Friday, 23 March 2012

A history of Orioles Community Centre - Part 2

On March 31, 2012 there will be a history show-and-tell at Orioles Community Centre.

Orioles Community Centre

Established in 1948 at Burnell and St. Matthews, Orioles is one of Winnipeg's oldest community centres. Its roots in the neighbourhood, however, date back much further. This is a look back at Orioles that I hope to update as the history project progresses !

In 1947 the city sold the land used by West End Orioles to the Valour Memorial Legion. The club had to find a new home at the same time that the city was implementing major changes to how youth recreation services were organized.

September 24, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune

During World War II there was a sharp increase in "juvenile delinquency" across the country. In many provinces, including Manitoba, the rate doubled between 1939 - 1942.

The upswing was attributed to the lack of supervision brought about by the sudden change in the family structure. Hundreds of thousands of children went from two-parent families with a stay-at-home mother to single parent households where the mother was encouraged to work or volunteer outside the home.

Top: November 13, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: November 15, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune

Most of the crime was petty stuff but in late 1943 there were two local murders committed by youths. The most daring was an escape from the youth wing of the Vaughan Street Jail by three inmates aged 15, 14 and 11 that included the murder of jail guard Edwin Pearse. Concerned that this was a sign of things to come, city council sprang into action.

In January 1944 city council formed a working committee with the Council of Social Agencies to study ways to combat youth crime. At the inaugural meeting a wide range of solutions were touched on. Many called for curfews and the hiring additional police and juvenile court staff, but Alderman Scott refuted them and said:

"The way to cope with the situation is to spend a little money and organize community sports clubs and recreation centres for the children."

He held up West End Orioles as an example of what could be done with very little money.

In the end, one of the recommendations pursued by the city was a reorganization of youth recreation across the city.

October 17, 1945 Winnipeg Free Press

After more than fifteen years of economic depression and war, Winnipeg's recreational offerings were an uneven patchwork funded by the city (through the parks department), school board, private clubs, religious groups and other organizations. The two largest, the city and school board, sometimes found themselves providing similar services right across the street from each other while other neighbourhoods went without.

November 21, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1946 the city announced a plan for a city-wide system of community centres. Under the proposal, the city's parks department would be responsible for: laying out a zone system so that each had a defined catchment area; funding, where necessary, the purchase of land, basic equipment and construction of buildings; cost-sharing of operating expenses with individual clubs; and providing training and leadership for the centres.

In return, the centres had to
offer a range of sports and other programming that catered to all ages in their catchment area. They also had to present the parks board with an annual report.

The city drafted a money referendum to raise $500,000 to assist with the capital requirements. It went to a vote on November 22, 1946 and though it won a majority, (11,131 in favour versus 10,299 against), it did not get the two-thirds support required for a tax increase. The city proceeded with the community centre plan but at a slower pace than first anticipated.

Orioles Community Centre

At around the same time as the referendum, West End Orioles approached the city to find a new home. In 1947 club president Al Crockett negotiated a move to another piece of city-owned land
located a block north at Burnell and St. Matthews. For over a decade the site, which faced the original Greenway School, had been home to a summer playground and winter skating area.

The city agreed to provide a "fine knock-down shack" as a club house and to spend nearly $2,000 to revamp the playground area. The site was smaller than what Orioles had so some of the hockey teams and all of the baseball teams played at at other sites around the neighbourhood. The lacrosse team was soon ousted when neighbours complained about the number of balls that came flying into their yards during practice.

February 18, 1949, Winnipeg Free Press

The club was informed that if they wished to continue using city land and receive city funding they would have to fall under the new community centre plan.

In early 1949 a twelve member organizing committee, including members or West End Orioles' executive, was established to create a community centre in the area. On February 17, 1949 they met at the home of Mrs. G. Smith at 678 Ingersoll Street to discuss “...a name for the club, definite boundaries, methods of financing, social and sporting activities, handicrafts, music and drama.

Orioles Community Centre

It was agreed that the West End Orioles would be folded into a new "Orioles West End Community Centre". The plan was presented to the city and on May 25, 1949 the new centre held their first meeting at General Wolfe School to elect an executive. Cecil Pratt was elected the first president.

The name "Orioles West End" lasted for only a year. At a June 1951 meeting the club voted to drop the "West End" due to the fact that there were two other organizations, West End Athletic and West End Memorial, that used it. The new name became "Orioles Community Centre".

The summer sports continued on as usual. A fund raising committee and a women's executive was formed. Some community programming, such as handicraft classes, a whist club and musical events, were held at area schools while work on finding a permanent clubhouse got underway.

Orioles Community Centre

In early 1949 Orioles purchased a former military shack near the airport and moved it to the site but the city funding to permanently erect the structure did not materialize.
A delegation from Orioles appeared at a September 1949 parks board meeting to complain and found that there was a misconception about the status of their hockey teams.

hanks to connections made through former president Stan Evans and former coach Hoss Nicholson, the West End Orioles had a number of sponsorship and player exchange agreements with higher-level teams. They were an unofficial farm team to Hoss Nicholson's Brandon Elks. In 1946 the Elks signed on as part of the Minneapolis Millers' farm system. The Millers, in turn, were part of pro-hockey's Cleveland Baron farm system.

Click images for sources

Some on the committee questioned why the city would fund a club affiliated with a pro-hockey team. The delegation explained that there was no direct link between the Orioles and Barons and that the only benefit the teams received was the ability to piggyback on some sports equipment sponsorship[ deals that the senior clubs had.

The parks board reconsidered their position and the following month granted $600 for a basic winterization of the new building.

September 22, 1950, Winnipeg Free Press

On September 21, 1950 a sod turning ceremony took place for the new clubhouse.
A permanent foundation, basement and plumbing was installed and on November 3rd the building was set down and interior renovations began. On February 2, 1951 Mayor Garnet Coulter cut the ribbon to officially open the Orioles Community Club's first permanent home.

For a list of all Orioles presidents check out the lists post !

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