Sunday, 20 April 2014

Rosser Avenue, Brandon - Then and Now


Above is a photo of Rosser Avenue, Brandon, from a 1950s Travel Manitoba brochure and 2013 Google Street View.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Did Bob Hope really play his first game of golf in Winnipeg ?

An often-repeated connection between Bob Hope and Winnipeg is that it was here, back in his vaudeville days, that he played his first game of golf. Some accounts go so far as to specify the location as the Kildonan Golf Course.

Hope, of course, was an avid golfer, a proponent of the game and host of the long-running Bob Hope Classic golf tournament. In the book My Best Day in Golf: Celebrity Stories of the Game They Love, Hope wrote: "I consider golf my profession and comedy just a way of paying my green fees."

That is an impressive bit of sports trivia so I thought I would look back and see if there was any truth to it.

Source: eBay

Hope wrote numerous times about his introduction to the game of golf, and over the course of 40 years the account remained the same:

In early 1930 he was on the northern vaudeville tour with the Orpheum theatre chain, which included Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Calgary, Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver. Among the travelling troupe of entertainers were the Diamond Brothers, who were avid golfers. With their nights busy but nothing to do in the mornings, they went golfing and would bug Hope to join them. Eventually, he did and the rest, as they say, is history.  (The exact wording of some of these accounts can be seen below.)

February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

The dates and general circumstances do hold up. Bob Hope DID come through Winnipeg in early 1930 as part of a travelling Orpheum show.

Despite the theatre's name in the above ad, the "RKO Capitol", (Capitol Theatre), was part of the Orpheum chain. In 1929 RKO, (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), took over the Capitol and after some renovations, located all of its Winnipeg vaudeville shows there starting in September. The Orpheum Theatre then underwent renovations of its own and reopened in late October as the "RKO Winnipeg", a motion picture house. (So in 1953 when Bob Hope asked about playing "at the Orpheum", he was actually taking about Orpheum's RKO Capitol.)

You may have already noticed the main flaw with the golfing story - the month. Winnipeg was an early stop on the tour. They played here during the first week of February, then travelled west.

On Wednesday, February 5th, for example, the noontime temperature was forecast to be minus 13 degrees Celsius, hardly golf weather. Even if it had been plus 23 degrees, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that any Winnipeg golf course could have been open. (Checking the Free Press archives, the Kildonan Golf Course was the first city course to open for the season at 7 a.m. on April 16, 1930.)

 February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

Hope was already making a name for himself and his original 1930 appearance was written up in the entertainment pages. I read through every detailed show description for the Orpheum published in both the Tribune and Free Press from late February to mid-July 1929 to see if the show, or Hope himself, doubled back through Winnipeg. They didn't. 

I also scanned the archives for subsequent visits by Hope and the next one appears to be in 1953, which you can read about here.

Where did this story get its start, then ? 

Most claims, if they reference a source at all, refer to his generic "autobiography", (Hope wrote and co-wrote numerous memoirs and biographies). The first mention that includes any detail appears to be a 1988 article in Manitoba History magazine about early theatre in Winnipeg. The author credits a biography called "My Love Affair with Golf", (he likely meant the 1985 book Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf):

"My Love Affair With Golf acknowledges that he learned to play golf in Winnipeg while appearing at the Walker Theatre with a juggling act called the Diamond Brothers. While on the David Letterman Show about a year ago, Bob went into great detail about his first contact with golf in Winnipeg."

Unfortunately, I cannot find an online version of the book and the Winnipeg Public Library doesn't have it. There is a Google snippet view version and the term "Winnipeg" only appears once, as a stop on the Orpheum circuit.


In the 1990 edition of Golf and Sports Turf, Hope penned an article entitled My Diamond Anniversary in Golf and wrote about his first game of golf "...as I confessed to Dwayne Netland in our book for Doubleday, Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf..." He continued:

"Then in 1930, my real love affair with golf began. I was in vaudeville, playing the Orpheum circuit, the northern route. I was doing afternoon and evening shows in Winnipeg and Calgary up in Canada, in Minneapolis MN, and in Seattle and Tacoma WA…. Then, one day in Seattle, they invited me to come along. I borrowed a set of clubs and started hitting the ball pretty well, to my surprise. I got hooked on Golf that day, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since."

July 4, 1986, Winnipeg Free Press

As for the Letterman appearance, I could only find this 1985 clip online, part of a publicity tour for Confessions of a Hooker. Hope, though, appeared as a guest again in 1986 after which the above item appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press. 

It's hard to tell without seeing the clip whether Hope actually came out and said "he played his first game of golf in Winnipeg" or if the fact that he mentioned Winnipeg as being on the theatre circuit on which he played his first game of golf led the reporter to jump to conclusions, (as is what appears to have happened with his written versions).

Hope in Winnipeg, 1953

Given the fact that golf was not being played in the city at the time of his visit and the Seattle reference in his own book, I have to say that the claim that Bob Hope played his first game of golf in Winnipeg is not true.

I'd love to be proven wrong, though. If someone knows of another book or has that 1986 Letterman appearance handy, please let me know !

Hope's accounts of his first golf games:

In Have Tux Will Travel: Bob Hope's Own Story, (Pete Martin, Bob Hope, Ted Sally - 1954), Hope explains how he caddied in the 1920s as in Cleveland but just couldn't get the hang of the game, (p. 227):

"I didn't touch the game again until I landed in the bigtime in vaudeville and a couple of lads on the bill persuaded me to play.  After that, I couldn't leave it alone, and vice versa."

In the biography Bob Hope: A Life In Comedy, (William Robert Faith - 2003), the author describes the 1930 tour then quotes Hope, (p. 43):

… they moved up to the Twin Cities for a split week at the St. Paul Orpheum, and then on to the Orpehum in Winnipeg. Up to this point they had been travelling in winter wind and snow but by the time they reached Calgary the weather was springlike. Hope was restless for some physical activity, and he began talking about learning to play golf….

“But during the Spring of  1930 on the Orpheum circuit, I’d be waiting around the hotel lobby in the late morning when the Diamond Brothers, another act, would come down with their golf clubs…. One day I said, “Oh, hell, I’ll go out there with you."

As mentioned above, in the 1990 edition of Golf and Sports Turf  Hope wrote My Diamond Anniversary in Golf and relates the story his first game of golf as originally told in his book Bob Hope's Confessions of a Hooker: My Lifelong Love Affair with Golf, (Dwayne Netland, Bob Hope - 1985):

"Then in 1930, my real love affair with golf began. I was in vaudeville, playing the Orpheum circuit, the northern route. I was doing afternoon and evening shows in Winnipeg and Calgary up in Canada, in Minneapolis MN, and in Seattle and Tacoma WA…. Then, one day in Seattle, they invited me to come along. I borrowed a set of clubs and started hitting the ball pretty well, to my surprise. I got hooked on Golf that day, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since."

Bob Hope Biography American national Biography
Bob Hope official web site
Bob Hope 2003 World Golf Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Video
Stories of later Bob Hope visits to Winnipeg can be found here and here.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Behind The Photo: Bob Hope Invades Winnipeg (1953)

Often I will see an old photo or ad and spend some time digging into the back story. Sometimes I find a great story, sometimes not. Either way, I learn a few things about the city's history. Here's my latest attempt:

What a Hope: Gag Virtuoso Invades Winnipeg
April 29, 1953, Winnipeg Free Press

This photo, one of a trio in the April, 29, 1953 Winnipeg Free Press, shows Bob Hope on the tarmac of the Stevenson Airfield (Winnipeg International Airport). He had just arrived on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to do a show.

February 1, 1930, Winnipeg Free Press

This wasn't his first time here as Hope appeared at least once during his vaudeville career. This time, however, he was as a star of radio, television and movies and just a month earlier had hosted the first-ever televised Academy Awards ceremony.

Greeted by fans and media at the airport, he had a Provost Guard motorcycle escort straight to his venue: The Amphitheatre. There, he took time to talk to the press, sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, including the St. James Canadiens, before his show later that night.

The entourage included Frank Morriss, entertainment columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He related a few of Hope's quips including:

Hope: I once played the Orpheum Theatre here, but that was years ago. By the way, where’s the Orpheum ?

Reporter: It was torn down.

Hope: They were thinking about doing that the night I played there.

Amphitheatre, Winnipeg

As for his impression of the old Amphitheatre, he opened his show with the line "I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be playing this lovely garage". From there, it was a combination of music, dance and comedy mixed with other acts such as a roller skating duo, a local orchestra and Betsy Duncan, a singer from Hollywood and co-star on Hope's radio show. 

Hope was likely the last big entertainer to play the Amp. It was torn down in 1955 after the Winnipeg Arena opened.

It was on this visit, which only lasted a few hours as he was on a plane gain at 9:30 p.m., that he received a special invitation. He explains in his 1954 biography Have Tux Will Travel, (p. 230):

"Of the memorable things which have happened to me on a  golf course, the round I played with Ike Eisenhower in 1953 is the topper. In 1953 I was in Winnipeg, Canada, when Stu Symington called me long distance and asked, "Can you be in Washington on Derby Day?" 

"I was planning to be in Churchill Downs with Bill Corum that day," I told him.

"Better switch it," he said. "You're going to play golf with the man in the White House."

Hope ca. 1953

Of course, this brings up another Winnipeg / Bob Hope / golf connection: the claim that he played his first game of golf right here in Winnipeg. That will be explored in a future post !

Bob Hope official site (including jokes !)
Subsequent Bob Hope visits to Winnipeg
Did Bob Hope really play his first game of golf in Winnipeg ? (coming soon)

Friday, 11 April 2014

The West End's big bank heist of 1962

The nondescript building at 810 Notre Dame Avenue at Beverley Street, now home to Rebel Waltz Tattoo, was once a Bank of Montreal that was the scene of one of the largest and boldest holdups in the city's history.

June 16, 1961, Free Press

Home to a Safeway store from 1933 to 1959, the following year the Bank of Montreal purchased the land and began construction on a new branch, its 23rd in the Greater Winnipeg area. What was of particular interest to the company was its proximity to the large number of employees working at the collection of medical facilities across the street that we know call the Health Sciences Centre.

The branch opened on June 19, 1961. It featured air conditioning and a night deposit slot to allow for "24 hour banking". The first manager was Norman C. Munson who had been manager of the Carberry, Manitoba branch for a couple of years and prior to that worked at branches in Saskatchewan.

The bank was barely open a year when on Thursday, June 14, 1962 it was the scene of a daring daylight robbery that saw gunmen flee with $42,706 cash (about $330,000 in 2014 dollars). Newspapers said it was Winnipeg's largest bank heist in at least a decade.

June 14, 1962, Free Press

It wasn't a typical holdup. Bandits broke into the bank the night before and stayed in the basement overnight. They waited until nearly a half hour after the bank had opened before appearing in the upstairs doorway. Dressend in green work overalls and train engineer caps, their faces were concealed with stocking masks. One was armed with a  sawed-off shotgun, the other a pistol.

They demanded the money from each wicket then led manager Munsen to the vault at gunpoint. He opened it and the men loaded up the stash on-hand for the General Hospital's payday the following day into a suitcase. Munsen and his three staff, two men and one woman, were then led into the vault. The bandits tried to shut them in but could not close the door properly. Seconds after they left, at 9:34 a.m., Munsen tripped an alarm.

June 14 1962, Free Press

At first, police had few leads. The bank staff couldn't see the faces of the men or the type of car that they were driving.

Reports soon came in of a car speeding through the West End from the direction of the bank. It was a blue and white 1956 Meteor that had been reported stolen from St. Boniface the night before. That car was soon found abandoned at Sargent Avenue, (what the thieves didn't know is that the car was being repaired and its radiator was sitting in the trunk !) Reports soon came in of another car, this one a green 1950s Pontiac, speeding and driving recklessly. Police went on the assumption that this was the car they were looking for.

June 16, 1962, Free Press

Despite the manhunt and a blockade at the city limits, the men slipped through. The Canadian Bankers Association tried to ensure that leads kept coming by offering a reward, standard practice in those days.

The following day a farmer near Anola, Manitoba noticed two men walking down a lonely rural road with a large black suitcase. RCMP investigated and found that green Pontiac off the side of the road. It has been trashed. Winnipeg police and RCMP converged on the site with tracker dogs. In the bush nearby they found a pile of used toiletries and abandoned clothes but no bandits.

Police assumed that the men were headed east and notified RCMP and OPP along the way.

June 16, 1962, Winnipeg Free Press

The crewmen of an east-bound CPR train radioed their dispatch that there were two men aboard their train that seemed suspicious. OPP boarded when it pulled into Fort William (Thunder Bay) the next day and arrested the pair on suspicion of robbery but found no money.

Police retraced their steps to Kenora, Ontario, where the men got on the train. They found that the pair spent the night in a hotel and went on a shopping spree for new clothes, one bought a teddy bear for his child. After dinner they went to the CP station to purchase train tickets and each shipped a parcel to different Montreal addresses.

June 18, 1962, Ottawa Citizen

The CPR traced the packages and found that they had already reached Sudbury. Police there intercepted them and found that they contained the missing money, minus about $500 spent in Kenora. Once the money was recovered, the thieves were done for. Real Pierre Ouimet, 24, and Jean Forest, 26, both from Montreal, confessed to the crime.

It turns out that Ouimet arrived in Winnipeg first and had been watching the bank for about a month to find when the hospital's payroll arrived. He also purchased the green Pontiac.

The night before the robbery they stole the Meteor in St. Boniface and parked the Pontiac on near Sargent and Beverley. They broke into the bank's basement and lay in wait for it to open the next day. After the crime, they drove the Meteor to the stashed Pontiac but had to abandon it near Anola when the engine seized. From there, they hitched a ride in a truck to Kenora where they divvied up the money and sent it to relatives in Montreal.

The two men were sentenced to ten years each in Stoney Mountain for the robbery plus two years for the car theft. The long prison sentences imposed by the judge were meant to discourage other outsiders from coming to town and pulling jobs here.

December 14, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press

This wasn’t the only big holdup at this branch. 

In December 1967 three armed men held it up just as staff were loading $50,000 into a car for transportation to a mini-branch located inside the Health Sciences Centre. The staff of five were forced to crouch down on the boulevard at gunpoint as the trio finished loading the loot and stole the car. The vehicle, along with empty cash boxes, were recovered a few days later but a newspaper search in the year that followed turns up no stories of any arrests. 

There were also smaller robberies in September 1975, July 1982, May 1984 and October 1990.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Some Manitobans who fell at Vimy Ridge

These are just a few of the Manitobans who died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9 - 12, 1917. They appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune in April and May 1917. For Canada, there were 3,598 men killed out of a total of 10,602 casualties.

For best results, right click on the image, open in new tab, then click the image again.


Monday, 7 April 2014

West End History Teas !

Each Wednesday morning in April come share your memories about the West End and Winnipeg at the Daniel McIntyre – St. Matthews Community Association.

We have a selection of photo books (The Tribune, Going Downtown etc.etc.) to flip through and I will be there with my laptop to look up people, buildings and events in newspaper archives and other digital libraries.

It's aimed at 55+ but everyone is welcome !

What: West End History Tea
Where: DMSMCA Resource Centre, 823 Ellice at Arlington
When: Wednesdays in April, 10:30 to Noon
For more information: safety@dmsmca.ca

Friday, 4 April 2014

Winter 1898 revisited

So, with word that this is the coldest winter since 1898, I thought I would look back to the newspapers to see what they had to say at the time about it. Without central heating, heated transportation and modern technology extreme cold was more than an inconvenience, it was a matter of life and death.

Surprising, I didn't find that many articles in the Tribune, at least (I will tackle the Free Press later). There were a few matter-of-fact articles about the fact that it was bitterly cold, that people were showing up with cold-related injuries to hospital and what not. Certainly not the daily barrage of self-pitying stories that we have in the winter of 2013.

bdelow is one of the few longer articles I could find, which really cobbles together a bunch of smaller stories under one banner. it is from the Winnipeg Tribune of June 9, 1899. I will post more articles as I come across them.

June 9, 1899, Winnipeg Tribune

 January 26, 1899, Winnipeg Tribune