Month: January 2007

Founding Winnipeg’s Grain Exchange

Founding Winnipeg’s Grain Exchange

By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of Manitoba’s Government House

The Story of Manitoba’s Government House

Winnipeg’s Oldest Mansion

by George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Col Bedson and Stony Mountain Golf Course

Col Bedson and Stony Mountain Golf Course

How Convicts Built a Course for Their Warden

By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The hospital that Winnipeg citizens built

by George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bloodless Battle of Fort Whyte

The Bloodless Battle of Fort Whyte

Without Peer Among Railway Men

By George Siamandas
© George Siamandas

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

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

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

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



By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLane’s Flour Mill

McLane’s Flour Mill

“Flour Milling Makes Winnipeg”

by George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language and Manitoba’s Early Public Schools

Language and Manitoba’s

Early Public Schools

By George Siamandas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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