Saturday, 9 April 2011

Blake Latta and CN Express (Pt 2)

mThis 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.

Family Life

Elsie joins Blake
As Blake Latta settled into his new position as Superintendent of CN Express his family life got sorted as well. A blurb in the May 29, 1939 Winnipeg Tribune notes that his wife Elsie was joining him in Winnipeg. With her came their two daughters Wilma (5) and Merle Nan (10).

83 Kinsway 2
The family chose River Heights as their neighbourhood. For reasons unknown they moved around a lot (six times) between 1939 and 1949 but always stayed around Kingsway Crescent.

The first address that could be considered a home was 201 Brock Street. They stayed there for about four years and it was also home for a time to an extended family member, Blake's mother Annie.

Grand Trunk Pacific Yards, Edson AB, ca. 1911 (source)

When Blake's family left Ontario in 1910 to follow the railway they became pioneer settlers in the newly christened Edson, Alberta. The town was created by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, who Blake's father worked for, in 1911. Brother Elgie W. Latta also worked for the GTP but in 1925 made his way to Edmonton for a position in the CNR general superintendent's office.


Winnipeg Tribune Nov 3, 1942

When she came to Winnipeg in October 1942 Annie Latta was 82 and had been widowed for twenty years. The reason for her move / visit may have been illness. She was here for only six weeks when she died at the old Grace Hospital (on Preston Street) on November 1, 1942.

The funeral and burial took place in Edson. The local newspaper said of her "Edson lost a highly respected old timer and well loved resident."

Queenston School 5
Despite the constant moving house, staying in the same neighbourhood gave the children some stability. They attended Queenston and Robert H. Smith Schools.

Kelvin Technical High School, 1912-1964 (source)

Nan, the oldest, attended Kelvin Technical High School. It was a very different looking school than the circa 1965 building there now. The 'technical' referred to the fact that in the higher grades students could branch off into commercial training (typing, business, home ec.) or the trades.

These were war years so, on top of sports and choirs, the extra curricular activities included remembrance ceremonies, making dummy weapons for cadet training and (above) knitting scarves and socks for war refugees in Europe.

Two of Kelvin's internationally recognized grads attended this first building.
Marshall McLuhan (until 1928) and Neil Young (1960-62). For more on Young's Kelvin years.

St Aidan's 2

Interior image ca. 2000s (source)

The Lattas were regular church goers as well, attending St. Aidan's Anglican Church on Campbell at Kingsway. At the time St. Aidan's was a brand new church - sort of.

St. Aidan's foundation and basement was built in 1929. For some reason it took until 1939 to build the upper structure. For that decade they worshiped in the basement.

For family fun there were a number of locales frequented by the Latta family.

Academy Uptown Lanes

The Uptown (Wpg Free Press Dec. 24, 1931)

For the kids there was the Uptown Theatre, (now Uptown Lanes), on Academy Road.

The 1700 seat Uptown was Winnipeg's first, and only, atmospheric theatre. The interior was build to simulate sitting outside, in this case the courtyard of a castle. The ceiling was blacked out and the moon, stars and passing clouds were projected overhead. (The interior was demolished in 1960 to make way for the bowling alley).

Winnipeg Tribune, Sept 8, 1945

From the beginning the Uptown was dual use as a live theatre and cinema.

For the most part it showed movies but sometimes it held live revues. During the war years a number of variety show fundraisers for the war effort took place there.
On Saturday afternoons they combined the two with the Children's Club. It was a combination of movie shorts and a stage show for kids. Wilma remembers winning a yo-yo contest on stage one year !

Victoria Beach Gate (source)
Victoria Beach Train Station ca. unknown (source)

To get away from it all, the exclusive lakeside enclave of Victoria Beach was the place.

The Lattas were not property owners there but, thanks to it being a CN created resort, they often slipped up on the train to stay at the Victoria Beach Inn
. Victoria Beach is considered rustic even today but back in the 1940s it was more so as the village did not get electricity until 1954.

Above: Victoria Beach ca. 1944 (source)

Above: Victoria Beach Club ca. unknown (source)

Unlike the other rail resorts that appealed to the masses, like Winnipeg Beach with their grand dance hall, amusement parlours and roller coaster, Victoria Beach emphasized the exclusivity and 'country charm' of the area. Amenities included a small (private) marina, a sports club, golf course and a club house that featured everything from family movies on rainy days to evening dances for the adults.

Duck pond and pavilion (source)

Closer to home, Assiniboine Park
, just minutes from the Latta home, provided a venue for picnics and animal watching. The park was created in 1908 and many of the amenities we see today were there in the 1940s. The English and Formal Gardens (with the Boy with the Boot), Duck Pond, the second Pavillion.

Nero, September 13 1943 (source)

Assiniboine Park Zoo opened in 1904 and the year the Lattas came to the city the zoo welcomed its first polar bear cub. (No, not Debby !). This one was named Carmichael, an orphaned cub from the Churchill area.

Before the age of the polar bear, there was another well loved inhabitant: Nero the lion. He was the zoo's favourite attraction from 1936 until his death in 1943.

Winnipeg Free Press Oct 30, 1945

It is hard to find what the adults did for enjoyment.

Mrs. Latta did not work and does not appear in any society page items except for the one social note above.

Blake likely did not have a lot of time for socializing. His job would keep him busy (as you will see in the next chapter) and given his senior position was called on to do a lot of travel as well as attend retirement dinners and
company sport league windups that CN Express fielded teams for.

He was a Mason but remained listed as a member of the
Ivanhoe Lodge 142 in Edmonton.

83 Kingsway 1
83 Kingsway 3
The end of the decade saw one more move for the Latta family, to 83 Kingsway. At the time, perhaps due to wartime housing shortages, the house had been divided into two living quarters, the Lattas living on the south side.

Relaxing at 83 Kingsway then and now (source)

This would be where the Lattas lived out their remaining Winnipeg years.

Part 3: High Times for 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.

Edson, Alberta is celebrating 100 years in 2011 (see)

- Kelvin High School will celebrate 100 years in 2012 (see).

1 comment:

Ruth Zaryski Jackson said...

Another impressive piece of work, synthesizing the history of the Latta family in time and place. With the photos and links, you've created an engaging story. The RoyalLepage link for 83 Kingsway was riveting to watch as one could imagine how the beautiful house looked in Blake's time, from the bones that are still there. Interesting link to my research: my mother-in-law Norma Skilling went out to Winnipeg and taught at River Heights Public School for a year in 1921.