Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Thanks, Molson's for our city clock !

Winnipeg City Hall

Forty years ago today, Winnipeg's city clock was unveiled ! It was a centennial birthday gift from Molson's. For more about the history of this clock, and the one from the "gingerbread" city hall before it, check out my latest Winnipeg Downtown Places post !

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Radio Edition - September 14, 2014

Little Black Devils Monument

**Check here for the podcast on Monday morning !**

Join me, Christian Cassidy, and Katie Seymour tonight at 7 pm on 101.5 UMFM for West End Dumplings - The Radio Edition


Our guest is Dr. Gordon Goldsborough of the Manitoba Historical Society, creator of their Manitoba Historical Sites interactive map which now boasts thousands of entries.

The Franklin Expedition discovery and the troubled state of Parks Canada's historic assets. Winnipeg's historic building "shards" change hands. The 2014 Winnipeg Design Festival features numerous events, including a "ghost sign" walk ! (Check out my gallery of ghost signs !)


Giants of the Prairies - The Kubasonics
Northwest Passage - Stan Rogers
Baba Rolls Her Own - The Kubasonics

Transit Tom Through the Years !

Ca. 1960

A companion piece to my Winnipeg Free Press column today about Transit Tom, created in 1957 by the Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission. Someone pointed out that I spelled John Blumberg's last name incorrectly in the column. My apologies.)

Some of the GWTC's initial ads featuring Tom:

Tom's first ad ! September 7, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

 October 21, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

November 16, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

October 5, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

 October 14, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

October 19, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

 October 28, 1957, Winnipeg Free Press

March 29, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

 January 25, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

Later Transit Tom ads:
May 6, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

June 14, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

July 10, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

November 22, 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

February 1, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

October 28, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

October 28, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

December 24, 1962, Winnipeg Free Press

September 6, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

Other Tom appearances:

Winnipeg's last trolley bus
MTHA Bus Museum Day
Late 1960s remake of Tom (also see)

2010 retro !

Other images:
Streetcar 740
Greater Winnipeg Transit Commission Logo

Transit Routes and Coverage Greater Winnipeg Transit System Metropolitan Area Winnipeg, Manitoba (1957)
1957 Transit Routes (Laliberte at Flickr)


In the 1920s, Winnipeg's public transportation system averaged about 50 million revenue passengers per year, which dropped to around 40 million during the Depression. In 1946, a record year for transit, the number surpassed the 100 million mark before starting a steady decline, (November 6, 1948, Winnipeg Tribune).

In 1954 it was down to 74 million and by 1958 that had retreated to 60 million, (source). Compare that to the nearly 40 million in 2006, (source).

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A brief glimpse at the Constant Macaroni sign and company !

Update: I dropped into the store on September 13 to confirm a rumour that the owners, Metro Meats across the street, are going to keep the sign exposed - and they are !

Constant Macaroni

Constant Macaroni

Some construction in Point Douglas uncovered a bit of Manitoba history on Thursday. It is a hand painted sign for Constant Macaroni at Euclid Avenue and Grove Street.  (If you want to see it in person, go now, because it will be covered over by Friday afternoon !)

Top: Constant Family ca. 1924 (source, p. 216)
Bottom: September 25, 1915, Winnipeg Tribune

The roots of the Constant Macaroni Products began in 1912 when Henri and Marguerite Constant emigrated to St. Boniface from Marseilles, France. From a  pasta making family himself, Henri soon created the Excelsior Macaroni Company at 234 rue Dumoulin in St. Boniface.

The couple had four children, all of whom worked at the plant while growing up. In 1928, Henri sold the plant to national company Catelli, which already had a plant operating in the city. It appears that they continued to operate it under the Excelsior name for a number of years.

Top: Working at Constant Macaroni, ca. 1930s (source)
Middle: working at Constant Macaroni, ca. 1970s (source)
Below: March 25, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1936 two of their children, Madeleine and Lucien, created Constant Macaroni Products Ltd. They began operations on Ross Street in Winnipeg but in 1939 relocated to 254 rue Dumoulin in St. Boniface, the same four-storey building that their father's company had called home ! In later years they moved once more to 307 Archibald Street.

Constant made macaroni, vermicelli, spaghetti and egg noodles that were carried throughout Western Canada by retailers such as Safeway.

August 21, 1934, Winnipeg Free Press

Madeleine lived just up the street at 234 Dumoulin and worked at the plant until it was sold off in 1972. She was the matriarch of the family, predeceased by her brothers, and was a patron of St. Boniface Hospital and College Saint Boniface.

She died in 1996 at the age of 89 and is buried at St. Boniface Cathedral Cemetery.

En paroles et en gestes: Portraits de femmes du Manitoba Francais - Musée de Saint-Boniface

Framing Our Past: Constructing Canadian Women's History in the Twentieth Century - McGill-Queens University Press (To read the Madeleine Constant section.)

Madeleine Constant obituary - Winnipeg Free Press, April 28, 1996

September 25, 1915, Winnipeg Tribune

October 27, 1955, Winnipeg Free Press

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Private James Allen Mason of Cardale

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at 100 Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

Mason was born in Cardale, Manitoba on May 1, 1897, one of five children of Charles and Emily Mason. His father was an experienced soldier, having fought in the Fenian Raids while in Ontario and in the Red River Rebellion.

A month after his eighteenth birthday, James enlisted in Brandon with the 45th Infantry Battalion: Manitoba Regiment. His occupation at the time was a farm hand.

Before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was transferred to the 52nd Infantry Battalion: New Ontario Regiment. He died in that battle on October 1916. He is commemorated by the Vimy Memorial, Pas de Calais, France and his name is on the Oak River, Manitoba war memorial.

At lest one other sibling, Walter, served. He survived.

Cardale School ca 1916 (source)

James may have lied about his age at the time he enlisted. Both the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and Canadian Great War Project note his death at the age of 17, not 19 as it should have been if he was born in 1897. (I cannot find a birth record for that name at the Manitoba Vital Statistics database to confirm his year of birth.)

Attestation papers Library and Archives Canada
Virtual War Memorial entry Veterans' Affairs Canada
Canadian Great War Project entry

Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry
52nd Battalion.com

This soldier's history has been pieced together using a number of sources. If you have additional information or would like to point out a factual error, please do so in the comments below or by email at cassidy-at-mts.net.
© Christian Cassidy 2014

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Winnipeg Falcons deserve better

This goes back to my recent post about renaming things or otherwise honouring famous citizens..... 

Jacob Penner Park, has quite the history. Founded in 1894 as Notre Dame Park, it was home to the city's first greenhouses and nursery. If you like the old elms that Winnipeg is famous for, this is where where tens of thousands of them got their start. In 2000 it was renamed in honour of long-time communist city councillor Jacob Penner, who has quite the history himself. (For a history of the park see my Winnipeg Downtown Places post.)

Aside from a tablet saying that the park was renamed for Penner, there's nothing in the park that mentions its history, or even Penner's for that matter.

There is one historic marker in the park, and that commemorates the Winnipeg Falcons. It's on Wellington Avenue, next to the parking lot entrance for a city works garage that shares the site. Tucked away and graffitied, you'd hardly notice it.

Pretty much any Winnipegger that has won a major sports award in the 00s, from the Stanley Cup to CFL records to Olympic medals have had a park, street, arena or community centre named for them. But what about the Falcons ?

They won what many consider the Holy Grail of Canadian sports: the Olympic gold medal in men's hockey. They were the very first team to do so when the sport debuted at the 1920 games in Antwerp. It is something that will never be repeated as it is now specially created national teams, not existing local ones, that compete for the gold.

What makes this feat more astonishing is that in its early years the team was barred from playing in any city league due to discrimination against its mostly Icelandic makeup. Their big break came only when senior leagues were so desperate to survive during World War I that they accepted any club that could put a roster of grown men on the ice.

For this, the Falcons' only permanent commemoration by the city, (that I know of, anyway), is a damaged sign. (If you know of any others, please let me know !)

I'm about to embark on a frustrating - and have been warned likely fruitless - journey through the city bureaucracy to at least have a new plexi cover put on the sign and have it moved somewhere a bit more prominent in the park. (Too bad this wasn't done last year when the park underwent a huge renovation.)

With the centenary of their feat only a few years away, it would be ice to think that the city and other organizations could get together to perhaps look at something a bit more significant. After all, its what we've been doing at a rapid rate for our present-day sports stars.


1920 Winnipeg Falcons Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame
Frank Frederickson Hockey Hall of Fame
Frank Frederickson Manitoba sports Hall of Fame
Falcons bound for Olympic Hall of Fame Globe and Mail

Long Shot: How the Winnipeg Falcons won the first Olympic hockey gold
Falcons Gold: Canada's First Olympic Hockey Heroes (Listen to my interview with the book's publisher Mackenzie Kristjon Jenkyns here.)

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: James Edward Tait, V.C. of Winnipeg

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at 100 Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

During the First World War there were 70 Victoria Crosses awarded to Canadians. About a dozen of them went to Winnipeg soldiers, (depending on what your definition of a Winnipeg soldier is), and at least four of them to West Enders.

Many know the story of the three"Pine Street Boys". Frederick Hall, Leo Clarke and Robert Shankland who, at the time of their respective enlistments, lived on the same block of Pine Street, (now Valour Road), and were awarded V.C.s for separate actions. The fourth West Ender was Lieutenant James Edward Tait of Thelmo Mansions at 519 Burnell Street.

January 6, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

Tait was born May 27, 1886 in Maxwelltown, Dumfries, Scotland, where he attended Laurieknowe Primary School and Dumfries Academy. He served in the militia and followed in his fathers footsteps as a civil engineer. 

In 1911 he came to Winnipeg and was soon employed by the Hudson Bay Railway, which at the time was surveying land from The Pas northward. By June 1913 his address was 271 Toronto Street, (he does not appear in the Henderson Directory, so it is likely he just had a room there to stay while in town, not that he owned or rented the home.)

June 26, 1913, Winnipeg Tribune

That same year, his brother Richard came to join him, though he barely made it alive. His ship, The Pretorian, was two days late arriving at Montreal because it had sprung a leak half way across the Atlantic. He was then loaded onto the "Winnipeg Special" train which derailed near Ottawa, killing eight and wounding dozens more, mostly new immigrants coming to the West.

Workmen at HBR camp, 1914 (source)

A 1919 Tribune article states that Tait was part of a surveyor's camp on the Kettle River when news came that war had been declared. A member of the 100th Grenadiers militia, he returned to Winnipeg and enlisted in February 1916. (Brother Robert had enlisted with the 79th Cameron Highlanders on January 2.) Both men gave suite 19 Thelmo Mansions, 519 Burnell Street, as their address

On August 28, 1916, just three weeks before sailing to England, he married Jessie Spiers Aitken in Winnipeg. Jessie was born in the same home town as Tait, though had been living in California until 1914. She had relatives that already lived here.

Once married, the couple moved into Thelmo Mansions. When Tait was overseas, she took in  work as a dressmaker.

April 29, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

While in France, Tait was transferred from the 100th Battalion to the 78th with the rank of Lieutenant, eventually rising to acting captain. He was injured three times in action: in April 1917; April 1918 and July 1918. This is likely what earned him the nickname "Madman Tait", used in a June 13, 1919 Free Press story about the 78th Battalion's exploits.

In 1917 Tait was awarded the Military Crossfor conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” for his actions at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. While rushing an enemy line, the company he was leading came under heavy attack. All of the other officers were killed and Tait was wounded in the knee. He stayed in the open on the battlefield, unable to walk, and directed the remaining men to their end target. When reinforcements arrived, he insisted on crawling back to the medic station so that the stretchers could be used for the more seriously wounded.

Grave marker (source)

Tait was killed in action on August 11, 1918 near Amiens, France at the age of 31. He was initially buried on the battlefield and is believed to have been reburied in the Fouquescourt British Cemetery, France.

After his death, it was announced that he would be awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions of August 8 - 11, 1918. His citation reads:

"For most conspicuous bravery and initiative....  The  advance having been checked by intense machine-gun  fire, Lieutenant Tait rallied his company and led it forward with consummate skill and dash under a hail of bullets. A concealed machine gun, however, continued to cause many casualties. Taking a rifle and  bayonet. Lieutenant Tait dashed forward alone and killed the enemy gunner. Inspired by his example, his men rushed the position, capturing twelve machine  guns and twenty prisoners. His valorous action cleared the way for his battalion to advance. Later, when the enemy counter-attacked our positions under intense artillery bombardment, this gallant officer displayed outstanding courage and leadership and, though mortally wounded by a shell, continued to direct and aid his men until his death."

December 12, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

The medal was presented to his widow Jesse by Lieutenant Governor Aiken at Government House on December 18, 1918. In the 1920s she moved back to California where she died on June 20, 1928 at Arcadia at the age of 37.

I could find no further information about brother Richard, other than he survived the war. 

Tait's Writings

Tait wrote about his experiences on the battlefield. One story about the hours leading up to the attack on Vimy Ridge was published in the July 28, 1917 edition of a publication simply called Canada. This is an excerpt, unreadable text is in parentheses. To read the whole article.

 Thoughts of home! Surely it were no sign of weakness to think of home at this time. Canoes, (glillS), trails, the camp on the river, the smell of wood smoke at twilight, the sunset on the lake. Oh! sweet memories: the bitter cold, the snow-clad trail, the yelp of the Husky, the howl of the Indian dog, how far away it all seemed, that old world which we left so long ago, and how different to that in which we live now: a world of mud and many-coloured star-shells, of continual thunder and lightning, a world of endless days and restless nights, of (lUnyars' )and 'crumps,' a world of death and devastation, and unspeakable misery and desolation.


James Tait's fonds, including some correspondence, is located at the Glenbow Archives in Calgary. The Glenbow Museum displays his Victoria Cross in their Warriors gallery.


Image source

Tait is commemorated by a plaque at the  Laurieknowe Primary School, which had two former students receive Victoria Crosses in World War I. (For more photos.)

There is also a commemorative plaque inside the Troqueer Parish Church in Dumfrees, Scotland. The description: 

At the top of the white marble base there is a badge of the 78th Winnipeg Grenadiers – a flaming grenade charged with the letters 78, surmounted by an imperial crown, and flanked by two ribands bearing the words WINNIPEG GRENADIERS, on another riband below the grenade, the words OVERSEAS BATTALION, in base the word CANADA, all on a Canadian maple leaf.  The bronze plaque has the Victoria Cross medal in the top left hand corner and the Military Cross in the top right hand corner.

A point along the Hudson Bay Railway line southwest of Granville Lake and north of Pukatawagan was named Jetait  (for J. E. Tait) in 1953.

 Main Sources:

Canadian Virtual War Memorial entry

James Edward Tait Attestation Papers

Robert Bryden Tait (brother)Attestation Papers

Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry

Manitoba Vital Statistics Database

VCs of the First World War: The Road to Victory 1918 by G. Gideon
- this offers a detailed explanation of the battles he was in. 

Canada’s V.C. Heroes: J E Tait Winnipeg Tribune, February 15 1919

History of Famous 78th Unit Winnipeg Free Press, June 13, 1919

Thanks to the Troqueer Parish Church in Dumfrees, Scotland

This soldier's history has been pieced together using a number of sources. If you have additional information or would like to point out a factual error, please do so in the comments below or by email at cassidy-at-mts.net.

© Christian Cassidy 2014