Percy Haynes is best remembered for Haynes Chicken Shack, the restaurant he ran with wife Zena at 257 Lulu Street near Logan Avenue from 1952 - 1998, but that was just one chapter in a fascinating life.
Piercy* Augustus Haynes was born in British Guyana in 1911 and came to Winnipeg with is parents as an infant. (The official spelling of his name was Piercy, but he used Percy.)
The Haynes family moved to 257 Lulu Street, a small house off of Logan Avenue. The site also doubled as a carpentry shop where William Haynes, Percy's father, plied his trade. Here, the Haynes' raised four sons: Alan "Chick", Clifford, Piercy and Abram.
As a teen, Percy attended Hugh John MacDonald School and began making a name for himself as an athlete and musician.
The first newspaper mention of Percy comes in an August 1925 Free Press story about a youth sports camp for 150 inner city kids at Gimli. They noted that he "was an easy first in nearly every event he tried."
At another camp the following summer, he took second place for best stage performance.
Percy was a member of the 1932 Winnipeg Stellars basketball team that won the Canadian amateur championship. He was the amateur welterweight boxing champion of the city in 1933 in 1934. As a softball pitcher he led a number of local teams to city playoffs and local championships.
During the 1930s Haynes worked as a carpenter during the day and juggled his sports and musical careers on evenings and weekends.
In 1932, he met a young jazz singer named Zena Bradshaw who had come to Winnipeg from Edmonton. The two soon became a performing duo on the local club scene and married in 1943.
During World Ward II, Haynes, like many of his peers, wanted to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy with HMCS Chippawa then located on Ellice Avenue. He was turned away from the recruiting office because he was Black. The government felt that the confines of ship life were not a safe place for men of colour, (though Blacks were accepted into the army.)
An angry Percy "... went to the top, I wrote to the admiral of the navy and I told him exactly what I felt about it." (Winnipeg Free Press November 25, 1990.) That "admiral" was actually Naval Secretary Hon. Angus L. McDonald.
In time, he persuaded McDonald and other naval brass to change the rules and McDonald himself eventually wrote Percy back to invite him to return to the recruiting centre. Haynes became the first Black in the modern Royal Canadian Navy. ("Modern" because William Hall was allowed join the British Navy in Halifax back in 1852. As the British Navy was also Canada's navy at the time he is sometimes considered to be the first.)
Meet The Navy was a Royal Canadian Navy revue show that Percy was part of. It became so popular that it was made into a British movie in 1946 with Percy performing as a musician and actor. (Watch the film here.)
After the war, Percy did not go back to carpentry. Instead, he took a job as a CPR sleeping car porter. He worked the rails for more than 20 years and also became involved in the union movement to improve the conditions of Black railway workers.
Percy also resumed his musical career and went back to pitching in a men's softball league.
The restaurant was Zena's idea. She had always wanted to run a restaurant and recruited her sister, Alva Mayes, a local cook already famous for her fried chicken, to work in the kitchen.
Why that location? Money was tight and the Haynes household was already the scene of many impromptu jam sessions complete with late night feasts. Percy told Hal Sigurdson of the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992, "... we figured we might as well get paid".
A restaurant reviewer for the Free Press wrote of Haynes' Chicken Shack in December, 1972: "Fashioned out of an old house off Logan Avenue, three blocks west of Sherbrook Street, the restaurant is unpretentious and warm — not to mention Mary Poppins clean. And most important, much of the food is good, the service prompt and friendly."
Percy eventually retired from the CPR and he and Zena performed nightly at the restaurant. It gained quite a reputation as a musical hot spot. Greats like Billy Daniels, Oscar Peterson and Harry Belafonte all visited when in town, some multiple times.
The musical influence rubbed off Zena's son, Percy's step-son, Del Wagner who eventually became a popular musician and band leader.
Alva Mayes died in 1988. Zena Haynes died in 1990.
On July 24, 1992, Percy Haynes, 81, died at Princess Elizabeth Hospital. He was working, greeting customers at the restaurant, up until the week before his death.
The restaurant was then put up for sale. It was rumoured that Blue Bomber James Murphy would but it but, in the end, it was two long-time staff members who purchased it.
Haynes' Chicken Shack continued in business until September 1998.
- Further details of Haynes and his attempts to join the Navy can be found in these Senate Committee hearings and this Senate debate.
- For more on Blacks in the Canadian Forces.
More about Haynes and 257 Lulu Street:
- 257 Lulu Street Winnipeg Downtown Places
- Recipe for Success Winnipeg Free Press
- Farewell to 257 Lulu Street West End Dumplings
For more blog posts about the history of Manitoba's Black community.