Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Brandon's Fire: a third historic building destroyed

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

Top: As Cockshutt Farm Equipment,, ca. 1955 (McKee Archives)
Bottom: As Collyer's Sales and Service, ca. 2016 (Google Street View)

The Cockshutt Plow Company, later the Cockshutt Farm Equipment Company, was founded in Brantford, Ontario in 1882. It manufactured farm implements such as thrashers, spreaders and plows.

The company had a small sales office and parts depot in Brandon since at least 1905. Five years later, Cockshutt went on a major corporate expansion in the west which meant a much larger facility for the city. 

Top: ca. 1911, McKee Archives
Bottom: September 8, 1910, Brandon Sun

The Brandon Sun of September 8, 1910 noted: “City Engineer Speakman has granted a building permit to the Cockshutt Plow Co for the erection of their new warehouse on Pacific Avenue and Sixth Street.”

The three-storey building cost about $20,000 to construct. It contained a showroom, repair department, sales offices and an extensive parts depot.

December 8, 1948, Brandon Sun

World War II had a major impact on Cockshutt's business. Its factories in Ontario were retooled as aircraft and munitions factories which put a halt to new equipment and parts.

After 1944, they followed how car manufacturers sold and serviced their equipment by finding local dealerships to lease a franchise. In Brandon, that dealer was Brandon Farm Equipment Co. which took over the building in 1945.

On May 25, 1946, there was a fire in a wooden warehouse situated behind the Massey-Harris Building across the street. Burning embers drifted across the street to the Cockshutt property. Both buildings burned to the ground.

Brandon Farm Equipment relocated temporarily to the Brown Block at Princess and 12th Street.

What made the fire particularly awkward was that five days later, George Cockshutt, company president, was arriving in town as part of a western tour to see the company's facilities and to speak to the local Board of Trade.

Cockshutt Farm Equipment, ca. 1955, McKee Archives

Cockshutt Plow, which still owned the building, rebuilt sometime in late 1946 and Brandon Farm Equipment returned to the site. The new building was just a single story but wider than the original structure.

In the early 1950s a couple of dealerships came and went at this address and by 1955 it was simply known as Cockshutt Farm Equipment.  In 1958, Adrian Roy's Roy's Sales and Service was the new dealer.

In 1962, Cockshutt was acquired by the White Motor Company of Cleveland. There was already a dealer for White's line of tractors in town, Lawson's on 9th Avenue. Within a year or two the Roy's / Cockshutt dealership disappeared in favour of Lawson's.

July 11, 1974, Brandon Sun

The building appears to have sat empty for a number of years until divided into three addresses, 545, 601 and 603 Pacific.

The eastern portion of the building, 545 and 601, became a Standard Auto Glass shop in 1973. Through the 1980s and early 1990s it was a Westroc Battery centre. In the 1990s and early 2000s it was home to moccasin maker Fleece Line, before they relocated to Winnipeg.

In 2001, Roddy Batson and Noel Harding opened the Brandon Boxing and Fitness Club on the second floor of the Massey-Harris Building across the street. In 2006, The Massey Manor sent the club packing and they leased the former Fleece Line space.

The club was destroyed in the fire.

June 11, 1976, Brandon Sun

The western portion of the building, 603, was Body Shop Supply Ltd. in the late 1970s, then Rob's Auto Parts store fro 1980 to 1986.

Collyers Sales and Service, the tenant at the time of the fire, traces its roots back to 1967 when Ward Collyer opened Collyer's West End Service, an auto garage, on 26th Street at Victoria. In 1970, the business relocated to 702 Pacific, across the street, and became Collyer's City Centre Service.

In 1977, the company was rebranded Collyer's Sales and Service and in 1986 relocated to 603 Pacific Avenue.

My other Brandon-related posts:

The Strand Theatre's 100th birthday gift West End Dumplings
Taking a Strand Winnipeg Free Press column
Brandon's deadliest blaze Winnipeg Free Press column
Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon, 1916 West End Dumplings
Deadly day in Brandon Winnipeg Free Press column
 (also see my updated Winnipeg Free Press column about the tragedy)
Brandon's first WWI Casualty West End Dumplings
Going off the rails Winnipeg Free Press column

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Brandon fire destroys two historic buildings: 638 Pacific Avenue

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

While 705 Pacific Avenue was home to a series of distinctly local businesses, 638 Pacific Avenue's origins were national.

Designed by Brandon architect Thomas Sinclair, the three-storey, 70,000 square foot building was constructed in 1913 - 14 for the Gordon McKay Company of Toronto, the largest dry goods wholesaler in the country. This was to be its Western Canadian headquarters.

City officials were so taken with company president J W Woods and his estimate of $1 million in annual sales and good paying jobs during a time of deep recession that they worked out a sweetheart deal with the company.

The city donated the land and borrowed $165,000 to construct the building. The company itself put in about $30,000 and would pay monthly "mortgage" payments to the city.

Gordon McKay took over the building in Spring 1914 and began making payments but never moved in, citing the recession, then the war, as reasons for not setting up shop. In 1917, the building became property of the city.

During the war, the building was used to house troops and later for agricultural conferences.

November 26, 1920, Brandon Sun

In late 1920, thanks to the efforts of the Board of Trade and its president P. A. Kennedy, a buyer was found. Toronto's Massey Harris paid around $130,000 for its new Manitoba warehouse operation.

Massey Harris took over the property effective January 1, 1921.

1966 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1964, the building became home to Voy's furniture store which was previously located on 9th Avenue.

The company had deep roots in the city, starting out as Brockie Furniture and Funeral Service. In 1925, Alfred Voy went to work for Brockie and eventually became a partner.

When, in 1947, the decision was made to split the company, Voy took over the furniture business.

1971 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1971, the building's major tenant was the home furnishings department of Macleod's department store. When it left in 1973, the building appears to have sat vacant for long periods.

In 1985, some renovations were done and toy and game retailer Toyland moved in until around 1990.

Rear of 638 Pacific. City of Brandon Report, 2008

In 1994, the building became home to a consortium of organizations that collected items for reuse and recycling under the banner Westman Recycling. It included a consignment store and what eventually became known as the Re-store run by Canadian Mental Health Association - Brandon Region.

In 2007, the CMHA, Habitat for Humanity and Brandon Friendship Centre announced a $6.7 million plan to convert the building into affordable housing units to be known as Massey Manor. The CMHA owns bottom two floors and Brandon friendship centre the top.

Of the 58 suites, fourteen are market rate condominiums and four are emergency shelter beds.

All were severely damaged or destroyed in the fire. At last report, everyone made it out alive.

Brandon fire destroys two historic buildings: 705 Pacific Avenue

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Panorama of Brandon in the 1920s showing the three sites

On May 19, 2018, fire tore through downtown Brandon, Manitoba destroying three historic buildings. This is a look back at their histories.

They are the Hanbury Hardware Building (1907) at 705 Pacific Avenue, the Massey Harris Building (1913) at 638 Pacific Avenue and the Cockshutt Farm Supplies Building (1946) at 645 Pacific.

In 2015 (C. Cassidy)
The oldest of the two historic structures that burned today is 705 Pacific Avenue, built for the Hanbury Hardware Company in 1907.

John Hanbury was born and raised in Ontario and worked in the building trades, eventually becoming a contractor. He came to Brandon in 1882 to set up business here and oversaw the construction of dozens of buildings, from houses and small commercial buildings to significant landmarks such as the original Brandon Hospital and post office building.

"Industries of the Hanbury Manufacturing Company"
Source: Illustrated Souvenir of Brandon, 1909

In 1891, Hansbury expanded his business by opening a lumber yard and woodworking shop called Hanbury Manufacturing Co. in the 600 block of Assiniboine Avenue.

The company made sashes and doors and their custom woodwork included office and hotel furniture and fixtures.

Ca. 1911 (Source: McKee Archives)

In 1907, Hanbury had this five-storey, 42,000 square foot building constructed at 703 - 705 Pacific Avenue for a new wholesale venture, Hanbury Hardware.

The main floor consisted of corporate offices for the four companies Hanbury was involved in: Hanbury Manufacturing Co, managed by A. C. Ayre; Hanbury Hardware Co, A E Carmichael, manager; Canadian Coal Co., A B Fleming, manager; and Manitoba Hardware and Lumber Co., W M Tyndall, secretary. The upper floors were warehouse for the hardware company.

By this time, Hanbury had long been the second largest employer in Brandon after the CPR.

In 1920, Hanbury sold off his hardware division to Wood, Valance and Co. of Hamilton. The company distributed the contents of the warehouse to its branches in Winnipeg and Regina.

In 1925, the remainder of his Manitoba assets were sold off and Hanbury died in B.C. in 1928.

1935 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1922, the building became home to farm implement dealership Cameron and Rathwell. The company was formed earlier that year when W A Campbell and William F Rathwell joined forces in business.

To diversify its business, the company purchased a car repair garage and used car lot in 1928 and moved the sales area to an adjacent property.

1965 ad, Brandon Sun

In 1941, Christie School Supply took over the building.

The company was created in 1881 by E. L. Christie, first as a book store on Rosser Avenue. It then got into the business of distributing school supplies, including school furniture and textbooks.

By settling at 1941 they were able to their offices and warehouse together under one roof.

Over the decades, the company moved into the office furnishings and supply business, changing its name to Christie's Office Plus and continued to operate at this address until fire destroyed the building in 2018.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Birdtail Creek train disaster - 50 years later

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press looks back at the Birdtail Creek train disaster of 1968 that killed three men and shook the railroading community in two provinces.

Fifty years later, family members talk about eh tragedy and I discover that a scheduling change that night prevented what would have been the deadliest train disaster in Canadian history.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Public washrooms in Winnipeg - a recap


The issue of public washrooms is back in the media with Randy Turner's interesting feature in Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press.

In it, Turner looks at the lack of public washrooms in central Winnipeg, the fact that it was once considered an essential service provided by government, the city's unwillingness to deal with the issue and what other communities have done to provide them.

Also, he shows off a demonstration "pop up" public washroom facility that will soon be put into use on a trail basis in the core area. It should be noted that this is NOT a city project, but that of architect Wins Bridgman and the Downtown BIZ.

For the city's part, back in 2008 they ordered Bridgman to take down a pair of portable washrooms he rented for Main and Higgins to curb a public defecation problem. In turn itt promised to examine how best to deal with the issue of public washrooms in the area. The motion sending it to administration for study took place in September 2008. A decade later, the study is still not complete.


The lack of public washrooms in the city is something I have written about before both on my blog and in my column.

It is an issue that I feel strongly about as it is not just a necessary public amenity but also a human dignity issue for people living in poorer areas of the city.

One of the more glaring examples to me is Memorial Park across from the Legislature.

On a warm summer day it can attract hundreds of people to wade in the fountain, play soccer or just sunbathe. It is the inner city's version of Assiniboine Park.

The province removed washrooms that were there more than a decade ago (Memorial Park is a provincial park) and nothing has replaced them. This leaves people that want to change or have to use a washroom to do it adjacent to one of the busiest streets in the city.

Hopefully, the latest story will push the issue that nobody wants to talk about onto the public agenda.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Merchants Corner Opens

On Saturday, April 29, 2018 Merchants Corner was officially opened.

The building was constructed in 1913 for the Steiman family. The first two floors contained the family's hardware store and the upper storey was Steiman Hall, a community hub for Winnipeg's newcomer Jewish and Ukrainian communities.

During the Depression, Steiman turned it into the Merchants Hotel. (Read more about the history of the building here.)

Fast forward a few decades and "The Merch" had a notorious reputation as home to gang activity and violence and was considered by most to be a blight on the neighbourhood.

After the brutal murder of one of its patrons in 2011, the province stepped in and tasked the U of W Community Renewal Corporation to put together a community coalition and study the possibility of redeveloping the site.

It concluded that something could be done and the hotel was purchased and shut down later that year.

The development had two main phases.

First, was the development of a three-storey community housing complex on the hotel's parking lot on Pritchard Avenue. Merchants Corner Housing opened in February with rent-geared-to-income suites aimed primarily at students attending educational institutions along Selkirk Avenue.

The second phase was the redevelopment of the hotel and construction of a new extension to the west.

The main floor of the complex is home to the U of W's Urban and Inner City Studies program, with administrative offices and classrooms space. The second story houses a tenant, Community Education Development Association (CEDA), which works with many of the participants in the program and the surrounding community. The top storey contains student housing.


Having toured the building before, during and after renovations, I can say that the transformation has been incredible.

The Merchants Hotel has come full circle back to its Steiman Hall days as a place dedicated to nurturing and improving the lives of those living in the surrounding community.

Congratulations to the coalition of partners who worked to make this vision a reality.

Also, kudos to project architects Mistecture Architecture and Interiors. They managed to turn a dilapidated SRO hotel into a 21st century educational facility without having to mess with the exterior of the Steiman Block.

All of its enormous windows are still there, flooding classrooms, offices and housing units with light. The original cornice and decorative metal and stone trim, often the first things to go in a major renovation, have been fixed up and kept intact.

In fact, it is interesting to see how little the building's exterior has changed in the past 105 years!

- The press release for today's opening.
- For more photos before, during and after renovations, see my Flickr album.
- For a full history of the building.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Inside "Murder Mansion"

I had been working for some time on a post about the history of 624 - 626 Balmoral Street, nicknamed by the tabloids as "murder mansion."

As a 22-room rooming house since the early 1900s, it was an intricate web of hundreds of lives, which bogged me down. After a tour in February 2018, I took a bit of a break and, well, now the building is demolished.

It's a little after the fact, but if you want to read more about the history of the house, check out my Winnipeg Downtown Places post. For images, including some from my tour, see my Flickr album.