, The Furnace Experts, recently held a contest to find Winnipeg's oldest working furnace. The prize? A brand new furnace system !

This Global News story covers the winner. A Luxton Avenue homeowner who had a 79-year old beast taking up most of her basement, still churning out heat until this past winter.

Western Foundry Co, Wingham Ontario, ca. 1907 (source)

The photos indicate that it was an Acme brand furnace. Acme was a line made by the Western Foundry Co. of Wingham, Ontario. The company formed in 1902 and a few years later signed an exclusivity agreement for its stoves and furnaces with with Eaton's that lasted through the 1950s. (Read more about Western Foundry here.)

As you can see form the above ad from the year the Luxton Avenue home got its furnace, the purchase price was around $100, making it excellent value for the money ! Eaton's also offered a financing plan in 1936 because, after all, it was the tail end of the Depression and not many working class homes would have had $100 in savings built up.

The company has moved on to another contest: the oldest air conditioning unit in Manitoba !

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

My take on the Alberta NDP win, for what it's worth

Back when I started blogging, I used to dabble in political commentary so here's a throwback. My take on the NDP win in Alberta, for anyone who cares what my opinion is is that it is interesting, a bit surprising, but I wouldn’t use words like "shocking".

Over the past couple of decades Alberta’s population has swelled due to two reasons: international immigration, where having a leftish or labour governments is not foreign to them; or migration from other provinces, most of which have had NDP governments in recent memory. For either group an “NDP (or like) government” is not some strange anomaly. In fact, having a single party ruling for 40-something years and expected to rule for 40 more would only be familiar to those from places like China or the Eastern Block.

Off the top of my head, I can think of four or five friends who went out there as young 20-somethings to make gobs of money and party good portions of it away on the weekends. They had a ball. Now, those people are older, most are homeowners, some have kids. I’m guessing if you asked them to rank their priorities, “make gobs of money” and “great parties” probably don’t rank number one and two on their life lists anymore.

There are tens, surely, hundreds of thousands of people like them in Alberta and they simply supplanted what the rest of the country thinks of as the stereotypical Albertan.

Thanks to U.S. election coverage and U.S.-style campaign tactics and hate ads here, its been ingrained that there are huge differences between the parties. But I am guessing in Alberta, just as here, the differences aren’t as great as the bogeyman makes them out to be.

I am sure if you took three middle years from Filmon’s tenure, a couple of years from Carstairs’ Liberals and three middle years from Doer’s tenure and put them side by side, erasing any part names, you wouldn’t see many remarkable differences, just variations on a theme. That's the reality of politics - you can't just unleash your party's policy convention resolutions on a province. Alberta will survive this.

Some trivia: if you think Selinger’s 1% PST increase got people going, it was the TORIES that brought in the PST in the first place in the 1960s – from nothing to 5%! The last balanced budget the province had was under the Liberals. Duff Roblin had unprecedented spending levels during his reign - I would imagine record setting. He spent hundreds of millions, probably tens of billions if converted for inflation to today’s dollars, to construct university buildings, hospitals and the Red River Floodway.

Yet, if you asked people what the provincial parties traditionally stand for, they'd run off a list of what they THINK the parties stand for, not reality.

Good luck to the NDP in Alberta, they'll need it. Going from the wilderness to governing overnight is a huge leap and not all parties make the adjustment well. they'll also find out why its important to choose candidates wisely, even in seats that you think you would never, ever win !

Sunday, 3 May 2015

McPhillips Street Pumping Station No. 2

McPhillips Street Pumping Station (2)
Bottom: ca. 1930 Winnipeg Tribune Photo Collection, University of Manitoba Archives

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about the McPhilllips Street Pumping StationNo. 2. next time you're driving by McPhillips Street and Logan Avenue, keep an eye out for it !

Below, I've included some newspaper clippings about the station and you can visit my Flickr photo album of a recent tour !

 Under construction, May 23, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

Architect's drawing, April 6, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

April 29, 1933, Winnipeg Tribune

The Radio Edition - The Gas Station Theatre (encore presentation)

Image: GSAC

I plan on being tired and sunburned after taking part in Jane's Walk this weekend, so tune in Sunday night at 7 pm on 101.5 for an encore edition of West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition, (or you can check out the podcast here.)

In November 2014 Geof Langen, board chair of the Gas Station Arts Centre, sat down with me for the entire hour to talk about the past, present and future of the Gas Station Theatre.

The term "Gas Station Theatre" is so familiar to us that its easy to forget that the site really was home to a gas station for almost sixty-five years. Last year, the centre celebrated its 30th anniversary and announced that they were exploring the redevelopment of the site. Last week, they officially launched the campaign

Hear more about the project on the show and read more about the theatre's history at my Winnipeg Downtown Places blog.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Behind The Photo: Masquers Club at Dominion Theatre (1935)

Image source: WCPI on Facebook  

This photo, "The Masquers' Club of Winnipeg at Dominion Theatre, Winnipeg, MB", dated April 1935, is from the University of Winnipeg's Western Canada Pictorial Index, No. 08752, Miscellaneous Collection.

It was likely taken in early April, in conjunction with their 1934 - 35 year-end revue called Hits and Misses. Rehearsals began in mid-February and appeared on stage at the Dominion on the evenings of April 5, 6, 8 and 9, 1935. Directed by Moray Sinclair and Brenda Bennet, it consisted of two vaudeville-type numbers featuring a dance chorus of 30, then a one-act play, Anton Chechov's The Bear. The show was favourably reviewed by both newspapers, read the Tribune's here !

I could not figure out what "Chuck Connors" refers to. It does not appear in write-ups for their show or as the name of a prominent cast member. The only "Chuck Connors" circulating in the city at the time was in the 1933 film version of The Bowery, which was in its second run at neighbourhood cinemas. In it, Wallace Beery played the part of saloon owner Chuck Connors. Perhaps one of their vaudeville numbers spoofed the play or was set in Connors' saloon.

Here's more background on the venue and the company:

Bank of Montreal, Portage and Main, c. 1925
Circa 1925, Dominion on the left (source: winterbos)

The Dominion Theatre was located on Portage Avenue East, approximately where the Fairmont Hotel is now. Brothers George and Victor Kobold opened it in December 1904 as a vaudeville house. They were not part of a chain but did have an agreement with Orpheum circuit to show their performers when they came to town, which guaranted them a steady stream of decent acts. (The agreement ended in 1911 when the Orpheum Theatre opened but by then the Kobolds had already sold it off.)

The 1930s were a tough decade for live theatres. Their fortunes sagged through the 1920s as "talking pictures" became the preferred entertainment of the masses, then the Depression hit. The Playhouse, already cut adrift from the Pantages chain in 1923, became city property in 1935 in a tax sale. It was the same fate for the Walker the following year. The Dominion, though, seems to have slogged through under private ownership as a theatre for hire.

To survive, the theatre needed to be all things to all people. In the three months leading up to the WCPI photo being taken the Dominion was home to lectures by travelling professors, travelogue slide shows, a Mason's gathering, the River Heights School of Dancing recital, a few evenings of Canada-U.S. boxing matches and the Manitoba fencing championships.

A number of theatre companies used its stage during this period. The UMSU Dramatic Society, Good Neighbours Club, Winnipeg Little Theatre, the Players' Guild, the Catholic Theatre Guild, Winnipeg Junior Dramatic Society,  Societe Lyrique Gounod, Westminster Actimist Club and, of course, the Masquers Club of Winnipeg.

March 23, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune

The Masquers Club of Winnipeg was actually another name for the Eaton's Employees' Dramatic Club, started at the Winnipeg store in 1933.

Eaton's was big on providing and supporting "extra curricular" social and recreational activities for its employees. Head office liked the idea of a dramatic club, mainly for the fact that it attracted a larger participation among female employees than some of their other activities such as sporting events. the following year, the company rolled out the idea to its other stores.

Given the success of the Masquers Club of Winnipeg, which you will read about below, when the Toronto store employees were looking for a name for their dramatic club in 1934, they asked permission from the Winnipeg Masquers if they could use the same name, (source). They agreed, and the Masquers Club of Toronto was formed. Soon, there were Masquers Clubs at the Montreal, Hamilton and Calgary stores.

May 1, 1935, Winnipeg Tribune

The Masquers Club of Winnipeg burst onto the Manitoba Senior Dramatic League scene in 1933. Their first feature play, The Man Born to be Hanged by British writer Richard Hughes, and directed by Winston McQuillin, was a huge success. It won top prize at local and regional drama festivals, which meant that in April 1933 they were off to Ottawa to compete against the country's bestamateur dramatic companies. They won top prize - the Bessborough Cup.

July 25, 1933, Winnipeg Free Press

Governor General Bessbourough and Countess Bessborough were to visit Winnipeg in the summer of 1933 and requested a command performance. The gala evening took place on August 2nd at the Winnipeg Auditorium. At the end of the performance the Bessboroughs formally presented the cup to the Masquers.


The win also earned the cast, (Ernest Nichol, Moray Sinclair, Mary Munro, R. Robertson and Eric Wiseman), a national audience. They were soon back in Ottawa to record the drama for the Canadian Radio Commission, forerunner to the CBC. The show was broadcast across the country on May 5, 1933.

The Masquers Club Of Winnipeg's 1934 - 35 theatre season also ended with a regional victory for Anton Chekhov's The Bear. Again, they went to the national finals but this time placed second. Actor Moray Sinclair, however, was singled out for the best acting performance of the festival.

Later that year, Allan Wade, a veteran London stage actor and playwright who was often invited to be a judge at regional and national dramatic festivals, praised Sinclair when he was in Winnipeg and said that he should go professional. He did go on to be a noted local director. The Royal Manitoba Theatre centre has a scholarship con-named in his honour.

The Masquers continued its local success but does not appear to have made it back to the national festival after 1935.

November 18, 1933, Winnipeg Tribune

It appears that the club did not enter the Drama League for the 1941-42 theatre season. they did some entertain the troops shows as part of Eaton's war efforts. After that, they disappeared.

In larger markets, like Montreal and Toronto, the Masquers continued on for a time. The Toronto group did quite a bit of touring during the war, including to England.


The Dominion Theatre, which had a terrible exterior renovation done to it some time in the 1950s, lived on.

In 1957 it became home to an upstart regional theatre company run by John Hirsch called Theatre 77, so named because the Dominion was 77 steps from Portage and Main. The following year, 77 merged with Tom Hendry's Winnipeg Little Theatre to create the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

The Dominion was MTC's home for a decade, until its demolition in late 1968 to make way for the Richardson Building project, which included Lombard Place and Winnipeg Inn, (now the Fairmont Hotel).

Leisure Magazine, Winnipeg Free Press, April 20 1968

The final performance at the Dominion was MTC's A Delicate Balance on April 20, 1968. After the show, a "final curtain party" was held. Anyone who had worked at the theatre, on stage or behind the scenes, during its 64 year run were invited to attend. The following morning MTC and its alumni held a farewell breakfast on the stage.

Construction on its new home, which was to be completed by the 1968-69 season, had not even started yet, so MTC moved to the Centennial Concert Hall. Their theatre finally opened on September 30, 1970 with a welcome breakfast on the stage for MTC and its alumni.