Friday, 23 November 2012

Window washing in Winnipeg !

 Window washing at the McArthur Building in 1925 (Source)

Over the summer a local window washer escaped death after falling eight stories and through an atrium window into the lobby of a River Heights apartment block. He was wearing a safety harness. 

It was a reminder of the dangers that these workers (many who get paid around minimum wage) face ona  daily basis.

Daily Nor'Wester, May 20, 1898

As long as there have been buildings in Winnipeg there have been window washers such as Mr. Finklestein who advertised regularly in the late 1890s. As buildings began to soar, a new breed of seemingly fearless man appeared on the scene. A March 1, 1930 Free Press article took note of these men:

"There are plenty of heroes in the world who aren't to the-movies. Many of them undertake as part of their everyday work feats which would turn an an ordinary man pale. Consider for example the window washer in a large city..."

The article goes on to describe the equipment used by the bravest of cleaners, those working on city skyscrapers: a rope and sometimes suction cup shoe covers to help them grip icy or wet windows.

Columbus Hall, 255 Smith Street (Source)

In 1940 the unnamed window cleaner above was hanging from Columbus Hall on Smith Street (now demolished) with nothing more than a rope and a couple of coworkers between him and a three storey fall to the pavement below.

In 1945 Tribune columnist Ted Schrader was so fascinated watching the washer outside his window that he caught up with him for an interview when he stopped for a smoke break. William Hynowcki, a 25 year veteran of the trade, noted that older buildings didn't have rings on which to hitch his safety belt so he just hung from a single rope. He noted that "You've just got to trust your hands and feet. Just like driving a car."


Hynowkci noted some close calls in the industry but did not mention any deaths, but they did happen.

On October 15, 1943 Charles Evans* (63) of 367 Pacific Avenue died from a 20 foot fall from the now demolished Dismorr Building, (* initial newspaper stories incorrectly reported his name as Edwards.) Witnesses said that he was standing on the second floor window ledge seemingly without any restraints when he fell to the pavement. He was declared dead on arrival at General Hospital. At the inquest into his death:

"Constable C. E. Bates said that he had examined the window and found no attachments on which to hook a safety belt. The ledge on which Evans had stood was about six inches wide."
Winnipeg Free Press,  October 19, 1943

Despite the findings, his death was ruled "accidental" and it  appears that there were no recommendations made about safety measures or penalties for the owner of the building who employed him.

The 1970s appear to have been the most dangerous decade for Winnipeg window washers. 

In 1972 Wayne Brown (25) died when the scaffolding that he and a colleague were on at Riddell Hall at the University of Winnipeg gave way, plunging them 75 feet to the ground below.

There were two incidents at the Richardson Building in 1972 and 1975 when workers had to be rescued by firefighters from the 15th and 5th floors respectively when their scaffolding gave way. In this accident in 1977 both men were rescued but a pedestrian was injured by broken glass when firefighters smashed a window to get at them.

Later in 1977 Peter Jansen (35) died when his scaffold gave way 70 feet up the side of the Grosvenor House Apartments.

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