Here's a look at the story behind this building that was constructed in 1941 as home to radio station CKX.
December 12, 1928, Winnipeg Free Press
Brandon's Board of Trade and most of city council were so supportive of the city getting its first radio station that land next to city hall was donated for its studio and transmission tower. The city also underwrote the $2,500 construction cost.
CKX went on the air on the evening of December 11, 1928 with a selection of live musical numbers starting with an orchestral version of O Canada and ending with a dance band called The Goblins. Intermixed with the music were speeches from officials. Mayor Henry Cater spoke first followed by J. H. Edmison, MLA, and N. W. Kerr of the Brandon Board of Trade.
For those without radios, the broadcast - sans the dance party at the end - was carried on loudspeakers inside St. Paul's United Church hall.
Initially, CKX broadcast most weekday evenings from 8:30 pm to around 10:00 pm with many of its shows musical in nature. Spoken word programming was expanded early the following year with a weekly show featuring officials from the Dominion Experimental Farm in February and a Sunday morning religious show starting in April. The main sessions of the February 1929 United Farmers of Manitoba convention were broadcast as a special feature.
Brandon City Hall, original CKX studio and its towers, ca. 1940
(Portion of a larger photo by Jerrett Photo at the McKee Archives)
(Portion of a larger photo by Jerrett Photo at the McKee Archives)
CKX began broadcasting with a used 500-watt tower from CKY that was later replaced by a new 100-watt tower. Both were located adjacent to the CKX building and city hall. In 1936, programming was brought to a wider audience after the construction of a new transmitter building featuring a 1,000-watt tower on the grounds of the Brandon Asylum.
The relocation of the transmitter allowed the old building to be reconfigured to have more studio space. In short time, as the station moved towards all-day programming, the demand for space increased dramatically.
John Lowry, Manitoba's radio commissioner, approached Brandon city council in early 1938 to discuss an expansion of the existing CKX building further towards Princess Street. Council hesitated at first saying that it did not want such a large, permanent building on city hall grounds.
It was suggested that CKX relocate to another city-owned parcel of land across the street on 8th by the YMCA. Lowery responded that if the station was to relocate that its first choice would be to upper floor suites at the Prince Edward Hotel.
Gilbert Parfitt's new CKX building. Aug 9, 1941, Winnipeg Tribune.
In exchange for the new building the city agreed to demolish some unsightly old buildings across the street, next to the Beaubier Hotel, (likely on the site offered to CKX as an alternative location), and provide landscaping and sidewalks to the new studio. It would also provide water, steam heat and power from the adjacent city hall building.
The city leased the new site to MTS for 99 years at $1 per year and paid $500 to buy the old building and its equipment. (Presumably, this was to make the city responsible for its eventual demolition costs.)
The only major item not resolved at the time was who would pay for the dismantling of the two transmission towers made redundant in 1936. Initially, it appears to have been a city responsibility, but when it found that the value of the scrap would not cover the cost of removal it was decided to go back to MTS in the near future to try to negotiate a side deal.
Parfitt ca. 1927
The new, 2,300-square-foot studio building was designed by Gilbert Parfitt.
Born and raised in Britain, Parfitt began his architectural practice there before coming to Winnipeg in 1912. He soon got a job with the provincial Public Works department working under two different provincial architects before taking up the post himself in 1944 until his retirement in 1957. (He is referred to as "provincial architect" in some 1930s newspaper articles, perhaps holding it as an acting position at times. When this building was designed his official title was likely Superintendent of Public Buildings.)
Parfitt did take time off in the 1920s to do private commissions. His most recognizable private works are the Stonewall cenotaph (unveiled 1922), St. John's Anglican Cathedral in Winnipeg (built 1926) and the Winnipeg cenotaph on Memorial Boulevard (unveiled 1928).
For Public Works, his designs include Headingley Jail (built 1929), the women's hospital / Pine Ridge Building at the Brandon Asylum (built 1932 -33) and the Arts Building at the University of Manitoba with A. S. Stoughton (built 1931 - 32) .
Interior images and floor plan from Manitoba Calling, Feb. 1942.
The architect who would supervise the construction of Parfitt's building was C. W. U. Chivers of Winnipeg. Chivers visited Brandon to look over the site on May 22, 1941 and promised a Brandon Sun reporter that MTS was most anxious to get the building project started. Tenders for its construction closed on July 21 and it is unclear who won the bid.
The single-storey building with full basement is built of brick and Tyndall stone, cost around $17,000 to construct and measures 40 feet by 60 feet. Its exterior contains many elements of Art Deco design such as its stylized, geometric ornamentation.
The building contained two studios. "Studio A" could host a small orchestra or multiple performers and had an adjoining observation room that seated up to 40 people. "Studio B" seated two or three people for interview shows and news reports. Both studios faced a main control room and were connected to a performer's lounge.
The building's interior had other nods to art deco. It was described in one report as "finished in attractive two-tone pastel shades with natural wood trim (that) presents the combination of smart appearance and ideal broadcast facilities."
The basement was for storage and the mechanical rooms that included the central air conditioning system needed to keep equipment and performers cool.
City Hall and former CKX building ca. 1960s (McKee Archives)It turns out that the 99-year lease wasn't necessary as the provincial government got out of the radio business in 1948. CKX was sold to a consortium of businessmen under J. B. Craig called Western Manitoba Broadcasters Ltd..
The company was awarded a license to operate a TV station in Brandon in 1955 and soon after began construction of a combined radio and TV studio building on Victoria Avenue. When it opened in 1957, CKX bid farewell to its old home.
On August 1, 1957, the Brandon Health Unit, the city's public health department, took over the old studio building and operated from there for the next fifteen years.
This building has had a few close calls with the wrecking ball.
The first came in 1962 when Mayor S. A. Magnacca floated a plan for a new city hall building he wanted to see constructed adjacent to the old building. Anxious to get the project started, he called for the preparations - including razing the Heath Unit building - to begin as soon as possible.
In the end, Magnacca's plan did not get far and the building lived to see another day.
When the old city hall was finally demolished in March 1971, the Health Unit building had to close soon after as it still got its steam heat from its older neighbour. It appears the intention was to tear down both buildings at the same time, but for reasons unknown the demolition plans got split.
Soon after the city hall demolition two new subsidized housing blocks, Princess Towers and Princess Apartments, rose on the site. In 1973, the redevelopment of the block was complete when Kinsmen built a park along the Princess Avenue frontage. At this point, the former Health Unit building was supposed to be demolished to allow for a driveway into the park but the process was held up as the city's application to receive a federal grant to cover the cost didn't pan out.
The delay gave some community organizations the opportunity to approach the city to request that the building be left standing. This was not for any perceived aesthetic or historic value, but because it was a city-owned building in decent shape that could be rented out as cheap office space. It was thanks to Alderman Emily Lyons that the decision to demolish was put on hold until the matter could be studied further.
The city initially claimed that the building was in bad shape with a failed foundation. Further inspection showed that this was untrue. It was instead estimated to cost about $10,000 to install a heating system and make other general repairs to get it into suitable rental condition. Council felt this was too much to spend and at its September 30, 1974 meeting passed a motion to demolish the building. A tender for he demolition was issued soon after.
This prompted a number of community organizations to appear as delegations to ask the city to reconsider. One man even showed up offering to purchase the building for $15,000 so that he could fix it up and rent it out to groups.
In the end, council decided not to approve a winning bid for the demolition until after the October 1974 civic election.
August 20, 1974, Brandon Sun
The new council looked more favourably on the old building.
The city issued a call for proposals in August 1974 from anyone interested in using the space. In December, it accepted a plan submitted by Big Brothers of Brandon which was celebrating its 25th year in the city.
The city agreed to pay $13,000 towards the renovations then rent it out to Big Brothers for $2,400 per year. Big Brothers, in turn, would rent some of the space out to other organizations.
In May 1975, the city called for tenders for the renovation of the space. There was just one reply from John Van Mulligan with a bid of $15,371. It appears the city accepted his bid despite it being higher than what they had budgeted for.
The newly renovated building opened on November 5, 1975. Aside from Big Brothers, it was also home to the Manitoba Tenants Association, Senior Citizens Incorporated and the Family Planning Association. In the 1980s its tenants included CUSO and the John Howard Society.
By 1990, it was the John Howard Society that was leasing the building from the city for the same $2,400 per year and subletting space to Big Brothers and the Brandon Crime Prevention Committee. Some on council were not happy with the low rental rate and the city redrafted the rental agreement to raise the fee to $3,751 per year in 1992.
The final civic lease for the building was signed in early 1995 allowing the John Howard Society to remain until April 30, 1996 for $4,000. The group was warned that the city would then explore selling the building and, even if they did not sell, the rent for 1996 - 1997 would jump to $7,000 per year. This prompted the John Howard Society to purchase its current location at 153 - 8th Street in the summer of 1996.
The city did advertise the building for sale in August and September 1996 for $65,000. There was no follow-up article to indicate who purchased it, though classified ads show that the Native Village Healing Centre used that address in the late 1990s and the Native Addictions Council of Manitoba in the early 2000s.
May 18, 2006, Brandon Sun
A new era for the building began in 2007 when Paul and Susan Spiropolous of Olivier's Bistro and Steakhouse purchased it. Olivier's opened in 1993 on Richmond Avenue and moved to 935 Rosser Avenue in 1996.
This new location on 8th Avenue allowed them to concentrate on the catering side of their business, though they added a restaurant supply store the following year and an antique shop in 2013.
Olivier's took advantage of the building's location at Princess Park to start up a "back yard" barbecue operation. It began serving up burgers, gyros and pork on a bun in he summer of 2008 at weekly events like Music in the Park on Wednesday evenings. Since 2010, "Barbecue at the Fountain" has been a summer weekday staple for the the downtown lunchtime crowd.
In 2015, the Spiropolous' purchased the President's House from Brandon University to use as an event location for their catering.
Drawing by Gilbert Parfitt (courtesy S. Spiropolous)
The pause in their catering business due to COVID 19 restrictions has given the couple time to reflect on the future. With Paul now 68, they decided that it was time to sell the building and business and retire.
A new era for the old CKX studio will soon begin.