Aeshetic Mappings Of the West

John Palliser describes the land

The expedition reached Lower Fort Carry on 11 July, and departed two days later on horseback along the main ‘road’ south to the 49th parallel. This route offered the men their first view of the grasslands: “The country to the west,” wrote Palliser baldly, “is dead flat, and the eye rests in that direction on nothing but extensive swamps” (90). 

Yet, despite their initial feeling that the land was “dead,” they discovered that the region teemed with life: the following description of a day’s travel north of Pembina, if it indicates no modulation of the initial sublime response, does serve to show that when the surveyors looked at the terrain in proximity and with care, they rather ?noticed ?wondrous variety than ?felt ?sublime uniformity:

After again proceeding on the march we encountered irregular country with many hollows, and traversed by small creeks, thus rendering the road very bad. The heat throughout the day has been excessive, and, towards evening, a cloud of great density appeared in the northwest, and before we could erect our tents a heavy thundershower

Aftermath of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike The Robson Report By George Siamandas

The Robson report was established to look into the origins of the strike and to find solutions to the grievances of the strikers.

Highlights from the Robson report

The strikers had faced very difficult conditions in the years preceding 1919.  James Winning head of the Trades and Labour Council testified

The. Voice the newspaper of the strike preached elimination of profit system and espoused Bolshevik ideas add it was thought this worked up the unions.

As is true today, 100 years later, a major finding of the Robson report was that the strike was in part due to an increasing awareness of income inequality.

The report noted that there was a strongly held need to provide social and medical services as a matter of right not as a charity

The report acknowledged that workers had the right to organize.

 The commission recommended that a joint industrial council would help avoid future difficulties by addressing issues of concern to labour. 

Commissioner Robson




Sept. 12

Frost hard enough to kill potato vines. We have moved into our new house.

The crops this year are fine, wheat 40 bushels to the acre. They protect the wheat crop from blackbirds.   Farmers have to ride on horseback or go on foot or both,around and around and around their wheat fields from day-light till dark, yelling, pounding tin pans and shouting to keep off birds that come in hundreds from the sloughs near Portage and Lake Manitoba to feed on the wheat.

Our food here is mostly pemmican and potatoes,bread and black tea. Curry powder is used on the pemmican.

Bread is made by the natives (old settlers) from whole wheat flour ground by windmill, rolled out thin and baked on top of smooth box stoves. This bread is hard,and will keep for months.

Pemmican is made of dried Buffalo meat pound up fine, over which is poured hot grease,  supposed to be buffalo grease, but sometimes wolf – thoroughly mixed and put into bags made from buffalo hides,keep for years. No salt used. Sometimes wild berries are added; this commands a better price.  Note – We helped bind and shock wheat for McKay, of Poplar Point, and Bell, of High Bluff.

One day we were binding with gloves and over-coats on, snowflakes falling. The Hon. Mr. Howe visited Fort Garry and vicinity this fall. He did not come to Portage-la-Prairie. He said it was so windy it took two men to hold one man’s hat on.




This site features a collection of historical articles on Winnipeg and Manitoba History. Stories about people, places, events and institutions that have shaped Winnipeg’s and Manitoba’s history.

Many of these stories were presented on CBC Information Radio 1995-2000. Private individuals may use any of the written material on this site but must credit George Siamandas as the original author and source of the material. Others must obtain written permission.

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Please note that all photos marked with a ©George Siamandas copyright may not be used in whole or in part without the express permission of George Siamandas.



The Spanish Flu Panics Canada

By George Siamandas

Is today’s swine flu an echo of the savage Spanish flu that struck the world in 1918? That fall, as our troops returned from WW1, they brought home a silent killer that would afflict one in six Canadians, killing 30,000-50,000 during the winter of 1918. Such pandemics had visited before. In 1889-90 flu affected 40% of the globe.

The Spanish flu hit Canada Sept 9, killing 9 American soldiers in Quebec City. On the same day 400 students in a Quebec College fell ill. By Oct 9, Brantford Ontario reported 2,500,cases. The flu then raged across the prairies. As the troop trains headed west, during that dreadful October, soldiers brought home the disease to their towns, villages and farms. Tens of thousands fell ill. By early October as the death toll mounted communities started to ban public gatherings. Schools, colleges, and universities closed. Across the country most church bells did not ring on Sundays. But Father Trasiuk of Hamilton’s Stanislaus Church, had defied the ban, and was fined $25.

Hudson Bay stores remained open but for the protection of customers, staff wore masks. So did employees of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and telephone workers. In more than 100 prairie towns, passengers were not allowed to de-train unless they promised to stay put for the duration of the epidemic. Some towns like Lethbridge and Drumheller threw up a total quarantine.


The most vulnerable were healthy 20-30 year olds, the dangerous age according to the Regina Leader. Their symptoms? A cold that turned into flu. Temperatures of 105. Dreadful aches. And then pneumonia where victims suffocated in their own secretions. Some, bleeding from the nose. At the greatest risk were pregnant women who miscarried and almost always died.


The flu scorched its way through northern communities devastating aboriginal populations. Amongst aboriginals living in tepees and log cabins in the Peace River district, 85% died.

Some became desperate for medical attention. An aboriginal woman whose husband had died, paddled 33 miles down the Kapuskasing River, with a 6 mile portage to find a doctor for her two children. At the Indian Village of Sand Point, near Lake Nipigon, 58 out of 70 were sick. Luckily, only five died. But according to the custom of the day, Indian caskets were painted black, while white victims had their caskets covered in white cloth.

In Calgary they ran out of coffins. And in many rural areas, with no time to bury the dead, corpses were placed on the roofs of their owners’ log cabins, out of reach of animals till spring.


After years at the front, returning soldiers could not embrace their loved ones. Anxious wives would meet husbands at the station unable to touch them, or even get near. One, who did, died, shortly after their reunion. Another case poignantly brought home the flu’s cruel irony. Airman Alan McLeod of Stonewall, Manitoba became at 18, Canada’s youngest Victoria Cross winner. Days after returning to his home town, this young hero, who had shot down three enemy planes and survived a burning plane crash, did not survive the silent killer.


At the peak of the epidemic some doctors saw 80 patients a day and one averaged 58 house calls daily. Few charged for their services. Dr James Colliers practising in Vernon River PEI would take his daughters with him on housecalls so they could do the sweeping or wash dishes. Meanwhile scientists looked desperately for a cure. Winnipeggers Major Dr FT Cadham of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, and Doctor Gordon Bell, frantically worked for a vaccine, and found some success. Dr Cadham reported to a national medical conference in 1918 that of their test sample of 528 soldiers admitted to a Winnipeg hospital, no soldier who had taken two doses of the vaccine died. When word got out, Dr Cadham needed a police escort, so desperate were citizens to get the vaccine.


In 1918 almost everyone was nursed at home. People helped their neighbours in whatever way they could. Women volunteered as nurses. Service club members cooked meals in church kitchens and boy scouts delivered the meals. In Ontario the thousands of women volunteers became known as the Sisters of Service. Throughout the country Christmas dinner celebrations were held to thank the volunteers. But there was a sour side too. In Calgary some women posed as private nurses charging as much as $25 per day, while real nurses worked two shifts for only $2. Meanwhile, druggists in Vancouver boosted the price of camphor used as a disinfectant from 60 cents pound to $6.50. Masks sold for a nickel. Preventive measures included bags of camphor, or garlic. At Toronto’s Union Station, tin drinking cups were replaced by disposable paper ones. Cinnamon, tobacco, alcohol and goose grease and turpentine mixtures were touted as cures.


Scarcely a family escaped being touched by the flu. Almost everyone lost a mother, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, or a dad. Thousands were left orphans. Others survived to suffer a lifetime of heart and respiratory problems. In 1918, with no national preparedness in place, all the effort had been at the grass roots level. In 1919 the federal govt finally established a health dept. Hospitals were built. Public health improved.


And where did it start? I remains unclear. The Spanish flu is thought to have originated in burning pile of manure at Fort Riley Kansas in March 1918. American troops got sick, subsequently taking it to Europe. It got tagged the Spanish flu because Spain was first to get hit hard and without censorship, the first country to admit it had an epidemic. By the time it was over, influenza had killed 20-30M worldwide. But its cause remained a mystery. In 1933 a British doctor successfully isolated the disease to an airborne virus. Later it was identified as the A type strain. Today the story of the world’s greatest killer is all but forgotten. There is little mention in history books. It’s as if it never happened. But could it happen again? And if it does, are we ready for it? Do we really have an effective vaccine today? And can we develop it quickly enough when needed?



For a Short Time Only

by George Siamandas

After a long campaign for temperance, Manitoba voters took a hard line against the social costs of liquor and voted to introduce prohibition 83 years ago on March 13, 1916. In the days of the Hudson Bay Co, liquor had been imported from Britain for residents of the Hudson Bay posts. The first provincial Liquor Commission was established in 1878 and it allowed one bar for every 300 people. With a population of 7,000, 23 licenses were allowed.

In 1916 there were 196 hotels in the province, with 76 of them in Winnipeg. There were 40 liquor wholesale liquor stores and 7 breweries. Put out of work were 1,975 bartenders. Most were expected to move to wet areas in the US or in Canada. For enforcement officials the job became one of dealing with people who went underground with bootlegging. Prohibition lasted for 7 years till Manitobans had second thoughts. In 1923 by a vote of 107,609 to 67,092 Manitobans reversed themselves and decided to allow liquor sales once again. This time a provincially run corporation the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission would regulate the sale of liquor to Manitobans.

The act was fairly restrictive. The price had to be the same everywhere. Stores were located in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage La Prairie, The Pas and Dauphin. Advertising was very closely regulated and had to be approved by the Commission. Billboard ads were banned. There were quotas on sales. One could not buy more than 24 quarts a week or 72 quarts of beer per month. Liquor had to be consumed at home only. There was to be no barter of liquor and no transportation of liquor in Manitoba. Liability for a drunken person’s death was established by the act to whomever had supplied it to the individual. Ten ratepayers could stop the establishment of a licensed premise or a beer vendor. And in fact the Mennonite Bible belt was free of liquor for many years. Today Steinbach remains as dry as it ever was. People, could be banned from buying liquor on the authority of the police magistrate or two justices of the peace. They were termed interdicted persons.

As with lotteries today, the question of govt reliance on liquor sales and taxes for revenue has always been a dilemma. Government has walked the tightrope of valuing the revenue from liquor while at the same time trying to balance the social cost of drinking in society.

When the Liquor act was passed in 1924 the average Manitobans spent $20 a year on liquor. By 1930 it was $31 per year. During the depression it fell to $14 rising sharply to $62 in 1946 after the troops had returned home. In 1924 liquor revenues were $1.4 annually, declining to less than a million in 1934. But by 1947 revenues were $6 million comprising 27% of govt revenues that year.

In 1954 a commission to study the Liquor Control Act was lead by ex Premier John Bracken. It conducted an exhaustive 750 page study that has the depth of social research you would expect if done today. In 1954 Manitobans had spent $43 million on liquor. At this time a good bottle of whisky cost $4-$5 and a 24 of beer were $3.27.

The research showed alcohol reduced inhibitions helped contribute to poverty and dependency. It struck a tone for scientific and objective reasons for temperance and not moralistic reasons. It surveyed liquor practises throughout the world and reported a s follows. China has a serious problem with opium. Columbia was suffering serious problems with beer made from corn. Mexico had the same problem with home brewed beer. Iceland had lived with prohibition for 40 years and seemed happy with this.

Russia was endemic with alcoholism. There was a liquor store for every 86 inhabitants: 8 times the norm. It was easier to buy liquor in Russia than to find a newspaper. Germany had once had a problem, but by this time it had gotten it under control. Holland was recognised as having the best policies for treatment of alcoholism, funded by the state but provided privately.

A new liquor act was passed in 1956, which is still in effect. It brought the consumption of liquor into the 20th century allowing a liquor vending system to be established. No liquor advertising was instituted. And it voted not to allow the sale of beer in grocery stores.




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.



Excerpted By George Siamandas

Flin Flon is the gateway to a nature-lover’s paradise. Located at the meeting point of three Canadian geological regions, the EDGE gives you access to an astounding variety of landscapes. The untouched, rock surfaces of the Canadian Shield to the north, polished smooth by the last glaciations, provide a dizzying array of lakes, swamps and muskegs. To the south, one can see the Precambrian-Paleozoic contact, an escarpment rising up to thirty metres above the southern country that boasts the even shored lakes of the Manitoba Lowlands. And, to the west, the Great Plains of Saskatchewan offer a breath-taking agrarian vastness that must experienced to be believed.

Besides taking in the beautiful sights, activities available in the include golf, swimming, fishing in both summer and winter, camping, and even scuba-diving.

The history of Flin Flon and the surrounding region is steeped in romantic adventure, as the entire area was settled by men and women in search of their fortunes in gold. In 1910, a group of prospectors found gold in quartz veins on the West Side of Amisk Lake. Members of this group were Jack and Dan Mosher, Thomas Creighton, and Leon and Isidor Dion – names that appear repeatedly in the history of the region. This deposit led to the development of the Prince Albert Mine that operated in 1937 and again from 1940 to 1942.

By 1913, people were coming from all over Canada to make their fortunes. This was the first major discovery of gold west of the Ontario border since the Klondike gold rush. More than a thousand men, and even two women, came to stake claims. The ‘town’, which sprang up, was called Beaver City, and consisted of a row of tents and log cabins, as well as two cookhouses capable of feeding two hundred men at a time. Commercial fishing was also started on Amisk Lake in 1913. Freight was hauled by York Boat in the summer and by sleigh in the winter.

World War 1 and a subsequent outbreak of Spanish influenza contributed to the demise of Beaver City. When war broke out in 1914, one man was left as caretaker of Beaver City. After three years of looking after a deserted town, Angus McDonald was given the town as payment. Roderick McDermott is the last known surviving resident of the Beaver City settlement. Mr. and Mrs. McDermott still reside in Denare Beach.

Gold prospecting continued through 1914 and 1915. In 1915, Creighton, the Moshers and the Dions discovered the massive Flin Flon copper-zinc orebody and prospecting shifted from gold to base metals. The complex mineralogy of the deposit inhibited its development until the Mandy Mine was established along Flin Flon Lake in 1915. Eventually, the Mandy Mine became profitable and busy enough that no one returned to the gold claims. The community of Flin Flon came into existence as Beaver City disappeared.

Fort Garry’s Park-Like Wildewood Subdivision

Fort Garry’s Wildewood Subdivision

by George Siamandas

The Fort Garry area which was incorporated as a municipality on April 16, 1912 and the Wildewood area is one of its distinctive residential areas. Fort Garry was initially part of St. Vital and was settled by Metis and Quebecois farmers. These early settlers were Metis boatmen who build their homes close to the river’s edge as it was their best choice in transportation. One of the most famous landowners in the area that later became Wildewood was Ambroise Lepine. But after the Riel incident, many French people left the area and were replaced by Anglophones. Over the years it has completely lost its French origins. Only in the south end at St. Norbert will you see what the early Fort Garry was like.


But by 1900 virtually all traces of the Metis heritage of the area was gone. One developer after another tried to develop the land starting with Colonel RM Thompson who in 1908 first introduced the name Wildewood. Thompson’s plan was for a very exclusive area just like was developing then on Wellington Cres. They built roads and Col Thompson had a huge Victorian mansion built at the point of the Red River. Col Thompson went to fight in WW1 and never returned. His house was not fully completed and was not occupied for 17 years and was to be demolished in 1933 after suffering years of vandalism. Finally in 1934, it was bought by Ravenscourt School and renovated to become a boy’s school. But the land continued to bounce back and forth between the City of Winnipeg and the Fort Garry municipality. At one time during the 1930s the city was contemplating making it into a park just like Assiniboine Park. But lack of money saw the city give it back to Fort Garry.


Enter Hubert Bird. Bird was the owner of Bird construction. Bird had built aerodromes during WW1 and after the war he started the Bird construction company and built Union Station in Regina, and the Swifts plant in Winnipeg during the 1930s. During WW2 he built half the airfields and barracks in western Canada. During WW2 while flying over Radburn New Jersey, Bird saw an example of a new garden suburb with cul de sacs all built around a central shared park. Bird had seen his model for Wildewood and purchased the land comprising Wildewood.

WW2 had given Bird experience in mass production techniques and he had seen the potential of applying these techniques to reduce housing costs in Wildewood. It had never been done before with housing.

The returning WW2 vets needed affordable housing and Bird gave them 5 house plans to choose from. Bird hired the firm GBR (Still active and building the Jewish Community campus) to design the project. They did market research to find preferences for house features like the preferred number of bedrooms. Almost half wanted storey and a half and most wanted forced air heating. Great West Life agreed to finance the project and scale model for the area was placed at Eatons, the hub of the city at the time.


Then construction began using assembly line techniques after materials had been procured en masse and brought to the site. Lumber had even been salvaged from grain bins. Panel forms were used for pouring basements, and the exterior walls were prefabed. Specialty crews worked on flooring, shingling, and insulation. A US newspaper featured a bungalow and a storey and a half built in just 58 minutes. The realty firm SS Stevensen handled the sales, and it took only 2 years to sell out. Mature trees were spared preserving the area’s main amenity: its heavily wooded quality. The neighbourhood had to do their own snow removal buy hiring a man and buying a horse drawn plough. Cost per resident was $.50 annually. They also bought their own mosquito fogger.

The area had one of the highest birth rates in the country and some dubbed it Childwood and Fertile Valley. Doug Henning the magician is one.



Just Elected Mayor Juba Does the Right Thing

by George Siamandas

In 1957, a giant triple-trunked elm stood in the centre of Wolseley Avenue and Greenwood St in Winnipeg. It had been planted by a woman resident a hundred years earlier, and as early as the turn of the century, it was considered a traffic hazard. The area’s residents had fought many battles to preserve it even though traffic planners had long wanted to cut it down. In the summer of 1957 the traffic department decided that the Wolseley Elm finally had to go. It was a traffic hazard. The residents thought that on the contrary it was a safety feature as it required traffic to slow down to go around it.


The issue immediately became contentious. The Free Press wrote in an editorial titled “Lay That Buzz Saw Down,” that the “aldermen are asking for trouble, when they chop down city trees, and they invite a torrent of criticism when they eye the one that grows on Wolseley. They really should know better. They say it is a nuisance. The truth is the tree bothers some strange civic clique which abhors individuality and has a passion for unrelenting conformity.” Alderman Crawford retorted “Lets grow a big fat tree right in the middle of Portage and Main.” In response Wolseley residents Mrs Wolfram and Mrs McCord began a fight to save the tree.

Mayor Juba who had just been elected mayor responded to the people’s wishes. On September 19, 1957 the Free Press front page headline read “Wild Women Win-Juba Breaks Law to Save Tree” At nine that morning a convoy of civic vehicles arrived to cut it down. A group of women gathered around the tree with their arms folded in defiance. They are going to have to chop us down too if they want to chop our tree said the women. As the city employee approached the tree with his buzz saw, an old grandmother with an axe shouted out “We don’t think you should do this.” A crowd of three hundred had gathered to support the 12 women that were now guarding the tree. Juba then emerged from the crowd and was convinced by the women to find a way out of it. On the premise of public safety, Juba put an end to that day. Mrs Borrowman kissed the mayor on the cheek and invited him to her place for tea.

The issue immediately captured national TV coverage and McLeans magazine did a big feature on the Wolseley Elm and Mayor Juba. But a few days later vandals poured gasoline on the tree and set it ablaze. Grafts were performed by a University tree expert and the tree revived the following spring. But in June 1958 three university students attacked the tree with saws and a crowbar. They were caught and fined $150 each.

Finally on Halloween October 31, 1958 the Wolseley Elm has seen its last season. At three in the morning residents awakened to two loud explosions. It was like two canon blast said a resident. The street lights were blown out and the tree had been blown up. Police suspected dynamite, but despite an enquiry, the culprits were never found. It was thought to be a KKK like warning, because two months earlier the residents had found a rooster on the tree. A psychiatrist said that people who blow up trees a are not mad at trees but at society. By June of 1960 no signs of life were evident. A kind of death certificate was issued and even Mrs Borrowman agreed that the tree should now come down. She asked for a piece of the tree so that she could have an electric lamp made.

Mayor Juba had emerged a hero in the way he had handled his first controversial issue. He had gone with his instincts. It was the first of many public victories.