Saturday, 2 April 2011

Blake Latta and CN Express (Pt 1)

Blake and Elsie Latta
This is a three part series about the Latta family who came to Winnipeg in 1939. CN Express, the CN subsidiary that Blake Latta ran, became one of the largest corporations ever to be based out of Winnipeg employing thousands in Canada and around the globe.

Part 3: High Times for CN Express
Accompanying Map

Scott Street, Ft Frances ca. unknown
The story of the Latta family begins in Ontario where Blake was born in March 27, 1890 in Thurlow Township. The Lattas were a railway family and at the age of 15 Blake began working for the Central Ontario Railway (which eventually became part of Canadian National). He held a number of positions around Ontario, eventually working his way up to be an agent and a telegraph operator.

ca. 1910 Telegraph Station
It was during his time as a telegraph operator in Fort Frances that he met a local girl named Elsie Isherwood. Blake and Elsie married on June 26 1912.

Blake’s family, parents Anson and Annie and brother Elgie, soon moved west with the railway and settled in Edson Alberta. Blake took a longer route to get there.

Continuing from Fort Frances he became a traveling agent then in 1921 was posted to Winnipeg as a traffic supervisor. Within a year, though, he was made assistant superintendent in Saskatoon then finally ended up in Alberta in 1922 when he was made Superintendent of the Pacific Division of Canadian National Express stationed in Edmonton.

Canadian National Express was the courier division of the Canadian National empire, delivering cargo across the country and around the world. They were also responsible for money orders (and eventually CN’s telegram business).

In 1920 they took over The Canadian Express Company which gave them over 3,000 outlets across Canada and offices overseas. The ‘new’ Canadian National Express was based in Winnipeg with corporate offices in Union Station on Main Street.

Forks Market (CNX Garage) foreground, Johnston Terminal (CNX Cargo Building) in background. (Image source)

Much of CN Express' infrastructure can still be seen today at The Forks.

Above image source: Winterbos on Flickr
CNE cargo area 4
The entrance to the CN Express area is the tunnel under the tracks south of Union Station off of Main Street. It can be seen at the bottom right in the period photo above.

CN Express Winnipeg 1919
CNE cargo area
The loading docks were to the rear of the track area. (They originally extended beyond where the back wall is now).

CNE Garage, The Forks 5
CNE Garage, The Forks 3
The stables (eventually the vehicle garage) for the CN Express fleet are now the Forks Market buildings. Originally, the hay and feed would be stored above and the horses and carriages below.

CN East Yards
Overhead of Yards (Click to enlarge, source of full photo)

The cargo terminal (ca. 1930) is now the Johnston Terminal. The "Bridges and Structures Building" (ca. 1890) is now the Children's Museum. It became part of CN in 1919 and served various purposes from repair building to immigration shed to offices. The whole works was powered by the powerhouse which is now the City TV studio.

Wainwright Star, Nov 2, 1938 (source)

The depression hurt business but by the end of the 1930s things were on the rebound.

They began to modernize their fleet from a mix of vehicles, including some remaining horse and carts, to what would become an iconic symbol: blue and gold cargo trucks.

With the introduction of CN subsidiary Trans Canadian Airlines in 1938, they began experimenting with shipping cargo by air in 1939 with Winnipeg to Regina and Vancouver service then rolling it out across the country.

Winnipeg Tribune, July 31 1939

By this time it was known that C.A. Cunningham, the Superintendent of Canadian National Express since 1920, would retire in 1939 after 35 years service with the company. Blake Latta got the call the year earlier to take the reins.

He would oversee an era of incredible growth for CN Express.

Part 1: Blake Latta and CN Express


- Click on images for source information.

- Family photos are used with permission and supplied by Allyson Latta, Blake Latta’s great-niece, a Toronto-based literary editor and memoir-writing instructor with an interest in genealogy. She teaches life writing online for the University of Toronto.


Cheryl Andrews said...

I very much enjoyed reading Part 1 and look forward to the next instalment of "Blake Latta and CN Express". You have a great for weaving together the threads of fragments of family relationships with historical times and events. The period and current photographs are a bonus and contribute to the sense of being there. Well done.

Keith Latta said...

Blake Latta was my uncle -- I am now 83 years of age, living in Victoria, BC. Thanks for "Blake Latta and CN Express" - wonderful job! My first full time job was with the CN Express in Edmonton when I was 16 years of age. Looking forward to the next parts!

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Well done, Christian! Another interesting Winnipeg story. I loved the photos of the Forks where I spent many happy hours with my cousin as a tourist and now to find a connection to my friend and teacher Allyson Latta. I look forward to the next chapters.

Mary said...

You are a skilled researcher. Recently I've been researching Winnipeg in 1907 when my grandfather arrived there, amazed by the importance of railway development in that era - in, around and through Winnipeg. How fortunate that Mr. Latta had a rich history with the railways at a time when they were essential modes of transporting people and goods.


It's a fascinating series so far, Christian. I can't believe what you've been able to discover -- both facts and photographs -- and how skilfully you're blending local Winnipeg history with the Blake Latta story. There's so much here that my family didn't know about Blake and especially his time in Winnipeg. From you I'm learning a great deal, too, about the railroad, which was important in various ways to three generations of Lattas. I look forward to the next part.

mrchristian said...

Thanks for all of the comments !

I enjoy doing these types of posts because I learn a great deal about my own city when doing them. Not just individual buildings or people which is what I often research but whole neighbourhoods, companies, lifestyles etc. Things that I wouldn't ordinarily find out about.

The next post is set for late Friday. I find that longer posts do well over the weekend and shorter posts during the week. If I switch it around the posts get about half the traffic ?!

Part two will focus on home life and part three on Blake's new office and wartime.

Allyson Latta said...

From Wilma Lazenby:

"Christian has done a wonderful job on these articles and I am enjoying them very much!"