Month: February 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.