Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Christmas hero of Westminster Avenue's Evelyn Court

Evelyn Court 1
October 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

Evelyn Court is a three storey walk-up apartment block at 951 Westminster Avenue at Aubrey Street. Constructed in 1914, the first "for rent" ads appeared that November in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Douglass Hanson, December 20, 1948, Winnipeg Tribune

On Saturday, December 18, 1948, ten year-old Douglass Hanson was staying over with his aunt, home economics teacher Miss Vera Douglass, in suite 16. Douglass was a Winnipeg Tribune carrier and grade six student at Greenway School who normally lived at 654 Sherburn Street.

Douglass was prowling the building’s hallways around 10:30 p.m. when he smelled, then saw, smoke coming from under the door of a neighbouring suite. He ran back to inform his aunt and together they knocked on all 17 suites to make sure that everyone got out safely. It was a good thing they did, as minutes later the building's roof was ablaze.

Top: Tenant leaves building with belongings,
December 20, 1948, Winnipeg Free Press
Below: December 20, 1948, Winnipeg Tribune

By early next morning, the fire had destroyed the roof and upper floor suites of the block, while smoke and water caused extensive damage throughout the rest of the building. The damage estimate was $75,000.

According to E. Houston, assistant fire marshal, the cause of the blaze was the hot ventilation pipe that ran from the main chimney to the roof of the building. The brickwork around the recently installed pipe meant to shield the roof's wood deck from the hot steel had crumbled due to a poor mortar mixture. It was just a matter of time before the material ignited.

Jack Boyd, Winnipeg Tribune, December 21, 1948

As it was the week before Christmas, tenants were allowed back in a couple of days later to retrieve whatever valuables they could. When they arrived, though, they were in for a second shock. Looters had picked through their suites, stealing items such as jewellery and silverware. One complained that thieves even bored a hole through the top of a bureau to get into a locked drawer.

One of those especially affected was Jack Boyd who lived at Evelyn Court with his wife and child. Boyd was blind and worked at the CNIB. In the scramble to get out of the building, he left behind his 21 jewel Braille watch, which was subsequently pilfered. The day after reports of the theft appeared in the newspapers, he found the watch in an envelope stuffed in the mailbox of the home where his family was staying.  

It was a disturbing déjà vu for another tenant. Mr.  R. G. Miles’ suite was on the destroyed top floor. He had recently moved to Evelyn Court after he was dislocated from the Rosemount Apartments on River Avenue when it suffered a fire. He told the Tribune that for his next home “I am going to build a concrete dugout, cook by steam and live under a shower.

Evelyn Court 2

Nathan Popeski, a prominent local contractor, was the owner of the building. He said that he would waste no time getting the site cleaned up and the rebuilding process started. 

It's unclear when the building reopened. There were no "for rent" ads in either the Free Press or Tribune in 1949.The next mention of the block comes in a March 1951 interview with an existing tenant on a story unrelated to the fire.

Evelyn Court 3

Whatever happened to Vera and Douglass who undoubtedly saved lives that night ?

Vera continued as a home economics teacher at Daniel McIntyre, Issac Brock and Hugh John McDonald schools until her retirement in 1962. She died at Misericordia Hospital in 1974.

Douglass Arthur Hanson likely attended the U of W Collegiate, graduating in 1959, then went on to study accounting. While articling at Price Waterhouse, he married Nadine Elise Yaremko in Winnipeg on September 8, 1962 and the couple moved to an apartment on Mayfair Avenue. In 1964 Douglass received his certification and an award for being an outstanding student by the Chartered Accountants Students' Society of Manitoba.

After that point he disappears from newspaper mention, presumably moving on to another city. He is mentioned in Vera's 1974 obituary as surviving her.

Charles Hepburn, July 6, 1943, Winnipeg Tribune

While researching this blog post, I found that Douglass and Vera were not the only heroes of Evelyn Court. 

Neil and Ella Hepburn and their three small children arrived from Montreal in 1931 and took up residence in suite 2. Neil was a long time employee, a plater and colourer, at Winnipeg Brass and Fixtures at 600 Clifton Street at Portage.

Their son Charles served in World War II with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. One day in July 1942 he was walking along the Thames near Staines, Middlesex and came across a teenaged boy whose canoe had just capsized. Charles threw off his coat and shoes and swam 30 meters in a strong current to rescue him. It turned out that the boy could not swim and would surely have died. The Royal Humane Society presented him with a life saving certificate for his actions.

Mr and Mrs. Hepburn lost everything in the fire. After living for a year on Sherbrook Street, they returned to live at Evelyn Court for a few years until Neil retired.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Radio Edition for December 14, 2014


This Sunday night at 7 pm on 101.5 UMFM tune in to West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition, the show about Manitoba history.

Next week is the 75th anniversary of Canada signing on to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which trained tens of thousands of pilots and air crew for World War II. 

My first guest is Archie Londry, who trained pilots at Brandon. He will give us a sense of what Brandon's CATP site was like during the war and today, as it is now a museum and National Historic Site. We will also  talk about fundraising efforts for their newly unveiled RCAF WWII Memorial Wall. (Take a video tour of the museum here !)

My second guest is Susan Algie of the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation. They have a new space that is open to the public to do research and visit their merchandise shop. I'll find out what resources you will find in their library and archives.

I will also take a quick look at a few of the events that will be commemorated next week in Manitoba history, including the death of Daniel McIntyre, the heroic act of Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the opening of the Walker Theatre !

Music by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, plus hear the RCAF March Past and some of Pachelbel's greatest hit !

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Winnipeg's downtown Christmas lights of 1929 !

Christmas Lights
Christmas Decorations Winnipeg 1929
Christmas lights today, (source: mrchristian) and 1929, (source: winterbos)

Winnipeg's downtown Christmas lights have already been turned on for 2014. They are an on-again, off-again tradition that is celebrating its 85th anniversary !

Until 1929, downtown Christmas decorations were very much a building-to-building affair. Individual owners and businesses chose whether or not to decorate their display windows or exteriors. The city's efforts consisted of decorations at city hall and sometimes a tree at Portage and Main.

In October 1929 the Beautify Winnipeg committee of the Board of Trade approached downtown business owners to see if there was interest in a much bigger plan to “inculcate a spirit of cheer and good-will throughout the city.”

Wilbur and Garnet Law

It was the job of Wilbur D. Law, secretary of the Grain Insurance and Guarantee Company and chair of the Board of Trade's Beautify Winnipeg committee, to sell the new plan. Law came to Winnipeg from Minneapolis in his early 20s and spent decades in the grain and insurance industries.

It's likely that his wife, Garnet (Porter) Law, was a good source of advice when it came to putting on a great display. Mrs. Law was a well known socialite, regularly hosting parties and teas at their Waverley Street home. She also lent her talents to larger, charity fundraising events at hotels and the Manitoba Club.

 Top: December 9, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: October 28, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

The committee's plan was to have Christmas trees attached to lamp posts with cedar boughs strung between them. Cords with electric lights of white, yellow, green and red would run throughout the greenery.

The initial footprint for these decorations was ambitious. They were to run from train station to train station on Main Street and up Portage Avenue to Sherbrook Street. That was soon scaled back, though, to run along Main Street from City Hall to Graham Avenue and along Portage Avenue from Main Street to Memorial Boulevard.

Letters were sent to property owners on October 28th, the day before the stock market crash. When the results came back, 85 per-cent agreed to chip in to the plan. It wasn't the unanimous approval they wanted, but chose to forge ahead.

Top: Decorations in place (source)
Bottom: November 5, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune

Law's next stop was city hall to get formal approval from council, which was granted. 

The Board of Trade had two partners in the program. One was City Hydro, which gave permission to use their lamp posts and outlets, plus provided a discount on the power that would be used. The Manitoba Electrical Association agreed to cover the cost of the strings of lights, awarding a public tender to Schumacher-MacKenzie Company of Winnipeg.

Looking at photos of the 1929 decorations, it appears that the cedar boughs were not part of the final product, but the trees and lighting did.

Top: City Hall, Christmas 1929 (source)
Bottom: December 21, 1929, Winnipeg Free Press

The Board of Trade and Manitoba Electrical Association also rolled out a secondary campaign with prizes for the best decorated homes and store fronts around the city. The business winner was Kummen-Shipman Electrical Co. on Fort Street, (above).

The program appears to have been a success. No complaints or mishaps were noted in either newspaper.

December 4, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

The downtown decorations would not return in 1930. Due to drought conditions brought about by the lack of summer rain, there was a power shortage that winter. City Hydro actually announced restrictions on the use of Christmas lighting. They were only allowed from December 24th to January 2nd, from dusk to midnight. 

The Board of Trade and Manitoba Electrical Association did, however, repeat its campaign of awarding prizes to the best decorated store windows and homes.

The downtown street decorations were back in 1931. As as the Depression wore on, though, business owners had less money to spend on such things. In 1933 the Board of Trade announced that it wasn't going to pursue the program due to the lack of support expressed by its members.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Radio Edition for December 5, 2014

Coming up tonight on West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition at 7 pm on 101.5 UMFM, our guest will be Gordon Goldsborough of the Manitoba Historical Society. We'll talk about latest edition of Manitoba History magazine, which just hit newsstands. Feature stories include Filipinos in Manitoba and Manitoba's war memorials. Also, more about the 50th Annual Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner and the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Historical Preservation and Promotion.

Also, a look at next week in Manitoba history which includes anniversaries of Winnie the Pooh, the unveiling of the giant Queen's portrait at the Winnipeg Arena, the death of artist George Barone and the funeral of Louis Riel.

Music by Oh My Darling, the Sherman Brothers and Levy Abad.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Process to replace the Arlington Bridge has begun

The wonderful old Arlington Bridge

Back in February 2013 the city received a report, (that doesn't appear to be on the CCDMIS anywhere), which led them to downgrade the state of the 102 year-old Arlington Bridge's condition to poor and to begin the planning process to decommission it in 2020. That leaves them with just six years to come up an alternative and the CPR Yards Crossing Study is meant to find it.

On Thursday, December 4th, 2014 nearly 40 members of the public got together for the first public consultation meeting for that study. It consisted of a bus tour of three of the four crossings, (McPhillips Underpass, Arlington Street Bridge and Slaw Rebchuk Bridge, but not the Main Street Underpass), then it was back to Rossbrook House for a brief presentation and to do some community consultation activities.

The Arlington Street Overpass

At the start of the evening, it was said that everything was on the table but, that wasn't really the case.

The question of moving the CPR yards was verboten. That is being carried on by another group and was not to be considered as an alternative. (I couldn't help thinking, though, that if the city was to commit to spending, say, $50m on a new bridge plus 40 years of related maintenance costs, what would happen if they dropped a bag filled with $50 million on the CPR's doorstep - would it be an incentive to move if they added that to what other levels of government might kick in ?)

Another item not to be considered was retaining all or part of the existing bridge. Though it is the loads and vibrations of vehicle traffic that kills a bridge, removing vehicle traffic and rehabbing it for, say, a pedestrian / cycling / lookout area is not in the cards. The bridge IS coming down in 2020. It was mentioned, though, that the supports of the bridge were in good condition and could be used to support a new bridge deck.

The options on the table were to replace the old bridge with a new one, not replace it and upgrade an existing crossing(s) or to provide just a pedestrian link.

There were some interesting stats about traffic. Above is data I jotted down from the PowerPoint presentation that was given. 

In terms of traffic flow, something of interest to folks like me who live around Arlington Street south of Notre Dame, is where traffic ends up. On the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge, for instance, over 40% of drivers heading southbound turn at Logan and another large batch do the same at William. For those traveling south on the Arlington Bridge, only 1% turn off. That tells me that whatever happens with the Arlington crossing has a big impact many blocks away, right to Portage Avenue.

Interestingly, the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge is the only unrestricted crossing between the North End and the rest of the city. The McPhillips Underpass, which gets the most traffic when the Arlington Bridge is closed, was constructed in the 1960s and is nearly two metres short of what would today be considered an acceptable clearance height for city traffic. Rebuilding that underpass could be an option, but at that site there is major underground infrastructure, including a pipe from the aqueduct, that would have to be relocated at great expense.

The main focus for this first consultation was to get to know the communities around the bridge. What did we use the bridge for ? What amenities did we cross the bridge to get to ? What alternatives would there be if there was either no bridge or an expanded bridge ?

The information will be used to build the second consultation session in early 2014 which will focus on bigger picture ideas about what to do about a new span.

CPR Yards Crossing Study (online survey coming soon!)
A history of the Arlington Bridge (Five parts !)
Options being considered for Arlington Bridge Free Press (Jul 2014)
Rocky Road for Bridge's Future Wpg Free Press (Feb 2013)
Arlington Street Bridge no stranger to controversy Metro (Mar 2013)

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The 2015 Local History Buff's Holiday Gift Guide

Here is my fifth annual gift guide for the local history buff in your life !


A mainstay of any history buff's gift list is, of course, books ! I've created an Amazon store called the Manitoba History Bookstore and assembled about 100 titles, new and old. There's also a section for out of print books that you might be able to find at used bookstores, plus a children's category !

Below are some new titles of note, some available through my Amazon store above, others through McNally Robinson.

The Patriotic Consensus  Unity, Morale, and the Second World War in Winnipeg by Dr.  Jody Perrun takes a look at what it was like in Winnipeg while World War II raged overseas. Hear my interview with the author. (McNally, Amazon)

The Roblin goes behind the scenes of Adelaide Street's Roblin Hotel, Canada's last men's only hotel and beer parlour. Check out my my interview with the author. (McNally)

From the publishers of Canada's History magazine is Canada's Great War Album to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Canada's entry into the Great War. (Direct, Amazon)

Larissa Peck's Decaf Coffee Dates - Stories and Insights from Winnipeg Seniors contains ten stories with local seniors about their lives, past, present and future. Hear my interview with her here. (McNally)

The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation has added a new printed tour to their collection: University of Winnipeg Modern. That's now four pocket-sized paperbacks of their most popular walking tours, the others are Broadway Modern, Brutalist Architecture in Winnipeg and University of Manitoba Modern. Also, explore their collection of buttons and fridge magnets of iconic Winnipeg Buildings. You can buy at their website or their new office(Direct)

This is from 2013 but a book every Winnipegger should own. Imagining Winnipeg a collection of some of L. B. Foote's most interesting photographs of early Winnipeg, many never before published. (McNally, Amazon)

Manufacturing Mennonites: Work and Religion in Post-War Manitoba looks at the history of three well known Manitoba Mennonite Businesses, printing company Friesens Corporation, the window manufacturer Loewen, and the furniture manufacturer Palliser. See the author introduce her book here. (McNally, Amazon)

Also from 2013, Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg. Journalist Barley Kives and photographer Bryan Scott team up to check out the highs and lows of everyday Winnipeg. To hear my interview with the author. (McNally, Amazon)

Also from 2013 is 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated Guide to Brewing in Manitoba. Meticulously researched and full of many never before seen images of breweries and beer memorabilia from locations across Manitoba. (McNally, Amazon)

Still around is Russ Gourluck's 2012 offering: Silver Screens on the Prairies. Be sure to check out his previous works and pick them up before they're out of print. The Mosaic Village: An Illustrated History of Winnipeg’s North End and his books on the Winnipeg Tribune, Eaton's and Portage Avenue. (McNally, Amazon)


Manitoba History is the quarterly journal of the Manitoba Historical Society. Single copies can be purchased at McNally Robinson, (check out a preview of the current edition), or get it free with a membership in the MHS. Contact them about back copy sales.

No more snickering because The Beaver is now called Canada's History Magazine. They also publish Kayak: Canadian History for Kids. Both are produced right here in Winnipeg !


It's Winnipeg. It's winter. It's gonna get cold. Who wouldn't want an HBC blanket ? If that's a little pricey for you, HBC has a range of products from t-shirts to Swiss Army knives and even dog sweaters.

Heritage Winnipeg still has Winnipeg Streetcar 356 t-shirts, but only XL and XXL. Proceeds go towards the Streetcar 356 Restoration Project.

How about a founding father ? Check out the St. Boniface Museum Gift Shop which has a wide range of items, including Metis flags, voyageur sashes and Keepin' It Riel tees.

Since we're on the topic of Metis historical figures, don't forget Cuthbert Grant ! Grant tee shirts are available for $20  from Cathy.

The Winnipeg Model Railroad Club turns 60 in 2015 and is taking orders for their commemorative tees.


The Winnipeg Architecture Foundation's  offers a selection of great stocking stuffers. Get pins, fridge magnets, mugs and tea towels of iconic Winnipeg buildings ! Shop online or visit them at 266 McDermot, (Mon - Fri from noon to 4:30.)

CP Rail Yards Winnipeg circa 1990
Heritage Winnipeg has a number of items for sale. Above is one of a collection of prints by Robert J. Sweeney or, how about a copy of Fonseca's 1884 city map suitable for framing ? Check out more items here.

Historica Canada, the folks who bring you the Heritage Minutes, have a limited edition poster collection featuring famous people and events from Canada's past. That includes one of local Harry Colebourn, the veterinarian responsible for saving Winnie the Bear. (Also, some War of 1812 t-shirts that feature Laura Secord, Tecumseh and others.)

More art? How about this wonderful print ! Winnipeg 1919 by Raymond Biesinger measures 24.24" x 24.25" and is available framed or unframed at Tiny Feast gift store in the Exchange.

Elaina El's cityscapes include historic buildings such as the Telegram Building and West End Cultural Centre.

At the City Clerk's Department, main floor of the council building at city hall, there is a great collection of Winnipeg stuff, some featuring the dancing logo and some featuring the city crest. Mugs, water bottles, pens key chains, watches, fleeces etc. Definitely worth checking out and the prices are very reasonable, (travel mugs $8, mugs $5, caps $8.50). Inquiries: cityclerks@winnipeg.ca or visit them between 8:30 am - 4:30 pm Monday to Friday.

The Winnipeg Transit / Manitoba Transit Heritage Association 2015 calendar is now out. It contains great photos of Winnipeg's transit history, from streetcars and trolleys to early diesel buses. Just $5, get it at the Transit Customer Service Centre (Portage & Main), Transit Treasury Office at 65 Garry and Transit Customer Service Office at 414 Osborne Street.

Still not sure what to get ? How about adopting an artefact from the Manitoba Museum ? It costs between $35 and $500, depending on the object, and you can switch it up year after year !

Why not some ca. 1906 pressed tin ceiling tiles rescued from an old fire hall ? The Winnipeg Firefighters Museum is selling them. Hundreds are on offer in a number of different designs.


Many museums have their own shops where you're sure to find something unique. Here are links to some of them: St. Boniface Museum - Manitoba Museum.


I fall else fails, remember that museums and heritage groups run on shoestring budgets and are always seeking new members and donations. Why not buy someone a membership or make a donation on their behalf ?

You can find a complete list of museums here. Some deserving groups: