Thursday, 11 February 2016

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Sidney J. Allanson of Winnipeg

Sidney J. Allanson was born and raised in Cheshire, England, where his parents continued to live.

In Winnipeg, he worked as an accountant with the Grain Growers’ Grain Company and lived in a room at 238 Colony Street. He was involved with the YMCA and was a member of St. Stephen’s Church and its dramatic club. 

Allanson enlisted with the 61st Battalion and left for Europe on March 31, 1916. He  transferred to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in June 1916.

August 28, 1916, Manitoba Free Press

On July 18, 1916 he was in a forward trench with one other soldier when they came under enemy fire. A shell landed along side them, killing both. His commanding officer noted of the 22 year-old: “He stuck to his post on that day under very trying circumstances, showing himself a real man.”

At first, Allanson was reported as missing - presumed dead as it took a few days for soldiers to dig down to find what was left of his remains. He is commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

September 14, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

Reverend Charles W. Gordon, the former pastor at St. Stephens but known to most of the English-speaking world as popular novelist Ralph Connor, was overseas as the chaplain for the 43rd Winnipeg Battalion. In August 1916 he wrote a letter to Reverend Patterson, the sitting pastor of St. Stephens. In it, he included a mention of Allanson and his death.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry
Attestation Papers
Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Garnet "Sport" Mitchell of Winnipeg

Garnet "Sport" Mitchell grew up on Lenore Street in Wolseley making a name for himself on the local sports scene.

In 1912 he was captain of the Tigers' rugby football club and a manager and member of the Young Conservatives' 1913 city champion lacrosse team. While Mitchell was a decent player, it was his leadership and organizational skills that were his greatest strengths.

The war caused great disruption to the city's sports leagues. Some struggled to attract enough teams to continue, while most teams affiliated with universities, such as his Young Conservatives, shut down all together. Because most under-18 teams and leagues were affiliates of the senior ones, it had a ripple effect trough the community.

In the summer of 1915 Sport was working for the city's playground commissioner helping to organize youth sports. Of particular interest to him was Mulvey School's sports fields. That's where he, his brother "Tote" and other neighbourhood friends hung out, played informal games and taught the younger kids.

The Mitchell brothers decided to create their own sports club dedicated to rugby football. They signed up enough area youth for the new "Tammany Tigers Athletic Association" to quickly field both a junior (under 16) and juvenile (under 18) team.

April 26, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

Sport was a member of the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers militia and in August 1916 enlisted with the the 184th Battalion. He went overseas in March and less than a month later, on April 20, 1917, was killed in action. Mitchell was 23 years old.

His brother Tote, who also fought in the war, lost an arm. When he returned, he took over the management of the Tammany's senior rugby football team and in 1925 they became the first Winnipeg team to play for the Grey Cup.

May 19, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

The above letter to the editor was printed after his death. it was penned by A. E. Coo, president of the Amateur Athletics Union - Manitoba Branch.

Officers Declaration Paper
Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Brandon's Andrew Rankin and the Syndicate Block Fire

© Christian Cassidy, 2016

January 17, 1916, Brandon Sun

My column in the Winnipeg Free Press of January 31, 2016 was about Brandon's Syndicate Block fire of 100 years ago. Believed to be the city's deadliest blaze, it killed four people.

I wrote about 1,400 words for the column and could have written 1,400 more. Here is some of the research that I left out, (I can't republish the article itself here), that might be of interest.

For a bit of context, Brandon got off to a terrible start in 1916.

There were local war casualties, including at least one death. The city was in the midst of a terrible cold snap that included enough snow to shut down streetcar service for days at a time in January. On the 12th of January there was the Brandon Train Disaster, the city's deadliest day, when nineteen people were killed in CPR yards the heart of the city.

The bad luck kept coming when four days after the crash, what is believed to be the city's deadliest fire took place just a couple of blocks away.

Top: ca. 1912 (McKee Archives)
Bottom: January 17, 1916, Brandon Sun

The Syndicate Block was built in 1892 at 702, 704 and 706 Rosser at Seventh Street, where the original Eaton's used to be. At 110 feet wide and 90 feet deep it was, according to one Brandon Sun article of the day, the largest commercial block built in the city.

The investors were a consortium of two of the building's original retailers: Adams Bros. of Toronto and Wilson and Smith. The architect was Frederick Chubb who designed five other Rosser avenue blocks that year.  The contractor was Frederick Cope, who also built the East Ward School and Brandon's 1891 city hall.

Top: the Colonist Summer Souvenir, 1898
Bottom: The Brandon Mail, October 27, 1892

Businesses began moving into the Syndicate Block in the first months of 1893. Its earliest retailers were Beaver Hall clothing, Wilson and Smyth carpets and furniture, W. Dowling and Co. butchers and Adams Brothers harness and saddle makers. In 1893, the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW) rented upstairs space as a large hall,

The following year, businessman A. D. Rankin bought out the Smyth of Wilson and Smyth and the company became known as Wilson and Rankin Co.. For him, it was the start of a 25 year stint as one of the city's best known businessmen.

Born and raised in Scotland, Andrew Douglas Rankin cut his teeth in retailing at the Hudson's Bay Company in Winnipeg then co-owned a dry goods store in Calgary before arriving in Brandon in 1891.

Rankin became an important part of the community. He sat on the school board for 14 years and was a life governor of the Brandon General Hospital, at times serving as chair of these organizations.

In 1910 Rankin was captain and adjutant of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons when he was asked to recruit for a new regiment, the 99th Manitoba Rangers, which he led until 1914. He attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and worked with the militia during World War I.

The Rankins lived on Seventh Street where they raised two children, Walter and Rena. Mrs. Rankin was well known for her work with the Women's Hospital Aid Society and other charities. She died on Boxing Day 1908 while visiting their ill son in Calgary. Walter ended up dying in March 1909. Both had funeral services at St. Paul's church and are buried in Brandon cemetery.

April 20, 1896, Manitoba Free Press

The tragic fire of 1916 was not the store's first big fire. On February 28, 1894, a blaze caused $25,000 in damage and injured three firemen.

Within weeks, the store was back in business and by 1895 expanded its range of products to include dry goods and clothing, making it a full department store. They used the slogan "Brandon's Greatest Store" and even advertized in Winnipeg papers and distributed a sales catalogue throughout the West.

An 1896 ad also noted that they were the city's leading embalmers and undertakers, though that sideline appears to have been short lived.

Business was so good that in 1897 the retailer displaced the G. N. W. Telegraph Co office to take up more than half of the building's frontage.

Top: July 17, 1912, Brandon Sun
Bottom: July 31, 1914, Brandon Sun

Over the years the partners in the store, with the exception of A. D. Rankin, changed. The store at times was called A. D. Rankin and Co, The Merchants and in 1913 he joined forces with George F. Doig and J. M. Robertson to create Doig, Rankin and Robertson.

Newspaper ads show that this incarnation still carried dry goods and furniture but put a greater emphasis in newspaper ads on high fashion for women, including furs.

Retailers that shared main floor retail space were McPherson and Bedford furniture dealers and H. W. Ball and Co. "gent's furnishings".

January 18, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

On the morning of January 17, 1916 employees on the main floor of the store noticed smoke coming from the the staff cloak room. Shortly after, there was a roar and flames appeared. Within minutes the building's interior was engulfed in flames.

Some employees jumped from upper floor windows, others never made it out. (You can read more about the fire here.)

 Source: Manitoba Vital Statistics

Over the next 24 hours four bodies, all employees, were found:

Clarence Walker, 27, manager of the furniture department of 26th Street. He left behind wife Irene and an infant child.Witnesses said he had escaped the building but was killed when he ran back in to save lives. He was married, (to Irene Nichols in August 1913), and the two had their first child, a daughter, in November 1914.

Miss Caroline McCort, 22, lived on Seventh Street with her mother. She was originally from the Chater area, McCort was a chorister and head of the Girl Guide troupe at St. Mary's church. .

The McCorts had a son who was fighting in the war. I doubt they could have imagined that it would be their daughter, a dress maker, that they would lose that year.

Miss Sigridur Eggertson, 25, was recently engaged. Winnipeg Tribune reported: "Sydney Lamontagne, who was to have married Miss Eggertson shortly, assisted with the search for the body and when the charred remains were discovered, became prostrated with grief.”

Eggertson was renting a room at the home of Mrs. D. A. Sutherland at 231 Fourth Street, her parents having moved to Saskatchewan a number of years before.   During the snap of brutally cold weather, McCort was also staying at the house.

Miss Jane Marsh, 23, was a dressmaker in the alterations department.

Fire's aftermath (Daly House Museum)

There were a couple of odd things that came up in the immediate aftermath of the fire that I didn't include in the article due to lack of space.

One was a complaint against Police Chief Esselmont by a man named Mark Hayward. He was a friend of Miss McCort's and when he heard of the fire and the fact that she was missing, came to the scene to rescue her. He had to be restrained by the police chief and others. He said he told the chief that he could see a face in a third floor window, but the chief brushed it off and told him to get behind the fire line.

The face in the window story saw Esselmont called before council, in-camera, to explain himself. Afterwards, an alderman came to his defence by saying that the police chief or any other official on the scene at the time said they saw a face.

The matter also came up at the two inquests into the fire and,a gain, no official or witness said that they saw a face. it was inferred that it would be impossible that someone could have survived that long in the heat and thick smoke on the third floor.

January 24, 1916, Brandon Sun

A second situation that arose almost immediately was the rumour that the fire had been deliberately set, perhaps targeting someone at the store. The Brandon Sun reported that some staff reported seeing a strange man with a briefcase hanging around near the entrance to the cloak room shortly before the fire began. None of those called to testify at either of the inquests confirmed that they saw such a man.

The rumour continued to grow for weeks and ended up involving Mr. A. Shewan of Nation and Shewan, another clothing store in town.

Shewan had offered employees of Doig, Rankin and Robertson, especially those that had no family in town to support them, temporary employment until the retailer found new premises. By the end of January the word around town was that Shewan had received an anonymous letter saying that his store was next. The Sun approached Shewan and he vehemently denied receiving any such threat.

June 30, 1916, Brandon Sun

There were two inquiries into the fire. One by the city's coroner and another by the province's Assistant Fire Commissioner Harry O'Connor.

Many witnesses testified that they found the upper floor windows they had to open to access the fire escapes to be difficult, in some cases impossible, to open. On the third floor, where three of the victims were from, there was only one window that was budged, slid open by 20 inches. (Most cities by this time required that there be doors or hinged windows used to access fire escapes.)

The O'Connor inquiry went into more detail about the actual cause of the fire.

He concluded that it was due to a smoker carelessly disposing of a match in the cloak room waste bin, (read is full report here.) It was certainly circumstantial conclusion. None of the testimony of a dozen or so witnesses were able to definitively say that they saw someone smoking in the room. One witness who had fingered the company accountant in his statement to the police as leaving the room smoking moments before the fire started, changed his testimony at the inquest.

No person or persons were found to be responsible for setting the blaze.

July 10, 1916, Brandon Sun

As for Doig, Rankin and Robertson, they vowed to rebuild the store and six weeks later opened a temporary location at 150 and 152 Tenth Street.

On Saturday July 8th their new building opened on the site of the old one. It was two storeys tall, 75 feet wide and built of steel and reinforced concrete, thus "virtually fireproof". Most of the store's original staff returned.

Just four days before the new store opened, Rankin announced his retirement from business. He had been travelling a fair deal in the years prior to the fire, so the announcement was likely not a shock.

Rankin left Brandon, his whereabouts and the date of his death I cannot find. Interestingly, the family plot at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery contains his wife, son and daughter, but no A. D. Rankin.

Other Brandon stories from West End Dumplings:
Doors Open, Brandon Style
Brandon's pedestrian mall experiment
Brandon's new city museum
Brandon Telephony and Government Telephones Building
John A McDonald dies in Brandon
The old Brandon Mental Health Centre / Asylum site
CPR Station's new lease on life
Brandon's first female alderman (Rhoda Powers Tennant)
Brandon's firefighter down finally remembered (Fred Brown)
A good sign for Brandon
More Brandon heritage win
1919 Stanley Cup and the death of Joe Hall
Thirsty in Brandon (1): A history of the waterworks
Thirsty in Brandon (2): A history of the water tower
Old Brandon Signage
The Agaard Brothers in Brandon
A Brandon Bus Tour

Brandon's retro Kentucky Fried Chicken
The centenary of Brandon's deadliest day
Brandon's first WWI casualty
Manitoba's worst train disasters: Brandon, 1916

Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Radio Edition for January 31, 2016: The final episode!

September 9, 1998, The Manitoban

Join me Sunday night at 7 pm on 101.5 UMFM for he final episode of West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition.

My guests are some of UMFM's "Class of '98"; show hosts who have been on the air since CJUM's most recent incarnation. They'll talk about their shows, what keeps them going in community radio and what they think the future holds for the medium.

The lineup gives a sense of the diversity of programming that UMFM offers:

Alyssa Rempel of Righteous Radio  (also see
James Borsa of Ultrasonic Film (also see)
John Prentice of Planet Mainstage

After the show, check back here for the podcast, and my podcast library which is under construction.

It wouldn't be a proper farewell without saying some thank-yous !

Tessa Vanderhart got me started in community radio by asking me to be a panellist on her UMFM show Winnipeg Internet Pundits Without her support I wouldn't have taken the leap to start a show of my own.

Also, to station manager Jared for his support and technical assistance over the years. The show wouldn't have lasted 2.25 years without it.

I had a great cast of folks who acted as co-hosts during this time. Tessa Vanderhart, James Hope Howard, Katie Seymour and Kerri Salki. Thanks for helping to share the load and for everything you brought to the show.

And, of course, thanks to you, the listeners. It was great hearing from you and getting your feeback!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Radio Edition for January 24, 2016


Join me tonight at 7:00 pm on 101.5 UMFM for West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition. My guests will be:

Chris Young, head brewer at Half Pints Brewing Company. We'll talk about making beer and all of the new craft breweries expected to come on-line in the next year or two.

JD Ormond of JD and the Sunshine Band. He will tell us about the band, Sunshine House and their fundraising campaign for their next album.

Steven Stothers will update us about the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum of Canada which is set to reopen at the Pan Am Pool later this year.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Brandon's retro "Kentucky Fried Chicken" demolished

© Christian Cassidy, 2016

Fans of vintage architecture will be sad to hear that the very retro Kentucky Fried Chicken stand at 438 Princess Avenue and Fifth Street in Brandon, Manitoba was torn down in mid-January.

The store, which closed sometime between summer 2012 and 2013, was never rebranded as a KFC, something the chain began in 1991. It had been for sale since 2012, (price $149,000), but there were no buyers.

Top: February 23, 1965, Brandon Sun
Bottom: Winnipeg Tribune Photo Archives, U of M

This restaurant opened in 1965 as part of the Champs Fine Foods group of Winnipeg. President Oscar Grubert and business partner Bill Goldberg purchased the franchise rights for Manitoba, Northern Ontario, North Dakota and Minnesota after a meeting with Sanders in 1957.

Unlike some other fast food restaurants or supermarkets, there is no one defining "look" for early Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. That's because Harland Sanders was was interested in franchising his chicken recipe and cooking equipment, not a restaurant concept.

By this time, Champs already had eight Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets operating in Winnipeg as well as finer dining options such as Pierre's and the Champs Motor Hotel, (later known as the Osborne Village Inn.)

The cost of construction and equipment for the 1,200 square foot, concrete block building with full basement was $50,000. The contractor was E. C. Higgins and Sons of Brandon, which had recently built the Salvation Army's new citadel on Princess Avenue and went on to be one of the chief firms involved in the construction of the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium.

Champs hired a former local sports star as its restaurant manager. Mac Beaton was a winger on the legendary 1948 - 49 Wheat Kings team that lost to the Montreal Royals in the Memorial Cup Championship Final.

His playing and coaching career took him around North America. By 1964, he and his family were residing in Penticton B.C. when he and his wife decided to return to Brandon and a home on Sixth Street. Beaton went to Winnipeg for a number of weeks of training with Champs before heading back to Brandon to start his new career. (It is unclear how long Beaton spent as manager. By 1975 it was Dale Beswitherick.)

L to R: Grubert, Magnacca and Beaton (Brandon Sun, Feb. 26, 1965)

The restaurant opened at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 24, 1965. In attendance was Champs' president Oscar Grubert and general operations manager Hank Piedalue. Brandon mayor Stephen A Magnacca cut the ribbon. (The above photo is from a reception held elsewhere in the city, as the restaurant was pick-up or delivery only.)

The menu included fish and chips, ribs, jumbo shrimp and burgers. Colonel Sanders' chicken, though, is what people lined up for. Around 5,000 chicken orders were processed that first evening.

Coming soon: KFC comes to Winnipeg !

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The centenary of Brandon's deadliest fire, January 17, 2016

© Christian Cassidy, 2016

January 17, 1916, Winnipeg Tribune

The year 1916 started off horribly for the residents of Brandon, Manitoba.

They were in the midst of a cold snap that saw daytime highs lucky to reach into the -20s and snowfall so heavy that the streetcar system was closed down numerous times. The First World War raged, leaving hundreds of families waiting in fear of that telegram informing them of the death or injury of a loved one. On January 12th the Brandon Train Wreck killed 19 people in the heart of the city.

When it seemed like things couldn't get off to a worse start, on January 17th another tragedy struck when the Syndicate Block burned to the ground, killing four employees. It is believed to be the deadliest fire in the city's history.

Top: January 17, 1916, Brandon Sun
Bottom: April 20, 1896, Winnipeg Free Press

The Syndicate Block was built in 1892 at Rosser Avenue and Seventh Street, (702, 704 and 706 Rosser). At 110 feet wide and 90 feet deep it was an imposing building at an important intersection.
Over the decades, the main floor was home to various dry goods shops, then department stores. By 1916 Doig, Rankin and Robertson, which billed itself as Brandon's Greatest Store, took up much of the main floor and upper storeys.

Bottom: Fire's aftermath (Daly House Museum)

The fire began in the employee's cloak room and in minutes, witnesses said, the building's interior was engulfed in flames. Things happened so fast that some employees were forced to jump from upper storey windows, leaving six in hospital for days after. Four employees did not make it out at all.

 Source: Manitoba Vital Statistics

Clarence Walker, 27, manager of the furniture department. He left behind wife Irene and an infant child.Witnesses said he had escaped the building but was killed when he ran back in to save lives.

Miss Caroline McCort, 22, lived on Seventh Street with her parents. they had a son fighting in the war. I doubt they could have imagined that it was their daughter they would lose that year.

Miss Sigridur Eggertson, 25, was recently engaged. The Tribune reported that her fiancee assisted with the search for her body "and when the charred remains were discovered, became prostrated with grief.”

Miss Jane Marsh, 23, was a dressmaker in the alterations department.

For a feature story about the Syndicate Block fire, its victims and outcomes, be sure to check out my Free Press column on January 31, 2016 !