Monday, 10 February 2020

Rev. J. T. Hill, his Winnipeg summers and the founding of Pilgrim Baptist Church

© 2020, Christian Cassidy

Reverend Dr. Joseph T. Hill was an American preacher who spent a great deal of time in Winnipeg during the 1920s and 1940s. He is also credited with founding the city's first Black church.

Hill was born in 1877 at Fort Royal, Virginia. His mother, Susan, had been born a slave.

At the age of 16, Hill began preaching and in 1903 received Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity degrees from Virginia Union University. He then went on to obtain a Masters of Divinity at the University of Southern California. In 1926, Hill was awarded an honourary Doctorate in Divinity from Virginia Union.

Hill first came to Winnipeg in August 1922. At the time he was pastor of Roanoke Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas and billed himself as the "Black Knight of Arkansas". The reason for his visit was a seven-week stint as the fill-in preacher at the 1,500-seat Zion Methodist Church while Reverend J. R. Johns was visiting family in his native Wales.

Having a visiting pastor in town was nothing new. Each Saturday, especially in the summer, the religion page of both local newspapers listed numerous guest preachers who would be speaking the next day.

What seems unusual about Hill's stay is that he was taking over a well-established congregation for such an extended period in just his first visit to the city. Also, Zion was not a Black congregation. It was very much part of the city's white establishment with folks like James and Susan Ashdown as its early benefactors.

Not long after arriving, word of Dr. Hill's great oratory skills and powerful sermons got around. This drew the attention of local newspapers. The Winnipeg Tribune published lengthy excerpts from his Sunday sermons, some taking up more than an entire newspaper column.

The Tribune summed up his tenure at the end of the summer by writing: "The attendance (at Zion) was so great that towards the end many hundreds could not gain admittance to the Church and the people began to flock to it fully an hour before the service commenced." The article noted that the church doors were kept open so that people could listen from the steps.

On the morning of September 17, 1922, Hill's last sermon of the summer, police were called to to direct traffic and crowds around Princess Street and Pacific Avenue as hundreds of overflow guests came to hear him. Hill agreed to do two additional sermons at 6 pm and 8 pm to accommodate the extra people and left for home that night.

Before he left, he was presented with a gold cane and a financial "thank you contribution" by the congregation.

Zion Methodist. (Source)

Rev. Hill's sermons received a great deal of press coverage, but there wasn't much in the way of biographical interviews with him. No one asked why had he decided to come to Winnipeg?

It was noted in one article that he had spent a month at Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto in November 1921. He may have heard about other established Canadian churches, such as Zion, from his connections there.

Zion Methodist Church in Moose Jaw was another place Hill preached in the 1920s. As Moose Jaw and Winnipeg were both large railway centres, their Black communities probably had many similarities. They would have been small, very American and closely tied to the railway industry. The railway connection also made them fairly transient as porters constantly came and went.

Preaching at an established White church may have allowed Hill to visit and support these smaller Black communities which simply couldn't have afforded to bring in a full-time pastor.
November 13, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

Winnipeggers didn't forget Hill and Hill didn't forget Winnipeg. He returned to Zion in 1923 for the month of July, spent August in Toronto, then returned here for September and October.

Hill celebrated his 46th birthday on July 21, 1923. Dr. George A. Brown, a physician and the choirmaster at Zion church, hosted a party for Hill at his home at 298 Sherbrook Street. It was an evening of music by members of the choir and local celebrities like piano soloist Wallace Gillman and soprano Dorothy Drewe.

Before Hill left in November he gave a recital of poems of influential African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at the church.

October 4, 1924, Winnipeg Tribune

Hill returned again to Zion on July 6, 1924 and stayed until the end of August. He appears to have left for September and returned for a busy October.

That October, Zion Methodist Church was celebrating its golden jubilee. Hill and Reverend Johns shared the duties of the three week-long celebration, though it was clear from ads taken out by the church that Hill was the star attraction. Celebrations included three special Sunday sermons, a series of concerts and a formal dinner.

May 27, 1939, Winnipeg Tribune

In late October, after Zion's festivities ended, Hill is credited with founding Hill's Memorial Baptist Church to serve the city's Black community. The church was initially located at Alexander Avenue and Stanley Street. (An exact address was never given and for its first few years there is no listing fir the church in the Henderson Directory. This likely means that it shared space in an existing church or other building.)

The first full-time pastor of Hill's Memorial was Dr. J. L. Caston from Columbia, Missouri who was appointed in May 1925. He was replaced in December 1926 by Rev. C. C. Lolow.

The church changed its name to its present one, Pilgrim Baptist Church, in 1928 and it bounced around to a couple of different addresses, including ones on Jarvis Avenue and Main Street. In May 1939, it settled into its permanent home when the congregation moved into the former Maple Street Mission and the hall of the Point Douglas Presbyterian Church at 41 Maple Street.

Pilgrim Baptist became a cornerstone of Black life in Manitoba. Aside from church services, it was a performing venue for local and visiting Black singers and celebrated American Thanksgiving for the large number of African Americans who made up the local Black community.

(More about the church's history below.)
August 21, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune

Hill did not return to Winnipeg for another 15 years. During that period he was appointed dean of the theological department of Arkansas Baptist College (1927), pastor of Second Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia (1928) and served as the president of Virginia Union University.

When he returned in 1939 it was as guest pastor at Grace United Church at Ellice and Notre Dame which was considered the "mother church" of Methodism in Western Canada and where United College got its start. He spent July and part of August there and returned in October to preside over the church's 71st anniversary celebrations on November 5.

Though he didn't garner the type of media attention as he did in the 1920s, people still packed the church for his sermons. Mr. and Mrs. George Maybee drove all the way from Moose Jaw to hear him preach in July. Also in July, Hill hosted an evening of readings from African-American poets and told historic stories of life in the south for Black people.

Hill returned to Grace Church for July and part of August 1940 through 1946. Most of these years he resided with Mr. and Mrs. Gerry T. Nix of Inkster Boulevard. Nix was the district supervisor for the Imperial Oil Company. The couple hosted a farewell reception at their home For Rev. Hill each year before he returned to the U.S..

Reverend Hill's final sermons at Grace Church were on August 25, 1946, with "The People Back Home" in the morning and "With Jesus Through the Storm" in the evening.

The Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia)

Gertrude Hill, Reverend Hill's wife, died on March 24, 1949. Reverend Hill died in a Baltimore, Maryland hospital on December 4, 1950 at the age of 73. They are buried together at Woodland Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A..

Pilgrim Baptist ca. 1962 (Winnipeg Building Index)

As for the church Hill founded, in November 1948 the congregation purchased 41 Maple Street and raised another $5,000 to add a basement, modern kitchen and do other renovations on the building that was likely built in 1889 as the Maple Street Congregational Church.

In the early morning hours of January 6, 1950, the church caught fire and the interior was gutted. Luckily, fire hall no. 3 was located directly across the street which prevented its total destruction. The fire caused $8,000 in damage and was believed to have been caused by an overheated furnace and pipes in the basement.

The congregation still held a worship service the following Sunday, though just a dozen people showed up. It then relocated it services to St. Andrews United Church on Elgin Avenue where Rev. Fred Douglas welcomed them and helped in their fundraising efforts to rebuild.

It appears that Baptist Mission was rebuilt by July as that is when ads for Sunday services at 41 Maple Street resumed. On August 16, it hosted a Sacred Musicale and Forum with special speaker Reverend Dr. J. T. Hill. This was his final visit to Winnipeg before his death in December.

The ageing building was torn down in 1984 and the present church had its official opening and dedication service on Sunday, June 23, 1985.

More of my stories about Black history in Manitoba

Local stories:
Musician and restaurateur Percy Haynes (expanded version in the Winnipeg Free Press)
Swan River's Billy Beal (expanded version in the Free Press)
Pro hockey's Alton White Jr.
Behind the Photo: Railway Porters' Band of Winnipeg
Labour Leader George Beckford (expanded version in the Winnipeg Free Press)
The Craig Block

Famous visitors:
Jesse Owens visits Osborne Stadium (expanded version in the Free Press)
The day Sammy Davis Jr. came to townDuke Ellington, Omar Williams and their Banning Street jam session

Monday, 27 January 2020

Remembering the Holocaust: A Winnipeg couple’s story of survival

© 2020, Christian Cassidy
May 26, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

I had intended on writing a short, amusing post about the morning of May 26, 1960 when Winnipeg was in the grip of its smallest, and one of its shortest, strikes. It turned into something much larger after looking into the story behind the business owner at the centre of the strike and its timing in relation to today's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The business involved  was Sam Fleisher and Co., a meat company at 346 Dupuy Street in St. Boniface. The firm purchased cattle, slaughtered them, then sold the meat wholesale to butchers and restaurants.

Top: Samuel and Regina ca. 1936 (Fleshier family via video)
Bottom: Laszckow, Poland is the red pin near centre of map (JewishGen)

Sam (Simcha) Fleisher was born in 1908 in Laszczow, Poland. A cattle dealer by trade, he first met Regina (Rivka) when he visited her village to purchase cattle in the mid-1930s. He continued to call on her and the two were engaged in the fall of 1936 and married on January 31, 1937. They then relocated to Laszczow, Poland where they owned and operated a flour mill.

Two weeks after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Stalin ordered the Soviet invasion of Poland. Due to its location in the east of the country it was the Red Army that first made it to Laszczow. The military confiscated the mill and Sam was arrested for being a rich businessman causing Regina to move back in with her mother. Sam soon escaped from jail and joined her.

In 1941, the Nazis arrived and the region's Jews were rounded up. Sam and a pregnant Regina were removed to the Jewish ghetto in the small town of Blaszkowa, Poland. Residents were also used as forced labour at nearby farms.
Ruins of the former synagogue at Laszczow (Galacian Traces)

The Fleishers' daughter, Miriam, was born in the ghetto on November 5, 1941. Not long after, the SS declared that all young children in the ghetto were to be put to death. The Fleishers approached a Catholic bishop they knew as a customer of their former mill. He and the Mother Superior of a nearby Roman Catholic convent agreed to take the baby, create a cover story for her identity and raise her there.

In 1943, the surviving Jews in the ghetto were cleared out. Many, like the Fleishers, went to labour camps, others to Belzec extermination camp. Regina escaped after she was left for dead after a mass shooting and she eventually made her way back to the orphanage where she had left Miriam. She lived on the grounds outside the house until harvest time, then was allowed to live inside.

As for Sam, he also escaped from his labour camp in the summer of 1944 and made his way back to the orphanage and lived amongst the cows until the war was over.

The Fleishers ca. 2000s (obituary photos)

Life after the war was difficult. The family first lived in a hut in Crakjow, Poland and Sam collected war orphans to bring home and live with them. Miriam, who had been taken from the only home and family she ever knew, had a hard time adjusting to this "new" family. Regina said that she also found it difficult to think of them as a family again after all they had been through. The birth of thier second child, Frank, on May 23, 1945 helped change that.

The Fleishers then moved to Lipnitz, Poland where Sam opened a meat business, but hostilities were still strong between Poles and Jews. They didn't feel like real citizens and decided to leave for Canada after a couple of years.

The family first settled in Montreal, but did not like it there. A friend of Regina's told her about Winnipeg and the large Ukrainian and Polish communities here, so they moved west.

356 Stella, right side of the duplex, (Google Street View)

The family first appear as "Fleicher" in the 1950 Henderson Directory which means they would have arrived there in the latter part of 1949 when data for the guide was collected. Sam is listed as a cattle dealer and they rented three rooms for $28.00 in the upstairs of a house at 356 Stella Avenue at Aikins Street. Mike Swick, owner of Progress Candy on Jarvis Street, was the homeowner and lived downstairs.

Now settled, it didn't take the Fleishers long to get back on their feet.

In 1950, the couple gave birth to their third child, William. By 1952, Sam got his drivers licence and bought his own truck and is listed as a cattle dealer and driver. The family had also moved to an apartment block at 192-B Burrin Avenue.

It was around 1955 that the firm of Sam Fleisher and Co. wholesale meats was established at 346 Dupuy Avenue off Marion Street in the meat packing district of St. Boniface. The site was home to a an abattoir and rendering plant that a number of small meat companies called home. The building was likely brand new as the previous one, Farmers' Abattoir, was razed by a fire on December 28, 1953.

At around the same time the Fleishers bought a house at at 425 Kilbride Avenue in West Kildonan where they would live for decades to come.

May 26, 1960, Winnipeg Tribune

It was during this time that the unique labour dispute dubbed "the smallest strike in Canada" by the Winnipeg Free Press took place.

Sam Fleisher and Co. had been a one man show until Sam took on W. M. "Bill" McPherson as a labourer in early May 1960. McPherson had signed up to be a union member at the meat firm he had been hired away from, but had not yet paid his dues. The union, however, considered him a member and applied for certification of Sam Fleisher and Co. as a union shop. Fleisher refused and a one man strike vote was taken. The Free Press reported: “Mr. McPherson had voted unanimously Wednesday to go on strike at a vote held at the plant.”

McPherson witha  small sign hit the picket line before 7:00 a.m. on May 26, 1960. At 8:00 a.m., officials from the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union arrived to negotiate a new contract.

Fleisher didn't put up a fight. He said he knew he would lose as most of the other shops in St. Boniface had recently unionized. McPherson got about $15 more per week in salary and a reduction from a 50-hour work week down to 40 over the two years of the contract. The strike lasted less than two hours.

The Free Press noted that “There were no hard feelings before or after the strike. Mr. Fleisher and Mr. McPherson have known each other for about a year and have been on good terms.”

December 2, 1975, Winnipeg Tribune

The company moved in 1975 when Farmers' Abattoir announced they were adding a $140,000, two-storey packing plant extension and other upgrades to the old building.

According to to Sam's obituary he retired in 1978 at the age of 70. The company was sold off and continued on under the Fleisher name for at least a couple more decades.

Sam Fleisher died on September 28, 1988 at Seven Oaks Hospital. Regina died on February 10, 2007 at Sharon Home. The Rivke Fleisher Memorial Scholarship Award was established at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba in her honour.

Memorial at Łaszczów (Virtual Stetl)

Back in Laszczow, after the war, as with many Jewish cemeteries in Poland, the gravestones were removed and used for pavement and fill and the land for was used for growing crops and housing.

In 1994, the land was fenced off, symbolic headstones erected and a monument was placed to honour of the village's Holocaust victims. In Polish and Hebrew it reads: “The monument to commemorate the blessed Jewish martyrs of Łaszczów killed by the Nazi murderers during the Second World War 1939-1945."

- Rivke (Regina) Fleisher obituary
- Samuel Fleisher obituary (see below)
- Miriam Fleisher obituary
- Oral history interview with Regina Fleisher and Miriam Fleisher (1988) Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives website (Transcript)
- Remember Jewish Łaszczów Genealogy Group
- Laszczow International Jewish Cemetery Project 
- Łaszczow Virtual Shtetl

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The story behind the Fortune Block's ghost sign

© 2020, Christian Cassidy

During the restoration of the Fortune Block workers came across a ghost sign on the west-facing back wall of the building. When the adjoining building was constructed many decades ago the sign was protected from the elements and managed to survive mostly intact!

After some trial and error searching various names in newspaper archives it turns out that it is an advertisement for Charles Harrington - Butcher and Grocers.

Harrington family, 1901 Census of Canada, (Library and Archives Canada)

According to census records, William C. and Charlotte Harrington were born in Quebec of Irish parents. By 1879, they were married and living in New Brunswick where they started their family, beginning with son, Charles.

The family came to the Selkirk region of Manitoba around 1891 with at least seven children in tow ranging in age from 1 to 13 and had at least three more children after arriving here.

The family first appears in Winnipeg in the 1894 Henderson Directory, meaning that they moved here sometime in 1893. They owned a house at 423 Pritchard Avenue at Salter, now demolished, and William's occupation is listed as a carpenter.

Market Building, ca. unknown (Winterbos on Flickr)

By 1895, the Harrington family was running a meat and provisions shop called Harrington and Co. at stall 13 of the Public Market building behind city hall. A 'Christopher' and 'T. H.' Harrington ran it. Both lived at the Harrington family home on Pritchard, but it is unclear what their relation was to the family as they would have been too old to be Charles' siblings.

The following year, Charles, now 17, began working at the stall.

Around 1899, the family branched out by opening a grocery store called Harrington and Co. Grocers at 188 Higgins and the market stall became exclusively a butchers. (It may have been that the market did not operate year-round). The following year, a second store at 1079 Main Street near Aberdeen opened. Charles is listed as the owner of the Main Street building and some of the family lived above the store. At this time there is no listing for Christoper or T. H. which suggests they may have moved on to another city.

J. P. Lauzon's stall, next to Harrington's (CoW Archives)

By 1903, the Harringtons' the stand-alone stores closed and the enterprise was back to just the market stall now run by Charles with his father's assistance. A 1904 Tribune feature that profiled some of the stall owners noted that Harrington was one of the younger men in the trade and had a fine variety of meat, including beef, chicken and black bear “for those who have a taste for it”. It went on to say: "The stall is creditably decorated and everything looks neat and clean.”

It was around this time that trouble began brewing between stall owners, almost exclusively butchers, and the city. In 1904, the city tried to evict them so that the market building could be converted into city offices. The butchers, led by J. P. Lauzon, fought the eviction notices and won, though the victory was short lived. In the spring of 1905, the city issued new eviction orders and the butchers had to find new locations.

The storefront Harrington took over in 1905
Archives of Manitoba in City of Winnipeg Historic Buildings Report

J. P. Lauzon moved to a custom built building just a block away on William Avenue and in April 1905 Charles Harrington secured the lease at the old Holman Brothers' store on the main floor of the Fortune Block at 232 Main Street.

Benjamin H. Holman came to Winnipeg in 1882. Originally from Napierville, Quebec, he worked as a butcher in a number of places, including Colorado, before coming here. Soon after his arrival he started a butcher business with H. Price on Main Street. By 1884, he was joined by his brother, Henry A Holman, and the name of the business changed to Holman Brothers. They relocated to the Fortune Block in 1885.

In 1904, the company merged with the Gallagher Company which owned a large abattoir and meat packing business and Holman got out of the retail trade.

September 22, 1905, Winnipeg Tribune

By June 1905, Harrington was settled in at the store and again able to expand the scope of his trade by offering “a full stock of staple groceries, the choicest meats – fresh and cured, butter and eggs, and seasonable vegetables direct from the gardens.”

It could be that some of the vegetables were grown by the Harringtons. Charles' father was quoted speaking as a vegetable producer at a trade show in the summer of 1905 and took out classified ads around the same time seeking to purchase 50 to 100 acres near the city limits.

There was a close call for the shop and the Fortune Block as a whole in October 1905 when an overheated stove at Harrington's caused a fire. The fire brigade was called and it was soon put out. The total damage was limited to $100 in stock.

Charles Harrington's store did not last long. The last ad for it ran on September 22, 1905 and the October fire is the last mention that can be found. In 1906, Harrington and the store are gone from newspapers and the Henderson Directory.

What exactly happened to Charles Harrington is unknown. A scan of some archived rural Manitoba papers and Henderson Directories from other major cities in the West at the time turn up nothing.

It could be that he found producing food was preferable to selling it and got into the farming side of the family business. Perhaps his entrepreneurial spirit, which saw him running his own market stall at age 24, took him to larger centres. Maybe the family returned to their roots in New Brunswick.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The music of Manitoba's centennial - Part 2

© 2019, Christian Cassidy

This is post two of two about the songs of Manitoba's centennial year of 1970. Part 1, Moody Manitoba Morning, can be found here.

Whilst Moody Manitoba Morning became a radio favourite and the unofficial song of the musical caravan that travelled the province that summer, there were a number of official songs funded by the provincial government that also hit the airwaves.

The Manitoba Centennial Corporation held a nation-wide song contest in 1969 to find what would be crowned Manitoba's "official centennial song". The grand prize was $1,500 in cash and having your song professionally recorded. Second and third place winners received prizes of $500 each.

There were 164 entries submitted from across the country and read by an impartial jury of members of the local music industry.

"Manitoba" by Gordon P Watson and Anne M. Collier (Listen here)

Source: Discogs

In November, it was announced that the winner was a song titled Manitoba submitted by two Portage la Prairie residents. Gordon P. Watson, who wrote the tune, was a musician and music teacher in Portage. Anne M. Collier, who penned the lyrics, was an author and historian. Verna Solmundson of Edmonton Street and Richard W Carr of Crofton Bay came in second and third.

On January 1, 1970 the public got their first listen to the song when a choir of 85 kids from the Portage la Prairie school division sang it at the Legislature during New Year's Day celebrations.

After the initial hubbub, news about the song died out prompting some complaints that the contest was just for show and a waste of $2,500. In April, Maitland Steinkopf, president of the Manitoba Centennial Corporation, announced that the song would be recorded on April 25, 1970 at the Centennial Concert Hall by Century 21 Records.

Three versions of Manitoba were recorded.

On the "A" side was the English version sung by a 160-child choir composed of the Daniel McIntyre Madrigal Singers, Portage la Prairie Indian Students Glee Club, and the Rossburn Collegiate Girls Choir.  It was followed by the French version sung by Daniel McIntyre's Madrigal singers and La Choral de l'Institut Collegial Louis Riel.

The "B" side of the record was the pop version recorded by local band The Fifth, (also see.)

The record was launched on May 29, 1970 in Portage la Prairie. There were 11,000 copies pressed and they sold for $1 each. Proceeds went to the Daniel McIntyre and Portage la Prairie choirs to offset the cost of their trips later that year to Osaka, Japan to sing at Expo 1970. (After December 31, 1970, any royalties from the song reverted back to the composers.)

Though this was the official song, there were others that were funded by the Manitoba Government:

"The Spirit of '70" by Neil Harris (Listen here)

Image: CitizenFreak

In January 1968, two years before the centennial year, the province announced that Manitoba's Department of Industry and Commerce was releasing Spirit of 70, a song it had commissioned from Manitoba composer Neil Harris.

Sung by the Neil Harris Singers, the song was recorded in three styles: as a march, a dixieland version and a Tijuana brass version.

"Manitoba Hundred" by Bobby Gimby (No audio)

Gimby at Lord Roberts School, June 1970

There was controversy when it came to the third centennial song composed by bandleader Bobby Gimby, the man behind the popular Ca-Na-Da Canadian centennial song.

News broke in April 1970, just before the recording of Manitoba, that the Manitoba Centennial Corporation has also hired Bobby Gimby to write a Manitoba centennial song, a deal which had apparently been struck in the autumn of 1969.

What was controversial, and not supposed to be released, was what the song would cost. Gimby was to receive $4,500 for the song and another $17,500 to go on a province-wide tour that summer. The amount caught people off guard considering there was already a centennial song and a centennial musical caravan that would be touring the province in the summer. Some also felt that having a Torontonian write the song and record it in Toronto didn't sit right.

Source: 45cat .com

The 7-inch special release would have two versions. The "A" side would be the rock version and the "B"side by a choir of children. Gimby came to Manitoba in May 1970 to do auditions.

The children, (S. Lanyon, D. Adams, A Beckman, A Leydier, P. Drummond, S Harrison, C McNabb and C Barstead), and band, Sugar N Spice, were flown to Toronto at the Centennial Corporation's expense to do the recording.

Gimby's 30-site tour kicked off on June 15, 1970 at Lord Roberts School. The bandleader was dressed in his trademark Pied Piper costume and led schoolchildren through a series of songs, including teaching them the lyrics to his. The tour wrapped up July 5 in Portage la Prairie.

There were 10,000 copies of the record cut and they were sold for $1 each.

It is hard to gauge the popularity of the songs. They were all sung at numerous public events and concerts that took place that year. None, though, achieved the staying power of Moody Manitoba Morning, the song that became the unofficial anthem of the centennial.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Moody Manitoba Morning turns 50 !

© 2019, Christian Cassidy

This is part 1 of 2 about music featured during Manitoba's centennial year of 1970. (Part 2 is still to come - stay tuned !)

March 1, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

Moody Manitoba Morning turned 50 this year !

If you are of a certain age you will be very familiar with the song. It was taught in music class, sung at choir recitals and The Five Bells' cover version hit the charts in 1970. There have been other covers of it since, and in my humble opinion you've not really heard the song until you listen to the wonderful version by Alana Levandoski from a couple of years back (alternate link to audio.)

Moody Manitoba Morning became an unofficial anthem of Manitoba's 1970 centennial celebration and, who knows, might get a bit of airplay during Manitoba's sesquicentennial in 2020.

I caught up with songwriter Rick Neufeld to talk about Moody Manitoba Morning's origins !

Neufeld in 1975, Tribune Personality Collection, U of M

Rick Neufeld was born in Deloraine, Manitoba and raised on farms around Boissevain. After completing grade 12 at Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna he moved to Winnipeg and spent a year at the University of Manitoba.

Things did not go exactly to plan in the big city. Neufeld explains, "After a tough first year in the U of M architecture program they changed the degree format completely and I was having doubts about continuing, so when I met Paul Simon after a Simon and Garfunkel concert at UMSU* I decided to quit school during my second year and commit to being a singer songwriter."

(In this interview for the Harvest Sun Music Festival, Neufeld recalls how he met Paul Simon in Memorial Park and chatted with him !)

After a year of playing coffeehouses and working as a draftsman at Dominion Bridge, Neufeld went on an extended visit to Europe in late 1967. He says that while in Munich, "I noticed a note on the youth hostel bulletin board of a Canadian with a car looking for someone to help with expenses and driving." That someone turned out to be Richard Hahn, son of composer Bob Hahn who was making a name for himself on the Canadian music scene.

When Neufeld returned to Canada in 1968 it was to the Hahn household in Montreal where Neufeld met Bob. Neufeld recalls, "I was broke and stayed at his home in Montreal and played some of my songs for him which touched his Saskatchewan heart. (H)e gave me money to get me back to Winnipeg and told me to write, write, write." Hahn would become Neufeld's musical mentor and publisher.

March 9, 1970, Winnipeg Tribune

Back in Winnipeg, Neufeld set about establishing himself on the local music scene playing both his own music and covers of folk icons at clubs, coffeehouses and festivals. He also made the finals of the guitar competition category at the Winnipeg Guild of Folk Music's annual festival in the summer of 1968.

Neufeld recalls putting Moody Manitoba Morning to paper. "I was living with a family in Fort Garry and remember vividly sitting at the kitchen table and writing it". When asked if it really took him just 20 minutes, as was reported back in the day, he replies, "Yes it did and virtually without any changes after that."

As for its delightful portrayal of lazy, content summer days in small town Manitoba, he explains that "Having spent most of my life on the open prairie, it was on reflection of that after the time in Winnipeg and the historical clutter of Europe that I wrote the song."

When it came time to publish Moody Manitoba Morning there were suggestions that the lyrics be changed to "Mississippi" or "Missouri" to give it wider appeal. Neufeld stuck to his guns and the song was published as written by Bob Hahn's Laurentian Music in 1969.

Image: Discogs.com

It was around this time that Montreal cover band The Five Bells, also see, were looking to break into the recording industry.

They chose Moody Manitoba Morning as the B side for their first single, Big City. A few weeks later the accompanying album, Dimensions (1969), followed and included a second Neufeld composition called Little Children. Despite being on the B side it was Moody Manitoba Morning that ended up hitting the charts.

When asked what it was like hearing one of his songs on the radio for the first time Neufeld says "it was overwhelming". He admits that many of his friends thought he could have done a better version of the song, "but the deejays liked (The Five Bells') sound and played both sides of the single until ‘Moody Manitoba Morning’ charted."

The song earned Neufeld a Loyd C. Moffat Award for most popular folk song. At the May 1970 BMI Canada Music Awards he received a certificate of honour for Moody Manitoba to recognize its "outstanding contribution to Canadian Music." (Two other Manitobans, Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings, also walked away with BMI awards that night.)

Moody Manitoba Morning found new life in 1970 as an unofficial anthem for Manitoba's Centennial celebrations.

There were two official songs commissioned by the Manitoba Centennial Corporation, see part 2 of this post for more about them, but Moody Manitoba Morning proved so popular that it was added as the "theme song" of the Manitoba 100 Caravan show that toured the province that summer. It was also sung by various artists and choirs and at ceremonies and on radio and TV specials.

To take advantage of its centennial popularity Neufeld's own version of Moody Manitoba Morning was released as a special single in 1970 backed with Boissevain Fair.

Image: YouTube

Neufeld's album release of Moody Manitoba Morning came on his first album Hiway Child (1971). Another version of the song released in 1971 was by American country artist George Hamilton IV on his album featuring Canadian songwriters called North Country (1971).

To top off a successful couple of years, Neufeld was invited to Nashville in 1971 where he played on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

Brian Groy in his Winnipeg Tribune Youthbeat column reported that upon his return from the U.S. Neufeld said that his ambition was now to "buy me a farm, bed up, and write music", and that's just what he did.

Along with Dianne "Rosie" Giesbrecht, whom he married in 1970, he bought a 38-acre farm south of Winnipeg and continued to write music. He also toured as both a solo artist and with his band, Prairie Dog.
In 1973, Neufeld released his second album called Prairie Dog.

On May 23, 1975, Neufeld and Prairie Dog performed at the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium in Brandon. It was recorded as both an album and to be made into a half-hour CBC TV special.

The album, ManitobaSongs, was released in November 1976 and contained tracks about different regions of the province, such as Souris River Valley Ups and Downs, Flin Flon Gone, Pukatawagan and The People in The Pas. After its release, Neufeld and his band were back on the road for another tour.

In 1977, Neufeld had a stint on CBC TV as co-host, along with fellow folk singer Colleen Peterson, of the musical variety series The Road Show. The four, one-hour episodes were shot on the prairies and aired in June as a summer replacement for the The Tommy Hunter Show.

January 26, 1976, The Manitoban

ManitobaSongs was Neufeld's last album, so what happened to him after that?

Neufeld explains, "I always had anxiety as a performer and always liked entertainment coaches, so I bought a twenty-year-old Flyer Canuck 500 in Winnipeg". He then drove for the likes of Graham Shaw and Bruce Cockburn and went on to spend the next three decades as a tour coach driver.

Around 1980, Neufeld visited Salt Spring Island for the first time to pick up a new coach and says he "fell in love with the island at first sight". He would soon divide his time between the island and the road, eventually retiring there.

Neufeld still writes songs and says he's written some of his best recently. He also still performs.

Recent gigs have included opening for The Bros. Langreth in 2017 at the Salt Spring Folk Club, the 2019 Crankie Festival in Winnipeg to honour Mitch Podoluk, and annually at the Harvest Sun Music Festival in Kelwood, Manitoba.

Looking back on Moody Manitoba Morning after 50 years, Neufeld says, "it is very cool to have people sing along to most of the song. It is obviously the touchstone of my comparably brief time as a songwriter."

Thanks to Rick Neufeld for answering my many questions for this post!

Rick Neufeld w/ Don Zeuff, Moody Manitoba Morning, 2017 (Play)

Author's interview with Rick Neufeld, December 2019.
Moody Manitoba Morning - Winnipeg Free Press, Mar. 1, 1969
Songwriter Rick's a Manitoba Booster - Winnipeg Tribune, Sep. 6, 1969
Three Manitobans win awards - Winnipeg Free Press, May 11, 1970
Rick neufeld is confident after two years - Brandon Sun, Oct. 13, 1971
Meet Rick Neufeld Down on the Farm - Winnipeg Free Press, May 31. 1975

Simon and Garfunkel play the U of M

Nov. 1, 1966, The Manitoban

Flashback to 1966 when Simon and Garfunkel played the UMSU West Gym in 1966. Admission was just $3, even less if you bought in advance. Apparently they were well received according to this review in The Manitoban.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Vista Apartments, 1911- 2019

Sadly, the Vesta Apartments on Agnes Street which had a major fire on Boxing Day had to be torn down today.

I feel bad for those who lived there - flee a fire in the middle of the night and never be able to go back.

For a history of the building.