Wednesday, January 31, 2007


"A night out on the town circa 1913"

By George Siamandas

In Winnipeg's hey day: 1913, the two top places to celebrate would have been the Fort Garry Hotel and the Royal Alexandra. The Fort Garry Hotel had just opened that December. The Royal Alexandra had seven years experience under its belt had just reopened after a major upgrading. But many other hotels competed for these events. The St. Charles for example promoted an evening complete with dinner for $1.00. Dinner and dancing were also available Saturday and Wednesday evenings for $1.00 at the Royal Alex.. If you preferred Saturday afternoon tea, sandwiches and other treats it cost only 40 cents at the Royal Alexandra.

The Coliseum opened just in time for the holiday season December 16, 1912. It was Winnipeg's first hall exclusively designed for dancing. It was located on Fort which became Winnipeg's early auto district and which still has a couple of bars. Five hundred couples swayed to AF Demkler's 12 piece band. Dancing was from 8:30 to 12:30 pm and lessons were available at 7:00 pm. It became the Alhambra Dance Hall in 1918 but closed down in the mid 1920s

The Fort Garry had just opened for the Christmas Season in 1913 and it was the CN's answer to the luxury railway hotel. The first grand event was the Victorian Order of Nurses Ball. Sir Rodmond Roblin and Mayor Deacon attended along with all the pillars of Winnipeg society. The completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific's Hotel Fort Garry, (originally to be called the Selkirk), was described as a milestone for Winnipeg in progress from a pioneering community. Newspapers carried detailed descriptions of which lady was there and what she wore to this grand event. In the 1970s and 1980s the Fort Garry was an uncertain future but has been revived to its original elegance.

The Royal Alex opened in 1906 and was considered the CPR's finest at the time. In anticipation of the Fort Garry's opening the Royal Alexandra was expanded and made even more lavish about 1910. With 450 rooms and luxurious finishes it was the show piece of the city. Royalty like Kind Edward VIII stayed there. A woman writing in the 1967 Free Press about having once lived at the Royal Alex as a young girl in the 1920s, remembers going into the vice regal suite after he had stayed, and laying on the bed before it was made up by the chambermaids. All the top players that appeared at Pantages or the Orpheum Theatre stayed at the Royal Alex. And when the President to CPR came to stay every employee wore white gloves. For decades the Royal Alex was the social centre of Winnipeg with a huge rotunda and large dining rooms. Murals told the story for Manitoba and the Royal suite rented for $1,000 a night.

But the dancing finally stopped. The Royal Alexandra Hotel closed on Dec 31 1967 and its last event that evening was the wedding of Sandra Gross and Jim Linton the head of Winnipeg Hydro. Winnipeg's old jewel of a hotel was demolished in 1971. Located in the toughest part of town, the CPR sold off the station and the Royal Alex site has remained a green piece of land.

In small irony to the CPR railway that supplanted the aboriginal way of life, the native community now owns the station that epitomized the forces that ended the old nomadic life of the Indians. And all around the CPR Station, aboriginals have started to recover and reform the city that once displaced them.



Addressing Winnipeg's High Pre WW1 Mortality Rates

by George Siamandas

As related to health issues, Winnipeg was a hell hole before WW1. Diseases were running rampant. Prayers were said at Salvation Army meetings for the health of Winnipeg's citizens. The water supply was very poor. The result was very bad public health. In 1905 for example, Winnipeg had the worst typhoid death rate of any city in North America or Europe.

The Hospitals were built to accommodate the people suffering from communicable diseases. Epidemics had spread through Winnipeg before: smallpox, typhoid, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. On February 27, 1914, the new King George Isolation Hospital took in its first patient.

These outbreaks were centred amongst Winnipeg's poor immigrant populations that lived in poor tenement housing. The General Hospital had been trying to deal with outbreaks but told the city it could no longer take care of communicable diseases. The city established a commission that recommended the immediate building of municipal hospitals. The city accepted its role to address the problem and they bought 25 acres in Riverview part of Fort Rouge to establish new hospitals under the new Winnipeg Hospital Commission.

It was opened by the Duke of Connaught who came out to lay its cornerstone in 1912 together with the official opening of the King Edward memorial Hospital. The King George was built to accommodate scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles and other communicable diseases. It was designed by Herbert Ruff who had come to Winnipeg in 1904 after training in Chicago. It was state of the art for its day and had been built as a world class hospital. And at a cost of $800,000 it cost four times what the King Edward had cost to build. The hospital filled up immediately! During 1919 the year the Spanish flu hit in a world wide epidemic, the King George treated 3,789 during the winter season.

The city took the job of health very seriously and developed an extensive system of public health services. All the way from baby clinics, visiting nurses, Thirteen visiting nurses made 47,000 visits in 1922. There was also a department for sanitary inspections of food, dairy etc.

By the time the hospitals were built and the health system was in place in the early 1920s infant mortality dropped from 181 deaths per 1000 in 1910 to 82 deaths per thousand. Similarly, typhoid fell from 20 deaths per 100,000 to 3 deaths per 100,000.

But apparently the improved water from the just completed Shoal Lake aqueduct also deserves a portion of this improvement in public health. In 1923 the average hospital stay for a person with a communicable disease was 26 days while tuberculosis patients stayed 152 days. Cost per patient per day was $3.09 in 1923. And by this time the death rate dropped from one of the highest to one of the lowest in North America.

In the 1950s the King George became the centre for children with polio. The hospitals evolved and they came to serve geriatrics, and now provide long term care for about 380 persons.




by George Siamandas

Horace McDougal, Manager of the Northwest Telegraph Company brought the first phone in Winnipeg. He had obtained the western Canadian rights to this new invention and he connected his home to his office in 1878. This was just over a year after Alexander Graham Bell had obtained his patent. It cost McDougal $60 per year.

McDougal sold his interest to Bell in 1881 by which time there were 26 subscribers in Winnipeg. Bell sent the first switchboard by Red River Cart and the phones could now be connected pair to pair. The first wires were strung from roof to roof.

In the tradition of using boys on telegraph systems, boys also worked the first switchboards. But the boys lacked good manners. The first woman operator was Miss Ida Cates in 1882. She was described as having a "voice with a smile." Brandon and Portage La Prairie got service in 1882. And by 1887 the first long distance call to Selkirk was made.

Canada Bell's patent expired in 1893 and overnight dozens of phone companies sprang up. It was so competitive that one company was cutting down the poles of the other. These companies provided no phone service to rural areas so the Manitoba government stopped incorporating new ones.

In 1905 Francis Dagger a telephone expert from Liverpool strongly advocated public ownership of the phones. At the same time, the Grain Growers Grain Company, a group of Manitoba farmers, led the pressure to create the utility. This group which was the predecessor to the current UGG, was also instrumental in promoting education, temperance and the vote for women. On January 15, 1908, Roblin's government took over the phones paying $3.3 million to Bell.

Several public initiatives at the turn of the century were based not on the principle of socialism but on good business sense. Roblin wanted to avoid a duplicate system to serve rural areas and he wanted to retain the profit for the people. Public power had brought down Winnipeg's hydro rates to become the cheapest in North America. They were also looking at the water supply.

Between 1908 and 1912 service was extended to rural areas increasing subscribers from 14,000 to 40,000. The province's territory was expanded three times in size from 73,732 sq mi to 251,832 sq mi. In 1917 the first fully automatic phone exchange in North America was set up in Brandon. And by 1926 Winnipeg had the first automatic dial service in Canada. In 1921 Manitoba Government Telephones was renamed the Manitoba Telephone System. In 1923 MTS started CKY as an experimental radio station adding CKX in Brandon in 1928. The industry continued to change rapidly with microwave transmission of TV signals in 1957. Since then MTS has been in the highly innovative and competitive communications industry.

Today the industry is changing so rapidly requiring the flexibility to change and compete. The recent amalgamation by two US east coast communications firms, (Atlantic Bell and Nycom or something similar), saw them attract 200,000 new customers for a new service in a six week period.

The telephone workers were part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and went on a sympathy strike in 1919 even though they had successfully settled their contracts prior to the walkout. The system operated through the strike with management replacements.




"From Trading Post to Modern Store"

by George Siamandas

The Hudson Bay store opened in Winnipeg on November 18 1926. People lined up for blocks around; one of the plate glass windows was broken and car loads of police were on hand to maintain decorum. Fifty thousand Winnipeggers went through the store that first day. But only the basement and first two floors were complete for opening but at least the store was ready for the Christmas trade. Two thousand staff were there to help the throng of opening day customers.

The first customer was Mayor Ralph Webb who bought a silk tie for $1.25. A Mrs Schultz of Pritchard Ave actually was the first customer in line. In the lower level was a supermarket: sirloin steak was 22 cents a pound, corn flakes a dime and sugar sold for 72 cents for a ten pound bag. The lower level also housed hardware, sporting goods. Clothing however was surprisingly expensive at prices of $15 to $150 for women's dresses. There was even a 3,000 volume lending library on the second floor. The Bay would make 5 tons of Christmas cake for the Christmas season and was the biggest fuel dealer in Winnipeg delivering coal till 1960 when gas was introduced.

A lot of men worked round the clock to dig the Bay's foundations by shovel, horse drawn scrapers as well as the two steam shovels on the site. Most of the Bay was built with a "Made in Manitoba" philosophy where as many goods as possible were bought here in Manitoba. The Tyndall stone, 1 M bricks, plaster from Gypsumville, the steel frame from Selkirk's Rolling Mills, 2 M board feet of lumber from Winnipegosis. And as a modern fire-proof building, it had 32 km sprinkler pipes and 8,000 heads.

At one time it had its one well which at 600 feet was the deepest in Canada. While not of drinking quality, it was used to flush toilets and to air condition the air. It was used until 1971 at which time it was capped off because the water had turned salty in efforts to dig deeper. Originally the Bay had twelve elevators. Half were removed in 1948 to install elevators. In the 1930s a beacon on top of the Bay helped guide airplanes to the city as air mail service was inaugurated.

For a company that had owned a lot of North America (All the land that drained into Hudson Bay) and all of downtown Winnipeg till after 1870, it took the HBC a long time to build a modern store - 21 years after Eatons. WW1 delayed it at least ten years. And Winnipeg seemed to have headed into decline by the 1920s. The original store built in 1881 had been on Main St and York. But the Bay saw the reality of retailing lay on Portage Ave. The first real urban store was in Vancouver in 1887. Donald A Smith who ran the Bay then imported managers from Harrods to run these stores. The trading posts evolved into department stores as the west filled up with new settlers.

At one time the Bay owned everything in downtown Winnipeg and built on the western boundary of its reserve. Ironically it had to repurchase the land from a Col Pierce who made a bundle from advance knowledge of the store's coming before the Bay's own real estate people knew of the store's construction. Hudson Bay did not become a Canadian company till 1970 when it became headquartered in Winnipeg. It had previously been London-based. In 1979 Ken Thompson bought 76% of Bay shares. They sold off the 178 northern stores in 1987 after losing money.



Manitoba's Forgotten $6M White Elephant

by George Siamandas

Manitoba boosters had always dreamed of a port on Hudson Bay, and from 1880 on a debate raged as to whether the port should be at Churchill or at Nelson at the outflow of the nelson River. In 1908 Laurier acting on an election promise sent out surveyors to select the correct location. Most ship captains favoured Churchill because of its safe harbour. The surveyors were not able to complete their assessment of Nelson because of poor weather.

Churchill was 100 km further and the railway would have to be built over tundra and as yet they had no experience in laying track over such terrain. There was also the fear that the Churchill option would need blasting of rock to create a port, and the site had limitations for townsite development. Port Nelson offered a superior site for townsite development as well as being closer resulting in lower railway costs. Work was begun in. In 1912 after the Borden conservatives had been elected the minister of railways decided in favour of Port Nelson.

In June of 1913 work proceeded under DW McLachan, the chief engineer, known as the "Little Iron Man". Despite difficultieswith in the harbour they went ahead full steam. They had to overcome a very narrow and shallow channel which they did by building an artificial island further into the water connected by a bridge. During 1915, nine hundred men, mostly "foreigners," worked on the project at Nelson while many thousands worked on the Hudson Bay Railway. The newly completed lighting plant let them work around the clock. WW1 brought an end to the project and all work ceased in 1918.

An enquiry in 1919 found that the chief engineer McLachan had never approved of the Hudson Bay railway nor the terminus of Port Nelson. Yet he had used his ingenuity and had done everything in his power to build it nonetheless. And the delays continued. In 1926 another enquiry lead by famous British engineer Sir Frederick Palmer concluded that Nelson could never be a good harbour. His report said that "the approach to Nelson can only be considered a constant menace to shipping." Palmer recommended Churchill as the port and the new destination for the HB railway.

In 1927 the decision was made to reverse the earlier decision of Port Nelson and make Churchill its new destination. Six million had already been spent. It took till Sept 13, 1929 to complete the HBR and it was not until 1931 that Port Churchill was complete. The whole bill came to $60 M. Benefits accrued to places like The Pas as the HBR was built. The Pas became a centre for lumber, fur trapping, mining and railway construction. Land values boomed.

There is still the 17 span steel bridge to the artificial island. In the middle of nowhere. Its an interesting lesson in planning, and in how a political football is never worth the trouble. That it took 50 years to complete should have said something about its soundness much earlier.



The day Winnipeg brought honour to the west

by George Siamandas

On Sunday afternoon December 7, 1935 Winnipeg won its very first Grey Cup scoring 18-12 against Hamilton's fearsome Tigers later called the Tiger Cats. The game was played in Hamilton before 9,000 wild eyed Hamilton fans. Hamilton was favoured to win having earned 5 Grey Cups. The Tigers had a very strong defence and expected to trounce Winnipeg. But Winnipeg proved even stronger allowing only 2 completions on 13 pass attempts.

In Winnipeg fans huddled together listening to the game on the old big tube radios. But by game's end they spilled out onto Portage Avenue in great celebration. The star of the game was 145 pound Fritz Hanson known as the "Golden Ghost." Hanson ran for 300 yards including a 75-yard runback that clinched the game. On the last play of the game, Winnipeg held back Hamilton on the Winnipeg 4 yard line. It marked the west's first win of the Grey Cup.

There were several teams in the east and the west. Winnipeg's team was called the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club or the "Winnipegs" and Joe Ryan had founded it in 1930. There were 15 players then. Players wore only shoulder pads and leather helmets without mouth guards. They played the year on a budget of $7,500 provided by a group of Winnipeg businessmen. Winnipeg had a very strong rivalry with Regina and had beat Regina and Calgary to make it to the 1935 Grey Cup.

Winnipeg had been one of the first football clubs to import American College players. It had a few Canadian players like Eddie James, Lou Adelman and Lou Magee. But most its firepower came from the US. Guys like Fritz Hanson from North Dakota, quarterback Russ Rebholtz, Bud Marquardt from Minnesota, Greg Kabat and Bert Oja. Hanson the playing coach was quarterback and had signed to play for Winnipeg for slightly less than what the New York Giants of the NFL had offered plus a new overcoat for Winnipeg's winters.

The rules were quite different then. It made for a much more wide-open game. You could not block on punt returns or downfield. All teams had playing coaches because the coach could not send in plays from the bench. In order to prepare for the game away from Winnipeg's snow, and more importantly, away from Hamilton spies, Winnipeg held their practises in Detroit. Ironically Detroit had even more snow than Winnipeg.

At the time of the win they were the Winnipegs or the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club. The next day's newspapers referred to the Blue Warriors of Winnipeg, but it was writers Vince Leah and Ralph Allen that called them the Blue Bombers after that game, and by the following year the Blue Bombers name caught on.

Surprisingly many American players stayed. Marquardt worked as a clerk at the Bay, Oja became a dentist, Hanson served in the Canadian army and then worked in radio and sales. In the middle of the great depression professional football came into being in Canada. And that 1935 win built a lot of spirit for Winnipeg. Winnipeg remained a contender reaching many Grey Cup finals after that first great win in Hamilton.

Founding Winnipeg's Grain Exchange

Founding Winnipeg's Grain Exchange

By George Siamandas

December 7, 1887 marked the formal beginning of the grain industry in Winnipeg with the establishment of the Winnipeg Grain and Produce Exchange. At its founding the Exchange had 12 members and operated from City Hall on Main St. Each had paid $15 for the opportunity to come and trade wheat, barley and oats. Here they published prices, settled disputes and were connected to the markets of the world.

Nicholas Bawlf was one of the men that got the Exchange going. Bawlf had come to Winnipeg in 1877 from Smith Falls Ontario. With his new bride Katherine, he set himself up in flour and feed sales on Princess St. His timing was perfect as the prairie grain economy was poised to take off.

Mr. Bawlf did very well. In 1910 Bawlf was identified as one of Winnipeg's 19 millionaires. He owned one of the finest houses in the city at 11 Kennedy across from the Lt. Governor's residence. The Bawlfs had 8 children: 6 boys and two girls. Three generations of his family worked in Winnipeg's grain business. But their name is no longer listed in the city directory.

Many other prominent families like the Richardsons also made their fortunes in grain through companies like Pioneer Grain. Other prominent grain families include Parrish and Heimbecker.

In 1898 the Exchange moved to 160 Princess: a four storey Victorian jewel of a building in red brick and limestone. The Grain Exchange Building still stands as part of the oldest surviving cluster of buildings in Winnipeg all which were associated with agriculture. Bawlf had constructed several of these buildings and one, the Bawlf Block at 148 Princess still carries his name.

The early 1900s were real boom times for agriculture and in 1908 the Exchange moved to a new building east of Main at 167 Lombard. By 1920 Winnipeg's Grain Exchange had become the most important grain market in the world.

In the early 1980s the Commodity Exchange moved to the Trizec building at Portage and Main which was renamed the Commodity Exchange Tower. The Commodity Exchange now boast about 330 members, some from all over the world.

The farmers have always been at war with grain dealers and the railways which they saw operating like monopolies. Then over the years, the federal government brought in regulation, farmers started their pools, and the Wheat Board was created.

There seems to have been a perennial battle between producers, government, the grain companies and the transportation industry. They are all involved in trying to get the highest possible price, while trying to manage constant risks and uncertainty of one kind or another. And now the biggest issue is that farmers are forced to sell their wheat to the Wheat Board.

The grain industry continues to be big business not only for the producer of grain but for the business that sells it, moves it, inspects it and regulates it. There is UGG, the Wheat Board, the Grain Commission, Patterson, Cargill, Pioneer Grain. Approximately 20% of the economy is in agriculture and 8 of Winnipeg's top twenty private companies are in grain. They are big enough to have their own festival called Grain Fest held each summer in August.

But the four buildings on Princess St. where the grain industry got its start are empty and rapidly deteriorating. They are owned by the city and with today's tight civic budget, their future is in doubt.



By George Siamandas

The first grain elevator was built in Buffalo in 1841. Over time grain elevators have become the architectural icon of the prairies. The first were known as flat warehouses. Looking like normal buildings with gable roofs they soon gave way to the tall wooden sentinels that dot the Canadian prairie.

They were typically 20x40x8 feet. Only one such elevator remains in Brookdale Manitoba. The classic grain elevators began to be built in the 1880s. They were built to the CPR's standard plan. 50 or 60 feet high and powered by a steam or diesel engine.

Western Canada's first and Manitoba's first grain elevator was built by a railway siding near Niverville Manitoba in 1878. What was unusual was that it was round and it would be the only one of its kind. It had been built by Mennonites settlers that had come four years earlier. It operated until 1904 with horse power and could hold 25,000 bushels.

Grain Farmers convinced the Manitoba government of Premier Roblin to build a series of government owned elevators

Responding to farmer's concerns that they were not being treated fairly by the grain companies and their elevator, the grain Act sought to establish rules and regulations on how farmer's and their grain were marketed. Grain Exchange was called the House of Closed Shutters.

The Story of Manitoba's Government House

The Story of Manitoba's Government House

Winnipeg's Oldest Mansion

by George Siamandas

Adams G Archibald was first lived at Silver Heights, but didn't like it there feeling too far from the action at Fort Garry. In 1872 he moved within the walls of Fort Garry in a three story wooden building. The remnants of the Fort Garry Gate located just east of the Fort Garry Hotel, depict the appearance of that old govt house in a painted panel. As plans were made to take down Upper Fort Garry, the house itself was purchased by a Mr Marion for $100, demolished and used as firewood. In 1880 the federal govt began the construction of a new govt house and a legislature. Manitoba's current govt house was completed in 1883. Now at age 116 it is the oldest mansion in Winnipeg.

Govt House was designed by the Federal govt's dept of public works by architect Thomas Scott in the prevailing architectural style of the 1860s. The style is called Second Empire and it is distinguished by the flat topped mansard roof, dormer windows, and a tower. It was built on oak piles 27 feet deep topped with concrete. Its foundation is constructed with limestone blocks quarried at Stony Mountain, and the finest white brick available was used for the building which rises three stories. Its contractor was Major FJ Bowles from Selkirk Manitoba with the winning bid was $23,995. The federal govt paid for its construction and the construction of the first legislature and in fact the feds paid all the province's bills till the mid mid 1880s. By 1888, $89,325 had been spent by the federal govt to improve govt house.

The first Lieut Gov to occupy it was James Cox Aikins. Since then 21 Lieut Govs have occupied the home with Peter Liba becoming the 22nd on March 2, 1999. In 1970 the house was described as having 23 rooms and 11 baths. But by 1896 it had seriously deteriorated requiring major replacement of plumbing and other systems. The property also saw the addition of a greenhouse, a ballroom and a verandah at the turn of the century, all of which structures were later replaced or improved.

Improvements were carried out in anticipation of royal visits or after minor disasters. A kitchen was added in the 1940s. Previously it had been located in the basement and a dumbwaiter brought the meals upstairs. After a disastrous failure of the dumbwaiter where the rope broke during a state visit spilling food everywhere, a new kitchen wing was finally added to the first floor. There has always been reluctance to budget enough moneys to keep govt house up to date. And similarly with the legislature which can get very hot during the summers, provincial governments have been shy about adding air conditioning.

The Lieut. Gov is the Queen's and federal govt's representative in Manitoba. While govt house was once associated with the seat of power it now serves a ceremonial role. It has welcomed royalty, dignitaries, artists, and common folk.

Once a year the general pollution is invited to the annual new Years levee dates back to 1871 started by Archibald and the first in govt house was held 1884. Many Royals have stayed including 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth broadcast live to the entire British Empire from Govt House. The original mahogany library table and a plaque commemorate that day. Other guests have included Winston Churchill who stayed in 1901, Stanley Baldwin, Sarah Bernhardt, Billy Graham, Princess Christina of Sweden, and many recent personalities.

William Simon the architect of the legislative Building had planned a new govt house, (in 1910). it was never built. As late as the 1950s provincial architect Gilbert Parfitt had declared the lieut gov's residence the only jarring note in the beauty of the legislative grounds. A Westminster clock from 1870 still graces the front entry. Inside govt house hang the works of Manitoba artists including LL Fitzgerald one of the Group of Seven.

Col Bedson and Stony Mountain Golf Course

Col Bedson and Stony Mountain Golf Course

How Convicts Built a Course for Their Warden

By George Siamandas

Col Samuel Bedson is credited with building Manitoba's first golf course, Stony Mountain Golf Course in 1889 using convicts. It came only 16 years after the first Canadian golf course, the Montreal Club begun in 1873.

Manitoba's first golf course was the dream of Stony Mountain Prison Warden Col Samuel Bedson. Samuel had been born in Montreal in 1849 and was the son of a military man. Bedson had come to Manitoba as part of the Wolseley expedition in 1870 and was soon put in charge of the prison at Fort Garry.

When the prison was to be moved, Bedson selected the site of Stony Mountain, and the province's first stand-alone prison, opened in 1877. At this time Stony Mountain was a village of 200.

The tee was opposite the Warden's residence. The series of bunkers, boulders, badger holes, ploughed land and downhill slopes made it challenging indeed. The course consisted of 9 holes; 9 very difficult holes. We know this from the first score, because the results of the first game were recorded for posterity. Dr Sutherland and partner Walter Nursey defeated Col Bedson and partner Dan Smith with a score of 97 to 113.

Walter Nursey had designed the course. He had been Minister of agriculture in 1878. Nursey was the first to use the new granite curling stones introduced to Manitoba in 1881.
Bedson was a real sportsman and also built a curling rink, race track and hunt club. Bedson, who always liked to give his convicts a break, is also said to have employed convicts as butlers and servants.

In 1891 Bedson resigned as Warden to work for the Alaska Boundary Commission. But Bedson never started his job. He died in July of 1891 and is buried in St James cemetery. His golf course lasted till 1892. It was not until 1922 that the course was revived and called the Assinawa Country Club. It faded once again in 1939 with the start of WW2.

The oldest golf course still in existence is Virden opened May 7, 1892. It was started by Scots who formally established it through the sale of public shares.

When first built it was part of a pasture. The greens had to be fenced off because horses had a habit of rolling around on the sand greens. Nonetheless in the first game won by John Harrison with an 18 hole round of 92. In 1964 the Virden course had make do with a new set of hazards. Oil wells set up by the Texas Crude Oil Co. It now plays to a par 39.

Other early courses include St Charles in 1905, Elmhurst in 1910, Pine Ridge in 1912, and Assiniboine in 1917. Niakwa was built in 1923, Winnipeg Beach in 1925, Polo Park in 1931, and Tuxedo in 1934.

Golf enjoys tremendous popularity in Manitoba as shown by our large number of courses. Today Manitoba has 127 courses, of which 25 are in Winnipeg.



By George Siamandas

Sitting 225 feet high at the top of the dome of the Manitoba Legislature, is Manitoba's best known symbol, the Golden Boy. On Nov 21 1919, the Golden boy was fixed in place. It capped the completion of the Manitoba legislature ending a stormy 6 years of construction. And it marked one of the few happy events in what had been a tumultuous year.

Architect Frank Simon had paid a lot of attention to details in the legislature, and saw the Golden Boy as an important part of the building. The Golden Boy was cast in bronze by French Sculptor George Gardet. It is 13.5 feet high and is covered in gold leaf. It is based on the work of sixteenth century Italian artist Giovanni da Bologna's statue of Mercury.

The golden boy faces north. North is where they thought Manitoba's future lay in resources like minerals and hydro electricity. In his right hand the golden boy holds a torch, while in the left arm a sheaf of wheat. He serves as a symbol of Manitoba's eternal youth and progress. The Golden Boy is intended to give the same kind of welcoming message to immigrants as the Statue of Liberty does in the US.

While on its way to Canada during WW1, the vessel was commandeered as a troop ship; so for several years it served as ballast crossing the Atlantic many times. But this was not the Golden Boy's only brush with war. In 1916, the Paris factory in which it was being cast was bombed by German shells.

At the top of the torch is an eternal light. But this light was not there from the beginning. It was installed in to mark centennial year 1967, and came on Dec 31 1966. Architecturally the Golden Boy finishes the top of the dome. When you compare it to Regina's legislature, their dome seems somehow unfinished.

Gardet also created the bison which stand at the entry to the staircase inside the legislature. Simon had watched over their design carefully and asked for early pictures of the proposed molds. Simon felt the bison in these early designs were too thin and asked that Gardet make them more massive. Simon also fended off proposals to cast them in plaster to save money.

Later at the opening of the legislature Simon was quite annoyed that the bison looked away from one another rather than towards the centre. Gardet also designed the statues of Solomon and Moses which stand in the legislative chamber. There is a wealth of design and meaning in the other statues on the grounds, in the limestone carvings on the building's front over the columns, and in interior frescoes.



The hospital that Winnipeg citizens built

by George Siamandas

On February 1, 1972 the provincial government amalgamated the old General hospital, the Children's Hospital and the Rehabilitation Hospital into one organization they now called the Health Sciences Centre. More than a hundred years earlier (1872) Winnipeg citizens were establishing the first hospital.

The first hospital was started in 1872. It was a five bed hospital over Dr Schultz's store near Main St and Notre Dame east. The first patient was a typhoid case on Dec 24 Christmas eve 1872. Just after the new year on Jan 3 1873 two men suffering from gun shot wounds were added. By the 8th the hospital was full. And till staff could be found Surgeon Codd of the Canadian Light Infantry did free work.

Leading the crusade for a hospital was the Winnipeg Free press which itself had been founded months earlier. There had been typhoid epidemics in 1871 and 1872 but the federal government had set up only temporary makeshift treatment boards. But nothing permanent existed to serve Winnipeg citizens.
A citizens committee led by AGB Bannatyne called a meeting and established a board of directors that would be elected annually for the next 100 years. A petition to the Manitoba government of 1872 was rejected by the "hard hearted" provincial treasurer of the day.

But later in the year the province did come through with $500. But still, the first annual report found an over run of $319 which came out of the director's pockets and from a canvass of the city. The following year the Board incorporated to limited their personal liabilities, and they developed a subscription plan to finance the hospital.

Charities raised money from the very beginning. A ladies fundraising effort held dances and raised $950 which was retained for the construction of a new hospital. In 1900 an X-Ray device was provided by merchant John Galt. Phones came in 1881 and from 1883 and for years after Bell provided free phone service.

The men literally died in their boarding houses and hotel rooms. In 1872 the census of 1467 people showed 1000 were males. A partial explanation of why all 15 patients during 1873 were men. In 1874 39 males and 3 females were served. In October 1874 the first child was treated fresh from the Icelandic migration. The first baby born in the hospital was 1881. The patients were English speaking: either Canadian or Manitoban. The French were cared for at St. Boniface Hospital.

Finally in 1875, on land donated by AGB Bannatyne and Andrew McDermot, located a mile west of Main on streets that bear their names, tenders were called for the first hospital building. This open field which was surrounded by a swamp was more than a mile away from downtown. The first two storey building cost $1,818, and the ladies fundraisers donated $1,345.80. And to overcome the muddy prairie conditions, a wooden boardwalk ran from Main St. to the hospital.

By 1878 there were 2 doctors on staff: John O 'Donnell Dr A J Jackes. And a steward, a cook and a nurse.

According to a map there have been at least 81 buildings and their additions on the site, including the ones that still stand. The complex now contains over 44 buildings plus their additions which now cover 16 square blocks.

The first building was a hospital. The second was a morgue. Then of course administrative space, a laundry, operating rooms, a nurses home, a maternity hospital. All in the first ten years. One building is of special note.

The nurse's home built in 1888 is the hospital's oldest surviving building. Of brick and lime stone construction, some of the limestone came from Old Fort Garry which was being dismantled at the time.

Penny pinching has been a way of life. They cut cost for milk, changed back to wood heating when coal got expensive and they built their own laundry to save costs. Charity has always been essential in the growth and development of Winnipeg hospitals.

In 1880 it cost patients $1 per day. Paupers received free care. Hospital insurance began in 1938.

The Bloodless Battle of Fort Whyte

The Bloodless Battle of Fort Whyte

Without Peer Among Railway Men

By George Siamandas
© George Siamandas

Whyte was born in Charleston, Scotland Dec 14, 1843, son of a coal merchant. He came to Canada to work on the Grand trunk Railroad. Over 20 years Whyte worked as brakeman, freight clerk, yardmaster, and stationmaster, rising to Assistant Superintendent. He then moved to the Credit Valley Railway, which became part of the CPR in 1883. Whyte came west in 1886 to build the CPR line as General Superintendent of the Western Div. He was seen as the only man who could do it.

In 1879 he married Jane Scott. They had 5 children. He became Vice president of the CPR till 1911.

Oct 22, 1888, 6 miles south west of the city. Three hundred Winnipeggers supported by provincial Police descended on a group of CPR employees led by Whyte. They were preventing a group of workers for a new provincial railway. They had put a locomotive right in their path. It went on for days and saw fist fights, threats to scald with water,

A truce was declared and February 1887, a Supreme Court decision held in favour of the new railway, ending the CPR monopoly. That is how Fort Whyte got its name. After Generalissimo Whyte.



By George Siamandas

The new construction visible from Wellington Crescent as you drive towards Assiniboine Park is the new home of the Jewish Community Campus. The complex of four existing brick buildings has been incorporated as part of the new project.

This was the site of western Canada's first agricultural college: the Manitoba Agricultural College. The Agricultural College was the "pet project" of the Conservative Government of Rodmond P. Roblin, who remained in office from 1900 1915, and who coincidentally served, as both Premier, and Minister of Agriculture. The AG College saw its role as being "concerned with training the future farmer and not the man of science".

The college's buildings were built for $250,000 and their designer was architect Samuel Hooper (1851-1911). The English born Hooper began his career as a stone cutter and monument maker and his buildings show a wealth of hand carved stone details.

In 1904, Samuel Hooper became Manitoba's first provincial architect and the Agricultural College his first government project. But Hooper had already been active in Winnipeg and was also responsible for such notable structures as the Exchange Building (1898), Isbister School (1899), St.Mary's Academy (1908), the Carnegie Library (1904) and the Winnipeg Land Titles Office (1905) all of which still remain.

It served as a college for only a few years because it quickly ran out of space. The Roblin Government moved the Agricultural College to south Fort Garry in 1910 and built a $4,000,000 university on a new 575 acre site.

In 1917, the site was taken over by the Canadian military and for the next 50 years it served as a military hospital site for veterans returning from WW1 and WW2. Since 1968 it's been owned by the Province of Manitoba which used it as office space. The four remaining brick buildings received official heritage designation by the Province in June of 1995.

The Jewish Community needed a new facility and was looking for a new location. But attracting a new user to a 14 acre historic site like Fort Osborne was a challenge. It was necessary to agree to retain the four college buildings and to preserve the arrangement of the campus plan layout of the open field to the south. Prior to this a condominium project had been proposed for the site but the plans fell through due to economic difficulties. Several years ago, the Jewish Community stepped forward with a proposal that seemed to accommodate the heritage restrictions of the site. The new development will be incorporate the four significant historic buildings into the new building complex.

It comprises a Jewish school that will housing up to 900 students from kindergarten to grade 12; a Jewish Museum; and a new home for the YMHA which will provide recreation and health facilities. The old powerhouse has become a 200 seat theatre. The site was acquired for $2.2 million and the whole project is estimated to have cost about $26 million.

This project demonstrates that with sufficient time, unique heritage sites like Fort Osborne can find compatible and sympathetic new users. It is fortunate that the historic educational role can be continued here.

In downtown Winnipeg several other important heritage buildings await their turn. They wait for the next expansion for the economy and that next governmental assistance program that will provide some the needed development funds. But till their turn comes it is important to buy time and keep them standing.

McLane's Flour Mill

McLane's Flour Mill

"Flour Milling Makes Winnipeg"

by George Siamandas

The first mills used water power and were like Grant's Mill at Sturgeon Creek in St. James. Grants Mill was built in 1829 and operated with a 240 foot dam. It operated for only three years as Grant had trouble with the engineering of the dam. Another early mill was built by Louis Riel senior on the Seine River. Riel had increased the flow into the Seine by dredging. The mill stones are displayed at the St Boniface Museum. By 1856 nine water mills operated in Winnipeg.

The other source of power was the windmill popularized by the one illustrated in Steinbach Mennonite Village. The first windmill in Manitoba was built in 1825 and its parts were sent out by Lord Selkirk. A man named Mitchell was dispatched from Scotland to assemble it after it sat in limbo for ten years. It was located at Point Douglas. Windmills were prominent in Manitoba till about 1870. It was the steam powered mill that moved things forward.

McLane's Flour Mill was actually built by the Hudson Bay Co. at the Forks in October 1876. It was built here because the HBC as a large land owner was trying to attract business closer to its holdings and away from city hall and the Point Douglas area. But shortly after completion, it was leased by JN McLane and it became known as McLane's Mill. The equipment came from Buffalo New York and the engine supplied 250 horsepower. it could grind 1350 bushels in 24 hours.

But the following year the HBC cancelled the lease and took back the mill. They put a Wrigley in charge and heavily invested in improvements. But the venture did not go well. Because of its location at teh Forks before the CN, the HBC Mill had no access to the railway as did the Ogilvie Mill. Even worse the HBC MIll was which was built in 1881 and it was not exempt from taxes. Ogilvie was saving 140,000 while McMillan saved 40,000 annually in the 1880s.

Ogilvie's did for Winnipeg what the railway and Eatons had done. When built in 1881 it was the state of the art. Ogilvie had been in business since 1801 in Montreal with their first mill on the La Chine rapids. They started to buy wheat directly in Manitoba in 1877 for their eastern mills. Ogilvie was eventually persuaded by Winnipeg City Council's offer of a 20 year tax holiday. But Winnipeg was also well located in relation to the US markets and the growing western markets. By June 1882 a six storey structure and smokestack with a base of 18 feet and a 101 foot high smokestack. Three boilers provided stream power for a 400 hp engine. coal became the fuel of choice. It went electric in 1906. The flour it produced was of the highest standard and it was very consistent.

Flour mills proliferated in many small communitites. At one time 98 communities in Manitoba had a flour mill. Only one real heritage value flour mill remains in Manitoba and it is at Holmfield south western Manitoba and it's operated by the Harrison brothers who were granted $2,000 by the local council in 1897. While electrical power replaced the original stream units in 1947, the mill's original processing and operating equipment remains intact. It served local needs and continues to be sustained by the local community and by the patience of its current generation of Harrisons. Its produce is labelled "Turtle Mountain Maid."

Harrison's Mill remains the oldest operating flour mill in western Canada. And considering its vintage of 1897, it is head and shoulders over everything else. The equipment is actually from 1881. A third generation of farmer and lawyer Bill Harrison brothers and brother Errick serve a small clientele during the summer months. Canada which once had 1,000 mills, had fewer than 33 (in 1994).

Language and Manitoba's Early Public Schools

Language and Manitoba's

Early Public Schools

By George Siamandas

According to urban historian Alan Artibise, educating children to become little British subjects was the objective of Winnipeg's ruling class between 1890 and 1919. Schools were seen as the most powerful assimilating force. A force that could "elevate" the foreign born to the level of Canadian life, engender Canadian national sentiments, and encourage Canadian standards of living and traditions.

The first school opened on October 21, 1871. But prior to this education had been in the hands of churches: the Catholics, the Anglicans and the Presbyterians. The 1871 Manitoba Public Schools Act created a dual public system, funded by the province. Recognizing the need for two languages, English and French, reflected the political reality of Manitoba's population then which was about 6,000 French speaking and 6,000 English speaking.

As Winnipeg became a city of immigrants there came a growing concern that the foreign borne were either not being taught in English or that they were not even being taught at all. In 1890 the Thomas Greenway government introduced the Manitoba School Act a bill that set up a school system and told churches if they wanted their own schools they would have to pay for them themselves. This was in defiance of the 1870 Manitoba Act which had guaranteed parallel Protestant and Catholic publicly funded schools.

Greenway who was Manitoba's first Liberal premier, came to be known as the premier who banned French in Manitoba. He also banned French in the legislature, the civil service and the courts. It became a national issue which required 6 years to be somewhat resolved. This new law angered not only the French but also the Germans and the Ukrainians. Many immigrants had come to Canada with an understanding that they would be free to educate their children in the ir own schools and with their own language. Some groups like the Mennonites even had it in writing from the Parliament of Canada.

Greenway had moved to Manitoba from Ontario in 1878. He was involved in starting the townsite of Crystal city and came into power in 1888 during a debate over railway issues.

Denominational schools were seen as being expensive, inefficient and a barrier to the creation of a united British character. And where once the French had been 50% of the population, now it was only 13%. An early trampling of a minority. It was time for a pragmatic system, one that set out to concentrate on basic education. By 1907 Mayor Ashdown had the Winnipeg school division set up the first English classes for adults setting up 16 classes in the first year.

Immigrants largely wanted their kids to learn English, but many were also sending their kids to their own language schools. In 1911 at least 3,000 children were going to private or separate schools. Thousands more were going to evening or weekend schools. In 1907, 13 languages of instruction were being used in Manitoba and there was still no compulsory school attendance.

In February of 1913, 64,126 kids went to English schools while 12,437 were going to German, French, Ukrainian and Polish language schools. On March 10, 1916 the TC Norris government once again abolished bilingual teaching and the following week passed a bill for compulsory school attendance. From then on, if you were between 6 and 14 and lived near a school, you now had to go school. Yet despite the new law, the private bilingual schools continued to operate.



By George Siamandas

On July 17, 1905 Eaton's opened their first store in western Canada. This Canadian retailer changed the face of Winnipeg and began the dominance of Portage Avenue.

He immigrated to Canada in 1869 buying a small dry-goods store. They started the catalogue in 1894. Eaton introduced two ideas to merchandising: one price rather than negotiation and the offer of goods satisfactory or money refunded.

In those days they got things done fast. The building itself was built in four months. People said it was too big when they were building it. Originally only 5 storeys business was so good they added a sixth and then a seventh and eighth storey by 1910.

The Winnipeg store had the same stature as the one in Toronto. Eaton's became a leader in merchandising North America. It had its own printing plant and research department.

Timothy Eaton and members of his family came out to open the Winnipeg store. He allowed no goods to be sold that Saturday of opening day. There were 700 employees. 25,000 toured the building that opening day. In those days you could check your hat, cane, and briefcase at Eatons. Everybody shopped at Eaton's then. If it wasn't right they would make it right. They never sold cigarettes.

The catalogue building was added in 1919. Everybody bought from the catalogue. All the way from Manitoba to BC and the north-west territories.

The catalogues were useful even when they were out of date. Somebody once wrote to Eaton suggesting the catalogue would be even more useful if it were published in rolls.

Eaton's had their own delivery wagons and kept a stall of 160 horses on St. Mary's Ave. Free delivery was offered until the 1980s.

They started to sell packages of pre-cut lumber for homes in the early 1900s selling from $300 to $1000. Everything was pre-cut including the nails. In the 1920s they sold cars.

Eaton's was the first Canadian company to continue to pay the wages of men who went to WW1

It had an immediate impact on the growth of Winnipeg. It shifted the focus from the Old City Hall location to Portage Ave. Within a decade values on Portage exceeded those on Main St.

After this Winnipeg's banks began a move to Portage Ave. Portage became the retail street and in 1926 the Bay built as well creating a ribbon of businesses and shops more than a dozen blocks long.

Eaton's also became one of the city's largest employers. Together with the catalogue building built in 1920 and the old warehouse on Alexander Ave Winnipeg provided jobs for whole families.

Up until 1998 it still employed about 3,000 Manitobans. Now the store is gone and the story of Eatons is but a memory.



By George Siamandas

The site has had a tradition of hospitality. John Rowand, son of the Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Co built a log house called Silver Heights, on a wooded site on the north bank of the Assiniboine River in 1855. At the same time Rowand's sister married James McKay and they built on a neighbouring lot and called their home Deer Lodge after all the "pretty deer" that gathered near the Assiniboine River.

McKay was a Metis who worked as a trader, freighter and plains guide, and a political leader. He was active in the settlement of the Indian Treaties and later served as President of the Executive Council, Minister of Agriculture and Speaker of the Legislative Council.

In 1871 the property was leased as a summer house for Adams Archibald the first lieutenant governor. In 1873 it was purchased by Lord Strathcona (Donald A Smith) and it became a centre of hospitality in the Red River settlement.

It became a road house called Chad's Place in 1882. After a fire in 1892 it is rebuilt as the Deer Lodge Hotel. Another fire in 1907 sees it rebuilt on a grander scale by assistance from Roderick MacKenzie son of Sir William MacKenzie.

On June 1, 1916, Roderick Mackenzie donated it to the Military Hospital Commission. By the end of June it became the I. O. E. D. Deer Lodge Military Convalescent Hospital and began to house 85 soldiers. The coming of prohibition helped encourage this new use of what had been a neighbourhood watering hole.

In 1919 the hospital was purchased and put to use as the acute care by the Department of Soldiers Civilian Reestablishment. By 1930 another 175 beds were added bringing capacity up to 250 beds. As the second world war breaks out in 1939, temporary wooden buildings are built to house another 300 veterans bringing its capacity up to 550 beds. By the end of the war Deer Lodge is severely taxed holding 1100 wounded patients. Six operating rooms were busy night and day. It was not till 1955 that the temporary buildings are demolished to make way for a new 8 storey hospital in 1958. It now houses 640 beds.

Deer Lodge pioneered orthopaedic surgery. It also had the first dialysis unit. Deer Lodge is also credited with pioneering wheelchair sports like basketball, archery and bowling which were active in the 1940s.

In 1983 the federal government transferred the hospital to the Province of Manitoba and provided $30 million to help finance renovations and new construction. It is no longer a hospital. It has no emergency care or operating rooms.

Deer Lodge is now a 461 bed geriatric care facility very much like other personal care homes. It reserves 155 beds for veterans but it also provides facilities for young brain injured patients. It also treats outpatients with ALS (Lou Gerrigs Disease), and treats swallowing disorders.

War hero Tommy Prince stayed there. And there is another famous trainee from England who dated the hospital's radiologist's daughter. The trainee went on to become the Hollywood actor known as Richard Burton.



The Iron Horse Arrives in Manitoba

by George Siamandas

On Oct 9 1877, the Countess of Dufferin arrived in Winnipeg to inaugurate the era of rail service. It was considered such a milestone in the development of Manitoba, that the day was declared a public holiday in Winnipeg, and the Free Press published a special edition. The locomotive had been built in Philadelphia in 1872 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works and made its own way from Minneapolis to North Dakota. From there it was loaded into a barge and towed by the riverboat the "Selkirk" to Winnipeg.

It was a momentous journey down the Red River. Engineer in charge Joseph Whitehead kept up a head of steam and pulled on its whistle as it made the Red River's many lazy bends. Along with the locomotive came four flat cars and a caboose.

As the Countess arrived in Winnipeg that special morning a crescendo of whistles and horns sounded from the mills as Miss Racine at the rope of the Countess's whistles joined in a chorus proclaiming that the iron horse had arrived at last. For two hours people got on the barge to inspect the locomotive, a sight which few had ever seen before. Later that day, she floated downstream a couple of miles to Point Douglas where some track had been laid on the St Boniface side to allow it to be rolled onto the land. The economic benefits that started to flow were incredible. In January 1879 one Winnipeg grocer sold $20,000 of food supplies to the railway.

Gov Gen Lord Dufferin and Lady Dufferin were touring Manitoba at the time and inspected the locomotive. The Countess consented to her name being applied to the locomotive. She had also driven the first spike for the construction of the rails which ran south to the US. For the next year the Countess was used to move men and supplies for the construction of the rail link south: the "Pembina Branch." It ran on the est side of the Red into the US and connected Winnipeg to St. Paul and then to the rest of North America.

It was not until December 7, 1878 that the Countess began to operate and it was the route south to the US. Speeds averaged 10-30 miles per hour. Occasionally the train would have to stop to allow a herd of buffalo to pass. On one occasion as the train stopped to get wood a bear got aboard the caboose unnoticed. By the time he was discovered, the bear had found the food and scattered it all over the car. The Countess burned wood initially and later coal. They would stop wherever they needed to cut down fuel, and they could stop by a ditch or the river to pick up needed water.

The locomotive had no 1 painted on it but it was not really the CPR's first. In fact the locomotive was already 5 years old and had been purchased from the Northern Pacific Railway for $6,000. It was known as engine 56 and had operated Between Brainerd, Minnesota and Jamestown North Dakota. The following year, Whitehead brought in another locomotive and 25 flatcars. The locomotive was named in honour of Whitehead. Other locomotives that arrived were named after James McKay, a Winnipeg pioneer, and Sitting Bull a locomotive with a real "hoodoo" engine as they put it. Seven were purchased that year.

It ran until 1897 when she was sold to a BC lumber company for $1,000 and renamed the Betsy. Mayor Waugh visiting BC in 1909 saw that the Countess was ready for the scrapheap, wanted to repurchase it for Winnipeg. It wasn't necessary, the CPR donated it to Winnipeg in 1910. Over time the Countess of Dufferin has been in numerous locations including the front of the old CPR station. In 1910 it was placed at the corner of Higgins and Austin and initially enclosed in glass shed, but later sat in front of the CPR station. In 1970 James Richardsons and sons paid to have it restored at a cost of $20,000.

The Countess of Dufferin is currently located in the CN station. One day, when the money is found, it will anchor a Railway Museum for Manitoba.



By George Siamandas

Officially opened on June, 24 1912, the CN's Union Station remains the only functioning passenger railway station left in Winnipeg. This came about in 1977, when VIA Rail became a consolidation of CP and CN and their effort to accommodate the significant decline in the volume of rail passenger traffic. But one hundred years earlier as the story of railways began in Manitoba, the CPR had a monopoly in railway operation in Manitoba.

In 1880 the CPR and the Canadian government agreed that no other railway would be allowed to compete with the CPR in Manitoba. It was the price the investors demanded in order to create a national railway to the west. High freight rates prevailed leading to western discontent, and calls for competition. In the late 1880s competition began from other small railways and by 1903 there were 12 separate rail lines entering Winnipeg.

One of these 12 lines was the Canadian Northern which became the CPR's main competition in Manitoba. In 1907 three railways were persuaded to build a common station. The station was a cooperative venture between three rail lines: The Canadian Northern, the National Transcontinental, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The Canadian Northern would own it and the two others would become tenants. It would be known as Union Station. Of the three, it had been the Manitoba based Canadian Northern that had done the job of reducing freight rates and was providing leadership. And in the 1920s the CN took over the holdings of the other two.

Building the station showed an optimism about the future of the west in 1907. Union Station was designed by the New York firm of Warren and Wetmore. Of limestone construction, the 4 storey building was sited at the end of freshly planted, tree lined Broadway Avenue. The waiting room was finished in marble with immense arched skylights. The walls contained the coat of arms of the provinces rendered in gold leaf.

There had been a bridge that aligned with Broadway connecting to St. Boniface prior to building the CN Station. The station's construction required that the bridge be demolished and the French community felt slighted and shut out by this decision.

When first built, the CN Station interior provided for both 1st Class and Immigrant levels of comfort. But they were totally separated from one another. Every feature all the way from waiting rooms, washrooms, eating facilities and even their exit out onto the street depended on their class. The 1st Class passenger need never meet the immigrant traveller arriving in Winnipeg. The immigrant facilities were in the basement. It is not sure how long this segregated system operated. Only 100 passengers go through it on a typical day now and the space in the station has been rehabilitated as class 1 government office space. The public spaces have been restored to their original appearances and the public can able to see the splendour of a grand railway station built in Winnipeg's hey day.

at the VIA Station one can see the Mid West Rail's collection of old rail cars including the Countess of Dufferin. This old rolling stock will one day form the nucleus of a Railway Museum.




by George Siamandas

The 1834 cathedral replaced an earlier log church built in 1822 by John West. Construction for St. John's Cathedral started in 1833. The limestone came from Stonewall and was quarried and hauled to the site during the preceding winter, by oxen pulling sleds. Much of this hard work was done by volunteers from the native and Red River settlement. Total cost was 900 pounds and the new cathedral could hold 500 people.

The site had been selected and put aside years earlier by Lord Selkirk himself. They were proud of their new church and Thomas Simpson called it "better than 90% of the Scotch country churches." But their pride was premature. The new building deteriorated after just two years and for decades needed constant buttressing.

In 1862 it was replaced by a third church. But once again structural problems plagued the church. By the 1880s they desperately needed a new church. But it was a very long wait for the congregation. It was not until 1926 that the church was replaced by the present St. John's Cathedral on Anderson Avenue. Andersen was named in honour of Anglican Bishop Anderson who came to red River in 1849.

The first church in Red River was built in St. Boniface in 1818 on the present site of St. Boniface Cathedral. This site has seen a succession of six churches: three were demolished to make way for larger churches, while two were lost in fires. Once again it was Lord Selkirk that had granted the land on the east side of the Red for the French community.

The oldest church is St. Andrew's on the Red; it was consecrated in 1849. It is the oldest church in the west that has remained in continuous service. It has seen a major restoration of the stonework in the last few years. Its a testament to masonry techniques that old limestone buildings like St. Andrews have survived and can be restored. And all before pilings were commonly used.

One of the oldest churches is St. James Church. It's located across Polo Park on Portage Ave and it was built in 1852. The oldest downtown church is Holy Trinity church just opposite Eatons which was built in 1882. It is the oldest building surviving on Graham Avenue.

Another interesting old church is St Peter's on the east side of the Red in Selkirk. It is known as Peguis' church because Salteaux Chief Peguis and his people helped build it in 1852. Peguis worshipped at St Peter's till he died in 1864 and Peguis is buried in the church yard.

Nassau in Fort Rouge is a very ecumenical street with at least 7 churches. Starting on the north there is the Christian Science, then St. Luke's Anglican, Crescent Fort Rouge United, Trinity Baptist, Evangelical Mennonite Conference and ST Francis De Sales Catholic Church for the Deaf.

The first synagogue was Sharrey Zedek originally located at the corner of Henry and King St. Virtually the entire Jewish community turned out on a September day in 1889 to witness the laying of the corner stone. That cornerstone is now incorporated in the Wellington crescent Sharrey Zedek which was completed in 1949.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007




by George Siamandas

Lorne Cameron was Eatons Advertising Manager from 1948 to 1991. The Portage windows featured toys for the children. Every toy that was available was featured in the windows on Portage Ave. The Portage and Hargrave St window was always reserved for the more religious nativity scene. And music played as you stood outdoors, with Christmas carols at the Nativity scene and other festive music on Portage Ave.

Christmas didn't start as early then not until mid November. But the planning cycle was year round. They had local control then when Eatons operated as five separate division stores. They chose whichever nursery rhymes or themes they wanted to. At Christmas Eatons staff went from 5,000 to 17,000 including people like Bill Norrie. The displays were costly. Nothing was bought. The sets were all built in house by a man named Neil Cooper. He also did the parade floats till about 1967.

At one time tours came down to see the displays from the city and country. The music and animated windows ran from 7am to 11pm. And of course the windows not open on Sundays. The windows continued into the 1970s. They continued until the mechanical equipment used in the displays wore out.

The same people planned the Santa Claus Parade. Eatons had a costume room with 3,000 costumes for the parade people to wear. A seamstress worked year round. Mr. Cameron walked the parade for 19 years. They worked all night the night before the parade. The Parade ended because it was too costly and because of the beginning of the broadcast of the Toronto parade on TV. You no longer had to go downtown to see it. TV killed the Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade.

The Winnipeg Daily Globe dated 1882. That "Christmas Number" of the Winnipeg Daily Globe devoted its entire first page to Bishop Tache's 38 years of recollecting Christmases in the west. Bishop Tache describes his first Christmas in Winnipeg in 1845. There were just 15 houses. In St. Boniface the main buildings were the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace. Provencher was Bishop in Tache's early days as a priest and he describes Provencher as a most handsome man of about 300 pounds and over 6' tall. Very majestic in his robes.

Tache describes Midnight mass on that -30 night. And at that time there was no stove, and several window panes in the church were broken. More than a thousand people stood for more than two hours. In the absence of an organ two priests played clarinets backed up by two half-breeds on violins. Tache observes that the church was overcrowded with more Protestants than Catholics. And waiting outdoors were over 200 sleighs, some of which Tache recalled were ox drawn carts.

By 1882, Tache observes how much progress had occurred in Red River. Mail is now twice a day, the snow shoe has been replaced with "lightning express trains with dining and sleeping cars". The trading post he first saw in 1848 had become a city of 20,000 by 1882.

First Christmas in the west was celebrated in 1694 according to a note in a HBC journal reporting a &5 pound note to a Fort in Rupertsland. The first celebration in Manitoba was in 1715 at Fort York. The next one occurred in 1812 the Selkirk settlers first bleak Christmas in Manitoba.

Winnipeg's Carleton Club

Winnipeg's Carleton Club

"The business club that survived
the depression, fails in Winnipeg's cruel 1990s"

By George Siamandas

The Carleton Club was one of those early businessmen's clubs and was established in 1901. For the first decade of its life it was called the Commercial Club. It got its start when a man called Charles Henry Newton donated a building on Main St. for a $1, which he had taken back in a mortgage foreclosure. The Carleton club would reside at this 308 Main St. location for the next 75 years.

It failed once in the 1930s during the depression, and the city took back the building in a tax sale. But later, the club which continued its operations on a rental basis with the city, became financially strong enough to buy the building back after WW2.

People joined to find others to do business with. And being near Portage and Main it had always been conveniently located. As you would expect, it had old dark wood panelling, the big dining room and the big soft leather armchairs.

In the mid 1970s, its old building on Main St. was expropriated by the city for the Trizec development at the south west corner of Portage and Main. In 1977 the club reopened its doors at a new facility on Fort Street and began a new era. And it was well attended with 900 at one time.

The Carleton was always the junior club to the Manitoba Club. It was not as old or prestigious. It attracted middle managers and during the 1980s these people had less time and money. Gone is the two hour and the three martini lunch. And some past members I spoke to did not find the cost of belonging to be worth it.

Also the policies of not allowing women to join till about 1989 are thought to have worked against it. The first woman was a top executive with CIBC. In the earlier years women were not even allowed in the main dining room at lunch hour. Many companies thought twice about being part of something that was not politically correct.

The rise and fall of clubs like these is indeed a barometer on the economic health of the city. Winnipeg is no longer as much of a head office city. At one time each of the major banks paid for 25 memberships. Some companies like Richardsons supported 40 members. They are gone.

Also gone or barely surviving, are many of the head offices' original service providers like legal, accounting, advertising, and human resources further reducing membership. The epitaph of the Carleton Club is that even though it survived the depression, the Winnipeg of the 1990s is not healthy enough to support a downtown business club.

The Manitoba Club has always attracted the elite of Winnipeg businessmen. It was founded in 1874. Until about five years ago women could not join here either. But they changed their policy right after the Carleton Club allowed women to join.

The Canadian Wheat Board

The Canadian Wheat Board

A Distinctly Canadian Institution

By George Siamandas

The Canadian Wheat Board is Canada's Wheat marketing organization to the world. It is a centralized marketing organization and the only one that can sell Canadian wheat.

Canadian farmers had begun to join into co-operatives at the turn of the century. When they ran into economic difficulties, they asked for assistance from the Canadian govt. A Wheat Board had been established temporarily in 1919 to help deal with problems after WW1 and it was disbanded. During the depression of the 1930s farmers called on the federal govt to help them out of the environmental and economic disaster of the times. The need was acute and widespread with 300,000 farms in Canada at the time.

Farm income had dropped from about $1B in 1927 to 19% of the same amount in the early 1930s. The price of wheat fell to 37 cents, the lowest it had been in 400 years. Newly elected Prime Minister RB Bennett was not initially sympathetic. But in 1931 he relented and appointed John McFarland to head a temporary commission. Once again it was to be an emergency expedient; an unwanted child of its political father. The agency would buy and hold all Canadian wheat for two years.

McFarland, born in Winnipeg, was a successful millionaire grain trader who had made a fortune with the Alberta Pacific Grain Co., and a good friend of Bennett. While a successful grain man, McFarland was also known for having the interest of the farmer at heart. He would do the job of selling surplus wheat without pay. And Bennett expected that his job would be to help preside over the demise of central marketing. However once into the job, McFarland began to change his views. He could now see the value of the Wheat Board.

On July 5, 1935 the Canadian Wheat Board came into being with McFarland as Chair. In the fall 1935 election Bennett's govt was defeated and with him McFarland as the first Wheat Board Chairman. McFarland who had suffered two heart attacks and who was pilloried by his old colleagues at the Winnipeg grain Exchange, would never receive the credit he deserved.

As the thirties came to end and war became apparent, it was clear that the CWB was too helpful to eliminate. And it would grow from a pre WW2 staff of 35 to over 500 people. Over time it became a monopoly. Canadian farmers have to sell their wheat to the CWB.

The Caandian Wheat Board seems to be the Canadian way. Working together. Sharing risk and profit. There is a kind of unspoken social contract between farmers and the Canadian govt. It was farmers after all staking their families' futures in the west that made western Canada not only part of Canadian soil at a time it could have become part of the US. But it also provided an economic pillar of the western economy. Yet one that occasionally needs the deep pockets of all of Canada with subsidies and relief.

A formidable competitor in marketing wheat, in 1984 as the CWB planned its 50th anniversary the Kansas Wheat Commission hoped that it would just take the year off. Australia has a similar marketing organization but it is becoming a private corporation.



By George Siamandas

It should have been 1870, but because Manitoba had entered confederation late that year, Manitoba didn't celebrate Confederation Day at all. They celebrated something else. The first celebrations were actually held on July 4 1870, they were hosted by American citizens residing in Winnipeg, and, they had all the flavour of Independence Day. The day's events included an artillery salute. Louis Riel who still occupied Fort Garry that summer loaned them a canon for the day. "Dutch" George Emmerling's hotel had laid on a feast, and the American flag flew from the hotel's flagstaff at Portage and Main.

It was not until 1871 that the first Confederation Day was celebrated in the west and Manitoba. Posters put up around town announced that the "town of Winnipeg," (Winnipeg did not become a city till 1873), would celebrate with horse racing, foot races, standing jumps, sack and blindfold races, and climbing the greasy pole. And July 1, 1871 went off just as planned. The big guns of Fort Garry woke everyone up at sunrise with a Royal Salute. By noon the area in front of Fort Garry was standing room only. Cricket and football matches went on during the day, as military band music played in the background. And firemen from Fort Garry led a torchlight parade. The week following, the fire chief had to write a letter to the editor of the Manitoban newspaper clarifying that only one instead of several members of the fire department had been involved in the burning of an effigy that night.

For the first eight years it was a voluntary holiday. It was not until 1879 that it was made a legal holiday and called Dominion Day. In 1875 the celebrations were organized by the City of Winnipeg fire department which itself had just been born. The guns of Fort Garry would sound early in the morning. This was followed by a fireman's picnic followed by games and horse racing at 1:00 pm. In the evening the firemen held a repeat performance followed by Roman candles. There were also exclusive river boat rides down to lower Fort Garry.

In 1887 it was the St. Andrews Society that organized that year's events: sports, fireworks, river boat excursions. These very British celebrations continued even after a lot of European immigration had occurred. In rural areas Dominion Day celebrations often included a lot of sports. They were held in virtually every town or district in the province.

At first the events would be held at Fort Garry the area behind the Manitoba Club. In the 1890s two new Winnipeg parks serviced by the street railway provided Winnipeggers with new recreational opportunities: River Park and Elm Park.

In 1907, 8,000 people took the CPR train to Winnipeg beach. And for decades to come it was the railways that would organize people's excursions to holiday recreation on Dominion Day. After 1920 Assiniboine Park became an increasingly popular destination for the public.

Then as now most people saw Dominion Day as a day off from work rather than a day of special significance. But there has always been a patriotic theme to the day. During the wars patriotic themes were emphasized. In 1915 three quarters of Winnipeg is described as having come out to watch the "spectacular parade". Citizens in the thousands packed the city's Industrial Exposition building, and 5,000 children assembled at a city school and then marched to the Exhibition grounds.

After 1967, the federal government began to spend in the millions for Canada Day events. In 1982 the name was changed to Canada Day. And always there have been fireworks to cap the day's events. As early as the first year, "Roman Candles" brought the day's events to a close.



By George Siamandas

Recently the contents of the old CP Rail's Royal Alexandra Hotel's Selkirk Dining Room were sold to a Vancouver antique dealer after sitting in storage for 25 years. It poses the question of how much else is out there from Winnipeg's demolished heritage buildings?

Demolition contractors have always recognized the value of preserving these stone pieces. The Manitoba Historical Society began to gather some stuff. And later so did Heritage Winnipeg. In the early 1970s the City of Winnipeg initiated a heritage conservation program. The city has several old warehouses that contain more of this architectural salvage. Now if a building cannot be saved from demolition the important pieces are saved and can be reused. Of course it is much better to try to preserve the original building.

As you go through city parks you will find stone architectural pieces that had been parts of long demolished heritage buildings. The food court under the TD Bank under Portage and Main has pieces from the old 1950s Toronto Dominion Bank. The Lane-way behind the Concert Hall called John Hirsh Way has lions heads that originally came from the Royal Alexandra Hotel.

The fountain in old Market Square contains carved column segments that came from the old Merchants bank that was located where the Richardson Building now is.

And the decorative tiles in Old Market Square stage came from the old Scientific Building that had housed Shainos in the 1970s, now site of Portage Place. Other tiles from this building are used at the Forks, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet Building Residence, the serpentine wall of Pantages Theatre and even in Eaton Place.

City Park has several elements. In the area where the flags fly is the original city hall crest. The English Gardens have a face element that had been in the Old Post Office.

Mostyn Park also has column segments and capitals from other old buildings.

The best that remains is the entry of the old Alloway and Champion Bank entrance that had been located near Main and Water. This is a two story entrance door surround in rare granite. But there is also the pressed metal facade of the old Empire Hotel. There has been talk of trying to use it as a facade on a future parkade.