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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Research the history of your house presentation

The Research the History of Your House workshop that I have done in-person at the library a few times over the years is going online!  I will show you how to research the history of your house, or any building in the city, using mostly free, online resources.

Due to demand, we have added a SECOND WORKSHOP. Both will have the same content. They take place on July 15 and July 22nd at 6:00pm. You can sign up for either of them here and closer to the date you will get an email with the access code for the workshop you signed up for.

Thanks to the Daniel McIntyre / St. Matthews Community Association and Manitoba Historical Society for co-hosting the event.

If you live in the Daniel McIntyre or St. Matthews neighbourhoods, here's another project that might be of interest.

Much of the history of the West End is not captured in the archives. They are in family photo albums and scrap books of individuals. DMSMCA and the MHS are teaming up to find, digitize, and post online as many images and ephemera as possible.

We are going to start with a small geographic area, then expand to the entire West End.

More details about this project will be announced in a couple of weeks.

Another project that will be announced in the next couple of weeks is a series of  "get to know your neighbourhood" short walking or standing tours at various sites in the Daniel McIntyre and St. Matthews neighbourhoods.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Farewell to Henry Armstrong's Instant Printing after 50+ years

 © 2021, Christian Cassidy


Later this week, the last branch of a once iconic Winnipeg business will disappear after more than fifty years.

Those of a certain age will remember that Henry Armstrong was the "man who runs things in this town". He went from a used offset press in the basement of his father-in-law's home in the mid-1950s to an instant printing empire that boasted as many as 18 locations in the 1990s.

The final Henry Armstrong's, located at 897 Corydon Avenue, is set to close June 23, 2021.

Here's a look back at Henry Armstrong, the man and the business. (This is taken mainly from old newspaper and magazine profiles. I reached out to the Armstrong family but received no response.)

June 13, 1978, Winnipeg Tribune

Henry Armstrong was born in Elmwood. His father was a labourer and his mother a Salvation Army officer. Though the family didn't have much, he remembers kids from poorer families regularly coming to the Armstrong house for dinner.

Armstrong told the Winnipeg Free Press in a 1978 interview, "I was a real dingbat .... I was the world's worst student" and he quit school at the age of 17 still in grade six. His first job was as an errand boy in a printing shop, then at a bowling alley. By 1954 he worked the night shift at a factory. 

In July 1954, Armstrong married Lucille (Toots) Vieville. She was raised in Richer, Manitoba where her family ran a store. They relocated to St. Boniface when Lucille was six.

Months after the two married, Armstrong found himself unemployed again. He told the Free Press in 1978 that, "I was young and cocky, but I was also backwards and scared and getting nowhere. I began to hang out and drink a lot because it made me seem less confused.” 

In 1955, Armstrong purchased an old Gordon jobber hand-fed press with financial help from father-in-law and set it up in the man's basement.
He brought in the odd print job but found that he wasn't good at drumming up sales. He then went into business with some other printers operating a commercial coin-operated Xerox copier in a cubicle in the McIntyre building.

August 6, 1974, Winnipeg Tribune

By the 1960s, Armstrong owned the photocopier, press, and some other printing equipment and opened his own print shop in 1968 at 284 Fort Street. He became interested in an emerging aspect of the printing business called "instant printing". 


At the time, companies either owned their own small presses and did their work in-house, or farmed it out to large commercial printers. It was a very expensive proposition not suited to smaller companies or individuals who wanted to run small quantities.

Armstrong went to Minneapolis to find out more about instant printing and found the key piece of equipment he was missing was a plate-making machine. He purchased one in 1971.


June 25, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press

Next came the advertising campaign.

Armstrong told a reporter in 1978, "Some young guys, designers at The Awarehouse, came up with an Al Capone identity for me, sort of 'tough enough for any job.' I bought the pinstripe suit, rented the bowler, spats and cane. The session went fine and suddenly we had a working logo."

The logo and catchphrase, "The man who runs thing in this town", became very familiar to Winnipeggers. The company had fun with the campaign, constantly changing it up to reflect events like local elections, royal visits, and sports championships.

Henry Armstrong's Instant Printing set itself up similar to a how the dry cleaning business worked with several small storefronts offering photocopy service and advice, and an order counter that took in jobs and sent them on to a central printing plant.

By 1975, the main plant was at 250 Main Street with storefronts at 284 Fort, 1859 Portage, 1603 Pembina, and the newly opened Convention Centre.


October 5, 1983, Winnipeg Free Press

The Armstrongs are a deeply religious family.

In 1974, Henry and Lucille happened across a beach-side religious service while on holiday in Hawaii. Armstrong told a reporter that it was at that service that he decided to turn his life around. He gave up drinking and began concentrating more on family and business.

Armstrong's faith was also reflected in his business. The company sponsored many Salvation Army musical events and in 1983 he opened his first Inspirational Corner bookstore on Henderson Highway. That was soon followed by a second Winnipeg location and one in Selkirk and Steinbach.

By 1986 there were eleven Henry Armstrong Instant Printing locations, all of them corporately owned.


April 23, 1982, Winnipeg Free Press

Henry Armstrong's was a family business. Lucille managed the Convention Centre location for years and his son, Greg, worked in many of the outlets.

In 1982, Greg became
vice president and the company underwent a period of great growth. A franchise program was created in 1986. The first outlet to open under this scheme was in Portage la Prairie later that year. The company also got into the postal outlet business in 1990.

By this time, Henry Armstrong was spending more time in Palm Springs and Greg was the general manager of the company. Henry retired in 1991.

There were 18 Henry Armstrong locations by April 1998.


September 19, 2003, Winnipeg Free Press

With the rise of desktop publishing and advances in home printer technology, the printing industry as a whole shrank through the 1990s.

Around 2001, with business dropping off, debts mounting, and recovering from a heart attack, Greg began looking for a buyer for the chain. A couple of deals fell through.

On September 19, 2003, ten corporate stores and its commercial printing plant in St. James, closed. So did the four Inspirational Corner bookstores. Armstrong later told the Free Press,
"I'm out of money. I'm out of patience. I'm exhausted." He added that his intention was to have sold the chain so that he could concentrate full time on ministry.

After bankruptcy, four locations were bought by Mailboxes Etc.. An existing printer bought the central printing plant in St. James.

A store on Corydon Avenue, which originally opened in the mid-1990s, was resurrected. It will close on June 23, 2021.


Monday, 14 June 2021

100 years of Kildonan Park Golf Course in the Free Press


My look back at 100 years of Kildonan Park Golf Course in today's Winnipeg Free Press. This is one in a series of columns produced by the Manitoba Historical Society for the Winnipeg Free Press.

It is the only remnant of a grand plan to convert the park into an entertainment hub featuring the exhibition grounds and an arena.

Thursday, 10 June 2021

More about street renaming

A couple of post back I wrote about the recent push to rename streets.

I've encountered dozens - maybe hundreds - of street renamings in my time writing this blog. Many feel there was something very formal about street naming or renaming and I've found that it couldn't be further from the truth, at least in the city' earliest decades. (Here's just one example.)

Doing some research on a building in Wolseley, I found these two maps just a year apart that show the neighbourhood being developed and the avenue names changing. On the left, Robert McPhillips' 1910 map, has Ida, Bath, and Ayr. Hathaway's 1911 map on the right shows them as Wolseley, no name, and Westminster.

My guess is that the original names were of settlers who had land in the area and as their properties got carved up some of the lanes and access roads were named for them.

The change to Westminster was obviously due to Westminster Church constructed in 1911 - 1912. (In the West End, Livinia Street was renamed St. Matthews Avenue when the church was built on it.)

As for Wolseley Avenue, it likely has to do with the fact that some of the men / families that settled in the area came out under John Garnet Wolseley and were given land there when they retired. Naming it Wolseley would have been a way of recognizing all of them.

The reason I think this is because years earlier this happened on some land further east.

Mulligan Street was named that because it ran through John Mulligan's estate. When city took over his land and subdivided it for urban development, they changed the name to Sherbrooke Street as Mulligan once fought under John Sherbrooke Coape.

It must have been a fun and hectic time to be a mapmaker at the time with new neighbourhoods springing up every year and existing ones, like Wolseley, being properly subdivided which often lead to small changes in street lengths and revised street names.

It should be noted that these maps were really a combination of maps and plans and things don't always turn out as the plans say. McPhillips' map, for instance, shows a "school site" at Westminster and Ruby, but no school was ever built there.

Later urban development also has an impact. For instance, Broadway ended at Maryland Street until the 1960s when it was pushed through to Portage Avenue. That would have impacted the streets in that corner of the neighbourhood when the bulldozers were sent in.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

53 Maryland Street carries on as a pizzaria

Many people were saddened last year when the iconic Bella Vista Restaurant at 53 Maryland Street closed. Given that a ten-storey seniors home is going up right next door, some, including me, wondered if the building itself would survive or get swallowed up by the new development.

Work has been going on inside the building for some weeks now and I noticed this sign on Saturday morning. Shorty's Pizza is (now) a chain. The other location is in Hamilton, ON!

Shorty's will continue 53 Maryland Street's 53-year run as a pizza joint that started back in in 1968 with Gondola Pizza.

You can read more about the building's history, which dates back to 1907, on my Winnipeg Places blog.

Monday, 31 May 2021

The renaming game

There’s talk about renaming Winnipeg's Bishop Grandin Blvd, which I am okay with. Now the debate has quickly turned to WHO it should be renamed for, (with very little input it seems from Indigenous peoples.)  My question is: why does every bridge and road major road need to be named for someone? Maybe let's just 'de-name' things rather than rename, at least for now.

(And for goodness sake, keep this away from city politicians. They're all consulting their manuals to find mayors and councillors that have nothing named after them yet. Politicians name things for colleagues or former colleagues in the hopes that, in turn, something will be named after them one day.)

History is messy and we need to come up with a set of rules for who’s in and out. Until we do, we should be careful about erecting statues or naming things for people.

For instance, Nellie McClung is controversial, but a hero of middle-class white ladies, so she gets a pass for things being named for her or statues of her erected.

A statue of Gandhi was put up at Forks when many African countries are tearing them down. He gets a pass because white rulers liked him and that’s been passed down to us.

Chief Peguis, who many things are named for, also has a bit of a dual legacy. A great friend and hero to the white people, but for some Indigenous people, he sold out.

Are we simply replacing one era's white heroes with another era's and thinking that it's okay because they are a different gender or colour? Maybe we will conclude that yes, it is, but we're not there yet.

War and soldiers open the whole can of worms that includes Woseley and many others.

At one time we likely wouldn’t have named anything for Sgt. Tommy Prince as naming things for vets who caused deaths was seen as unseemly. Saving the lives of others, such as the case of Andrew Mynarski, were okay. (The vote to rename Pine Street to Valour Road was not unanimous, as some felt it was glorifying war or people who caused the deaths of others.)

When is a soldier sent by his country to invade or fight a battle 'righteous', like your great uncle John who you commemorate on Remembrance Day, and when is he a bad person? Are Wosleley and your uncle John very different?

These are just some things I think we need to think about and discuss before we enter into an era of quick and fast renaming of things from people.

More thoughts on street naming.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Happy Birthday to Kildonan Park!

 © 2021, Christian Cassidy


Enjoying Kildonan Park ca. 1930 (City of Winnipeg Archives) and 2018 (C.Cassidy)

Kildonan Park was formally opened to the public on May 24, 1911 and was an instant hit with its wooded stands, vast lawns, and easy access to the Red River. A Winnipeg Free Press reporter wrote at the time, “Wild in the beauty of unrestricted nature, Kildonan Park will in time become the most beautiful of Winnipeg's big recreation grounds."

It is hard to imagine Winnipeg without Kildonan Park, but there were two occasions where it was almost lost.


April 1911, Winnipeg Tribune

The first came in April 1911 when the city put the park up for sale. It felt that residents were trying to gouge the city when it came to purchasing land to make up its initial 71-acre site, (it is now 96 acres). The R.M. of West Kildonan was also threatening to tax the city on the land.

The city responded by placing for sale ads for the park and vowing to find a site along the river south of the city for a park. Landowners and the R.M. fell in line and the park was never sold.


August 31, 1912, Winnipeg Tribune

Before parks superintendent had a chance to implement his grand plan for the park, which included a boat launch, formal gardens, pavilion and band shell, promoters of the city's industrial exhibition, which included many city officials and the premier, set their sites on it.

"The Ex" was located on a 68-acre piece of land in the north end, what we now call the Old Exhibition Grounds near Jarvis Street and Selkirk Avenue, which was now land locked due to urban development. Its board and promoters thought that with the purchase of additional land to the north, it would make a new site to house the exhibition with an arena, show rings, and even a horse racing track.

The city did purchase additional land, but the war intervened and put the Ex on hold. The organization was dealt a blow when the war office took over their old site to house troops. During the war, thousands of people would flock to the park on summer weekends to enjoy its natural beauty. When the war ended, political will to tear up the park for the exhibition evaporated.


August 2, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

An indirect remnant of the exhibition plan is Kildonan Park Golf Course.

The city's parks board had been looking for a site to house the city's first municipal golf course and when land was being parcelled up for the Ex in 1914, they approached the board of control to see if they could get in on it.

Work began on the site in 1916, but it would take years for the course to be developed. It was formally opened on July 28, 1921.

For more about the history of Kildonan Park, read my Real Estate News columns about the history of the park and its architecture. My column about the history of the golf course is here.