Sunday, 26 March 2017

Artspace at 30 !

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about the former Gault Brothers' Warehouse, better known as Artspace.

In recent years we've taken development in the Exchange District for granted - there are always a number of big projects on the go at any one time. Thirty years ago, though, when Artspace was being created it was seen as a bold and risky venture.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Brandon's 8th Street Bridge to be Demolished

8th Street Bridge in 1981, (McKee Archives)

Earlier this month, the city of Brandon announced that the nondescript 8th Street Bridge will be demolished. The work is expected to cost $825,000 and should last from April to September 2017.

The bridge, opened in 1968, is second 8th Street Bridge, to stand on this site. It was closed to southbound traffic in May 2015 due to condition issues, including a corroding expansion plate. It was closed completely to vehicle traffic in July 2015.

There is still no firm plan to replace the structure.

 Alignment of bridge, ca. 1957, (Manitoba Maps on Flickr)

Like Winnipeg, the city of Brandon is divided in half by the CPR and the issue of providing sufficient crossings of the rail yards has often been contentious. 

Many crossings have come and gone, though the current array of a 1st, 8th and 18th crossing have been around since soon after the first 8th Street bridge opened. The bridge actually crosses halfway between 8th and 9th streets on the south side.

 Bridge in background, ca. 1910s, (Canafornian on Ipernity)

On the morning of March 19, 1903, Brandon's Mayor Hall and the CPR signed an agreement that would see the railway construct a vehicular bridge over their yards then hand it over to the city free of charge. The sweetheart deal was due to the fact that the CPR, controversially, wanted to close other, older crossings such as at 6th street.

The bridge was 26 feet wide, 20 of that was roadway with a 6 foot sidewalk. The superstructure was made of steel with a wooden deck. The approaches were also of wood and the piles were concrete.

Bridge at bottom, lengthy north side approach at top, ca. 1922, (McKee Archives)

Work finally began on the project in mid-August, prompting the Brandon Sun to write in an editorial on August 18, 1903: “For years, the people have been asking for relief in vain and to see the work at last commenced that will give them the desired relief must be the cause of great rejoicing to the residents of this district.”     

Just getting out of the ground took a long time as piles were driven from 6th avenue to 9th. Due to it falling between streets, each approach had a dogleg turn especially on the north, Assiniboine Street, side.

In January 1904, R. McManus of the Hamilton Bridge Works Co. of Hamilton, Ontario arrived to oversee the construction of the superstructure.

Top: Bridge and pedestrian ramp at right, ca. 1933 (McKee Archives)
Bottom: July 19, 1904, Brandon Sun

At the council meeting of July 18, 1904, a letter from the CPR was read to council informing them that the bridge was now complete and possession could be handed over immediately.

The bridge served the city well, with varying amounts of maintenance and reconstruction, including the of its concrete piers around 1934. In the 1950s, though, age had begun to take its toll. Weight restrictions were limited and in 1957 the deck underwent major reconstruction with more work done in 1960.

In 1961, city engineer H. R. Akehurst noted that despite the work, the timbers and stringers beneath the deck were rotten and the nails, even on the new planks, were working themselves out on a regular basis. (City Manager G. J. Darychuk noted at a later meeting that "a number of cars had been damaged by the ‘see-saw’ action of the surface planks.”)

Top: ca. 1963, (McKee Archives)
November 23, 1961, Brandon Sun

Akehurst requested that an engineering firm be brought in to do a more complete study of its condition and Underwood, McLellan and Associates from Winnipeg were hired.

Their report warned of a number of dangerous conditions and major repairs that would be needed in what would ultimately end up being losing battle to keep the bridge open long-term. The best the city could hope for was fifteen years if they completely replaced the decking. The worst case scenario was no further life if the structure holding the deck in place was found to be too badly damaged.

For good measure, the firm drew up plans for a basic concrete overpass as part of their study.

A final decision about what to do dragged on for years. In August 1966, council voted, (with the mayor having to break the 8 - 8 tie), to take a chance on the redecking at a cost of $66,000.

It turns out that the city faced the worst case scenario when the removal of the deck revealed rot in the structure below. On September 5, 1966 the bridge was condemned.

September 8, 1967, Brandon Sun

This left the city with a huge headache when it came to crossing the yards.

By this time, the First Street Bridge approach's "temporary" closure had become permanent when the approach was removed. This bridge, now with no deck planks, was also impassable. That left the 18th Street bridge the only crossing in the area. A citizen named Wally Kaschor quipped in a letter to the Brandon Sun, “So, here we are with a city divided like Berlin."

the closure meant that pedestrians, including children, chose to cross the busy rail yards on foot rather than take what could be a 30 or so block detour to 18th Street.

September 9, 1967, Brandon Sun

The city's temporary solution was to lay a plywood pathway across the bridge structure for pedestrians to use. May complained that it was too narrow, slippery when wet, had no proper handrails and wasn't properly attached too the deck.

In October, about 50 North End residents, including Mr, Kaschor, acted out a mock "opening ceremony" of the pathway. It included someone dressed as “the mayor” and two people in white coats carrying a stretcher across the pathway to symbolize the lack of access to emergency services that residents of the North End now had.  To illustrate how narrow it was, two women coming from opposite ends of the bridge met at the middle to show that they could not pass each other.

As expected, most people still chose to walk through the rail yards. A poll in October of three, two-hour peak periods showed that only 21 people used the path and 82 crossed the rail yard on foot. Of elementary school children, only 8 out of 20 elementary school used the pathway.

Top: January 30, 1968, Brnadon Sun
Bottom: February 8, 1968, Brandon Sun

Talks about what to do with the bridge resumed again in late January 1968. On January 29, council as a whole passed the recommendation of a special bridge committee that a new bridge, based on that basic model drawn up by Underwood, McLellan and Associates in 1963, be constructed.

The new structure would be 270 feet long and built of five concrete spans.To save money, some of the existing concrete piers, which were only 33 years old, would be reused.

On February 5, 1968 the new bridge got final approval from council in an 8 – 2 vote.

The detractors were Aldermen Berneski and Nickel, who said that  reusing the old supports may still cause weight restrictions and would wear out faster than the rest of the structure. Berneski also noted the "unseemly appearance" of the bridge – a basic, concrete overpass.

Top: June 21, 1968, Brandon Sun
Bottom: December 28, 1968, Brandon Sun

The June 1968 tender for the construction bridge was awarded to Claydon Company of Winnipeg won with the lowest bid of $305,000.

Work went quickly, though did fall a few weeks behind schedule due to delays in demolishing the original structure.

On December 23, 1968, Mayor S. A. Magnacca gave the citizens of Brandon an early Christmas gift when he and other dignitaries walked to the top and officially opened the bridge.

8th Street Bridge Manitoba Historical Society
Petition Circulating in Brandon to Replace 8th Street Bridge CBC

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Harvey Smith (1936 - 2017)

Harvey Smith entered civic politics in 1980 when he beat he beat Geoff Dixon, a former councillor and the ICEC candidate for Sargent Park.

Though he may have slowed in his later years on council, most people will remember him as a tireless fighter for the inner city and for the underdog.

One of the many causes that he fought for was to keep the Sherbrook Pool open.

The last time I saw him was in early January 2017 at its grand reopening after a four year closure.  It was nice that he was able to see the festivities.

Smith died on March 12, 2017.

Rest in peace, Harvey.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Ruth Jacobs, a.k.a. Wilhelmina Stitch

My column in today's Free Press is about writer Ruth Jacobs, (1888-1936).

Initially, I thought I would be writing about her later years, after she gained fame for her poetry written under the pen name Wilhelmina Stitch. Instead, I got sidetracked with interesting stories about her husband, a prominent local lawyer, and her son, who in his twenties became an economics lecturer at Singapore's national university. Then, there was that strange relationship with a U of M professor who believed she had telepathic powers.

Sadly, each member of this overachieving local family ended up dying decades before their time. For three decades, though, they burned brightly.

Friday, 3 March 2017

A look back at Winnipeg's Mitchell Fabrics

Google Street View

Earlier this week, Mitchell Fabrics at 637 Main Street at Logan Avenue announced that it was closing after not being able to find a buyer. It will be a huge change to the area as the store has been in business for 70 years at the same location.

The roots of Mitchell Fabrics go back to a dry goods wholesale company called Mindess, Gilfix and Malt that appears to have been created in the 1920s.

Initially, it was located at 645 Main Street and by the 1940s was at 637 Main Street. Both of these addresses were in the same block, just different retail units.

The building is known as the Bon Accord, which once stood five storeys tall but in the mid-1930s the owner had it dismantled so that only one floor remained. (The story behind that is a whole other blog post !)

Mendel Berl Mitchell was born in Russia in 1907 and came to Manitoba with his family in 1921, settling in Reinland, Manitoba, near Winkler. His father, Monty, was a peddler who started a store in the home the family rented. (The photo above is of the site in Reinland, though the house was rebuilt after the Mitchells relocated to Winnipeg ca. 1947.)

After serving in World War II, Mitchell settled in Winnipeg in 1946 at 488 Flora Avenue. In the Henderson Directories of the period the house is listed as being owned by Leon Mitchell, a CPR employee. Around the same time, other Mitchells, including Benjamin, Flora, Beril and his wife Ruth also lived there.

Top: September 5, 1956, Jewish Post 
Bottom: November 28, 1966, Winnipeg Tribune

Mitchell started working for Mindess, Gilfix and Malt and became a partner with Frank Gilfix in 1947. The store was renamed Mitchell and Gilfix, Wholesale Jobbers.

Mitchell's father would join him, both working at the store and living at 488 Flora.

It is unclear what happened to Frank Gilfix but around 1960 the store was renamed Mitchell Fabrics. It never changed locations, just expanded over the decades to take up more retail units within the block until it filled the entire 10,000 square foot building plus basement.

September 28, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

Mitchell died on September 14, 1981 at Misericordia Hospital at the age of 74. It appears that he never married.

His obituary reads, in part: “Mendel was the creative and managing force behind Mitchell Fabrics from its beginning till his death. His ingenuity and imagination are reflected in the unique store which Mitchell Fabrics has become.”

The store has remained a family affair.

David and Ruth Ann (Mitchell) Borenstein married in 1965. The two co-owned and worked together at the store nearly 30 years.

Harry B. Mitchell, who owned and operated Western Garment Manufacturing Ltd from 1936 to 1971, worked at the store for a number of years after his retirement.

Paula Mitchell, (Winnipeg Public Library Annual Report, 2010)

In the mid-1980s, Mendel Mitchell's niece, Paula Mitchell, began working at the store and is a current co-owner and the public face of the company.

Mitchell has been praised by civic organizations for her dedication to the North Main Street area. She was a member of the 1997 North Main Task Force, part of the MuralFest advisory committee, chair of the Downtown BIZ and co-chair of the Winnipeg Library Foundation which successfully fundraised for the creation of the Millennium Library and Millennium Library Park.


Monday, 27 February 2017

B.C. Mills' kit Bank of Commerce in Elkhorn is closing

Top: Elkhorn CIBC ca. 1967 (Archives of Manitoba)
Elkhorn CIBC ca. 2017. Source: Google Street View

In December 2016, the 461 residents of the village of Elkhorn, Manitoba were notified that their CIBC branch on Richhill Ave E. would close as of August 2017.

Sadly, one more service disappears from rural Manitoba.

What caught my attention in the media coverage was the image of the bank. Though I've never set foot inside the building, I immediately recognized it and knew much about its history.

Top: Parks Canada: The B.C. Mills System
Bottom: June 22 1905, Winnipeg Tribune

This CIBC branch is one of the original B.C. Mills, Timber and Trading Co. "kit buildings" the bank created for prairie towns in the early 1900s. I know this because there is another kit bank in Rivers, Manitoba, built in 1908 that I followed through its renovation into a single family home.

Kit buildings, or catalogue buildings, were all the rage in the early part of the last century. As railway development pushed its way west, new villages were instantly created in its path or existing settlements had to quickly pick up and relocate to be nearer the tracks.

For sparsely populated areas it would have taken months or years to build from scratch all of the buildings it needed to create a functioning village. That's where companies like Eaton's and B. C. Mills stepped in offering kits for a variety of buildings, including barns, houses, schools, banks, halls and churches.

The kits came with everything everything you needed, in some cases even the stove and floor coverings, to finish it off.(From companies like the Scott Furniture Co. in Winnipeg, you could order the furniture by catalogue to outfit an entire building.) 

They would be dropped at the side of the tracks and with just a few men could be up and functioning in a matter of days.

Top: Elkhorn CIBC opened 1913. Source: Steel and Glass Roots
Bottom: Rivers CIBC opened 1908.
Source: Nov. 9, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune

CIBC, then known as the Bank of Commerce, hired prominent Toronto architects Darling and Pearson to design three basic bank branch models for their exclusive use. The firm had designed many of the bank's landmark, big-city buildings across Canada, including their main Western branch in Winnipeg.

On the main floor, with its 12-foot tall ceilings, was the banking hall and offices plus a vault area at the rear. The the upstairs was the apartment for the branch manager.

The plans were kept on file at B.C. Mills and kits dispatched as needed. Two rail cars was all that was needed. Its is believed that about 70 of them were erected across the West.

From looking at period photos, it appears that these are different models. Note the Elkhorn bank's portico above the door and the ionic columns that extend the entire height of the building.

Elkhorn ca. 1910, bank on the right (Source: Peel's)

According to the Elkhorn and District Historical Society, the first Bank of Commerce branch opened in June 1903, which is more than two years before the settlement was incorporated as a village on September 6, 1905.

If the 1910 date of the above image is to be believed, at some point the branch relocated to a B. C. Mills building y that time, as it can be clearly seen on the right hand side.

Top: March 19, 1912, Manitoba Free Press
Bottom: Elkhorn after the fire. Source: Steel and Glass Roots

On the evening of March 18, 1912, fire broke out at the Groat Bros. Hardware Store. It razed the hardware store, general store and the Bank of Commerce. The bank's paperwork, though, was saved and construction began later that year on a new B.C. Mills kit bank. It opened in October 1912.

What is rare about the Elkhorn building is that it is still occupied by CIBC after more than a century. Of the remaining B. C. Mills / Bank of Commerce buildings, most have been demolished or converted to other uses over the decades as the bank upgraded their premises or left town.

Aside from Rivers, other examples of these buildings can be found in Strathmore AB, Watson SK, Nokomis SK, Grandview AB, Moosomin SK, Elbow, SK, Innisfree AB.

It is possible that the building could live on as a financial institution. At a community meeting in January 2017, bank officials were asked if CIBC would restrict its sale to a credit union. The answer was no and Vanguard Credit Union is exploring the option of creating a location there.

Elkhorn ca. 1920s, bank on left. (Source: Peel's)

Future of building central issue at Elkhorn CIBC meeting - World Spectator
Elkhorn residents say CIBC's plan to close their only bank doesn't add up - CBC News

For more images of the Rivers building, including renovation photos, see my Flickr page.

For more images of BC Mills kit buildings, including banks, see the BC Mills pool at Flickr.

For more Elkhorn History, the following can be found at the Manitobia.ca books section under Elkhorn: "Elkhorn 1882-1967, edited by Marion Sipley; Steel and Grass Roots - History of Elkhorn 1882-1982 by Elkhorn and District Historical Society.

Top: Archives of manitoba, ca. 1967
Bottom: From Grain Growers Guide, 1910 (Source: Peel's)

Elkhorn CIBC Bank Managers: 
1903-04 E. M. Saunders; 1905 – 28 Rowland H. Brotherhood;  1929 – 41 S. Dunbar; 1946-51 C. F. Ronnie; 1952 -54 J. A. Courts; 1955 -1959 A. J. Alley; 1960-62 S. A. Newman; 1963 – 65 G.A. Richards; 1966 – 69 W. Davis; 1970 -72 J. L. Matchett; 1973 – 75 B. E. Stevenson; 1975 – 76 E. J. Clayton; 1976 – 1981 Mrs. G. Neild. (Source: Steel and Grass Roots)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Heritage Winnipeg Preservation Awards 2017

Heritage Winnipeg's Annual Heritage Preservation Awards will be taking place at the Millennium Centre on Monday, February 20th at 2 pm. 

The awards are a great way to not only check out a great, old building but to also hear about some of the successful heritage preservation projects that have been going on in the city. 

Often times, it is only the controversial projects that get a lot of media attention - ones that involve conflict between the city and owners, etc. Meanwhile, each year dozens of projects quietly and successfully happen thanks to the dedication of the owners and the craftsmen and women who preserve them.

Nov. 10, 1978, Winnipeg Free Press

This a great chance to also check out the Millennium Centre / former Bank of Commerce Building.

If you haven't been inside, you need to check it out ! It is the building that kicked off the city's heritage movement back in 1978.

Check back later in the day and I will post the recipients !