December 4, 1947, Winnipeg Free Press
This is part 3 of a look back at the life and career of Winnipeg-born singer and actress Deanna Durbin who is celebrating her 90th birthday on December 4, 2012 !
Part 1: From Winnipeg to Hollywood (1922 - 1936)
Part 2: An amazing career (1936 - 1949)
Part 3: Whatever happened to Winnipeg's Sweetheart ?
BONUS: Deanna's 1937 visit to Winnipeg (coming soon !)
Deanna Durbin dead at 91
On December 4, 1922 Edna Mae Durbin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Though she lived here for less than two years before her family moved to Los Angeles, the Durbins kept close ties to the city thanks to extended family and friends.
Winnipeg's media dubbed her Winnipeg's Sweetheart and followed the young starlet as if she never left.
This is a look back at the Winnipeg side of Deanna Durbin's life. At the end of part 3 I will include a number of Deanna Durbin links for those who want to step deeper into her Hollywood career.
James Durbin ca. 1940s (source)
Newton Heath FC ca. 1892 (BlogUnited)
Today, the world knows Newton Heath for its football club the Newton Heath L&YR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways) or, as it was re-christened in April 1902, Manchester United !
Ada Durbin ca. 1940s (source)
Thorpe Road, Newton Heath ca. 1909 (source)
The couple married in 1908 in the Congregational Chapel in Thorp Road, Newton Heath. The following year they had their first child, Edith.
In 1910 the Durbins left for Canada. After a year and a half in Peterborough, Ontario they decided to head west to Winnipeg and why not ?!
In 1911 - 1912 Winnipeg was firing on all cylinders. The grain trade was booming, record amounts of cargo were being shipped into the West and land speculators were becoming millionaires overnight. The skyline was filling up with impressive new developments such as the Bank of Commerce (now Millennium Centre) and Union Bank Tower, the West's first skyscraper. The Grain Exchange on Lombard Street, barely 5 years old, was about to undergo a seven storey addition.
There were four railways located in the city at the time. The CPR with 3,000 employees was Winnipeg's largest single employer (2). Very soon James A. Durbin, blacksmith, would be one of them.
Both Durbin houses with Weston CPR Yards at top (view map)
Today this is known as the Weston neighbourhood, named for the huge C.P.R. Weston Shops located to the north. Back then, though, it was known as "C.P.R. Town" and filled mainly with immigrants who worked in the yards or at factory jobs.
C.P.R. Town was a noisy, smelly place to live. Weston was (and still is) the C.P.R.'s main shops for Manitoba. Dozens of trains passed through and were assembled and disassembled day and night.
Manitoba Rolling Mills had a steel plant that included a smelter adjacent to the yards at Gallagher and Vincent. In 1908 it underwent a large expansion and the plant received so many complaints about the smoke, noise and putrid steam that filled the neighbourhood that they had to shut down night-time production for a time (3). The mill was still in operation when the Durbins lived there. (It's no wonder Deanna would later be referred to as a "St. Vital girl", it has a much nicer connotation than "C.P.R. Town girl" !)
Durbin home, (1913 -22), 2234 Gallagher Ave.The circa 1910 home that the Durbins lived in is just over 1000 sq ft and built on a 25 foot lot. (The house is assessed at just $56 k if anyone wants to create a Deanna Durbin Museum there !)
C.P.R. Weston Yards ca. 1903 (Source) and 2010
C.N. shop workers, not CPR, but of the same era (source)
Edna Mae Durbin at 6 months (Winnipeg Tribune)
The Salvation Army facility was built in 1905 to specialize in the care of wayward girls and included a small maternity wing. In 1911 the hospital underwent a major expansion and within a few years it was Western Canada's largest maternity hospital. In 1921 Edna Mae was just one of 1,300 births !
C.P.R. Weston Shop workers ca 1925 (source)
James did not appreciate the cold weather. Deanna later recounted that what little savings they could make in the summer was eaten up by heating costs in the winter. It was decided that the family would move to a warmer climate and in May 1923 they left for Los Angeles with 12 year old Edith and 1 1/2 year old Edna Mae.
Despite leaving the Durbins were still bullish about the city. In 1925 they convinced Sophia Read, Ada's widowed mother, and four of Ada's siblings, brothers Jack and Albert and sisters Mrs. W. Gordon and Mrs. A. Crofts, to move to Winnipeg. The Reads settled in St. Vital at 157 Berrydale Avenue. Both Jack and Albert got work as machinists with the C.N.R. shops in Transcona.
The Durbins ca. 1926 (Winnipeg Tribune)
In Los Angeles John worked as a machinist and other manual jobs and the family eventually settled at 212 West 85th Street, which appears to have been demolished. Ironically, it is located one block from Manchester Avenue which must have given them a chuckle !
Source: Musical Courier, Vol. 159-60 ca. 1959
Eldest daughter Edith, Dee-Dee to Edna Mae, attended university to obtain her teachers certificate. Edna Mae showed an aptitude and a love for singing. Once Edith began her career in 1932 she helped to fund singing lessons for her younger sister at the Ralph Thomas Voice Academy in Lost Angeles.
December 13, 1941, Winnipeg Tribune (Source)The Durbins made regular visits to Winnipeg. Aside from extended family, they also had a number of close friends that they kept in touch with over the years.
For Edna Mae the main draw was her 'granny' Sophia Read who lived with sons Jack and Albert at their small home on Berrydale. Read (1860 - 1944) was from Chester, England and shared the same birthday as Deanna, though 61 years apart !
The longest period of time Deanna spent in Winnipeg since moving to L.A. was the summer of 1935. She visited again in 1936 and 1937 but after that her meteoric career kept her away.
2. From Winnipeg 1912 by Jim Blanchard
3. Winnipeg Free Press, October 8, 1908.
More family photos can be found in the Photos and People sections of Deanna Durbin Devotees.
See the end of part 3 for reference and source links.
© Christian Cassidy 2011