Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Manitoba Black History: Percy Haynes

Percy Haynes ca. 1964. Source.

Most knew Percy Haynes because of his Haynes Chicken Shack restaurant located at 257 Lulu Street and Logan from 1952 - 1998, but that was just one chapter in quite a fascinating life.

Piercy* Augustus Haynes was born in British Guyana and came here as an infant with his parents in 1912. (It appears that the official spelling of his name was Piercy but he was most often referred to as Percy, which I will use here.)

The family moved to 257 Lulu Street, a small cottage-style house off of Logan Avenue. The site also doubled as a carpentry shop
as William Haynes, his father, was a carpenter. There, the Haynes raised four sons: Alan "Chick", Clifford, Piercy and Abram.

As a teen Percy attended Hugh John MacDonald School and began making a name for himself as both an athlete and a musician.

July 1, 1933, Winnipeg Free Press

The first media mention of Percy came in an August 1925 Free Press story about a youth sports camp for 150 inner city kids at Gimli. They noted that "...Percy, the big darky boy with the wide smile who loped in was an easy first in nearly every event he tried." The following summer, at another camp, he took second place for best stage performance.
Soon, Percy was making his mark on a wider stage. In the 1930s he was a noted local piano player and singer. He also excelled at a number of sports.

He was a member of the 1932 Winnipeg Stellars basketball team which won the
Canadian amateur championship. In boxing, he was the amateur welterweight champion of the city (1933 in 1934). He was also a noted softball pitcher, leading a number of local teams to city playoffs and championships.

Ad circa 1933
During the 1930s Haynes worked as a carpenter during the day and juggled his sports and musical career on evenings and weekends. 

In 1932 he first met a young jazz singer named Zena Bradshaw, who had come to Winnipeg from Edmonton. The two became a were fixture on the Winnipeg club scene and married in 1943.

During the war, Haynes, like many of his peers, wanted to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy with HMCS Chippawa. He was turned away because he was Black. The confines of ship life seen as not a safe place for men of colour, (though they were accepted in the army.)

An angry Percy "... went to the top, I wrote to the admiral of the navy and I told him exactly what I felt about it." (Winnipeg Free Press November 25, 1990.) That "admiral" was Naval Secretary Hon. Angus L. McDonald and letters were sent to other naval brass in Ottawa. 

In time, he persuaded them to change the rules and was informed my McDonald to return to the recruiting centre to enlist. Haynes was the first Black in the modern Royal Canadian Navy. (William Hall joined the British Navy in Halifax in 1852 and is considered the 'first'.)

December 18, 1943, Winnipeg Free Press

Petty Officer Haynes worked as a shipwright and while in port entertained the troops by performing and putting together musical shows. For a time wife Zena joined him in Halifax and they performed together. Meet The Navy was one Royal Canadian Navy revue show that Percy was part of that was so popular it was made into a British movie in 1946 with Percy performing as a musician and actor. (See the film here.)

After the war Percy did not go back to carpentry, instead he took a job as a CPR sleeping car porter. He worked the rails for more than 20 years, getting involved in the union and working to improve the conditions of black workers. He also resumed his musical career and even went back to pitching softball.

November 7, 1952, Winnipeg Free Press

In summer 1952 the carpentry shop area of the Haynes family home at 257 Lulu Street was converted into a small restaurant, (the Haynes family continued to live in the house.) It was Zena's idea, who had always wanted to run a restaurant. She recruited her sister Alva Mayes, a local cook already famous for her fried chicken, to work the kitchen.

Why that location ? Money was tight and the home was already the scene of many impromptu jam sessions complete with late night feasts and "... we figured we might as well get paid,"  Percy recounted to Hal Sigurdson in the Winnipeg Free Press, June 16, 1992.

A 1972 restaurant reviewer for the Free Press wrote:

Fashioned out of an old house off Logan Avenue, three blocks west of Sherbrook Street, the restaurant is unpretentious and warm — not to mention Mary Poppins clean. And most important, much of the food is good, the service prompt and friendly.
December 9, 1972 Winnipeg Free Press

Ad circa 1989

Percy eventually retired from the CPR and he and Zena performed at the restaurant. It gained quite a reputation as a musical hotspot. Greats like Billy Daniels, Oscar Peterson and Harry Belafonte all visited, some multiple times.

The muscial influence rubbed off on son, a step-son to Percy,
Del Wagner who become a popular musician and band leader.


In the late 1960s Percy, who was a Mason, spent a couple of terms as the Grand Master of the Minnesota Lodge, which at the time included Manitoba. He also turned his hand to politics by running unsuccessfully for the provincial Liberals in 1977 and for city council in 1980. As a boxing judge he scored many Danny Vandal and Donny Lalonde fights in the 1980s.

Alva Mayes died in 1988 and Zena Haynes in 1990. On July 24, 1992, Percy Haynes, 81, died at Princess Elizabeth Hospital. He was working, greeting customers at the restaurant, up until the week before his death.

September 28, 1998, Winnipeg Free Press

The restaurant was sold off. It was thought that Bomber James Murphy would be the new owner but in the end it was two long-time staff members who purchased it. Haynes' Chicken Shack continued on until September 1998.

Further details of Haynes and his attempts to join the Navy can be found in these Senate Committee hearings and this Senate debate.

For more on
Blacks in the Canadian Navy and for Black history in Manitoba.


Anonymous said...

I used to go to Hayne's Checken Shack all the time! Man, I thought I was the only one. Excellent story!

cherenkov said...

What an interesting story. Sometimes I think I should be doing more with my life ...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. This town needs a place like that again!

Xtoval said...

Glad I went to the Chicken Shack a few times in the 1980s. I knew Percy was an athlete and musician but I didn't realize his role in ending discrimination in the Canadian navy. Another one of your excellent posts on local history!

Anonymous said...

Lots going on, He was the Grand Master of the " Prince Hall Lodge " of Minnesota. Which still claims jurisdiction over Manitoba and Alberta. Worth researching.

Anonymous said...

My mother went to school with Piercy Haynes. I don't know if it was in elementary school or high school. She went to Dufferin elementary school and Daniel McIntyre high school. I can't remember the name of the junior high school she went to.

Dez Daniels said...

Just reposted this blog on the 99.9 BOB FM Facebook Page, as Mr Haynes came up on our show today! What an interesting article; it really helped us out today!

mrchristian said...

Cool ! Glad to hear !

Anonymous said...

Percy was the perfect host. The chicken was great! Anyone have the recipe or something like it?

Bob Holliday said...

He was a gentleman.

Christian Cassidy said...

Sadly, I never had that chance to meet him. I remember the radio commercials, though !