Monday, 31 August 2009

Medway Court: Winnipeg's 'Fiery Holocaust'

© 2009, 2017 Christian Cassidy

On September 1, 1929 the Medway Court Apartments on Edmonton Street were destroyed by fire. It is tied for being Winnipeg's second deadliest fire, killing nine and hospitalizing nine others.
This is one in blog a series about Winnipeg's deadliest fires, most of which have been long forgotten.

Medway Court Fire

Bottom: West side of Edmonton St. looking toward Central Park ca.1927 (source)

Medway Court was a three-storey walk-up apartment block located at 307-309 Edmonton Avenue near Ellice. Today, it is part of the the parking lot behind the former Free Press Building.

The above photos show where the building once stood and the bustling residential district it was part of, just north of Portage Avenue stretching towards Central Park.

The building's "for rent" classified ads catered to students and single businessmen, but the block also had some spacious five-room suites intended for families. The proximity to Central Park making it an ideal location.

September 2, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

Just after 2:30 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, September 1, 1929, a pedestrian noticed a fire on the main floor of the building and ran to a phone box to call it in. By 2:45 a.m., it was a two-alarm fire and a few minutes after that every on-duty fireman in the city was at the scene.

The fire was centred on the main floor near the front entrance which blocked people from escaping. Flames climbed the building through the back wall which made the metal fire escape ladders unusable.

The only way out for was to jump from windows and balconies.

Manitoba Free Press September 3, 1929

A Free Press reporter described the scene as a "fiery holocaust" of "shrieking, struggling humanity" as people hung themselves or their children above the ground in the hopes of escaping the smoke and flames.

Fire Chief Beech later said he arrived on scene at 2:45 a.m., just a couple of minutes after the call was received, but by the time they arrived the second and third floors were burning "fiercely".

His men saw a man hanging by his hands from a second floor balcony and called to him to wait for a ladder. By the time his crew made it to the building, the man had let go and a couple of other people had landed on the ground around them.

Later that morning, another fire chief proclaimed this to be the worst fire in the Winnipeg region's history. Worse than the St. Boniface College fire of 1922 and the previous year's Casa Loma Apartment fire that killed five. (He was mistaken as the St. Boniface fire killed ten, making it the deadliest fire in Winnipeg and region's history. I have only been able to find one fire since -
the Haselmere Apartment fire of 1974 - that equalled the number of dead.)

September 2, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

The death toll would have been higher if it weren't for the heroism of onlookers who risked their lives to help.

Fred Prout, a cabbie from Sherbrook Street, climbed a column to the first floor balcony to pull four people out of their burning suite.He also pulled two people out of a basement suite window. Others crawled up next to the burning walls to set up ladders or drag those who injured themselves while jumping away to safety.

The block was located behind the Winnipeg Free Press building and the newspaper's night staff triggered their building's internal fire suppression system and dragged
hoses across the back lane. they aimed others from upper story windows so they coule rain water down on the burning building's fire escape.

Though their efforts did not put out the fire, the staff: George Stringer, night engineer; W. Graham, night fireman; and night watchmen Arthur Young, C. Kash and Mike Kegan later received bonuses from their employer for putting their lives at risk.

Top: Winnipeg Tribune, September 5, 1929
Below: Funeral of Mrs. Gaunt

By the end of the following day, eight bodies had been recovered and nine more were in hospital. The victims, (see below of more information about them.):

- Sarah Gaunt (68) of suite 11, suffocated;
- Ralph Weighton (58) of suite 11, suffocated;
- Madge Edwards, widow, (34) and children Marjorie (9), Gordon (14), of suite 14, burned to death;
- Alfred Appleby and daughter Irene (11) of suite 10, burned to death
- Mabel Butler (34)
, suite 14, burned to death;
- William Edwards (adult)
jumped and died from his injuries the following day in hospital and was the ninth and final victim.

The injured still in hospital a couple of days after the fire included: Nellie McIntosh (23) with back injuries; Mrs. Edna Applebee (adult) in serious condition with a fractured spine; Alice Applebee (14) in good condition; Mrs. Irene Alsford (adult) with multiple injuries but in good condition.

Funerals for most of the victims took place on Wednesday, September 4 at sites across the city. Many Winnipeggers, still stunned by the tragedy and the fact that three small children died, turned up to join funeral corteges and stand outside churches to pay their respects.

September 7, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

On September 3, 1929, a coroner's inquest began. The first of numerous inquiries that went on simultaneously.

The first witness called was the coroner himself who had to identify the body of a close personal friend.
Through the testimony of witnesses and officials a number of facts came to light:

- The fire likely began under the main staircase on the main floor;

- Earlier that weekend, painters had varnished the building's entryway. Workmen said that the only items left behind were their ladders - the flammable paint and varnish were taken off-site;

- The Medway's last fire inspection was in 1920 and an electrical inspection took place a couple of years earlier. Neither found major deficiencies;

- Overgrown trees and cars parked next to the building hampered efforts to get ladders to some windows and to properly assist some of those who jumped;

- Not one survivor said that they used the metal fire escape ladders on the rear wall of the building as a means of escape.

The inquest wrapped up on September 11, 1929 after hearing from 62 witnesses. The jury unable to pinpoint an exact cause of the blaze. Subsequent fire investigations came to the same conclusion.

Casa Loma Building
The Casa Loma, Portage at Sherbrook

This was the second disastrous apartment fire in a year, the previous being the Casa Loma fire on Sherbrook at Portage which killed five. The city was determined to make a better fire code for apartments, hotels and lodging houses to prevent future tragedies.

A two-year process involving engineers, architects and building inspectors resulted in a new fire code and safety by-laws that would apply to both existing buildings and new construction. The application to existing structures was the key to the new rules as, prior to this, buildings would be grandfathered in to the fire code, if any, that existed the year they were built. 

The by-laws were fought by the rental industry, which warned that new apartment construction would cease in the city forever if they were brought in.

In the end, the code passed but continued industry pressure and the downturn in the economy due to the stock market crash forced council to repeal it in 1931.

It was not until 1943 that many of the recommendations were re-implemented. It took the Haselmere Apartments fire of 1974, which also killed nine people, to make fire code regulations the law regardless of what year a building was constructed.

More about some of the victims:

Manitoba Free Press September 4, 1929

Madge Edwards and children Gordon and Marjorie all died.

Witnesses say that Marjorie, 9, appeared at her second storey window screaming for help. Firemen called back instructing her to jump into the net below. As she was about to jump her nightdress caught fire and she fell backwards into the suite. Her body could only be identified at the coroner's inquest by the jewellery she was wearing.

The three were buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.

Top: Alfred and Edna Applebee, Sept. 2, 1929
Bottom: Dena's death, Winnipeg Tribune, Sept 4, 1943

Alfred Appleby was a clerk at a veterinary supply company. He and daughter Irene burned to death while another daughter survived. They are buried at Assiniboine Memorial Park.

Edna Applebee
, who was left paralyzed from her jump that night, died at the age of 48 on September 3, 1943, almost fourteen years to the day of the fire.
September 1, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

Mabel Butler, who lived elsewhere in the building, was visiting with the Edwards family in suite 14 at the time of the fire. Her body could only be identified by the wedding ring she was wearing.

Manitoba Free Press Oct 15, 1928

Then there was poor Mrs. Sarah Gaunt.

Less than a year before her death, Gaunt appeared in a testimonial ad for a product called KEENO, a sleep remedy for those with "fragile nerves." She is quoted in the ad saying: "I could not sleep soundly and restfully" but "using KEENO for a short time I found my nervous system stronger and I could sleep more soundly and restfully. Continuing the use of this efficient medicine I am improving right along."

At the coroner's inquest, which knew nothing of the ad of course, it was noted that Mrs. Gaunt was found dead lying in her bed. She likely slept through the commotion and died in her sleep from suffocation.

She is buried at Brookside cemetery.

Her lodger, Ralph Weighton, also died of suffocation.

UPDATE: 2009

There is no marker or memorial to note this tragedy. This is a notice I posted at the site on Sept. 1, 2009, the 80th anniversary of the tragedy:


Double bad news for Calgary ... first off, despite Alberta's decades long campaign to keep the province rat free, there's a rat alert out for one Calgary neighbourhood.

What's worse is that they might not be the healthiest rats going. New York City's Department of Health, which actually operates a Rat Information Portal, says that there's are disease free in comparison to those found in other cities.

How bad is the rat problem in NYC ? The Brooklyn Daily Eagle say's that their borough is "crawling with the rodents" and reference a NYC Department of Health poll that fond rats one of the top quality-of-life issues they face. I wrote about the poll results in detail here.

Also check out mcbrooklyn.

Not like I have a rat fetish or anything !

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Central Park Update

A couple of updates from Central Park.

The artificial turf is down !

Also, the stone work on Waddell Fountain is complete !

Friday, 28 August 2009


Well, for a guy who was accused for running a bland administration for a decade, Doer certainly made up for that this week !

I will leave the more detailed examination to folks like Curtis, Frog etc. My brief two cents:

On the resignation: In ANY career, the ability to go out while still popular and on your own terms are nice options to have. Doer was able to do both.

On the appointment: Doer has political experience and savvy, the ability to work - and get things done - with a wide range of folks and is generally likable. That's not a bad combination. He's not a foreign policy wonk but I have a feeling that under Harper you'd have one of the shortest leashes of any US Ambassador.

It's nice to have a Winnipeger there - I can't wait to see the Bomber flag flying over D.C. if the Bombers win the Grey Cup !

Good luck Mr. Doer !

List of Past Canadian Ambassadors to Canada. Doer is the first Manitoban.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Chicago Alt News

Keeping on the local media topic, Chicago has a couple of neat projects on the go.
ChicagoNow, a blog network, has recently launched. It's part forum, part local news /opinion and, given some of the recent advertising stunts by the 70 or so member blogs, part fun.

What's interesting is that the creator of ChicagoNow is the Tribune Media Group, the employee-owned company that owns 10 daily papers, 23 tv stations and even the Chicago Cubs. They describe ChicagoNow this way: Targeted to niche audiences, Chicago Now features a collection of socially relevant blogs designed to bring engaged audiences into Chicago Tribune Interactive’s digital brands. More about ChicagoNow.

The other is ChiTown Daily News.

It's been around for three years but lately has grown based on partnerships with journalism foundations. It's led by four full-time journalists with 80 community journalists trained by the site. The result is a good quality journey through the neighbourhoods and issues in Chicago.

Similar to The NY Times City Room new blog, rather than beating the topic of crime to death, the sections include: Housing, Transit, Education, Neighbourhoods, Culture, Politics and Environment to give the sense that Chicago is a three-dimensional town.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Winnipeg Trib: 29 Years Ago

Wow, on 27 August 1980 the Winnipeg Tribune closed it's doors. I can still remember those yellow boxes and their comics !

"Trib" Box at St. B Fire Hall Museum

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Turks and Caicos Coup: Enter Canada ? Part I

Could the Canada / Turks and Caicos union issue come up for air again ?

After 33 years of home rule, in what The Economist calls a very British coup, the Islands' 15 seat assembly was suspended in favour of rule by their version of the Governor General on August 14th.

Growing complaints about rapid corruption with former Premier Michael Misick and his cabinet led the British Government to call the Auld Inquiry. In his final report released earlier this summer, Sir Robin Auld found "...clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence..." and that there was "...a high probability of systemic corruption" by elected officials.

Feelings are split over the suspension of the constitution. Some consider it an outrage, (especially those who lost power). Considering what brought it about, though, some say it was overdue and needed to settle things down.

The suspension is expected to last for a two-year period.

Gordon Wetherall.
(Yeah, I'd be smiling like that, probably giggling under my breath too, if I got a posting as governor of a chain of Caribbean Islands !)

Canada's interest in "T&C", the second largest cluster of islands in the Western Hemisphere, dates back to 1917 when P.M. Robert Borden first contemplated a union with the then region of Jamaica. That idea was quashed by British PM David Lloyd George.

Fast forward to 1974 and you have NDP M.P. Max Saltsman's, proposed private members bill to enter into annexation discussions. The bill was quashed before it hit the floor but the off-beat Saltsman introduced Canadians to this exotic Island beauty and we've had a coy relationship ever since.

After Saltsman's death in 1985 the torch was carried by Winnipeg Conservative M.P. Dan McKenzie. In 1986 a delegation from the Turks and Caicos Development Organization came to Canada to seek union discussions. They were armed with an economic study and an independent poll that showed 90% support for the idea back home. An audience before an External Affairs sub-committee made it front page news across the country.

That visit reaulted in a "no thanks" but spawned the Daubney Report which concluded that union discussions were premature. It set out a potential diplomatic framework to pave the road should the parties want to pursue the matter. They included:

- creating stronger private sector economic ties
- participating in foreign aid projects with the colony
- formally asking the British Government for permission to talk
- formally asking the colony's assembly to talk

The report led to a return visit from a larger delegation and the creation of the Turks & Caicos Development Organization of Canada (no website) that would work on furthering the necessary ties. In the end, though, Canada did not bite and seek formal talks.

In 2004 on a visit to the region P.M. Paul Martin said the topic would come up between him and now disgraced Premier Misick. That same year, N.S. in a pre-emptive strike, passed a motion that if T&C ever join Canada they were welcome to do it as part of Nova Scotia.

That's three or four times that we've fended off more formal discussions with T&C. IF we get approached again is it something we should look at ? I think we should ! Seriously !

Coming Soon:
Part 2: Turks and Caicos 101
Part 3 Making the Case

Coup Media:
Official Statement Office of H.E. Governor G. Wetherall 14 Aug '09 (Audio)
World Leaders Should Condemn UK Takeover - T & C Sun (Op Ed)
A Very British Coup - The Economist
UK Imposes Turks and Caicos Rule - BBC News
Auld Inquiry Final Report - Media Release UK Foreign Office

Turks and Caicos Reference

Turks and Caicos Islands - CIA Factbook
Turks and Caicos In Depth - CBC News
Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands - Cdn Parliamentary Review (1988)

Turks and Caicos-based Links
Turks and Caicos Islands Gov't
Turks Journal
Turks and Caicos Sun
Radio Turks and Caicos
Turks and Caicos Tourism Board

Monday, 24 August 2009

Missing Stuff Alert

There's some stuff missing from the new Old Market Square area ! Well, aside from the obvious:

King Building
Ryan Block / King Building

Buflyer noticed that some building shards were missing. Taken away before the renovations and not returned to their place. I hope they're in safe keeping, not disposed of or at someone's cottage.

New Old Market Square !

I noticed something else that did not make a return: the Exchange District clock. Not historical but a nice touch in an area where so many shows and other timed events take place. Perhaps, like public loos, the public clock is perhaps seen as an extravagance ?

The Exchange in the Rain

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Crosswalk Accident on Henderson

I came across a terrible accident on my way home today. An elderly woman was hit by a car in the pedestrian corridor at Henderson and Edison. On one of the few truly beautiful days of summer a woman, a driver, their families, and the many witnesses now wish they could forget it.

The building I work in overlooks a pedestrian corridor and I have to say that I am surprised that more people are not injured in this way. Daily I hear the sounds of screeching brakes. Sometimes this takes place when the lights are going PLUS the presence of an adult school crossing guard in the intersection. I have witnessed some terribly close calls.

Perhaps it's not surprising. We're in a hurry. We want our 'right' to text, make phone calls and all of the other comforts of home while behind the wheel.

I'm one of those 'morons' who actually STOPS at regular, old crosswalks such as the one above near my house. From the horn-honking, yelling, bird-flipping and people pulling out from behind me to pass while I am stopped, I would make an unscientific estimate that maybe 40% of people know what these things are. Through conversations with people, be it in a friendly setting or the more heated kind on the road, it's apparent that people are mistaken as to what a crosswalk is.

So, here is a refresher for those drivers who figure they know it all and that I am the screw-up.

CROSSWALKS are those painted lines on the road with the oddly postured, black stick-man (dimensionally-challenged person) signs on either side:

Stopping is not optional at a crosswalk. Go back to the Drivers Ed handbook and it states:

What many think are crosswalks are actually called PEDESTRIAN CORRIDORS.

The Manitoba Highway Safety Act defines a CORRIDOR as: a crosswalk, at an intersection or elsewhere, that has been designated as a pedestrian corridor by the proper traffic authority and that is illuminated and distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by (a) such lights and other traffic control devices on the highway, and (b) such lines or other markings on the surface of the roadway.

In Winnipeg: These corridors are equipped with flashing beacons and internally illuminated signs, installed over the roadway. This is what they look like, or see above:
At pedestrian corridors, at least, a vast majority of motorists seem to know that they must stop. Still, back to the Drivers Ed handbook:

In summary:
This is a Crosswalk:
This is a Pedestrian Corridor:
Stop at BOTH if people want to cross.
Plus, don't honk your horn or flip the bird at a vehicle that has stopped.
Also, don't hit the people crossing.

End of lesson. Now, put down your Blackberry and get your eyes back on the road.

Related / Sources:
The Highway Traffic Act - Province of Manitoba
Manitoba Driver Handbook - MPIC
Pedestrian Corridors - City of Winnipeg
Winnipeg Traffic Signs - City of Winnipeg

Friday, 21 August 2009

I Love Manitoba (15) Grain Elevators

It's the quintessential prairie marker and, for many, is a beautiful sight. There's nothing particularly beautiful about them up close. Dusty, dirty, utilitarian. What has made them such an icon ? They're one of the few things we have created that could stand up to the prairie.

Cars ? An insignificant blot.
Trains ? Not even close.
The elevator, now that stands out.
It marks not only space but, similar to an inukshuk, is testimony that "we've been here". Unlike the inukshuk, however, they won't be around for generations, or even years, to come. In the 1930's there were around 6,000 primary elevators in the West. In just the past decade the number has dwindled dramatically:

Primary Grain Elevators (source)
1999... MB: 218..... SK: 582..... AB: 279 .....Total: 1279
2009... MB:.. 88..... SK: 185..... AB:.. 88. .....Total: ..361

Next time you drive by one of these 'prairie castles', slow down and take it in. It might not be there the next time you pass.
Related Links:
- Some grain elevator 101.
- Grain Elevators.ca has a great photo inventory of elevators.
- The U of S Wheat Pool page has many historic photos.
- The oldest standing elevator in the West is at Fleming, Sask. (near Moosomin).
- Of course, at Inglis, Manitoba there is the Inglis Grain Elevators National Historic Site.