Monday, 16 September 2013

"Terry Fox Way ?": A history of Fermor Avenue

Despite the fact that he was born in Winnipeg and lived here until grade three we're one of the few major Canadian cities not to have something named for Terry Fox. 

Earlier this summer blogger The Purple Rod began a petition to have the Perimeter Highway renamed after the national hero. Cherenkov at Anybody Want a Peanut? added to the conversation by suggesting that  Fermor Avenue, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, be named for him instead. He reasoned that if Fox had made it to his birthplace he would have run through town rather than around it.

Renaming a street that has already been named for someone is tacky and something that I have sounded off about in previous posts. I felt that it was important to investigate who, or what, Fermor was.

The short answer is: I still don't know.

I went through both the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Free Press online archives from their first day of publication onward. I also checked the assortment of short-lived Manitoba newspapers of the day at Manitobia.ca and the History in Winnipeg Street Names section of the Manitoba Historical Society website. I even tried my luck with the a selection of Henderson Directories at Peel's. Nothing. 

The only mention of a local "Fermor" that I found was from the 1919 Henderson Directory: Herbert, a clerk at a drapery store who lived on Salter Street in 1919 -1920. I will assume that he's not the one.

The only newspaper reference to that name comes in 1904 and 1906. Wire stories about political upheaval in Russia reference Col. Stenbock-Fermor of St. Petersburg. I can't find a strong Russian history tie-in to St. Vital or any reason to believe that he visited here so can' timagine taht it owuld be him.

I went back through the process checking Fermer" and "Fermour", in case it was a case of a French word that got mangled, and still nothing. 

Thanks to the St. Vital Historical Society who checked their archives for me. Tehy. too, have no information on the origins of the name.

In my humble opinion, Fermor appears to be up for grabs as a street that could be renamed without offending someone significant from our past.

Since I spent a number of evenings digging around on this matter, here is what I did find about the origins of Fermor Avenue for all you St. Vital history geeks !

1921 Henderson Directory, p. 491
October 10, 1920, Winnipeg Free Press

"Fermor Avenue" first appears in newspaper articles in September 1920. The R.M. of St. Vital included it on their list of new streets to get sewer and water service. The tender was advertised the following month.

The original name for Fermor Avenue may have been Ismay, as seen in the above snippet of St. Mary's Road from the 1921 Henderson Directory. (It wasn't uncommon for the Henderson Directories to take a year or two to catch up with such changes.)

The intersection of Fermor and St. Mary’s Road soon became a hub of activity. In the summer of 1921 the Windsor Park Improvement Association used a privately owned field at the intersection for their annual Sports Day and Carnival. (The papers didn't say who the landowner was but it was likely C. E. Simonite, Winnipeg real estate mogul.)

The contract for the grading of the street was given in October 1921.

 April 22, 1922, Manitoba Free Press

An April 22, 1922 Manitoba Free Press article about development in the R.M. says that “On the Property of C. E, Simonite, which comprises Fermor, Inman and Kingswood Avenues, running from St. Mary’s Road to St. Anne’s Road, no less than 26 cottages have been built or are in the course of construction."

Also in April 1922, real estate company Stewart and Nicol began advertizing a branch office there. In May Mr. A. Cavanah took out a building permit for an eight-unit apartment block at the intersection and indicated that he would build an identical block adjacent to it in the fall. 

1922 Henderson Directory, (source)

This change can be seen in the Henderson Directories of the time. In 1922 there are only two households listed on Fermor, neither had street addresses. (It also appears that the street only extended from Suffolk Road to St. Anne's Road.)

One household was the W. J. King family. He was a chiropractor who practiced in the Somerset Building on Portage Avenue. The other was the Mitchell Family. It was headed by Frances, a bricklayer, who died in 1925 at the age of 54 leaving a wife and six children. One child was John (Jack), a pressman who lived in the house for many years to come. (As you will see below, Mitchells continued to live on Fermor for decades !)

In the 1923 directory there were eighteen households listed. Due to a printing error, Henderson's did not include Fermor in the streets section of the directory that year so this list is compiled from the names section:

82  William J King Chiropractor 
84  Jack Mitchell, pressman, Hitchings Paper Box
98  Jenny Olafson, bookkeeper, Canadian Security Assurance Co.
99  Benson Dalzell, manager, Miller Morse Hardware
100 Thomas Knight, clerk, CPR
104 E S Lord, clerk, Main Steel and Iron
109 Harold Haysham, labourer, Gordon Ironside and Co.
111 R F Palmer, stock keeper, Vulcan Iron Works
125 William Ekins, reporter, R. G. Dun and Co.
129 Harry Swift, linotype operator, Western Canadian Fire Underwriters
133 Arthur W Whitney, elevator operator, CPR Building
131 G N McBride, auditor, HBC
135 J Nind, conductor, Street Railway Co.
139 Ernest Partridge, chef, CPR
145 CD Belchin, Street Railway Co.
151 H J Francis, machinist, Street Railway Co.
153 Leslie Woods, employee, Travelers Ind Co. 

155 Jno Jolivet, accountant, Winnipeg Piano

St. Vital fire hall 002

All of this new development created hardship for the small R.M.. In 1924 its police station and other municipal services were relocated to the newly-built fire hall on St. Mary's Road, likely as a cost-saving measure. In 1926 the province had to appoint a third party to manage its affairs, (source).

This meant delays with continuing the infrastructure work. In a May 1927 letter to the editor, Fermor Avenue resident T. W. Knight complained that work on the road had ceased after the installation of sewer and water leaving it dug up and impassable in places. 

February 15, 1944, Winnipeg Tribune

Fermor Avenue's most famous resident is likely Betty (Mitchell) Olson. A Glenlawn Collegiate grad, class of 1945, she was a speed-skating phenomenon. 

She broke a couple of international records when she while still competing as a junior and took the overall North American Senior Women’s Championship in 1947, 1948 and 1950. Unfortunately, World War II kept her from international events in her prime but she was Canada's only entry in the world championships in Norway in February 1949, (women's speed skating was not yet an Olympic sport). Olson finished 12th of 20 competitors.

St. Vital Historical Society 


John Dobbin said...

The survey department of St. Vital named the street. It may have been from the Farmer family...also know as Fermor.

cherenkov said...

Well I for one like Policy Frog's suggestion to rename Fermor. ;-)

mrchristian said...

So sorry, cherenkov. Correction made !