Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Ralph Brown of Winnipeg

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 100 Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

Ralph Russell James Brown was born in Barrie, Ontario in 1875 and came to Winnipeg in 1877 with his mother to meet up with his father who came out the year before. His family were members of Grace Church and involved in education and music. The Winnipeg Tribune once wrote of his parents: "...(they) became the centre for 30 years of groups that gathered to advance the arts."

Brown graduated from Wesley College in 1896 with a B.A. in Education, winning the Governor General’s Medal for his grades. He taught for a time, likely outside of Winnipeg, before returning to become the principal of Wellington School by 1901.

Top: January 21, 1902, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: Somerset School from Past Forward

His work impressed his superiors, including members of the school board and superintendent Daniel McIntyre. In 1902 his name was put on the short list for the principalship of the soon to be completed Somerset School at Sherbrook and Notre Dame, (now demolished.) He won a tight-fought contest.

In his personal life, Brown was a well-known athlete, especially the sport of lacrosse, which he both played and officiated. In 1902 he was made secretary of the Western Canada Lacrosse Association and was on the committee that created the public school system's football and lacrosse leagues. In 1908 he donated the R. J. J. Brown cup, which was presented for a couple of decades to the winner of the school lacrosse championship.

Brown married Harriet Belle Brown, an art teacher supervisor for the Winnipeg School Division, in 1913. They had two daughters, Eleanor and Isabel, and lived for a time at 88 Robinson Street.

November 16, 1917, Winnipeg Free Press

Brown served as principal of Somerset School from 1902 to 1914, then went back to the University of Manitoba to obtain his law degree. When war was declared, Brown, who was a captain in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles militia, enlisted for the regular forces after his first year of school. He left Winnipeg on October 18, 1915. While overseas he fought at Mons, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

Brown was wounded at Passchendaele on October 28th, 1917 and died three days later. He was 42 years old.

In the ‘History of the 44th Battalion’ the chaplain wrote: “Enemy air raids a nightly occurrence. The German planes came over in bunches. Major R.R.J. Brown of the 44the, Area Commander of the Fourth Division, with his characteristic contempt of personal danger, continued to live in a tent despite the fact that other Divisional officers sought the protection of re-inforced cellars. One night he was hit by the flying fragment of an aerial bomb. He died two days later. So passed a very gallant gentleman, whose work and influence, particularly in the early history of the 44th, have been of inestimable value to the Battalion.” (From Winnipeg School Division History of Schools - Norquay to Rockwood, p.128)

Tribune Sports columnist Tim Ching wrote: "He was one of the greatest workers for the development of athletics among youngster that the city ever had. His loss is indeed great to Winnipeg." (November 6, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune)

Brown wrote his law exams before he went overseas and if he survived would have received his law degree, so he does appear on the Honour Roll of the Manitoba Law Society.

Ralph Brown

In 1918 a temporary school building on Andrews Street was renamed Ralph Brown School. A second building was added to the site in the 1930s. In 1989 that school was replaced by a new structure that also has an adjoining community centre named for Brown.

As for Brown's children, Isabel graduated from the Fine Arts program at the Pratt Institute of Fine Arts in Brooklyn NY in 1940. Eleanor went into architecture, serving as a draughtsman in World War II and returned for her final year of studies in 1947.

Ralph Russell James Brown Virtual War Museum
Ralph Russell James Brown Attestation Papers
Ralph Russell James Brown Manitoba Historical Society
Ralph Russell James Brown Winnipeg School Division

Ralph Brown School Histories:
Ralph Brown School Winnipeg School Division
Ralph Brown School Manitoba Historical Society
Somerset School ReadReidRead

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Radio Edition for March 1, 2015: Winnipeg hockey legends !

Sawchuk (LIFE), Elizabeth II (U of M Library and Archives)

Join Kerri and me Sunday night at 7 p.m. on 101.5 UMFM for a freshly squeezed edition of West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition as we explore a couple of very different Winnipeg hockey legends.

Composer/ producer/ director Danny Schur drops by to discuss his latest project, a bio-documentary about hockey great Terry Sawchuk. We'll also get an update on the status of the movie version of Strike! The Musical.

We'll hear from Anya Wilson, who for 12 years was the custodian of the Winnipeg Arena Queen Elizabeth II portrait, and speak to Jamie Boychuk, one its new owners. Why did he do it and what are his plans for the 5-meter by 7-meter icon?!

Songs by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Strike! the Musical, Ron Hynes and Leonard Nimoy, (yes, Leonard Nimoy !).

Come back here after the show for more links, a play list and the podcast !

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Winnipeg Arena's Queen portrait returning to the city !

The final touches, Dec. 1, 1979, Winnipeg Tribune (Source)

Gilbert Burch's iconic 7-meter by 5-meter portrait of Queen Elizabeth that hung in the Winnipeg Arena from 1979 to 1999 is coming home to Winnipeg, thanks to Manitobans Jamie Boychuk and Michael Cory.

The portrait, commissioned by former Lieutenant Governor Bud Jobin, has been sitting in a warehouse near Toronto for the past thirteen years, intended for a Camp X museum that never materialized.

Its caretaker, Anya Wilson of Toronto, has always held out hope that one day it would return. She told me in December 2014 that "Winnipeg is where this portrait belongs and I would love to see it back in Winnipeg." Over the years there have been a couple of expressions of interest but when people realized the painting's size and weight, the interest waned.


Boychuk and Cory, both executives at CN, purchased the painting after hearing about it while Wilson was visiting the city earlier this month. “I remember the portrait very well, and I am excited to bring her back home to Winnipeg where she belongs,” says Boychuk. “It’s a very important piece of Winnipeg history, and I am so happy to deliver it back to a place where so many people remember it as part of their lives.“ The purchase price was not disclosed.

Kudos to Boychuk and Cory, though now comes the hard part: finding a place to show her !

I have to admit to being a fan of the portrait. It's one of those quirky bits of pop history that each city has and should embrace. My curiosity got the better of me back in 2012 when dug into its history for a blog post,that I recently updated for the Winnipeg Free Press,and have kept an eye out for news about it ever since.


I interviewed Wilson during her recent Winnipeg visit for my radio show. We spoke about the painting and what she hoped would happen to it, (this was prior to the sale.) You can listen to the interview here.

Past Media:

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth going Home to Winnipeg Toronto Star (Feb 27, 2015
Queen of the Arena has storied history Winnipeg Free Press (Dec 2014)
Queen's Portrait should hang in new arena Metro (Feb. 2012) Queen portrait heads to auction Free Press (Dec. 2011) Queen portrait going on auction block CBC (Dec. 2011)
Giant Queen portrait eyes return to Winnipeg TorStar blog (May 2011)
Largest known painting of Queen needs a home QMI (Jun 2010)

The news release issued February 26, 2015:


The large-scale portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that hung in the old Winnipeg Arena for nearly two decades may have disappeared from sight years ago, but it’s finally returning to the prairie city.

In 1979,  Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, Francis Lawrence (Bud) Jobin commissioned a painting of the Queen by commercial artist/muralist Gilbert Burch from the  global media agency, Mediacom.

On its completion, the 5x7 metre portrait was presented to the Winnipeg Arena located in the Polo Park district of Winnipeg. At the time, the arena was home rink to the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets franchise.

The portrait remained there until 1998, a few years before the aging arena was demolished by The City of Winnipeg in 2006 and was rescued from near certain destruction by Syd Davy, then president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Davy oversaw the storage of this historic artifact for several years. He eventually gifted it to Vancouver-based singer/songwriter Tim Lawson whom Syd described as, “The most patriotic man I know”.

Lawson had hoped to display the portrait at a museum being planned by the Camp-X Historical Society in Whitby, Ontario. His vision was that it would overlook the training camp grounds for Her Majesty's Secret Service. So Lawson arranged for the portrait to be transported from Winnipeg to the Camp-X location in 2002. However, for varied reasons, the portrait remained in storage ever since.

Over the years, Anya Wilson, who has long acted as custodian of the portrait, had continually heard from people in Winnipeg, whether hockey fans or not who have fond memories of the portrait and wanted its return to the city. While offers to purchase the portrait came from other parts of Canada, Wilson was determined that the portrait return to its Winnipeg home.

Wilson is now finally satisfied that the right purchaser has come  along.  While on a recent trip to Winnipeg, she was introduced by telephone to local artist Amanda Von Riesen who immediately mentioned the portrait to Jamie Boychuk. After a short bout of negotiations, Jamie Boychuk and Michael Cory, Executives at CN, have purchased the portrait and are proud to be bringing her home to Winnipeg.

“I remember the portrait very well, and I am excited to bring her back home to Winnipeg where she belongs,” says Boychuk.  “It’s a very important piece of Winnipeg history, and I am so happy to deliver it back to a place where so many people remember it as part of their lives.“

“Bon Voyage, Your Majesty!”

For Further Information:

Robin LeBlanc
Anya Wilson Promotion & Publicity
Tel: 416-266-2273
Cell: 416-9301896
E-Mail: robin@anyawilson.ca

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Blue Ribbon's lead lined tea packets and other newspaper bits

These are some odds and ends that I clipped from the newspapers recently....

June 13, 1906, Winnipeg Free Press

From the "no wonder they died younger" department, here's a 1906 ad for Blue Ribbon Tea, a product packaged here in Winnipeg. It touts the benefits of their lead wrappers ! 

May 3, 1911, Winnipeg Tribune

The glory days of rail travel are long over but Thunder Bay's Prince Arthur Hotel is a survivor and still part of the city's skyline.

 September 15, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

If bus travel is more your style, check out these1939 fares from the now defunct Grey Goose Bus Lines. Just $1.80 round trip to Winnipeg Beach and a pricey $6.50 to Deloraine.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The wonderful world of ...mosses !

Urban ecologist Joel Penner's unique exploration of plant life and death continues with the video presentation Manitoba's Marvellous Mosses. For examples of Joel's work, check out his website  Momentary Vitality and read about his urban weed walking tour of last year.

Date: Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015 at 7 pm
Place: Millennium Library, Carol Shields Auditorium
Admission: Free (donations accepted)

About:  "After learning in early 2014 that there were hundreds of Manitoban mosses I knew nothing about, I set out to learn about them by scanning them as they dry out. I discovered a complex world replete with overlooked beauty that takes us back hundreds of million of years to the plant kingdom's early foray onto land. 

The event will be an art/science-focused presentation of six short narrated videos on different mosses. Some themes will be the unique animations they produce, the scuttling critters that live in the mosses, and the staggering array of plants and fungi that live alongside any given moss."

Free moss-themed edible treats will be provided by Clandess Diner!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Know Your Zone "conundrum"


After 6,697 tickets were issued during the recent residential snow clearing, some media outlets are spending a lot of effort commiserating with those who seem baffled by the "Know Your Zone" system. To me, it's not so much the zone system that is confusing, but the fact that so many people can't grasp it.

I am not claiming that the system is a perfect one, but after checking out a lot of alternatives suggested by its detractors on radio, TV and online sources, I don't see a much better alternative being offered.

 Braunstein Block, Be Canadian First Building !
"Look, its Zone D"

Some suggest tinkering with the current system by perhaps adding the zone letters to street signs. They claim that this would help not only residents, but those visiting other parts of town who have no idea what zone they are driving into. 

The BIG assumption here, of course, is that if the letters were posted, people would dutifully check with 311 or the city website to see if it was one of the zones being cleared during the next 12 hours. This is exactly the service that 311 offers right now and that these people are not using. How would adding tens of thousands of letters to street signs improve that?

Snow Clearing January 5, 1949 Winnipeg Tribune
 January 5, 1949, Winnipeg Tribune

Others go so far as to say scrap "Know Your Zone" and go back to the old system where the city announced areas of the city that will be plowed over the course of the night. Those who lived under the old ban will remember its frustrations.

Since streets are done by priority, it meant that you sometimes had to find parking for two nights until an entire district was completed. That was an inconvenient and, if you lived in an apartment or near the core, possibly expensive undertaking.

To be as effective, the city would have to be as specific as possible. For instance, instead of "the West End", which would take days to clear completely, they would need to provide neighbourhood names such as Minto, St. Matthews etc., (there are 236 in total.) So, similar  to the current system, residents or those "visiting another parts of town" need to know the boundaries of different city neighbourhoods.

After working at a neighbourhood organization for the past couple of years, I can tell you that many residents have no idea what neighbourhood they live in. (Even the media often botches them, witness yesterday's print version of Metro which claims that an Inkster Boulevard murder happened in North Kildonan.)

The best solution I have heard so far came from a CJOB caller on Sunday night. He very seriously told the host that the city should hire kids, (because they're cheaper than them city workers, you know), to go door to door and knock and pamphlet the effected streets the evening before their street was to be plowed.

I would take it one step further and hire these kids to stand two-to-a-block on every street to give verbal reminders to people for the 72 hour duration of a snow clearing.

Sadly, even those options would still result in tickets being issued and excuses as to why people didn't know that their street was to be plowed.

Cute, cartoon snow plows explain the parking ban !

There are numerous ways, using both 20th and 21st century technology, to find out your zone, when a residential snow clearing is taking place and what zones will be cleared. (There's even a video of cute, cartoon snow plows that will explain it to you.)

Ever since there has been a City of Winnipeg, it has cleared the snow from streets and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, or at least until climate change turns us into a Mediterranean-like oasis or a burnt-up desert waste land. Until then, best to figure it all out or just accept your tickets and move on.

P.S. Yes, I had my car towed once last year !

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Radio Edition - February 15, 2015

The PODCAST can be found here !

September 1, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press (Peter Kuch)

Tonight, a look back at the often nasty "Flag Debate"of 1964, tomorrow's Heritage Winnipeg Annual Preservation Awards and other events that will be commemorated in the week ahead in Manitoba history!

Music by Edward Johnson, Michael Bublé and Ray. St. Germain.

Show Links

More flag background at the Discover Blog, CBC Archives, Department of Canadian Heritage.

Heritage Winnipeg Preservation Award 2015 nominees.

More Louis Riel at The Trial of Louis Riel from University of Kentucky School of Law, LouisRielDay.com, and take the Sun's Louis Riel Day Quiz.


The Maple Leaf Forever written by Alexander Muir (1867) performed by Edward Johnson (from The Virtual Gramphone)

Maple Leaf Rag written by Scott Joplin (1899) performed by Zachary Brewster-Geisz (from FreeMusicArchive.org)

The Metis by Ray. St. Germain

The Maple Leaf Forever by Michael Bublé