Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Injecting a bit of history into a community pollution debate

Last week there was media coverage about polluted soil samples found in the yards of some Old St. Boniface homes. The residents, media, and even researchers seemed, in various degrees, to be pointing the finger at a modern-day car shredding business on rue Messier Street.

When I heard the name of the street I thought they couldn't seriously be blaming a car shredder for their pollution issues? Over the past century, Messier Street has probably has been home to the worst collection of industrial polluters of any street in the city. 

I also was a bit surprised that testing wasn't something that was regularly done in the area. I'll bet that 50 years ago the pollution levels would have been even worse.

How do I know about Messier Street?

A few years back, I wrote a blog post for my Winnipeg Places blog about an interesting looking old building on Messier Street. To figure out its history, a Domtar building, I had to do a lot of background research on the street, right back to its origins, around 1920.

Using Henderson Directories and newspaper archives, I discovered a very industrial street. When I say industrial, I mean messy industrial, such as iron foundries, oil refineries, tar products manufacturing and a commercial coke furnace. Not to mention, it has also been home to the storage end of a small railway yard, the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway, active since 1915.

Forget the pollutants belched into the air or that have seeped into the ground by these establishments, just the amount of coal smoke from the furnaces and engines required to keep them powered must have been quite the sight.

Source: Manitoba Maps on Flickr

Another way to get a snapshot of the street is through the fire insurance maps of 1959 that include Messier Street. Though late in the street's development as an industrial hub, they show in detail the buildings that remained at the time.

There are a selection maps that include Messier available at Manitoba Maps on Flickr:


As both sources show, this was a not a short industrial period limited to a few years. Many of these industries were active into the early 1960s, after which the level of industrial manufacturing on the street seems to drop off.

While folks seem to be targeting a small industrial shredder on Messier as the root of their issues, St. Boniface's pollution woes are probably much, much worse than that. Efforts should be spent finding out what 50 or more so years of having some of the most insipid industrial pollutants raining down on the surrounding community has done to the land.

This might be a parallel ... In the early 1980s, it was found that the Domtar site in Transcona closed in the 1970s had leeched chemicals into surrounding lands where new housing developments were being built. Over 40,000 tones of earth was removed from the area and, in the end, the former Domtar site was still so polluted that it couldn't be built on. It is now a parkway.

I am guessing that not one single shovel full of soil has ever been removed from Messier Street or the residential neighbourhoods close to it since the closure of these businesses.

Here are just three of the major industrial players that have called Messier Street home over the decades.

Dominion Wheel's Cobourg, Ontario facility (source)

Western Wheel and Foundries Ltd. was established by the Dominion Wheel and Foundries of Toronto in late 1919 for the manufacture of rail car wheels and brakes. Serving all of Western Canada, it was expected to produce up to 100,000 wheels per year with that number increasing in the years to come.

The above photo is of their Cobourg, Ontario facility which would likely have been smaller than the Winnipeg plant.

St. Boniface council, eager to attract new industry, gave the company tax incentives to locate in their city. In exchange, Western agreed that fifty per cent of the men they hired would be from St. Boniface and that the name "St. Boniface" be stamped into their products.

In October 1919, a building permit was taken out for their original $65,000 cluster of buildings designed by Firmin Wyndels. it included a 200 x 72 foot main shop; a 100 x 45 foot cupola room, and an 80 x 40 foot wheel brake room.

Business was good and in 1921 they expanded, spending $30,000 on new buildings and doubling its capacity to 200 employees.

The site later became known as Canada Foundries Ltd. and as of 1960 were still operating on the site.

October 25, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

North Star Oil Refinery
, like the rail yard, backs onto Messier Street. The first newspaper reference of an oil and gas company on this site comes in 1919 and was expanded again in 1921.

The site changed its names a number of times over the years. By the 1950s it was known as North Star Oil refinery.

In 1955, the site underwent a $12 million expansion of its facilities which included 173 acres. The new plant could refine 12,000 barrels of crude oil a day. There was also a massive tank farm, its largest units had a 55,000 gallon capacity and there were eight of them.

July 25, 1955, Winnipeg Tribune

Domtar had been operating in Transcona for a number of years when, in 1923, they announced that they were opening a chemical manufacturing and tar distilling plant on Messier Street.

There were some who voiced concern that the smells and pollutants from the site could harm patients at the St. Boniface Hospital. Whether it was those concerns, or other reasons, the company scaled back its plans and the site spent its first couple of years mainly as a warehouse facility next to the tracks.

In 1925, Domtar constructed a factory for the manufacture of of tar paper for roofing. (Alexander Murray and co., another long-time industry on that street, also made roofing products.) A few years later, Domtar built a coke factory, basically a large industrial furnace that incinerated raw coal down into coke that was then sold a s a heating fuel.

Domtar moved from the site in 1962. (You can read more about the Domtar building here.)

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Meleb's St. Michael Church turns 100 and other Meleb history!

©2017, Christian Cassidy

St. Michael’s of Archangels Roman Catholic Church in Meleb, Manitoba is having a 100th anniversary church service this Sunday, August 20th at 2 pm. It will be followed by a picnic in MPC Park – the one with the giant mushrooms!

Meleb is located about 100 km north of Winnipeg on Highway 7.

Though Ukrainian and Polish settlers had been in the immediate area since at least 1900, the village did not get a legal name until a CPR spur line came through in 1910.

The small siding was put on land that had been owned by two of these settlers, Ukrainian farmer Stephan Melnyk and Jewish merchant Abraham Lebman (Leibman). The community's name is a combination of their surnames.(3)

The areas Greek, Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish communities in the region worked closely together.

By 1915, the Poles had a sizable enough community that they were ready to build a church at nearby Malonton, but were pursued to instead help the Greeks build theirs instead.(2)

Two years later, when the Poles made plans to build St. Micheal's in Meleb, two of its largest benefactors were a pair of Jewish merchants, Mr. Naidech and Leibman, who put up $500 each for its construction.(1)

Top: Kosian (source). Bottom Gottleib (source: 1)

In 1918, this church was constructed for the Polish community under the supervision of Fr. Richard Kosian. The builder was local Michael Gottleib, an Austrian immigrant who built a number of structures in the region, including Park School.

On September 29, 1918, it was blessed by Archbishop Alfred Sinott, Archbishop of Winnipeg, who  ”…gave it the title of St. Micheal, to compliment the men who built it, many of whom bore the name of he mighty Archangel.” (2)

The church held both Ukrainian and Polish services until the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Assumption was built across the street in 1923.

Meleb never became a thriving centre. CPR guide books through the 1920s noted that its population was around 40 with a trading area of 350.

In the 1960s, St. Michael's closed due to a lack of congregation. Normally, one service is held per year in the month of August.

In he late 1980s the church was extensively renovated. In 1989 it became a provincial heritage site.

A couple of interesting side notes ...

- Former premier Ed Schryer is a grandson of Micheal Gottleib on his mother's side.

- Premier John Bracken spoke in Maleb at a rally in June 1927. The Tribune noted: "That Mr. Bracken is steadily losing ground even in what were considered strongholds is evidenced by the desperate measures he is taking in other parts to stem the adverse tide."

- In October 1932, about 100 "communist farmers" from Meleb and area marched to the Legislature to make demands of the Premier Bracken to cancel farmers' debts, institute a minimum income and provide free healthcare.

The Brainerd Minnesota Daily Dispatch, (likely through a wire story), reported that the group was young, many of them teens, and were: “...striding along roughly in columns of fours, in good humour and livening their long trudge with banter and various frivolities.”

October 24, 1933, Winnipeg Tribune

Only once was Maleb the focus of front page news in Winnipeg and across the country. That was in October 1933.

Farmer Andrew Orichowski, 58, attempted to kill his wife, Sophie, 78, at a neighbouring farm on October 23, 1933. He initially tried shooting her, then hit her in the head with an axe. Her body was discovered and she was rushed to Teulon hospital where she died eight days later.

She lived long enough to tell the RCMP: "Yesterday at noon my husband asked for pickle juice and I went out with a sealer and saucer where he followed me to the granary and said ‘see I caught you’ and he shot me. He told me 'I will show you not to run with Watyshowski.' I am telling the truth as I know I am going to die."

After the committing the act, Andrew was found wandering towards Maleb, telling people what he had done along the way. He was arrested without incident at one of the general stores.

Orichowski, who never explained is actions on the stand, was tried and found guilty of murder. He was hanged on May 22, 1934. (The day after another axe murder, Julian Komarnicki, who killed a man after a dispute at the wood camp they were working at.)

1. Yanchyshyn, Anne MPC Flashbacks*
2. Hubicz, Edward Polish churches in Manitoba
3 Ewanchuk, Michael Spruce, Swamp and Stone 

For more modern day images of Meleb, check out my Flickr album.

*If you are visiting Meleb. be sure to check out MPC Flashbacks for great photos and homestead maps. There is also a great map and miniatures of some area buildings, such as schools and churches, at MPC Park on Highway 7 at the turnoff for Meleb.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Remembering Erinside School No. 1682

© 2017, Christian Cassidy

Erinside School was built on this five acre site in 1914 after a railway spur line was brought through the area. The adjacent teacher's residence was constructed in 1927.

The setting was probably as lonely then as it is now. Nearby Erinview, an unincorporated hamlet established 20 years earlier, was the more "happening" place with its own school and some businesses. Even in the area newspaper, news about at Erinside School was reported under the Erinview section.

The 1914 school year was kicked off by a picnic on June 24th with teacher, Miss Gladys Jickling and some her friends taking the 22 grade 1- 6 students to Inglis by train for a picnic. Upon their return, there was an afternoon of sports on the school grounds.

Jickling was likely the daughter of Laura and Harry Jickling who came to Manitoba in 1871. She taught at Erinside for a year, then can be found teaching in Winnipeg at Polson school by 1916. She may have later relocated to Toronto.

The school was not just a school for area residents. It also hosted dances, an annual Christmas pageant and community picnics / sports days.

January 2, 1919, Winnipeg Tribune

According to area history book Woodlands Echoes (1880-1960) this is the lineup of Erinside School teachers from 1914 to the late 1950s:

1914 Gladys Jickling; 1915 A. Sykes; 1915-16 - Margaret Martin; 1917-18 Ella Kennedy; 1918 Bertha Jones; 1920 Madeline L Proctor; 1921 Jessie Osborne; 1922 Eleanor Fisher; 1923 Harriet Simms; 1926-30 Miss I. V. Stewart; 1930-31 A. M. Thompson; 1931-36 Robert Bolton; 1940-44 Mrs. George Kiddle; 1947-52 Mrs. Ellen Ward; 1954-55 Melvin Bodnarus; 1955- ?Mrs. Jean McKinnon.

A later Stonewall Argus article notes Mrs Jim Vidal was teacher from 1962-63.

According to Woodland Echoes, the (barely) existing teacherage was built in 1927.

There is no mention of an earlier residential structure on the site but, given its isolated location, it is almost certain that there was one.

Erinside School's enrollment, which apparently peaked at 36, numbered 22 in 1914, 23 in 1923 and 12 in 1965.

The neighbouring Erinview school closed in 1942 due to a dwindling number of students. Those that remained were transferred to Erinside. That school burned down a few years later and was replaced by a cairn.

The name of the combined school division appears to have been Erinview and in later newspaper articles this school becomes referred to as Erinview School. This slight change in name causes some confusion when researching the building's later history.

Top: May 27, 1964, Stonewall Argus
Bottom: March 11, 1964, Stonewall Argus

With a dwindling numbers of students, in June 1964 the question was put before voters to dissolve Erinview School Division in favour of sending their 30 or so children to Teulon Elementary School. They agreed.

On June 12, 1964, one of the last activities at the school was the teacher and her husband, the newspaper did not mention her by name, (perhaps still Mrs. Vidal?), took the students to Lundar Fair.

At a June 28 community picnic she was presented with a gift from the school division for her service.

Two days later, June 30, the school closed for good.

 More period school photos: see MHS

The building appears to have remained unused since that time.

In the 80s or 90s, when PR 415 was widened, the school was moved a few feet north on the site.In 2011, it received an exterior renovation, (for photos over the decades see MHS.)

The school and teacherage became a municipal heritage site in 2001.

More photos of Erinside School
Erinside School - Manitoba Historical Society
Erinside School - Historic Places.ca
Woodlands Echoes (1880-1960) (pdf)

Monday, 14 August 2017

Saving rural Manitoba's heritage


My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press takes a look at three vacant rural Manitoba buildings and the efforts to preserve them. In these three cases, they have been campaigns decades in the making.

As you drive around the highways this summer, be sure to get off the beaten track and check out some of our small towns, villages and hamlet to see what secrets they share !

Here is a link to the story. Thee are the buildings I take a look at:

Rivers Train Station
Location: Rivers, Manitoba, population 1,257 (2016) 
Built: 1917
Architect: Grand Trunk Pacific Railway
More information: www.riversdalyheritage.ca/station
More photos: My Flickr album

Rapid City Consolidated School
Rapid City, Manitoba, population 478 (2016) 
Built: 1902
Architect: William Alexander Elliott (also see)
Information: www.facebook.com/RapidCityMuseum
More photos: My Flickr album

Ninette Sanatorium for Consumptives
Location: Ninette, Manitoba, population 221 (2016) 
Built: 1909-10
Architect: Walter Shillinglaw (also see)
Information: www.facebook.com/NinetteSanatorium
More Photos: My Flickr album

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The story behind Winnipeg's Beaver Lumber

©2017, Christian Cassidy

I often say that every building has a story - or ten - to tell, so when Price Choppers closed earlier this year, I thought I would take a look back at the building's history.

I wasn't expecting to find much, as the building was constructed in 1968. It turns out, though, that this was Beaver Lumber's very first Winnipeg store - a surprise to me since the company was established here back in 1906.

Here's a look back at Beaver Lumber's history in our fair city.

July 27, 1911, Winnipeg Tribune

Beaver Lumber's roots can be traced back to 1883 and the Banbury Bros. Lumber Company of Wolseley, Saskatchewan. For the remainder of that century they amalgamated with other Saskatchewan lumber yards to create a small chain.

Seeking to expand further, in 1906 the Banburys came to Manitoba to find partners and investors. The result was the creation of the Beaver Lumber Company.

The company headquarters were established in room 47 of what was then called the Aikins Block, now the Bate Block, at 221 McDermot Avenue at Albert Street. The first manager was Herbert Crowe, formerly of the Prairie Lumber Company,

The company soon had nearly 50 lumber yards across the prairies under its banner, Within a couple of years, it relocated to larger premises in the the Bank of Toronto building where they would remain until the mid 1920s.

Gourley ca. 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

It was Robert J. Gourley, Beaver's President and General Manager from 1910 - 1956, who was responsible for much of the early growth of Beaver.

Gourley was from Brampton, Ontario and came to Manitoba to work in the banking industry. Over the decades, he served on numerous company boards across the west. (He was also a skilled curler, leading a Stratchcona curling club to the finals of the Brier in 1931.)

In 1912, the company entered the Alberta market, then to Northern Ontario. In 1938, they tackled central Ontario and, in 1955, British Columbia.

May 29, 1968, Winnipeg Tribune

By the 1960s, Beaver Lumber consisted of 276 stores and boasted that it was the largest retailer of building materials in the country. Their success lay in the fact that they concentrated their efforts in small towns and rural areas.

In 1968, then-president Keith Kennedy announced ambitious expansion plans to open eight new stores per year in large urban centres. The first big-city store was at 677 Stafford Street at Pembina Highway in Winnipeg. (By this time, the company's headquarters were at 120 Fort Street.)

Kennedy, left and Juba at the grand opening (Tribune Photo Archives)

Winnipeg mayor and MLA, you old hold both positions together back then, Stephen Juba was on hand with Kennedy to cut the ribbon at the 18,000 square foot store on May 30, 1968.

The store's first manager was Ken Moore. He began his career with the company at their Melita, Manitoba store in 1949. In 1953, he moved to Beaver's head office as a buyer but eventually went back to managing stores.

Beaver Lumber logo (poprewind.com)

The expansion proved a success and soon attracted the attention of Molson Canada. The brewer was looking to expand into other business lines, hardware being the first.

They had just purchased Ontario-based Aikenhead's Hardware and, with the support of lumber company Macmillan Bloedel, went after Beaver.

In 1971, Molson's began buying up shares of Beaver Lumber stock and it was fairly easy pickings. No one shareholder owned more than ten per-cent of the company.

Later that year, Molson's announced that it already controlled nearly twenty per-cent of the stock and were seeking to take over the rest.

November 25, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

At first, Beaver resisted, then it tried to negotiate a better share price. Not owing much of its own stock, however, gave it little bargaining power.

In the end, Kennedy suggested to shareholders that they take the buy-out, though in a letter to them stated: "Beaver Lumber has developed a proud and widely respected name in the industry. Losing its independence is viewed with great regret by the board of directors."

Molson's was successful and by the end of the year owned Beaver.

This wasn't their only Winnipeg-based retail takeover. In late January 1972, just weeks after the Beaver acquisition was finalized, they announced that they had bought Winnipeg-headquartered Willson Stationers.

Beaver Lumber Locations, Winnipeg, 1988

Under Alan Keyworth, Molson's president of Beaver Lumber from 1975 - 1980, the company's urban expansion continued. By the late 1970s, in Manitoba alone there were four "home centres" in Winnipeg and one in Brandon.

February 8, 1944, Winnipeg Free Press

In the 1990s the tables turned on Beaver.

Once the national retail giant threatening smaller chains and independent stores, American retailer Home Depot, established in 1978 with its colossal 100,000 square foot stores, was making noises about entering the Canadian market.

Like Beaver's board of directors in 1971, Molson's found itself facing a battle it knew it would not win. It decided to sell most of its Aikenhead's Hardware division to Home Depot in 1994 for $200 million.

One retail analyst likened it to Molson's getting at least something for their trouble, rather than holding out and being crushed in the retail market by Home Depot and lose everything.

March 5, 1995, Winnipeg Free Press

Molson's dream of merging Aikenhead with Beaver to create a national hardware and building supply chain was gone. Seeing the writing on the wall, they announced a corporate restructuring that saw the liquidation its large, urban stores starting in January 1995. By March, they were all gone.

Beaver retreated to smaller towns. In 1999, its remaining 138 stores were sold to Home Hardware for $68 million.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Main Street Underpass Makeover


With news that the Main Street Underpass is getting a makeover with new paint and lighting, I thought I would look back at the history of the structure, which opened in 1904.

Interestingly, right from day one there was controversy about its unsafe, "tunnel like appearance".

You can check out my research here.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Meadows Grain Elevator 1947 - 2017

The ca. 1947 Meadows, Manitoba Paterson Grain elevator is being demolished.

Meadows was created ca. 1882, established by the CPR. It took until 1905 before the settlement was large enough to ask the R. M. of Rossburn for permission to open their own school. A train station was added in 1906.

October 5, 1922, Winnipeg Tribune

Settlers guides from the late 1880s show that there was grain collection from Meadows but it was an informal system where the grain was stored and scooped into rail cars. It wasn't until 1912 that it got its first formal elevator.

Initially, it was run by a local company then sold to the McLaughlin Grain Co. in 1915.

In 1922, Paterson Grain purchased the elevator.

According to the CPR, that year the town boasted a population of 150 with a  school, general store, elevator, oil tank and blacksmith. Before the year was out, however, a fire destroyed the village`s elevator, bank building and blacksmith`s shop.

Meadows`dual elevators, image ca. 1947 - 1953.

Paterson rebuilt a new, 30,000 bushel elevator. A second, 60,000 bushel elevator was added in 1947. An annex was added in 1953.

In 1976, the ca. 1922 elevator was demolished. A new annex was added later that decade.

(Elevator dates and dual elevator images from: The First Hundred Years: 1893-1993.)

When the Marquette elevator was torn down in 2003, rumours were that Meadows would be next, though a representative from Paterson Grain told the Stonewall Argus that there were no such plans at the time.

On June 28, 2017, a permit was signed off on for the demolition of the building structure.

For more images of the Meadows elevator.