Monday, February 5, 2007



by George Siamandas

Winnipeg's great growth was due to periods of rapid immigration. While the first phase of immigrants during 1880s and 1900 came from Ontario and Great Britain, the next phase during 1900 an and 1920s came from Northern Europe. Winnipeg's population swelled from 42,000 in 1901 to 150,000 in 1913.

Between 1901 and 1911 the foreign borne population of Winnipeg by 60,000. And in the same period another 500,000 are thought to have come through Winnipeg on their way to settle the new west.

Point Douglas is the oldest commercial and residential area and saw development in the 1870s. The upper crust located south first south of Portage Ave and later south of the Assiniboine River in Crescentwood and Fort Rouge. And then it began to move west as well. The north end became home to the Northern European immigrants who came by droves. The CPR station brought people to Higgins Ave. then to the Immigration Sheds and finally to homes in the North End. The North End became the working man's home. Home of the Jewish, German, and Slavs of the period.

St. Boniface had been a municipality in the 1880s. The first suburb was St. James in 1901 made possible by the popularity of bicycles and the extension of the street car service west. St. Vital followed with incorporation in 1903. Transcona in 1912. Winnipeg went from an area of 3.1 square miles in 1874 to 23.6 square miles in 1913.

The North end had few services like access to fresh water even after the new aqueduct had been built. As a result, in 1911, the north end population had twice the infant mortality rate of west Winnipeg.

Population growth also reflected itself in economic expansion. More buildings were built ($65 million)in the six years between 190? and 1912 than in the next 25 between 1914 and 1940 ($58 million).











































By George Siamandas

This was at the time that the Red River settlement called Fort Garry, was changing from a fur trade centre run by the Hudson Bay Co, to an agricultural and commercial centre that wanted to run its own civic affairs. Transportation was still by river up from the US. No railway yet was connecting to eastern Canada. Private traders like AG Bannatyne in Point Douglas started to compete with the Hudson Bay Co. In 1870 the population was 100, a year later 215, and by 1874 3,700. It was a place clearly poised for growth. The traders wanted to have their own government and petitioned for incorporation. It took years to become a city, and the Hudson Bay Co was suspected of having delayed provincial approval till late 1873.

The first civic election was held on January 5, 1874. The two contestants were Frances Cornish and William Luxton. Cornish was a lawyer who had come to Winnipeg in 1872 at age 41. Luxton was 28, and the editor of the Manitoba Free Press, but he had also been Winnipeg's first public school teacher. When they counted the ballots they realized they had a problem. Cornish had gathered 383 of a possible 388 registered voters. Meanwhile Luxton had 179. At the time, one had to own property to vote, and some property owners had voted several times. A recount upheld Cornish as the winner but his reputation had been tarnished. Cornish served only one year.

The first meeting of city hall was held on January 19, at noon 1874 at a new building at the south west corner of Portage and Main where the 33 storey Toronto Dominion Bank now stands. Eight councillors from four wards were also elected and the new council immediately established committees for Finance, Property Assessment, and fire and police. They adopted Parliamentary procedures and the system of three readings for the passing of by-laws. The by-laws ran 40 pages. The same system continues today.

Major civic expenditures by that council included $8,246 on wooden sidewalks, $3,204 on roads, and $321 on bridges. And when the taxes were collected it was immediately apparent why the Hudson Bay Co had opposed incorporation. They paid most of the taxes. And liquor taxes paid the rest. In the following year, 1875, the city obtained taxpayer approval for $250,000 in spending for sewers, fire equipment, water works, civic buildings and streets. And on a political level, council helped ensure that the coming CPR Railway went through Winnipeg, and not Selkirk as had been earlier planned. Becoming the gateway to the west, the Chicago of the north, was the vision of those that ran Winnipeg in the early years.




By George Siamandas

In most inhabited places in the world were two rivers meet, settlements will eventually develop. So it was in Winnipeg at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine River, where natives are known to have used the area for at least 6,000 years.

It has been a meeting place, a fishing camp and a fur trade centre. Archaeologists have found campfires dated 4,000 BC. Here the aboriginals fished and hunted, preserved large quantities of fish for winter, harvested plants, and berries and traded with people from other regions.

When white man arrived in the 1730s, they found Assiniboine, Cree and Salteaux camped at the Forks. The famous explorer, La Verendrye arrived at the Forks in 1737. His main interest, and that of Europeans for the next 150 years would be the fur trade. Two fur trading companies, the Hudson Bay Co and the North West Co., competed for decades until 1821 when they finally joined forces.

Fort Gibraltar was built in 1811 by the North West Co. just north of where the B&B building is now. This became an important provisioning location supplying pemmican. In 1812 the Hudson Bay Co. built Fort Douglas two and a half kilometres north at Point Douglas. Fort Gibraltar was burned in 1816 in the battle between the North West Co and Selkirk's settlers and was rebuilt in 1817 west of the original location. Part of the Gate still stands behind the Manitoba Club. By 1821 the two companies merged and the Fort was renamed Fort Garry in 1821. The 1826 flood damaged Fort Garry and the Lower Fort near Selkirk became a more favoured location.

The Forks became an important port for the steamboat traffic in the 1870s and 1880s. The federal authorities built immigration sheds in 1872 in preparation of the immigrants that were expected to arrive on the prairies. In 1874 and 1875 hundreds of Mennonites came through the Forks on their way to settle in southern Manitoba.

In the 1880s a shanty town and red light district sprang up at the north west corner of the junction. It was called the flats and housed the city's recently immigrated destitute population: Jews, English, Scottish, Irish, Italian and Icelandics. Their tents and shanties were washed away in the 1882 flood but were rebuilt in 1883-4. By this time natives were gone. The French community developed across the Red in what became St. Boniface.

Once the decision was made in 1879 to put the CPR railway through Winnipeg instead of Selkirk, the site's future was determined. Winnipeg would soon become the prairie metropolis. Major railways lines were put through in 1886 and by 1901, a major terminus for rail existed at the Forks. The CN Station was built in the early 1900s, and by the first world war, access to the land was cut off and prime land literally disappeared from view and from public use.

In the 1960s there was talk of rediscovering this land and it took another 20 years before the removal of the rail operations and the new Forks project could go ahead. In part the initiative for redeveloping the Forks came from a new Conservative government and local minister Jake Epp, wanting to do something different in downtown development in Winnipeg when they inherited the Winnipeg Core Area Initiative in the mid to late 1980s.

Winnipeg Hosts Canada's First Housing and Town Planning Conference

Winnipeg Hosts Canada's First
Housing and Town Planning Conference

by George Siamandas

Concern about cities and slums and of high child poverty levels were the main topics of a housing and town planning conference held in Winnipeg. But the day was July 15, 1912, and Winnipeg was hosting the first conference on Canadian Housing and Town Planning.

It was a showcase for all the thinking about the "city beautiful" and what each city was doing to solve its problems. Mayor Richard Deans Waugh mayor in 1912 opened the conference and welcomed delegates to Winnipeg. The conference was well attended with delegates from US , Britain Australia. The Chicago exhibit cost $90,000 and was put forward by Harvard University. Other prominent exhibitors included Minneapolis, New York, Kansas, New Orleans, Tampa, Harrisburg and Louisburg. There were examples of French Garden suburbs, English Model towns of which one was called Port Sunlight. And rehab work in Liverpool.

The big topic on day 2 was how to prevent slums. The pattern was known by all the delegates. Older buildings handed down to each succeeding immigrant group to the city. The poorer the tenant the greater the problem and the more rapid the deterioration.
There was a major concern with overcrowding and unsanitary conditions causing ill health amongst the poor whose children were dying at twice the rate of better districts. Even the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead produced a paper for this conference on slum prevention. It is surprising how similar the debate is to today.

The idea of planning things right from the beginning was discussed. That residential, industrial and recreational districts should be planned from the outset. That there be model housing types and neighbourhoods. That cities abandon the rectangular alignment of streets and try to create radial streets radiating out from important public buildings. Another interesting idea was that three be islands in the middle of wide streets for the benefit of pedestrians. Winnipeg was congratulated for the width of its streets, Portage and Main in particular. The vision of the day was to turn empty lots into green spaces: from eye sores to parks.

Winnipeg's political leaders had kept pace with the thinking of the conference. Winnipeg already had its own planning commission in place and had developed a plan addressing many of the city problems at the time. That planning commission reported to council shortly after the 1912 conference. In more than 90 years little has changed. The problems of slums, and even then the lack of river crossings in Winnipeg. The poor housing conditions and overcrowding. The big plans for Winnipeg in 1912. The report of the planning commission. Moving city hall to Broadway and creating a Mall along Osborne St. Winnipeg was the third largest city. And its leading citizens thought it would still become the biggest in the country.



by George Siamandas

1996 was the 100th anniversary of the mass production of the automobile. In Winnipeg the first individual to own a car was Prof J. Kenrick in 1899. He and a group of fellow enthusiasts would go out on runs to far away places like Silver Heights. His car was a three wheeler called a velocipede at the time. In 1904 at Kenrick's Assiniboine Ave home the Winnipeg Automobile Club was born.

Steam cars did not prove to be popular. It simply took too long to fire it up to get going. As long as an hour if things went well. Electric cars were also used for a time but the same problems that hold them back now: short range and the need to charge them up stalled their initial popularity with the rich and women who appreciated the quietness. It was the gasoline powered cars that ended up ruling the day.

A shop on Marion Street assembled cars built with parts from a Sidney New York company called the Hatfield. It was a 4 cylinder car called the Winnipeg. Their slogan was "as good as the wheat" and its radiator was custom built in Winnipeg to be frost proof and it had a distinctive radiator emblem of a sheaf of wheat tied with the word Winnipeg. Only one was built in the early 1920s. Prior to WW2 many cars saw some level of assembly in Winnipeg and at the Fletcher Building which is now home of the Dept of Education, the Ford Motor Co assembled cars during the 1930s.

The oldest building to be associated with the car business is Maw's Garage built by Thomas Maw in 1906. Maw's Garage could hold 145 cars indoors. This building now forms the west part of the Old Spaghetti Factory. The longest running dealership still on its original site was the old Carter Motors now Murray Chev Olds at the corner of Maryland and Portage. It had been there for 60 years but is now demolished.

Fort Street used to have a large cluster of automobile oriented businesses. There was Dominion Motors, Inman Motors etc. and more than a dozen accessory and parts stores which have been demolished or become bars. Even Eatons sold cars in the early part of the century. The Motor League was an outgrowth of this early car club and they joined forces in 1922. In the 1930s their clubhouse headquarters was at Lower Fort Garry.

Ace as he was called is the most distinguished individual in Manitoba motor history. An active member of the car club, Ace offered many ideas for improvement of motorists conditions at the time including the idea of numbers for highways including the Trans Canada Highway No 1. Emmett became the first manager of the Manitoba Motor League in 1922. Emmett and his friends marked roads as volunteers and organized the Good Roads Association. Arthur Coates Emmett was born in England in 1872 and began his love affair with the automobile as a flag boy going ahead of his master's car to warn of its coming which was a requirement in England till 1896.

Ace came to Brandon in 1902 and moved to Winnipeg in 1904 to work at the first automobile garage at the corner of Ellice and Hargrave. He was one of the first 50 men to own a car in Winnipeg. He wrote regular columns on motoring in the free Press. As early as 1913 he began to publish road maps. In 1912 he succeeded in having the Roblin government develop a provincial roads program and the expenditure of 200,00 to aid municipalities in improving their roads.




by George Siamandas

On November 8 1979 Winnipeg heritage enthusiasts marched on city hall to protest the proposed demolition of the Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Hamilton the two pillars of Banker's Row. The two banks were the nucleus of Main St's Banker's Row. The Bank of Commerce that had been their owner and had occupied the space had moved into the Richardson building. It no longer needed them and wanted to demolish them. This was in the period of time when Winnipeg city planners had been formulating a strategy to preserve and find new used to Winnipeg's Historic District, now called the Exchange District. New by-laws providing for the city's authority to put buildings on a preservation list and to designate significant ones historic had just been passed.

The Bank of Commerce had been empty 10 years and the Bank of Hamilton 1 year and a half. It saw no value in the buildings but had seen how the Richardson building had improved values at Portage & Main. It wanted to see them gone and requested a demolition permit from the City to clear away the Bank of Hamilton at 395 Main and the adjoining Bank of Commerce at 383 Main. Their lawyer a William Grimble argued that were a financial burden and were difficult to lease out to other users. It would be the first test of the bylaw the and for this first test the heritage community got organized.

The ring-leader was a mild mannered high school Social Studies teacher and former President of the Manitoba Historical Society and later Heritage Winnipeg, called David McDowell. McDowell is one of these volunteers that gently but firmly drives community causes and in this case the heritage community. He was there at an important time when a message needed to be sent. It was a debate between hard economics and the public interest. In a year long campaign, he helped make the case that the Banks owed more to Winnipeg than an empty lot. The heritage advocates got some help from a different breed of city planner than you will find today.

At that time there were two activist city planners working for the city: Chuck Brook and Steve Barber. They believed their job was not just to react to things but to serve as advocates of the by-laws and to work with businessmen, property owners and the community to help bring plans about. These two planners actually helped plan and execute the campaign.

The 1979 Council unanimously voted to list these buildings historic. It was kind of curious to read the names of people who are now not normally thought of as being strong heritage advocates leading the councillors. James Ernst moved the motion to protect them. Mike O'Shaughnessy said "the Bank had made enough unearned income to maintain them for hundreds of years." Al Golden at the time a businessman and investor said he had tried to look at the buildings but the bank had said they were not available. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet had also been refused a lease on the building.

John Bertrand writing in the Tribune the next day wrote about how "victory kisses and unrestrained cheers echoed through city hall." McDowell said a precedent had been set. Over the last 20 years, the city has gone on to designate another 180 or so historical buildings.



St Norbert's Man for all Seasons & Riel's Right Hand Man

by George Siamandas
Ritchot the parish priest for St Norbert and a Metis leader who arrived at St. Boniface on June 7 1862. Born in 1825 in Quebec and the son of a farmer, Ritchot was initially reluctant to come to Red River because he could speak only French. Other priests had seen being placed in St Boniface as a kind of demotion. Ritchot arrived just in time as the previous priest perished within days of his arrival. A large man with a full beard, Ritchot was considered one of the strongest men in Red River.

The 1860s were tough years for Ritchot's parishioners. Most were nomads following the buffalo and they were simply not interested in becoming farmers. With floods, grasshopper plagues, poor harvests the farming option was not encouraging during the decline of the buffalo hunt during the 1860s. There was serious poverty amongst the Metis during the 1860s and Ritchot was front and centre in mounting a relief effort.

The 1860s were also seeing the development of the west for settlement and the worry about Metis land rights as survey parties pushed west and as speculators started to move in the late 1860s. This led to the Red River Rebellion in which Ritchot was an active part. And after the rebellion had been quelled Ritchot became the lead negotiator on behalf of Riel's cause.

He was one of three delegates dispatched to try to find a solution to the Riel business. He and Black were imprisoned for two weeks in Ottawa. He held out for recognition as an official delegate of the new government and actually got a hearing with the prime minister McDonald on April 26 1870. He fought hard for Metis land rights as part of Manitoba's entry into confederation. In effect he was Riel's negotiator in Ottawa. For example he battled the prime minister for land rights obtaining 1.4 million acres after being offered 200,000. His negotiations resulted in the postage stamp province of Manitoba, so called because it was very small of what it is today. He also won French language rights as part of the Manitoba Bill.

Ritchot believed in immersing himself in people's daily lives and needs; political things. Hence his intimate involvement in the uprising. After 1870 the French population of St Norbert declined sharply from about 1,211 in the 1870 census to 446 original settlers in 1881. Half the population moved away. Ritchot spent his time buying land and trying to find new settlers for replacements. In time he became a major land owner in St Norbert with about 50 properties. Ritchot became a kind of community foundation or community banker. Over time he became a wealthy property owner leaving an estate of $50,000 upon his death in 1905. By WW1 the value of his holdings increased 10 times, and his money was used to develop many community institutions in St Norbert such as a church, an orphanage, the Trappiste monastery. Ritchot lies buried in St Norbert the only place he worked. The St Norbert parish ran to the US border when it was established in 1857. Ritchot helped populate many of the communities south along the Red River such as St Agathe.

Language and Manitoba's Early Public Schools

Language and Manitoba's Early Public Schools

Early efforts to make Manitoba children into little Brits

By George Siamandas

According to urban historian Alan Artibise, that was the objective of Winnipeg's ruling class between 1890 and 1919 was to make school children little British citizens. Schools were seen as the most powerful assimilating force. As 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.



He became Mayor to see the Aqueduct Built

by George Siamandas

Thomas Russ Deacon became Mayor of Winnipeg in order to ensure the aqueduct was built. Thomas Russ Deacon was born in Perth Ontario on January 3, 1865. He started work at age 11 at a country store and by age 12 Deacon was working in logging camps were he rose to foreman by age 20. Deacon realized the value of education and returned to school earning first his high school diploma and in 1891 a degree in civil engineering from the University of Toronto. His first job was as superintendent for the construction of the North Bay Ontario waterworks.

In 1892 he took a job in Kenora (previously known as Rat Portage) to work as a manager of the Ontario Gold Commission. Deacon stayed in Kenora a decade and served as an alderman and acting mayor. As the century turned Deacon was now working for the Mikado Gold Mine. He must have had limited success at finding gold because he got the nickname "Chief No Gold." Deacon left Ontario in 1902 and came to Winnipeg. Deacon went into partnership with HB Lyall in the founding of the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works.

Deacon became an advocate of Shoal Lake in 1902. It was during his stint in the Lake of the Woods area that he became familiar with the Shoal lake region. In 1906 Deacon was appointed to the Water Supply Commission and soon let his preferences for the long term benefits of the Shoal Lake source be known.

For the next decade the issue was debated for years with most Winnipeg politicians preferring the less costly options of using the Winnipeg River. Only one man showed vision and was able to see through this political fog of uncertainty. It was Councillor Thomas Russ Deacon who argued strongly in favour of Shoal Lake. Despite the cost! He knew the water was of high quality, it was abundant, and its higher elevation meant it could flow simply and elegantly to Winnipeg by gravity alone. Winnipeg the city with a future deserved Shoal Lake over other proposals like the Winnipeg River.

The pivotal election was in 1912. Deacon was persuaded to run against Alderman JG Garvey at the last moment. The Telegram had supported Garvey on the basis of his 16 years of civic service. But Deacon knew that Garvey was against the Shoal Lake plan. Deacon felt it was Winnipeg's destiny to become a great city and the matter of high initial cost would be taken care of by future growth. If he believed in the aqueduct he had to become mayor. Deacon ran a series of newspaper ads each bearing a new message. Deacon was not just for good and abundant water, he was also for a larger civic health department, better civic staff, support to the Winnipeg General Hospital and workers compensation. His slogan became Winnipeg demands progress. Deacon's second mayoralty election was fought in the fall of 1913. In October of 1913 they voted in favour of the Shoal Lake Aqueduct expenditure of $13.5 million.

Deacon's leadership was well received, and at the same fall vote, Thomas Russ Deacon was re-elected mayor of Winnipeg. It was the culmination of a ten year effort of Deacon as a prominent citizen to see the Aqueduct built.

Manitoba Bridge merged with Domminion Bridge in 1930 and became Canada's largest stocker of steel in Canada. Structural steel was fabricated and used in railway and highway bridges, buildings of all kinds, as well as hydro transmission poles and towers. The company had locations all across Canada.

Thomas Deacon died May 30 1955 at age 90 at 144 Yale Ave and is buried at St James Cemetery. Deacon had three sons and one daughter. Winnipeg's main water reservoir located east of the city is named in his honour.




by George Siamandas

Today newspaper advertising is a major way of marketing real estate but at the turn of the century full page newspaper advertising was pioneered during the sale of Crescentwood lots by Charles Enderton. Enderton was an American born in 1864, in Lafayette Indiana. Orphaned at three he became a lawyer in St Paul Minnesota. He was attracted by the development opportunities in Winnipeg in the 1890s. He arrived in 1890 at age 26 eager to market the city's properties. He billed himself as the first American to do real estate in Winnipeg since the roaring 1881 land boom.

He loved the area south of the Assiniboine River and thought it deserved to be Winnipeg's preferred residential area. Enderton acquired the land in a series of purchases but essentially the land was bounded by Grosvernor to the south, the Assiniboine River to the north and east and Cambridge to the west. In May 1902 Charles Enderton launched a contest to find a new name for the suburb people had been calling many things. The prize of $100 was won by a 16 year old boy called George Larry who lived on Gertrude St.

Sales were slow in the 1910s. There was no streetcar service and no sewers. With mounting property costs in 1917, Enderton was forced to sell the land off in the Great Crescentwood Land Auction. It was heavily advertised in the newspaper for weeks in advance. Colour maps were printed showing available lots. "You've got to live somewhere," Enderton's ads urged, "Why not live in Crescentwood."

The auction was held on Saturday Sept 15 starting at 2:00 pm "under the big tent" on Harrow and 5,000 to 6,000 attended. The auction ran to midnight. Only 100 of 133 lots sold. Stingy Winnipeggers were chided for their lack of vision in Winnipeg's finest residential area. Another auction was necessary the weekend following. Valued at $1,300,000, the lots sold for only $428,000, and for decades many remained empty.

Enderton's real innovation was the system of caveats or property restrictions that were intended to create the best residential area in Winnipeg. No dwelling could be built for less than $3,500, each house had to be set back 60 feet. And only residential uses were permitted. On Wellington Cresc the houses had to cost $6,000 and set back 100 feet from the street. There could be no more than 1 house per lot and no buildings fro other than residential purposes.

Enderton died in 1920 while driving his car down Academy Road and Borebank. Only 56 years old. A life long bachelor, Enderton left an estate worth $1.2 million. it fetched only $400,000. He never lived in the area preferring an old apartment near the Union Station on Broadway Ave.

In an era of dishonesty and outright crooks, Enderton was a professional. He actually believed in the area. He foresaw the need for controls. He could see beyond the short term money making towards the future of his home. He also sold land in the west end and helped sell the Ponemah resort area south of Winnipeg Beach. He was well connected in Winnipeg society, and was a member of all the fine clubs and societies.



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

On Nov 22, 1886, Winnipeg city council held their first meeting in their just-completed Victorian City Hall. It was a proud day, and Winnipeg had come a long way by 1886. Just 15 years earlier there had been no city, no railway, no streets, no schools and no churches. Now there were massive mercantile blocks, railway connections in every direction, streetcars, fine homes and all the growing conveniences of a major city. They were happy to be in their new building after the fiasco of the first city hall which saw controversy over shoddy construction. And there was controversy over the new one which was two years late in completion.

The first one built a few years earlier certainly had its problems. The brick work was done in cold weather and the building just literally fell apart in just few years requiring a new one to be rebuilt from scratch in 1886. It was also constructed over a creek called Brown's Creek and there were perpetual settling problems for the next one too. City Hall was a gem. It had towers at each corner with a central domed clock tower flying the Union Jack rising high above the city as the major landmark on Main Street. It was built of red brick with limestone detailing. Very ornate and often described as gingerbread style.

The old city hall demolished came down in 1962. But many consider that it had already been more than 50 years overdue. In 1913 a new city hall was being planned to go near the legislative building as part of a mall that would run from Portage Avenue to Broadway Ave. It was the result of a world wide design competition that saw 39 entries. That plan was scraped never proceeded with due to the 1913 recession followed by WW1 and then the doldrums of the 1920s and then of course the depression and WW2. The province tried to resurrect the Broadway location in the 1950s but it was not to be. The city decided to stick with Main St.

The old City Hall had been designed by Barber and Barber (Charles and Earl) two of Winnipeg's earliest architects. They had also built the earlier structure. There is very little that remains of the more than 90 buildings that Barber and Barber built. I believe that the Leland Hotel, the Exchange Bldg at 164-166 princess and the Bawlf Block at 148 Princess St. St. may be the only Barber buildings that are left in Winnipeg.

There was a lot of debate over its demolition at the time. Some people wanted to save it. But their conservationist message was about 10-15 years ahead of its time, and their arguments feel on deaf ears. There were more people that wanted to bring Winnipeg into the modern decade. There had been very little new construction and Winnipeg still looked like a city from the Victorian and Edwardian period which indeed it was architecturally. Building a new city hall was seen as coming out of the Dark Ages and a sign that Winnipeg would become a modern city too.

And Mayor Juba was an effective champion of the need for progress; and a great persuader. And he was able to graphically convince the media that it was not worth saving. There is a story of how he took a reporter up to one of the towers on a windy day to show him how it swayed in the wind and that it was not safe and therefore not worth saving. What the reporter didn't know is that Juba made it shake by pulling on the flagpole above the tower. Bernie Wolfe describes as more of a tilt of the imagination rather than a tilt in the building.

Today's City Hall is a rather understated building and most people shake their heads when they hear the story of the old building and see pictures of it. But that the city rebuilt it on the original site showed it believed in Main St. One wonders what would have happened on Main St. if it had been moved to another location and the whole area had been allowed to deteriorate even further.

What remains of the old city hall? The bell is said to be part of a bell tower on Selkirk Ave, and elements from the clock are part of the clock at Portage Place, and apparently some of the brick was used on the front of a house in St Vital. Other stories say that much of it ended up in a wreckers yard as fill on the driveway.

Winnipeg's Historic Bridges

Winnipeg's Historic Bridges

"How the city's investment in an expensive bridge
growth and prosperity to Winnipeg"

by George Siamandas

The city's first bridge was the Louise Bridge. It was built in order to attract the CPR through Winnipeg instead of Selkirk. They bypassed the Forks which was known to be prone to flooding and built it on the current site of the Louise bridge. It was named after Princess Louise one of Queen Victoria's granddaughters. Opening day was hot and the opening speeches unusually long that August day. It was so long that the parched crowd made a run for the refreshments and wiped them out in minutes. The next day's papers chided Winnipeggers for their rude behaviour at this grand event.

For 15 years the Louise bridge carried not only the train, but pedestrians and their horses and wagons. By 1904 the CPR no longer used it and discontinued their $100 per month "rent" payment for use of the bridge. In 1911 it was replaced by the current Louise Bridge. It cost a substantial amount of money for 1881: $300,000. And on top Winnipeg had to grant land for all the right of way, a train station and a large site for the CPR marshalling yard. As expensive and as one sided it was, the decision to build that first railway bridge was the greatest investment in the effort to improve that city's future prospects.

The oldest bridge still standing would be the Redwood St Bridge completed in 1908, followed by the Louise in 1911, the Elm Park in 1914, and the Provencher 1917. St. Vital Bridge opened on Dec 16 1965. Typical construction was in metal. The first bridges needed repairs in 15-20 years. Up until the 1950s metal was the only long span option. Open grid decking. But in the 1960s salts started to deteriorate metal substructures. Led to the need for replacements in 1970s. A 100-year life is planned on now. There are some bridges on the books that were never built such as one for Grant Ave east. Others like the Charleswood were planned for 40 years.

The first Provencher Bridge connecting Broadway to Provencher lasted just a few days. Built on timber piles, the spring ice flows removed it four days after it opened in 1882. The original Main St Bridge was built privately in 1881 and was taken over by the city in 1882. It lasted till 1897. All bridges then were designed with the need to open up to allow riverboats to come through. Toll bridges were built by the private sector to develop areas, if owned a lot you had free access. Street cars lines also determined where bridges were needed.

This one crosses the CPR yards and was not easy to get built as ratepayers rejected its funding two years running. Finally it got the go ahead in 1909. It has long been rumoured that the Arlington St bridge was originally built to cross the Nile in Egypt and how it later ended up in Winnipeg. It was indeed designed for Winnipeg as its width would not have spanned the much wider Nile. That it was built in Birmingham England by the Cleveland Iron Works which also did bridges for places around the world, probably lead to this speculation.

Winnipeg's only major bridge disaster was in 1937 when the 330 ton counter weight in the old Maryland bridge fell on the deck at 3:00am. Earliest river crossings were by ferries that began as early as the 1840s. Up until the 1870s approximately 8 ferries operated within Winnipeg. And apparently only one functioned with public support.




By George Siamandas

How did Winnipeg handle industrial promotion at the turn of the century? At the turn of the century, it was businessmen pursuing their economic interest that built Winnipeg. They set up organizations as required and obtained the participation and cooperation of the city. Three of these organizations were the Board of Trade, the Winnipeg Industrial Development Bureau and the Western Canada Immigration Association. All three aggressively promoted Winnipeg and Manitoba.

The Board of Trade was being organized even as plans were being made for the incorporation of the city in 1873. It was part of the same optimistic spirit that had pushed for incorporation. Winnipeg would not go the village status route first. Winnipeg would be incorporated directly as a city, because it was expected to become a metropolis.

It was in this heady atmosphere that the Board of Trade was created, in January 1879 with AGB Bannatyne as its first president. By 1905, its initial membership of 60 grew to 300. It was composed of all the important business and civic leaders. The Board of Trade was a power to be reckoned with not only in civic affairs, but also in provincial and national politics.

In 1905 the Board of Trade reported that during 1904, 130,000 new settlers had come to the west. The report went on at length about how much new infrastructure had been created in terms of roads, water mains, sewers, and wooden side walks. The value of construction was estimated at $13M with a population of about 50,000.

Considering Winnipeg's size today (x15), and inflation (x50), this level of economic activity would translate to about $9,750 million. In fact, 1995 building permits totalled only $272 Million or 1/35th of that in 1910In 1995 Winnipeg had the lowest starts in housing in 35 years. But the pace of growth in Winnipeg's first decade was so good that in 1910, the mill rate was dropped 25% for a substantial tax reduction.

This group was organized on January 1904 in St. Paul Minnesota to attract desirable population and investment capital from the United States to Western Canada. The WCIA sought to provide news of Western Canada and to correct false reports and impressions. They promoted Western Canada's advantages, resources and looked ahead to future possibilities. The members were land agents across the prairies, railway representatives, lumber dealers, municipal representatives, manufacturers and even academics. W. Sandford Evans then editor of the Winnipeg Telegram, and a mayor in the years to follow, represented the Winnipeg Board of Trade.

The group's first meeting reads like more of a think tank showing visionary proposals for the west's future. Frank Fowler of Winnipeg foresaw future production of wheat requiring as much as 28M acres. Meanwhile, Professor Shaw of the Minnesota Agricultural College foresaw possibilities for a winter wheat crop. He predicted that the prairies would become the world's wheat production centre due to having the appropriate climate.

Early in 1906 the Winnipeg papers were full of articles on the need for a civic publicity bureau. Other cities like Toronto, Fort William, and Regina had them. The Board of Trade took the initiative and appointed a committee to go see city council about setting one up. It's job would be to prepare and distribute proper descriptive literature about the opportunities for industrial enterprises in Winnipeg.

The Bureau did the same job as Winnipeg 2000 and Tourism Winnipeg do today. It provided statistics, press articles and info for convention delegates, tourists and editorial writers, lecture and "stereopticon" views of Winnipeg's rapid growth. But they really did in style and with a real conviction about the opportunities that awaited new industry in Winnipeg.

The Industrial Bureau beamed with pride in its 1910 report, taking credit for 47 new industries with $9m capital established during the last year. The Industrial Bureau had shot 3,000 feet of moving pictures of Winnipeg showing the visit of Sir Wilfred Laurier, Prime Minster of Canada, opening of St. Andrew's Locks, the Point Du Bois Power Plant, the Lake Winnipeg Water Carnival, complete reproduction of Winnipeg business streets, parks, school playgrounds and birds' eye views of the city. These films were to be played in the theatres of England, Canada and US.

They did a Winnipeg 1910 book and distributed 15,000 copies. Sent 5,000 calendars and a 42 page illustrated book to magazine editors, manufacturers and investment companies. News was being sent on a weekly basis to 217 publications in US, England and Eastern Canada. In one month alone they had requests for 24 special stories on Winnipeg of 1000-3000 words plus pictures.

In its first three year period of operation the bureau handled 58,000 enquiries for information. It also:
-opened the first civic art gallery in 1912.
-prepared illustrated presentations that were delivered in England the US and eastern Canada.
-set up an electrical trade show.
-set up a permanent Winnipeg exhibit in Philadelphia.
-set up a civic improvement committee.

-Winnipeg as a convention city and the need for a convention hall.
-Establishment of a civic planning commission.
-It promoted the production of moving pictures,
-The utilization of flax straw and other stubble as a natural resource.
-An annual businessman's tour of the west.
-Assistance to the families of British workmen to be brought to Winnipeg.
-Completion of municipal power plant.

-There was a clear vision about what Winnipeg's future would be.
-Leadership for promotion of Winnipeg and its economic growth was provided by businessmen.
-Everyone, everywhere possible was made aware of Winnipeg's assets and opportunities through a blizzard of promotional material.
-The stimulative effect of immigration was fully utilized.
-They took full advantage of geographic location.
Winnipeg's bubble burst after 1914. But for decades, Winnipeg promoters did not cease their efforts to try to make Winnipeg one of the great cities in North America. It is that sense of optimism and a city building ethic that is missing from Winnipeg's business community today.

"Fighting Bill Code"

"Fighting Bill Code"

Winnipeg's Famous Fire Chief

By George Siamandas

Some of Winnipeg's most tragic fires have occurred during the coldest part of the year. Some of these winter fires challenged Winnipeg's fire department, and the brave men that were involved in fighting the big ones in Winnipeg's past.

The most spectacular fire was the Manitoba Hotel fire which occurred on Feb 9, 1899. The Manitoba hotel was Winnipeg's finest building at the time, and located where the Federal Bldg is now at the corner of Main St. and Water Ave. Because it happened so long ago few people know about it.

It was a Thursday night and the hotel was full of people who had come for the 14th annual Manitoba bonspiel. And it was also one of those bone chilling Winnipeg winter nights. Stories vary about just how cold it was. Some reports say it was
46 while others say it was 53 below. The cold caused the hoses and the pumpers to freeze and without enough water pressure, they lost the building. Spectators recalled the hearing the bottles in the well stocked bar exploding. Twelve pianos were destroyed, but no lives were lost.

It was a total loss of $800,000 which was a pile of money in those days. There was an investigation and fire chief Rodgers was asked to resign, but was offered a job as a building inspector instead. While there were ambitious plans to rebuild it but it never came about. One of the firemen was almost killed from the hotel's falling walls. His name was Bill Code and he became Winnipeg's most famous fire fighter.

Fighting Bill Code was a little Irishman from Dublin. He came to Winnipeg in 1874 and worked as a printer for the Manitoba Free Press. His career in fire
fighting started when he became one of the six original volunteer firemen in 1874. He joined full time when the brigade was formally set up in 1882. Bill Code worked for 40 years and is reputed to have fought more fires than any other fireman in Canada. He was a man of legend and sees to have had more lives than a cat.

He was crushed by falling timbers in the Ashdown store explosion and fire of 1882, overcome by smoke 6 times, trampled by frantic horses at a the Mandeville Bros livery stable fire on Fort St, and hurled a distance by an explosion in the Winnipeg Paint and Glass fire of 1907.

And during the Sterling building fire of Dec 1909, he was found completely frozen to the pavement. His men broke him off the pavement and thawed him out in a neighbouring hotel. In the next day's paper he was called "the Living Icicle."

Code was a collector of articles on the Fire department and accumulated 3 massive volumes of clippings from which much of the history of the Winnipeg fire department is drawn. Despite being caught in many life and death predicaments, he survived every one living to the ripe age of 92.

Code lived at a home right next to the Central Fire Hall which was built at the corner of Albert and McDermot in 1899. This is now the site of Old Market Square.

Many important buildings have been lost to fires, especially churches. Fortunately some of these have been rebuilt. The most recent one was Broadway United. It burned in December 1989 and fortunately Heritage Winnipeg persuaded the congregation to retain the bell tower.

There was also Elim Chapel, St Steven on Broadway Ave. St Andrews at Ellen St was lost but they built a new community building in its place.

St Boniface has had its share of spectacular fires. ST Boniface College was rebuilt after its fire in 1922.

The fires have taken many buildings from us. Yet it is amazing how many buildings have survived early fires:

Manitoba Hotel Feb 9, 1899
Ashdown Fire Oct 1904
Avenue Block
Sterling Building Dec 9 1909 $175,000
Enderton Bldg Portage and Hargrave Jan 11, 1918
Fashion Craft and Woolworth Jan 23 1922

Tribune Bldg 211 McDermot May 16 1930
Capitol Theatre 1936
Hotel Fort Garry Dec 7 1971
St Boniface College Nov 1922
Time Bldg June 7 1954

Public Works in Winnipeg

Public Works in Winnipeg

Bill Hurst - the Man Who Built the City

By George Siamandas

On Oct 17, 1884 the first block of pavement was laid in Winnipeg. This marked Winnipeg's emergence from a frontier town of muddy streets and 74 bawdy hotels to a city beginning to develop all the appropriate urban amenities. In annual reports the city boasted of the miles of new road construction completed, all designed to show a city of progress. Main Street was the first street that had been surveyed and graded on May 10, 1871 and was made 32 feet wide.

By 1908 Winnipeg had 43 miles of asphalt paved roads, 40 miles of macadam roads and another 185 miles in graded (gravel roads). Roads, side walks, and sewers services were paid for by frontage levies. In 1908 a property owner paid 33 cents per front foot over 20 years for an asphalt road. And roads were just the beginning. It was normal to build the roads and bridges, but Winnipeg developed a very active role in providing all of its own municipal services.

From its earliest days, the City of Winnipeg developed a firm tradition of municipal ownership of many of its public services. It owned its own quarry at Stony Mountain, and gravel pits at Birds Hill. And it was the first city in North America to have its own asphalt plant. Winnipeg also developed a cluster of municipal hospitals. Later it built its own power plants and its own water supply. To build the Aqueduct it built its own railway and owned 22 boxcars. It still operates and was a money maker supplying gravel to concrete companies on its return trips. It even operated five market buildings which served as Winnipeg's earliest shopping centres. This attitude of public ownership stands as an anomaly in what was otherwise a free enterpise city.

The man that stands out in Winnipeg's public works history is Bill Hurst who was the city engineer for over 40 years starting in 1931 till he retired in 1972. Hurst is a legend in his own time. Before they ahd commissioners Hurst performed the role of chief commissioner. He was close to Mayor Steve Juba and spent time at city council doing what was necessary politically to get his ideas through. Hurst pushed for the introduction of freeways in Winnipeg. He pushed for the Mid Town bridge and the Disraeli overpass. He developed the self cleaning steel mesh surface (during snow storms) that had originally been installed on these two bridges. But it became a big maintenance problem and was eventually topped with asphalt. He also advocated the building of an elevated roadway along the Red River from Fort Garry to the Redwood bridge. This was not done.

The City had a giant work force. He built up the city works department into what was known in the 1950s and 1960s as Hurst's Empire, the biggest construction company in all North America. Up until the 1960s the city built all the roads, the sewers and all the works in the city. Contractors wanted to be able to get some of the work. A study carried out in the early 1970s looked at the matter of the city contracting out and basically said the city should not be doing all of it. The issue is still with us today and there is more and more pressure to have outside contractors do the engineering as well as the construction in order to save on costs.

Hurst was known as being very abrupt with staff. Was supposed to be hard to work with. He was interested in the arts. A rounded guy. Did a lot of lecturing after retirement. He was an astute investor in San Diego. Was as good businessman. He was described as a real millionaire but was careful with money. He was a leading figure in his field in all of North America. He was generous with his time in helping other professionals advance the profession of engineering and municipal engineering. He retired just as Unicity was introduced in 1971 and then began a consulting practise and lectured around North America. He edited a book on the industry called Building Canada and has received much recognition such as the Gold medal from the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers.

Building Winnipeg's New City Hall

Building Winnipeg's New City Hall

Ending 60 Years of Bickering

By George Siamandas

Winnipeg had been slow to renew its ageing gingerbread city hall. As early as 1910 city fathers had planned to replace it but the First World War postponed it. After WW2 there were plans to replace it once again, but it would take another 16 years of studies and planning before they would actually build it. For decades Winnipeg had envied Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver, cities that had finer civic buildings. By the time Juba was elected he was a big proponent of building a new one. And to dramatise the bad condition the old one was in, he took out an insurance policy on himself should the old city hall collapse on him while he was on the job.

But deciding to build it wasn't easy. Civic voters had twice turned down money by-laws refusing to pay for building another pet project: the Disraeli freeway. A writer in 1957 chided councillors that there was enough paper from research and studies to build the first floor and that they should just get on with building a new one. Finally in 1957 the city was successful in having taxpayers agree to spend $6m on a new city hall. Voters had opted by 79% for a site across from the legislature at the corner of Broadway and Memorial Blvd. A Canada-wide design competition was held in 1958 and 91 proposals were received, some them quite futuristic. Up to date even for the year 2000.

The winning proposal was more conventional and came from Winnipeg's Green Blankstein and Russell. The plan to build it on Broadway was abandoned, as Premier Roblin persuaded the city to reconsider the location and put it back in the heart of the warehouse district. As a tool of urban renewal, and together with the plans for a new Concert Hall it was seen as a necessary rejuvenating influence for the area.

By now the old 1886 Gingerbread city hall had few supporters. While some called for it to be saved and used as a civic museum, these thoughts were termed the thoughts of "dreamers and idealists." Alex Clifton-Taylor an architectural critic from England called it "unbelievably ugly" in a Sept 15, 1956 article, and much too small for a city of Winnipeg's size. Clifton-Taylor observed that the old city hall had been built in the Victorian period, a time in which "artistic taste was low." And that a "newly rich class (of Winnipeggers) with lots of money and no taste" had built it. Just to check on his credentials, though the Free Press reporter took him to see the legislature, which he liked.

In approving the new city hall, thrifty Winnipeggers had provided for no frills. This was still a prairie town that counted its $6M public dollars carefully. GBR was challenged to create a contemporary Tyndall limestone building over a steel facade with its interior finished in black Quebec granite. And to provide a high level of interior design within.

But clearly there had been no money to pursue the cautionary note at the bottom of the city's report recommending the GBR design. It had urged that people want "the buildings that represent their social and civic life not to be just functionally fulfilling, they want their aspirations for monumentality, joy, pride and excitement to be fulfilled as well."

But costs gradually mounted adding another $3M to the cost. To bury this overrun they renamed it from City Hall to the Civic Centre to express the larger project that had been evolving as parkade was added. Alderman Crawford who was in charge of the project proclaimed the new city hall was so well built with 900 tons of steel, that its life expectancy was 200 years. Winnipeg's new city hall opened Monday Oct 5 1964.

Upon completion it was named the ugliest building in Canada, "a prison, a shoe box, Lenin's tomb." And immediately as the 600 workers took their places the staff complained about overcrowding and being "packed to the gills." It was already too small.

Saturday Bloody Saturday

Saturday Bloody Saturday

Winnipeg's 42 Day Mini-Revolution?

by George Siamandas

On June 21 1919, near the end of the Winnipeg General Strike, saw the occurrence of the tragic event called "Bloody Saturday." Two men were killed and 27 others injured as strikers fought the North West Mounted Police. The strike began on May 15 as about 30,000 strikers took to the streets. "In less than two hours the whole productive industry of an entire city was tied up. Not a wheel was turning in the big plans, not a street car was visible." Workers were convinced that their cause of improved wages, the right to bargain as large groups and to organize politically were just causes.

On June 1 10,000 returning soldiers marched on the provincial legislature to express their support of the strike. On June 9th the entire police force is dismissed. Raids were conducted on strike leaders homes and offices and many like John Queen, R. B. Russell and A. A. Heaps were arrested. Viewpoints became increasingly polarized.

On Saturday June 21 the streetcars had started to run again and the strikers began to gather in angry protest. As one streetcar rolled north along Main St in front of City Hall, the strikers stopped it and set it on fire. At 2:35 pm mayor Gray read the riot act in front of City Hall. The North West Mounted Police rode south along Main St and in front of the Royal Tower near William and Main rode into the crowd with baseball bats and firearms. Two strikers were killed after the mounted policemen charged into the crowd of strikers.

Mike Sokolowiski a tin smith died instantly while Steve Schezerbanowes would die later. Caught in Hell's Alley or the lane between Market and James Ave (in the centre of what is now the Centennial Centre), twenty-seven others were injured about 4:00 that afternoon. Ninety-four people were arrested including 4 women. On June 26 the strike committee called an end to the strike. The strike committee called on workers to send a large group of labour representatives to every level of government.

Worried employers saw a city paralysed by militant workers demanding collective bargaining, and higher wages; of mass demonstrations in the streets. Services were being lost. and the firing of the police force. Businessmen and government leaders felt they were seeing the beginning of a revolution and an effort to establish Bolshevism. On May 16th, a Committee of 1000 was created to fight the strike. It published a paper called the Citizen in which it branded the strikers as Bolsheviks. There was an actual fear of a revolution. There were daily mass demonstrations some of which were routed through the placid streets of Crescentwood. People are reported to have locked their doors.

In the nice neighbourhood of Crescentwood where many of the committee of 1000 lived there was a growing unease. Lilian Allen who was 14 at the time remarked "It was very scary. We were afraid the north end would conquer us Crescentwood got organized." The residents of Crescentwood were convinced by the extreme rhetoric of some of the union leaders like George Armstrong. After the police force had gone on strike, the men of Crescentwood volunteered to patrol the streets. They did this in pairs in two hour stretches from midnight on.

Mr WP Dutton's chauffeur of 124 Harrow St, who had been an army sergeant, organized the men and gave them evening drills on the grounds of Kelvin High School. And in case the telephone lines were cut, a communications post was set up at the tower of Kelvin school in direct line of site of the Legislative building.

Since then the city has been divided. Winnipeg might have come as close to a revolution as has any city in North America. A Royal Commission was established. Did the workers intend to overthrow the government or were they looking for traditional economic goals? Commissioner Robson determined that the strike had been a protest over poor living conditions along with the "presence of radical socialists who had hoped for something else." Winnipeg would never be the same again.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Alexander Kennedy Isbister

Alexander Kennedy Isbister

By George Siamandas

Alexander Kennedy Isbister was a fur trader, educator and lawyer. Isbister was one of many successful children of fur trade. AKI was born in 1822 at Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. His father was Thomas Isbister, a Hudson's Bay Company employee, and his mother a Metis named Mary Kennedy, sister to arctic explorer and St Andrew's resident Captain William Kennedy.

At a young age, and with Captain Kennedy's help, Alexander travelled to the Orkney Islands of Scotland to receive an education, returning to the Red River District in 1833 upon the death of his grandparents. He attended St. John's School, and then in 1838 became an articled clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Isbister the Metis ran into the prejudices of Sir George Simpson who had taken over a Red River. After Isbister failed to receive the promotion he sought he quit the HBC in 1841 and in 1842 left for further education in England.

Apparently his Metis ancestry was no problem in England. He was described as brilliant and with an attractive character and benevolent manner. AKI had quite a career in England. In 1858 he received his MA and in 1866 his LLB. He became a teacher in London, and wrote many school texts. In 1872, he was appointed Dean of a teacher training college in London. As a distinguished educator he edited a journal for 20 years.

Isbister remained an advocate of Metis rights and dignity and fought the HBC's control over Free trade in 1847 by presenting a petition of over 1000 Red River names to the British Govt. He feared US annexation as much as the HBC and advocated that Red River become part of Canada. Isbister had left the Red River settlement in 1841, never to return. But Isbister left Red River many generous gifts.

Isbister never married and died in 1883 in London. On his death in 1883, Isbister left the bulk of his large fortune to the newly formed University of Manitoba. Eighty-three thousand dollars was a great deal of money in 1883, over a million in today's terms. The interest was to be used to award scholarships to promising students regardless of race, creed, or sex.

Isbister also donated his personal library of over 4,958 books to the University and this was the start of the present library of over 1,000,000 books. Unfortunately, most of the books were lost in an 1898 fire.

But by 1934 the Isbister fund was gone. In 1932, it had been discovered that the chairman of the Board of Governors of the University had embezzled a million dollars of the University money, including all the money in the A.K. Isbister Scholarship Fund.

The Manitoba government still gives "Isbister Scholarships" to outstanding students entering the University.

Isbister is recognised in name at the University of Manitoba, and at the city's oldest school Isbister School. In 1961, a classroom building on campus was named "Isbister Building" in his honour. The memory of the University of Manitoba's first benefactor is one in which Manitobans and particularly Manitoba Metis can take great pride.



After the Deluge Some Settlers Left While Others Stayed

By George Siamandas

It had been a very good year at Red River. The community was growing and upgrading itself. Forty-two new homes were built in six months. The severe mouse infestation had been the only discouraging event.

The problems had begun during the winter. There had been a giant snow during December 1825. The Metis and Indians wintering in Pembina were near starvation. Ross visited Pembina in February and saw it first hand. A relief effort by individuals and the HBC sent many dog teams south with food and supplies. But many perished, especially in the harsh winter that year. Those that were found alive had devoured their horses, dogs, raw hides, leather and their shoes. The winter continued to bring much snow and temperatures reaching -45. The ice was five feet seven inches thick.

On May 2 the water rose 9 feet in 24 hours. On May 4 the river overflowed its banks. On the 5th all the settlers abandoned the colony seeking higher ground. The river would rise for 20 days and in places the settlement had a depth of water estimated at 16 feet. What did they save? First came the cattle then the grain, furniture and utensils. The water reached so high people had to break through the roofs of their houses to salvage what they could. Meanwhile ice flows cut everything in their path.

Ross had a boat ready behind his house on he Red River at Point Douglas. As they got into the ark their belongings were flushed out of the house, as he was unable to close the door. They made way to a barn that was above water and joined a group of 50 people trying to escape the sudden waters. They fled west along the Assiniboine to Sturgeon Creek. The water continued to rise till the 21st. It was not until June 15th that they could return. Only one life was lost. But the mosquitoes after were unbearable.

On May 22 the men called a council to consider whether they should move. Opinion at Red River was divided. The differences between the De Meurons and Scottish settlers became quite marked. The De Meurons were mercenaries who had fought in the war of 1812 had been brought to Red River by Selkirk in 1816 to help keep the peace. Ross talks critically of the De Meurons who stole their cattle and gathered their floating possessions selling them back to the settlers at high prices. On June 24, 1826, 243 Swiss De Meurons, or half the colony, left for the United States. The Swiss were encouraged on their way with free food. They would eventually settle on the Mississippi. The Scots however vowed to stay. Not so easily chilled by disappointments, they would start again on bare ground. Having survived fire, famine, warfare, grasshoppers and now a devastating flood, they still saw their future here. And here they would build their futures, in defiance of all obstacles. By 1830 the community had been completely re-established with 204 new houses being built.

The previous fall had been wet; the winter saw lots of snow. There was a sudden melt, and fanned by strong south winds, the ice flow blocked the path to Lake Winnipeg. When the ice broke up at Lake Winnipeg, the flood eased at Red River. Ross closes by saying what has happened once may happen again. Mr. Nolin who had come to the are in the 1770s says that in 1776 the flood was even higher. Other bad flood years according to the Indians included 1790, and 1809. Ross would also live through the almost as bad 1852 flood.



By George Siamandas

A bill to give women the vote was passed on January 27, 1916 in the Manitoba Legislature. Manitoba became the first province to enfranchise women. Hon T. H. Johnson declared that January 27 1916 will for all days remain a milestone for this province. There was a time in society when women were considered chattels of their husbands. They were thought not to be interested in worldly issues like voting. It was thought that they were pre-occupied with other things. Home, the children and their husband's needs. And it has to be noted that the Rodmond Roblin government of the day was not at all interested in any kind of reform. Nowhere in Canada did women have the right to vote. But things were about to change in Manitoba.

Women had been working on this issue since the late 1890s. On January 28 1914 a delegation from the Political Equality League met Premier Roblin in the old Legislature to ask for the right to vote. It was novelist Nellie McClung and President of the League, Dr. Mary Crawford who led the delegation. They stressed that women would help clean up corruption. She felt women were inherently purer and more virtuous than men.

Nellie McClung noted women were about to vote in the US, they had been voting in China and England. She declared women were ready to be let out of the asylum. And she compelled men to be the fair sex. The women said they were not asking for a favour or a gift, but for a right.

McClung wanted to address Roblin's cabinet, a request which Roblin refused. He considered her a "rather conceited young woman who may have had some success at Friday afternoon schoolhouse entertainment and so was labouring under the delusion that she had the gift of oratory."

She responded "You'll hear from me later Sir Roblin.. and you may not like what you will hear." "Is this a threat?" Roblin asked. "No," Nellie said, A prophecy!"

Roblin refused their request for the vote. Roblin felt that Winnipeg women didn't want the vote. The next night at a meeting at the Walker Theatre, Nellie McClung parodied Roblin to a great reception by the audience. The movement for the women's vote had gathered a lot of political backing. The Political Equality League had support from the Icelandic Women's Suffrage Association, the Women's Temperance Union, the Trades and Labour Council, the Canadian Women's Press Club, and the Young Women's Christian Association.

She was born Nellie Moonie in Ontario in 1873. In 1880 her family moved west to homestead in Manitou. As a young woman she fought for higher education and against the customs that kept women at home. She went to the Normal School (Teacher's College on William Ave.) and later taught in Treherne and Manitou.

In Manitou she married Wes McClung a druggist who gave her the freedom to be herself. Nellie wrote that she "could be happy with Wes. We did not always agree, but he was a fair fighter. I would rather fight with him than agree with anyone else."

She began to write children's literature and published her first novel "Sowing Seeds in Danny" in 1908 which became a Canadian best seller earning her $25,000 for 100,000 sales. Wes, who had joined Manufacturer's Life, Nellie and their four children moved to Winnipeg in 1911 and lived in a house at 97 Chestnut Street.

Winning the vote took what it seems has always been required in politics. And that is being able to get the ear of a party that is willing to listen. Thus in the provincial election of July 10, 1914 the reformers supported the Liberals and their leader TC Norris.

Roblin's government did however win with a slim majority. But his days in power were numbered. The Legislature construction scandal blew wide open forcing Roblin to resign on May 12, 1915. Norris took over, called, and won the election of August 16, 1915. On December 23, 1915, a delegation of 60 men and women presented new Premier TC (Tobias Crawford) Norris a petition of 40,000 names in support of women's suffrage. Two weeks later, Norris brought in a bill and it received third reading on January 27 1916. A year later, another act gave women the right to vote in civic elections if they met property qualifications. But suffrage was still not available to all women. Aboriginal women had to wait till 1952 to get the same privilege.

Her husband's job caused a move to Alberta in 1916, where she continued to press for the vote in Alberta winning that one by late 1916. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1921. And she continued to champion issues mother's allowances, public health nurses, free medical and dental for children, new laws for women's property rights. She served on the Board of the CBC during 1936-1942. She continued to work for improved prison conditions and liberalized divorce laws. She died in Victoria BC, in September 1951.