Category: businessman




by George Siamandas

William Alloway came to Red River in 1870 at age 18. Winnipeg was not yet a city with about 12,000 people. Alloway worked his way up starting as a tobacconist, veterinarian and shipper. Within 9 years he founded Alloway and Champion which became one of the west’s largest private banks. Alloway’s fortunes grew with Winnipeg and he wanted to give something back. He felt he owed everything to Winnipeg and in 1921 he wrote a $100,000 cheque establishing the Winnipeg Foundation. Later, in 1930, Mrs. Elizabeth Alloway left an additional $2.5 million.

Kathleen Lightcap who was a founding member of the Junior League and a volunteer driver for the Meals on Wheels left $6.5 million in 1986-7. In the 1970s the James and Muriel Richardson Fund gave $1M and the George Hammill McKeag fund gave $1.2M. About 20 people have left more than $500,000. But much of the money is given by people from all walks of life who also want to give something back to their community. For example Joe McCann Transit Supervisor donated $200,000. Others like Janet Boucher who worked in the Holt Renfrew hat department gave $10,000.

In 1922 the first recipients were the Margaret Scott Nursing home set up by Miss Scott who was interested in providing the poor, the Knowles School for Boys, the VON, the Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Aid Society. They shared $6,000.

The Winnipeg Foundation helps a good idea get started and are willing to front end projects. In the Great Depression they helped out the Community Chest predecessor to the United Way. In 1935 they gave a grant to help set up the School for Social Work at the U of M. In 1953 they helped fight polio. In 1955 they helped establish the Age and Opportunity centre.

In 1958 they paid for the first computer that was installed at the Winnipeg General Hospital. In 1964 they helped Meals on Wheels and the VON’s Home Help program. In 1974 as part of centennial year they gave $100,00 for the Museum’s Urban Gallery. In 1976 they helped set up the Manitoba League for the With Disabilities. And in 1977 their annual grants exceeded $1,000,000.

Since then they have helped with Lion’s Manor senior’s housing, Fort Whyte Nature centre, and the Manitoba Childrens’ Museum. In 1994 they gave the largest grant ever, $750,000 to the Health Sciences and Children’s Research Centre.

It has about $92 million invested and has given $62 million to date. It gave out $4.25 Million in 1995. Last year they took in another 2.8 million in new donations. The principal is never touched.

People die leaving part or all of their estate to the Winnipeg Foundation.
Some of it is planned in advance and about half, the time people’s donation to the Winnipeg Foundation is a complete surprise. At least half the donors have no families to leave their estates to.

There is no set budget and the Foundation is able to react to issues and projects as they arise: it can be health, education, and family depending on the time. At times it has been proactive inner city and arts issues. They helped create Winnipeg Harvest. They like to help with projects or capital works.

There are about 60 across Canada, 14 in Manitoba. Some are general, while others are private one donor funds. For example the Thomas Sill Foundation was established by a Winnipeg accountant who was a partner in the firm Sill Streuber Fiske, a firm which exists today. He gave the largest single donation to charity ever in Manitoba leaving $19.2 million when he died in 1986.

THOMAS RYAN The Shoe King of Winnipeg


The Shoe King of Winnipeg

by George Siamandas

Thomas Ryan was famous as Winnipeg’s Shoe King, and as mayor of Winnipeg in 1889 introduced strict Sunday closing by-laws. Thomas Ryan was born in 1849 at Perth Ontario. In 1866 at age 17, he fought against the Fenians. He arrived in Winnipeg in 1874 at age 25 during the beginning of Winnipeg’s boom. Winnipeg was still the frontier town with horses and ox carts traversing the mud trails and the life of booze, bars pool-rooms and brothels sprawled around his 492 Main St. store.

Ryan had already apprenticed in the boot and shoe trade and with $70 of stock he brought with him to Winnipeg, entered the shoe manufacturing business. He went into partnership with a man called McFarlane whom he bought out two years later for $450. He was an immediate success and became known throughout the west as “The Shoe King” and by 1884 was doing the best trade in the entire country.

Ryan was a religious man who spent his time and money to help establish a community. Ryan had nine children. He became active in the newly organized YMCA and served as president 1883-1885 and he was also an early supporter of Grace Methodist Church.

Thomas Ryan was active in community life serving as an alderman between 1884 and 1888 and became mayor of Winnipeg starting in 1888. Ryan is credited with introducing the Ryan Sunday by-laws limiting Sunday shopping. The topic was frequently debated in Winnipeg churches and the Lord’s Day Alliance was a local group in favour of controlling Sunday trade. Officially called the Lord’s Day Act it tried to discourage Sunday shopping. Yet in many areas of life it was all but impossible to have people taking Sundays off. Newspaper delivery people, bakers, grocers, railway workers were all needed to do what they do seven days a week.

Over the years the laws waxed and waned on what could be open on Sundays and who could work. Human nature has always preferred the convenience of Sunday shopping. In a major clamp-down that occurred in 1908 the police recorded over 300 infractions.


Ryan’s original building on Main St just south of the old city hall was a landmark but was demolished in the 1930s. It was the first stone building in Winnipeg and had the first electric passenger elevator installed a decade later. His second building located at 104 King St. was built in 1895. This four storey building is fashioned in the Richardsonian Romanesque style and was designed by architect H. S. Griffith.

While Griffith designed dozens of Winnipeg buildings this is the only one remaining in Winnipeg. And it is one of the few buildings remaining in Winnipeg associated with a previous mayor. It suffered a fire in the late 1980s and is now boarded up with the owner prevented from demolishing it because of its Grade 2 historic listing.

Ryan was one of those that believed in the future of Winnipeg and did more than his share as a pioneering businessman, civic administrator and devout churchman. His contributions were both commercial and spiritual. Thomas Ryan died in Winnipeg on Nov 24 1937.

Red River Settlement of 1811


“Was it Selkirk’s Folly?”

by George Siamandas

On April 8, 1820, the man for whom a School Division, a school, a ship, and a town were named, passed away. His name was Thomas Douglas but we know him better as Lord Selkirk. He was born a nobleman in Scotland in 1771, and he became at age 28, the fifth Earl of Selkirk in 1799. Selkirk had studied law and humanities at the University of Edinburgh, and was a fellow student of Sir Walter Scott.

Selkirk travelled in Europe and became concerned with the displacement of farmers in Scotland and Ireland who were being uprooted by sheepherders. Selkirk felt that emigration was the answer and in 1803 he arranged for a first group of settlers to colonize Prince Edward Island. Lord Selkirk became a celebrity after publishing a book about his travels in the United States and in Europe, and, in 1806, Selkirk took a seat in the House of Lords. He became a man known for his liberal views on issues like abolition of slavery and parliamentary reform.

Through marriage and his own investment, Selkirk became a shareholder in the Hudson Bay Co. In 1811 he hatched a plan to create a new settlement in Red River as a home for retiring fur traders and as a food production centre for the area that had to import much of the food from England. It was a controversial proposal and in England members of the North West Company tried to discourage prospective settlers by warning them of the cruel prairie winters, a the long dangerous journey to get there, and the threat of violence and even scalpings by the Indians. In 1812 the British crown granted Selkirk 185,000 square kilometres of land around what would later become the lower third of Manitoba. It included some of North Dakota and Minnessota. The land was five times the size of Scotland.

The Red River Settlement came to be known as Selkirk’s Folly. The settlers faced floods, locusts, crop failures and troubles with members of the rival North West Company. Just as had been predicted. Insensitive attitudes towards the Metis and Indians resulted in Miles MacDonnell banning the trade of pemmican disrupting the fur trade. The Metis retaliated with burning and pillaging and the Selkirk settlers fled to an area called Jack River at the north end of Lake Winnipeg. Selkirk was not able to visit Red River till 1816 and only for 13 weeks.

The Massacre at Seven Oaks made the Selkirk settlers very uneasy and fearful of the Northwest Company and their Metis friends and the settlers moved away to Jack River. Selkirk then took matters into his own hands and he tried and imprisoned staff of the Northwest Company, and he seized Fort William and “purchased” its assets. Years of legal problems caused Selkirk’s spirit and his health to deteriorate. He died in April 1820 just before his 49 birthday in the south of France.

In 1821 a peace was reached between the Northwest Company and the HBC. Visitors to Red River in the 1820s are reported to have found the community “drab” and the leading men “lacking in energy and foresight.” Natural disasters continued for the Selkirk settlers in the mid 1820s. A heavy snowfall and blizzard in 1825 killed 33 settlers. By spring of 1826, severe flooding began. Rain falling as the Red River rushed north swept away 47 dwellings and one house caught fire and was seen half burning as it floated down the river. Farm animals were swept away. Settlers were taken to high ground at Stony Mountain and Birds Hill. All of the area in what would later become Winnipeg was under water. After the water receded Fort Garry lay heavily damaged.

Later that summer of 1826, half the colony (250) left for Mississippi and other regions to the south. Many of these had been the Swiss de Meurons mercenaries Selkirk had brought to Red River in 1816. Governor George Simpson said that this was the “extinguisher to the hope of the colony ever retaining the name of Red River.” But things got better in Red River. By 1926, 100 years after Selkirk’s death, Selkirk’s folly had become the largest Prairie City in Canada with a population of 250,000.



Leading Winnipeg’s First Chamber of Commerce

by George Siamandas

The Board of Trade was organized in 1873 a time when Winnipeg had 3,000 people and only about 100 commercial buildings. Its first task was to see the town of Winnipeg incorporated as a city. And its second was to see the transportation system improved. This meant going from the Red River cart to railways and eventually the St Andrews Lock project. It took 7 years of lobbying to get the railway built (by 1882). The first head of the Board of Trade was AGB Bannatyne: both a businessman and a community builder.

Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne was born in the Orkney Islands Oct 31, 1829. As both his grandfather and great grandfather had served with the Hudson Bay Co, young Bannatyne also entered the service of the HBC at age 14. When his contract with the HBC ended he was aware of the commercial possibilities of becoming a free trader. In 1851 he became a dry goods merchant much to the chagrin of the HBC. The Guillaume Sayer trial of 1849 had begun the end of the HBC’s monopoly in both trading and in political influence. Bannatyne went into partnership with Alexander Begg in 1868 and they were soon the largest retail and wholesale traders in red River with 300 carts carrying 300,000 pounds each.

Bannatyne became a petty judge, postmaster and a councillor of Assiniboia. Later he became a member of Parliament winning Riel’s seat by acclamation, after Riel had been outlawed. Bannatyne tried to bridge the gap between the Metis and the whites during the rebellion. His wife Annie was of mixed blood herself and he had great sympathy for the Metis. It was Bannatyne who chaired one of the January 1870 meetings at which Donald Smith tired to present the federal govt’s view.

Bannatyne was one of those that Riel arrested when things were not initially going well but was well treated and was soon released becoming the Post master. Bannatyne wrote to Bishop Tache of his recognition that Riel was working for the good of the settlement. And that multiracial unity was the key to Red River’s future. This attitude was not popular amongst the whites. Bannatyne was seen as being too much with Riel. Nevertheless the first meeting of the new Legislature met in Bannatyne’s house which in 1870 was the finest building in Red River. And once again AGB was appointed postmaster, justice of the peace and a member to the Executive Council of the North West Territories.

Bannatyne was involved in the establishment of the Manitoba Insurance Company in 1871. After 1874 when he sold his dry goods business he became a land speculator just as the railway was about to arrive in Winnipeg in 1881. Considered an honest land agent and a thorough gentlemen, he became very wealthy. At this time he was spending winters in Hot Springs Arizona and left his business affairs in other hands. But he did not see the bust that lay ahead in 1882 Bannatyne lost his entire fortune. In a tone of humour, he remarked that the only thing he did not lose was his planned trip back to Europe.

AGB donated the land for the first Winnipeg general Hospital and was associated with the establishment of the University of Manitoba. AGB died on May 18 1889 and after a large civic funeral he was buried in Kildonan cemetery.