Category: Winnipeg History



The Canadian West’s Itinerant Chief of Police

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas


Winnipeg’s first chief of police JC Ingram was hired onFebruary 19, 1874. Ingram had come to Manitoba before 1870 and had worked for the provincial police. He was well known as the man that had arrested Ambroise Lepine (Riel’s adjutant general) after the Riel Rebellion. Ingram was 23 years old and was known to be “a good man with his fists.”

He had been one of four applicants. Perhaps the most deciding factor was that Ingram was a good friend of Mayor Francis Cornish. On Feb 24, 1874 a fourth by-law of the city established the Winnipeg Police Dept. Ingram would receive a salary of $750 per year, and a staff of two constables earning $500 per year. By summer the police force had shirts, whistles, batons, and police badges. But curiously, their engraver got the badge insignia all wrong. Instead of a beaver he had drawn a gopher. (For go for people)

But it soon became apparent that moral was not good. Ingram did not get along with his men. In particular they did not like his habit of associating with the ladies of the night. Despite this and conflicts with several aldermen, with Cornish’s support he kept his job. Ingram’s association with prostitutes continued as Winnipeg’s stock of saloons, hotels and red light districts grew. Winnipeg and Barrie Ontario were known as the two wickedest places in Canada.

On June 7, Ingram’s constables conducted a raid on a Sherbrook St brothel. They were barred entry to a second floor room. When they pushed past and gained entry, they found an unclothed Chief Ingram in the company of harlot Ella Lewis. Cornish had lost the 1875 mayoralty and in his place now was William Kennedy. The next day Ingram appeared before Mayor and Magistrate William Kennedy and was fined $8 and suspended. On the 14th Ingram tendered his resignation.


Ingram travelled the west and eventually moved to Calgary where he opened up a hotel and bar. When Calgary set up a police Force in 1885, Ingram became Calgary’s first Chief of Police. But he continued to battle with local authorities and in 1888, left for Rossland BC where once again, he became their first chief of police. After a short stint there, he left to work in a mine were he was blown up in a dynamite explosion in 1905.


On July 1, 1875, David Murray became Winnipeg’s next chief. Murray was a schoolteacher from Nova Scotia. He was a popular handsome man, known for his fine singing voice, which was in high demand at local concerts. Murray now had 5 constables. They worked 11-hour shifts 7 days a week. By November Murray had purchased the famous buffalo coats for $17 a piece, and more equipment including four “wrist snappers,” 3 pistols as well as uniforms for the men.


Murray would report 749 cases in 1880: 303 were for drunk and disorderly conduct, 212 were for inhabiting, frequenting, or maintaining a house of ill fame, 13 were charged with theft, 14 with assault, and 1 for gambling. In the 212 cases, 177 women listed their occupation as prostitute. While Murray was not accused of associating with prostitutes, future police chief McRae would face the same difficulties as Ingram. Vice was a problem and in 1910 Ingram faced a Royal Commission investigating police toleration of prostitution.




The trials and tribulations of the fire dept

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Winnipeg dedicated its first fire hall Feb 7, 1875. But for the next 7 years till a permanent professional fire dept was organised, volunteers did the job. There was a time when the new city of Winnipeg had no fire protection. When fire broke out, a chemical pumper would be borrowed from the Hudson Bay Co. In 1875, a by-law establishing a fire dept was passed, with a volunteer brigade providing the labour. Prominent early citizens became members of the volunteer dept: James Ashdown, Thomas Ryan, Stewart Mulvey and Daniel McMillan.

Six fire tanks were built and sunk into the ground along Main St. Water came from an artesian well at the corner of Logan and Main. Labour for digging the trenches was supplied involuntarily by drunks reporting to magistrate’s court. Alderman Archibald Wright telegraphed an order to Silsby Manufacturing Co for Winnipeg’s first Steam Pumper. He was quoted 6 months delivery. But the next day Silsby offered a much better model for another $500 with delivery within 10 days. The engine arrived promptly by the Steamer Dakota but federal customs charges and doubled shipping costs saw the engine under wraps till the extra costs were resolved. The pool of 40 volunteer firemen received $1 per fire and 50 cents for false alarms. If they failed to report at the call of the Grace St Church bell they were each fined $1.


The new pumper’s first job was to fill the tanks with water. By early Dec 1874 the brigade was spoiling for its first challenge. It came a month later on Jan 11 1875: fire broke out in the McDermot Block. It was -31 F as the Grace Church bells called the volunteers from their beds. Within 12 minutes water was flowing and within 21 minutes of the alarm the fire was all under control. Surrounding buildings were saved, but the McDermot Block housing the St James Restaurant formerly Red River Hall burned to the ground.

The firemen had to pull the pumper by hand, as horses were not available nearby. Council soon remedied this by having horses stabled nearby. Lombard Ave was the site for the first fire station that stored the steam pumper, 2,000 feet of hose and four hand hose reels. On Christmas Day 1875, the fire hall burned to the ground destroying all the new equipment the dept had proudly assembled over its first year. By February, a new fire engine had been delivered. Local insurers had agreed not to cancel policies. In 1878 a new fire hall opened. At a cost of $7,000 this one was built to be fireproof.


In 1882 the volunteers decided to disband and to form a full time fire dept. Winnipeg was booming with hundreds of new buildings. And the population was now 30,000. The newly created jobs were highly coveted. One hundred and fifty people applied to be firemen. The first chief was WO McRobbie who served from 1882 to 1889. McRobbie with 25 years experience in the Montreal fire brigade agreed to be chief for $1,800 per year. On start-up the dept hired 36 full time men and bought 17 horses. The force would spend $150,000 over the next 20 years. But it was not until Winnipeg built the high-pressure station on James Ave in 1907 that fire insurance rates dropped.



Early Efforts to Help Winnipeg Children

By George Siamandas

On Mar 1, 1916, the City of Winnipeg established the Bureau of Child Health. It marked a big step forward. For years councillors and the general public had avoided grappling with the reality of Winnipeg’s alarmingly high child mortality rates. In the early 1900s it was typhoid that ran rampant revealing Winnipeg as the sickest city in North America or Europe: 23 deaths per thousand in 1904, 138 deaths in 1905. An investigation revealed most deaths in the areas without sewers: the north end around the CPR tracks. Winnipeg medical health Officer Dr Douglas likened conditions in Winnipeg’s north end to those of a medieval European city. He noted the squalor in the north end was beyond the powers of description. Also in 1904, untreated water had been pulled into the water supply system to fight a rash of fires.


A combination of ignorance and poverty was making people and especially children sick leading to the highest mortality rates in North America and Europe. Far too many people were living in slum housing conditions. Parents were ignorant of hygienic practices. Children were malnourished. The water was neither safe nor abundant. The 1912-year saw infant death rates soar again: 126 per thousand in 1912 and 199 per thousand in 1914. Clearly it was time for action.


Leading the effort was Dr AJ Douglas, Chief Medical Officer from 1900 to 1940. Douglas would face numerous epidemics including typhus, smallpox and influenza. Winnipeg was lucky to have an advocate at the job. Year after year his reports to council recommended action to hire more inspectors, ensure all houses were connected to sewers, and to reduce overcrowding. Douglas was particularly forceful in 1914 recommending that if necessary the city should get into the housing business. He urged that the city do more about the health of less fortunate Winnipeggers and in particular to put a special focus on child health. He got results. In 1913 working out of a house at 31 Martha St, Health Officer Tustin began to report on Child Hygiene.


Three years later the new Bureau of Child Health began to operate from a modern building at the corner of Main and Aberdeen. Nurses provided infant examinations and two doctors were available mornings 6 days a week. Volunteering their time to help the sick were Drs RF Rorke and E Richardson.

One major service was the dispensing of baby’s milk feedings. Over 350,000 bottles were delivered in 1916. The bulk of it given free. That year Douglas requested an automobile to help deliver the milk before it spoiled on hot days. They made 119,730 nurse visits in 1916. Each nurse cared for over 400 infants. They encountered many young unwed mothers who knew nothing about childcare. Child health improved as more and more information was dispensed. The health dept issued Monthly bulletins: simple things about hygiene, yet things mothers did not know.

Working with other agencies like the Margaret Scott Nursing Mission and the All People’s Mission, help arrived for Winnipeg’s immigrant poor. Finally a tradition for social justice was emerging in Winnipeg’s early days.



Children Never Swim on Sunday

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas


Fifteen hundred people attended the opening ceremonies May 6, 1912,opened by Mayor RD Waugh. Waugh a big recreation advocate in Winnipeg had been trying to get the Pritchard Pool built for years. Finally in 1909 ratepayers approved the $50,000 budget. Located at the corner of Charles St and Pritchard Ave, and costing $50,000, the Pritchard Baths tank measured 79 by 68 feet and was 2.5 to 7 feet deep. It had 38 dressing rooms, 72 lockers and 17 individual shower stalls plus 31 children’s showers.

Everyone had to shower going in. A sterilizing machine guaranteed healthy supplies of bathing suits and towels which rented for a nominal 10 cents. Civic planners wanted a modest charge so that the pool would not be seen as a charity. While an orchestra played, a swimming show was given by Mrs Harrison and R Ernest Collins, a man with only one leg. Percy Cox officiated at the first water polo game ever held in Winnipeg. And the Manitoba Swim Club demonstrated scientific swimming. Staff had been hired to teach swimming. Mr J Harris would be teaching swimming to men, while Mrs Harris a bronze medal winner from the Royal Life Saving Society would instruct women.


There were only two places to swim in Winnipeg at the turn of the century. The only indoor pool was at the YMCA. The city operated an outdoor area with poolhouse along the Red River 200 yards east of the Louise Bridge. Elm Park a peninsula surrounded by the Red was another popular spot. The first indoor pool was the Cornish Baths built in 1909, followed by the Pritchard Baths in 1912. The plan was to set up pools in every district.


The sexes were not allowed to swim together. Men had the pool on Mondays. Thursdays were women only days. Strangely children were not permitted to use the pool on Sunday. During the rest of the week men had the pool from 10-12 while women had it from 1-10pm.


Indoor pools proved to be a shallow success. Expensive to operate, they received less use than expected. The Cornish Baths lasted 20 years and were closed in 1930. The Sherbrook Pool was built to take over this function in 1931. In the same year an outdoor pool opened at Sargent Park: the biggest in western Canada.

The Pritchard baths closed down in 1948 and were replaced by an outdoor pool. Never a success the outdoor pool was closed down and the new Kildonan Park pool opened in 1966 as a replacement for the Pritchard Pool. In 1970 a new indoor pool was built on the Old Exhibition grounds as a centennial project. Finally the north end had an indoor pool again.

MAYOR R. D. WAUGH The Mayor That Introduced Playgrounds to Winnipeg


The Mayor That Introduced

Playgrounds to Winnipeg

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Mayor Richard Dean Waugh noted for introducing playgrounds to Winnipeg. Waugh’s efforts resulted in a mass public meeting on May 28, 1908, which led to the opening of Winnipeg’s first playground. Waugh was born in 1868 in Melrose Scotland. He came to Winnipeg in 1883 with his parents after living in Kincardine Ont. for a few years. In Ontario he got an early start working as a purser on steamboat lines.

In 1905 Waugh became a member of the city’s parks Board and its chair in 1907. He worked on a committee that developed cycle paths. Waugh would be a sportsman his entire life and was interested in improving the city’s amenities. He was for good roads and for city beautification. He wanted Winnipeg to become one of the beauty spots of Canada. He was active in curling and head of the Real Estate Exchange.


In 1907 as chair of the Parks Board, Waugh tried to convince council to begin to develop playgrounds as existed in the United States. “Small areas of land fitted with amusement paraphernalia. Skilled instructors with the highest moral training.” City Council refused. In May 1908 a meeting of playground enthusiasts met with Mayor James Ashdown. With Ashdown as the group’s chairman he reviewed how best to reach their goal. Ashdown discouraged them from asking the city once again and instead suggested a voluntary association. During the summer of 1908 a model playground was set up at Central School funded by an $800 grant from the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Council of women. It proved a big success. Seven playgrounds were set up in Winnipeg’s north end in 1909 and by 1920, 20 playgrounds were operating. And for winter play, by 1912, skating rinks were being set up.


Waugh had served several terms on the Board of Control and in 1912 was elected mayor. These were Winnipeg’s glory days with civic growth and prosperity at an unparalleled rate. Waugh proved a popular mayor, but Waugh found that his stint as mayor became an intolerable burden on his private business life. His partner Thompson Beattie who had run the business had perished on the Titanic and now Waugh had to return to private life to rescue his real estate and law business.

Waugh recommended several civic reforms upon leaving. He had seen how being mayor was a full time job. He recommended a 2-year term for mayor and the abolition of a property qualification for those seeking public office. Waugh went to England to help negotiate a loan for Winnipeg, which he discovered, had the best financial reputation of any Canadian City. He also visited his hometown Melrose where he found the towns depleted of young people who had emigrated to Canada. In 1915 Waugh became mayor once again and served till 1916. He left to become head of the new Water District Board. By now Winnipeg’s glory days were nearing an end.

Winnipeg’s Carnegie Libraries

Winnipeg’s Carnegie Libraries

By George Siamandas


Selkirk Settlers and Hudson Bay men like Peter Fiddler were the first contributors to Winnipeg’s libraries. Fidler donated 500 books upon his death in 1822. The Manitoba Scientific and Historical Society was the founder of what later became the Winnipeg Public Library. In 1881 2,500 books were borrowed in Winnipeg. In 1905 the Carnegie Library was built at 380 William Ave at a cost of $100,000. It was opened by Earl Grey on Oct 11, 1905. Built of native Manitoba limestone, the William Ave library was designed by Samuel Hooper. The man that made this and two other branches possible was Andrew Carnegie, the noted philanthropist who donated $75,000 towards construction of the William Library. Carnegie helped with another $39,00 for an addition, and in 1915 paid the total cost of the Cornish and St. John’s Libraries. The new libraries were the result of the initiative of provincial Librarian J. P. Robertson who wrote to Carnegie pleading for the same kind of assistance that had made the Ottawa library possible.


Carnegie was Scottish born and lived between 1835 and 1919. In a classic rags to riches story, he made his fortune in railroads and oil and steel enterprises. His philosophy was that the best kind of assistance one could offer was to help people help themselves. Of the $330 million that Carnegie donated, more than $56 million went to the establishment of 2,507 libraries around the world. One hundred and Twenty-five were built in Canada at a cost of $2,556,660. He also helped colleges, and supported cultural and research grants. His designs were different from the private libraries in that they were open and accessible. The William Street Library proclaims above its doorway “Free to All.” In Carnegie’s libraries, children were encouraged to attend and you could look through the shelves and find your own books.


There was a boom in demand in the 1920s and branch stations were being set up in grocery stores, drug stores and fire halls. Bookmobiles were started in 1953. But in the late fifties money by-laws for the establishment of branch libraries were defeated one after the other. The city instead decided to create four modest branches in the 1960s which cost under $75,000 each: the River Heights, Downtown, McPhillips and the West End. In 1972 the City built the new Central Library on Graham Ave at a cost of $10 million.


For both rich or poor, libraries have always played an important community building role in Winnipeg. Libraries have served as neighbourhood information centres. They help create an atmosphere for learning. They are places children can explore their interests, study and be exposed to a wealth of information. As a teenager I can remember many a winter day studying at the William Street Library while the steam heat radiators hissed and popped in the background.


Today there are 21 branches which last year circulated 5.6 million materials from a collection of 1.6 million items. Three hundred thousand people hold library cards. And last year they answered 413,000 information questions. But their role is changing rapidly with technology. Now the building is not important, nor is going to the building itself necessary. And the book of the future will become a CD Rom, a database or a computer network. TheWinnipeg Library will soon open with major enhancements and renovations.

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.

TRANSCONA Winnipeg’s Railway Town


Winnipeg’s Railway Town

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

Transcaona was built because of the railway shops. And on April 6, 1912 Transcona received its charter. It had been a heady period for businessmen that had enjoyed visions of a second Chicago. Transcona is named for the Transcontinental Railway (TRANS) and (CONA) for Lord Strathcona. It was one of the few places in Manitoba that does not owe its origins to agriculture but to the railway. In 1907 800 acres were acquired for the railway shops. It was soon discovered to be a swamp, part of a natural watercourse running from the Tache municipality to the Red River. As the shops were being built, 4 feet of fill were used to elevate the entire facility. The original town located south of the shops was largely abandoned and a new town was built north for the shops.


There was a wish to create a second national railway at a time when small railways were seeing very difficult days. When the amalgamation finally took place, 3 private, 4 govt and 149 other railways came together to form the Canadian National Railway, complete by 1923. At one time 2,000 found jobs there and the facility was planned to employ 5,000. There was work for trainmen, machinists, blacksmiths, boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters and upholsterers. Over the years Transcona has had its ups and downs reflecting levels of employment at the shops. Now it employs only 700. It has the second largest Ukrainian community in Winnipeg after the north end. The shop also built locomotives, and No 2747, was the first. Taken out of service in 1960 it has been preserved in a park. Over the years, 37 locomotives were built at the Transcona Shops


The boom was on. Land that had been selling for 100 per lot was now selling for $100 per front foot. The boom did not last. But hard time in the when rail business was low due to the end of the immigration of settlers to the west and low grain prices. In 1920 Transcona had to face hard facts. Dreams of their future had been unrealistic. When it came time for city council to pay for services it found it had $285,00 in expenditures but only $4,485 in revenues. The town’s affairs were taken over by the province till 1927 when it began to run its own affairs. Till Regent Ave was paved in July 1931, under a depression works program, most Transcona residents would go to the city, Winnipeg, by train.


On Sept 1, 1947, the country’s worst train wreck happened as a train of vacationers returned form Minaki ran into a transcontinental train at the Dugald station a few minutes east of Transcona. It killed 35.



Its Struggle to Remain Distinct

By George Siamandas


St Boniface incorporated as a city on Feb 25, 1908, and has struggled to remain distinct. Fifty years before Manitoba was even a province, there was a thriving community in St Boniface. In 1734 La Verendrye had reached the Forks and built Fort Rouge. In 1818 Lord Selkirk asked Bishop Plessis of Quebec to send missionaries to care for the emerging Metis population. Upon arrival in 1818, Father Provencher named the mission St Boniface. There were already more than 200 people living at the Forks.


The first white woman in the west was Marie Anne Gaboury. Her great-great granddaughter, Diane Landry would be Miss Canada in 1967. The west’s first French Radio station CKSB went on the air May 27, 1946. St Boniface was also first to have a railway connection. Since 1844, the Grey Nuns have taken care of educational and health needs, In 1870 they gave 3,000 smallpox vaccinations, and in 1871 the Grey Nuns built the first hospital with 4 beds. Winnipeg had been incorporated in 1873. In 1876 St Boniface considered incorporation as a city but rejected the idea. In 1880 it was incorporated as a municipality as required by a new provincial law. In 1908 with a population of 5,930 it finally became a city.


By 1883 St Boniface had a police and fire dept. But financial difficulties in the 1890s saw them cut fire protection services. The first hydro poles were put up in 1890 by the Northwest Power Company. First electrical service went to the Archbishop’s palace and the St Boniface College. Water had initially come from the Red River, but in 1884 they put in artesian wells. In 1905, a water works plant and reservoir were built. Till the first bridge, all crossings were by a ferry near where the Norwood Bridge stands today. And where the ferry operated, so sprang up the first industries.


At the turn of the century English people began to move into Norwood and the issue of annexation came up. In a struggle to remain French and distinct, St Boniface chose to incorporate instead. Norwood grew with its own services. Houses replaced a golf course and marshland including several small lakes. Norwood’s first minister, JS Woodsworth, preached from a tent at Marion and Kenny.


Some early industries included a soap factory in 1876, a brick plant in 1879, a wool factory, brewery, and a sawmill. After a major industrial development strategy in 1909, industry boomed in St Boniface. The St Boniface Archdiocese Corp began to sell off their lands for development. First with the railway and with abundant electrical power, St Boniface offered grants for industries to locate there. Tanneries, stockyards, meat packers and flourmills poured in.

The stockyards and meat packing plants began to be built in 1913 on 20 acres of land. The Shell refinery was built in 1920. A dye works, grain companies, a roofing manufacturer, and a steel plant followed.

Today, more than 190 years after its founding, St Boniface remains the bastion of French Canadian culture in western Canada. In so many ways, the new Metis nation and the people of St Boniface, had more to do with the creation of Manitoba than did the English-speaking people of Winnipeg.



By George Siamandas

At one time Winnipeg had as many as 130 theatres.

Portage Ave:

Capitol 295 Portage and 313 Donald

Furby Theatre 599 Portage

Gaiety Theatre 459 Portage

Lyceum 292 Portage

Metropolitan 283 Donald

Odeon Smith

Orphium Theatre 283 Fort

Osborne 108 Osborne

Palace 501 Selkirk


Main St

Bijou 498 Main St

College Theatre 1296 Main

Colonial 634 Main

Columbia 604 Main

Epic/Regent 644 Main St

Garrick Theatre 30 Garry

Strand 559 Main

Starland 630 Main


Acadia 572 Selkirk

Arcadia gardens 307 Portage Ave

Arlington Theatre 863 Portage Ave

Baddow 323 Tache

Classic 18837 Portage

Corrona 1433 Logan

Mac’s Theatre 585 Ellice

Park 698 Osborne

Plaza 105 Marion St

Province 205 Notre dame

Queens 239 Selkirk

Rose 801 Sargent

Tivoli 115 Maryland

Uptown Theatre

Wonderland 595 Sergent

Drive Inns


Pembina drive Inn