Sunday, 7 January 2018

Winnipeg's Ice Queen, Mary Rose Thacker

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about Winnipeg's Mary Rose Thacker.

Thacker began skating at the age of three and was the star member of the Winnipeg Winter Club figure skating club. By the late 1930s, she was winning national and North American figure skating championships.

Sadly, as with many athletes of her generation, World War II dashed her chances of international glory.

Friday, 5 January 2018

A sad day for Brandon's Strand Theatre

© 2017, Christian Cassidy
Top: The Strand in 2015. Bottom: Merx.com

It's a sad day for Brandon's 101-year-old Strand Theatre as the public tender for its demolition closes at today 2:00 p.m..

One year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a column in the Winnipeg Free Press about the history of the Strand, which had sat vacant since 2005, and how it received a new lease of life when it was sold to Brandon University by Landmark Cinemas for $1.

It didn't take long for the news to sour as the engineers hired by BU determined that the building was not salvageable. From the Brandon Sun of Feb 14, 2017: "Probably in the last six to eight months, you can see we’ve lost the integrity of our roof membrane," said Michael Maendel, engineer with Burns Maendel Consulting Engineers. "When water comes into a building, you get more freeze/thaw cycles and more damage. This has been one of the challenges." 

If there is a silver lining to the story, it is that the Strand project got BU thinking about creating a downtown campus. They are currently working to assemble a seven-lot parcel of land for such a purpose. 

Sadly, the Strand will not be part of that expansion.

You can read a clipping of that January 2017 column by clicking the above image. 

For some other Brandon-related posts I have written over the years, check out this list. Some of the entries are years old and have developed formatting and broken hyperlink issues which I hope to clean up soon.

- Happy 135th birthday, Brandon: 1934 film footage
- Brandon's inter-city bus terminal history
- Brandon's 8th Street bridge to be demolished
- Brandon's street railway system, 1913-1932 and related Winnipeg Free Press column
- Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon (1916) and related Winnipeg Free Press column
- Brandon's retro Kentucky Fried Chicken demolished
- Mental Health Industries of Brandon (1963 - 1971)
- Brandon's Syndicate Block Fire and more detailed Winnipeg Free Press column
- Brandon's fallen firefighter finally remembered
- Brandon's CPR Station
- The Brandon Asylum site in photos
- The 1919 Stanley Cup and the death of Brandon's Joe Hall
- A history of Brandon's waterworks. Part 1. Part 2.
- Brandon's first female alderman
- John A Macdonald dies in Brandon
Telephony in Brandon
Sgt. William White - Brandon's first WWI casualty
- Manitoba's WWI fallen: C. A. Matheson of Brandon
- The Aagaard Brothers and Aagaard Cafe

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My most-read blog posts and Free Press columns of 2017

Thanks to everyone who visited my blogs in 2017. With 79,000 page views for my "big three" it was a busy year. A special thanks to those who donated towards my new computer, a lovely new ThinkPad, which has made my work even easier.

At this time of year I like to look back and see what got the most attention over the past twelve months and share the list .... 

Brandon Sun, June 29, 1933

West End Dumplings: Most-read posts written in 2017

I should really leave town. The majority of my top ten were about places outside of Winnipeg. That's fine by me as I enjoy exploring the history of other communities.

1. Brandon's Inter-city Bus Terminal History In May, Brandon's bus terminal went up for sale. As with Winnipeg, Greyhound was looking for a much smaller space as the province's inter-city bus service dwindles away.

2. Happy 135th birthday, Brandon, Manitoba: 1934 film footage! This year was Brandon's 135th birthday. I posted some film footage I found at the Manitoba Archives and made an index of Brandon-related posts from past years. I still have about a half dozen Brandon posts in my drafts folder that I should really finish up.

3. Brandon's Strand Theatre's 100th Birthday Gift  In January, Brandon's long-vacant Strand Theatre got a lifeline when Brandon University announced that it was purchasing the building. This post was a teaser for a Free Press column I wrote about the history of the place.

4. Injecting a bit of history into a community pollution debate Over the summer a pollution debate came to a head in St. Boniface. The alleged culprit was a modern day car shredder but I found that over the century some of the worst polluting industries once called the neighbourhood home.

5. Lives lived at 17 Harvard Avenue  In December, some residents of Crescentwood were disappointed when 17 Harvard Avenue was demolished. Before it is forgotten, I thought I would look back at the lives lived there.

6. Brandon's 8th Street Bridge to be Demolished In March, the City of Brandon announced that the ca. 1968 8th Street bridge would finally be replaced. I looked back at the history of crossings teh tracks in the Wheat City.

7. B.C. Mills' kit Bank of Commerce in Elkhorn is closing When CIBC announced that it was vacating its branch in Elkhorn, MB, not only did it leave the community without a financial institution, it also meant that one of the last "Prairie Style" Bank of Commerce kit buildings still used as a bank would close.

8. Rivers, Manitoba B.C. Mills prefab Bank of Commerce building for sale Similar to number 7, the Bank of Commerce kit building in Rivers, MB, long since converted to a dwelling, was up for sale. I looked back at the history of the building.

9. A belated bye-bye to Blue Ribbon Tea (1897 - 2015) Without fanfare, a once mighty local brand went by the wayside in 2015.

10. A look back at Winnipeg's Mitchell Fabrics This year saw the closure of a Winnipeg institution. Mitchell Fabrics was started by Mednel Mitchell almost 70 years ago.

Sures House, 1021 Wellington Crescent (source)

West End Dumplings: Most-read posts of 2017 - Overall

I've been blogging for a decade so it is no surprise that a majority of the year's most-read posts were actually written in previous years. This year, just one post from 2017 made the top ten.

Some of the posts are a little embarrassing to look back on as a number of the research tools available to me now were not back then, so some posts are quite thin on detail. From time to time I do try to reach back and clean up past posts, especially broken hyperlinks.

1. Brandon's Inter-city Bus Terminal History In May, Brandon's bus terminal went up for sale. As with Winnipeg, Greyhound was looking for a much smaller space as the province's inter-city bus service dwindles away.

2. Lives lived at 1021 Wellington Crescent In 2014, this house was destroyed by fire. I took a look back at those who called it home.

3. Great Winnipeg Stadium Moments: Construction (1953) The old Winnipeg Stadium seemed to be on peoples minds this year. This was the first in a multi-part series from 2011.

4. Safeway in Winnipeg Part 2 - The Boom Years A series written in 2010, which needs some serious updating, has always been a popular read.

5. Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon (1916) Part of series, this crash in the heart of Brandon was likely Manitoba's, deadliest train crash until the Dugald Train Disaster of the 1940s.

6. Remember those car window frost shields ?! A look back at those pesky car window frost shields.

7. Budweiser's Clydesdales and their Winnipeg origins One of my favourites. How Pat Shea's prize winning horses ended up across the border to become advertising icons.

8. A history of the Arlington Street Bridge - Part 1 Destined for replacement by 2020, here's a look back at the history of Winnipeg's Arlington Bridge.

9. "Put Your Trash Into Orbit" Seems people were looking back

10. Winnipeg's 5 Deadliest Fires This was the cover post for a series of Winnipeg's deadliest fires.

St. James Police Dep't mug shot (source)

This Was Manitoba: Most-Read Posts of 2017

In the beginning, there was This Was Winnipeg. Meant to be a day-by-day look at historic events, every once in a while I branched out and wrote a more detailed blog post. Eventually, I started a new blog called West End Dumplings to host my long-form posts.

These are all from 2008 (!) but remain popular, especially the Flying Bandit which is my most-read blog post of all time. I also receive the most comments about it. As I say every year: why someone hasn't made a feature movie about him, I don't know.

1. Kenneth Leishman - The Flying Bandit
2. Eaton's Catalogue Houses
3. Len Fairchuk, The Western Hour and the Rex Theatre 
4. The Rex and Starland Theatres and the rest of the 600 block of Main Street
5. Genser's Furniture of Winnipeg


 Winnipeg Downtown Places: Most-Read Posts of 2017

1. 335 Donald Street - Former Masonic Temple
2. 272 Main Street - Scott Block
3. 164 Langside Street - Hill Bros. Grocery
4. 233 Kennedy Street - Medical Arts Building
5. 234 Portage Avenue - The White House

Winnipeg Free Press: Most Read Columns in 2017

1. Sears' lasting Impact A look back at the retailer's 69-year history in Winnipeg.

2. When war came to Winnipeg The Nazi invasion of Winnipeg, also known as "If Day", made international headlines.

3. Closeted councillor a victim of the times The rise and fall of Charles Spence, a gay city councillor outed after police surveillance in 1962.

4. Driven to great heights  The story behind Winnipeg's very first multi-storey parkades, most of which are still in use today.

5. Taking a Strand Brandon's Strand Theatre gets a lifeline for its 100th birthday.

6. Double disaster in Carman In 1952, six people were killed in a combination air accident and radio tower collapse near Carman, Manitoba.

7. The woman behind the wheel Mary Staub became the city's first female transit driver in 1975.

8. Going off the rails The story of Brandon's streetcar system which lasted less than 20 years.

9. Work of Art Thirty years ago, ARTSPACE opened in an historic building in the Exchange District and is still going strong.

10. Etched in stone The story behind Manitoba's own Tyndall stone, which graces buildings across the country and around the world.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Merry Christmas !

Christmas Eve on Portage, 1925 and 1935. Click for image information.

Over the years, I've written a number of Christmas-related posts for West End Dumplings. Check out the links below.

Merry Christmas, or whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, to all of my readers !

This was the first year that downtown merchants got together as a group to set up Christmas lights in the area.

From the 1890s to 1940, how merchants advertized their Christmas wares.

In Christmas 1948, 10 year-old Douglass Hanson saved lives.

The Tribune's home ec editor's tips for a normal Christmas despite rationing and food shortages. 

See story number 7 for a brief bio of Christopher Kendall, the Santa Claus of Portage and Main. 

A brief collection of Christmas fiction from Manitoba authors.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Lives lived at 17 Harvard Avenue

17 Harvard Avenue, ca. May 2014 (Google Street View)

The home that once stood at 17 Harvard Avenue in Crescentwood was recently demolished, to the chagrin of many of its neighbours. The plan is for a new, single-family home to go in its place.

Though it is gone, before it is forgotten here is a look back at some of the lives lived there.

Bottom: 1879 ad, Free Press

The house was built in 1910 - 1911 for Earle Calder Duffin and Newman F. Calder and family.

The two men were owners of the pioneering photography firm Duffin and Company, created in 1873 by Simon Duffin, (also see.). At first, it operated mainly has a photography studio and sold postcards and prints but the business evolved into a camera and photo accessory store.

By the time the house was built, Simon was company president but its operation fell to his son, Earl, as vice-president, and Calder, the manager.

Calder was an Ontario-born businessman who came to Winnipeg ca. 1894 and opened a grocery business. He was married to Simon Duffin's daughter, Josie, though she died during childbirth in 1903 and the son died a couple of years later.

By the time the house was built, he had remarried and had two small children.

July 20, 1921, Winnipeg Tribune

In December 1914, Duffin enlisted and by the end of the war had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He remained in England after the war and became the general manager of the London Daily Express newspaper.

Duffin returned to Winnipeg in the summer of 1921 to wed Mabel Ryan, daughter of Thomas Ryan, of the footwear company fortune, and the two returned to England.

During World War II, Mrs. Duffin and their child returned to Winnipeg as "War Visitors" and went back to England when the hostilities were over.  

1925 advertisement

For most of its existence, Duffin and Company was located in what is known as the Duffin Block at Main Street at Bannatyne, though by the 1920s it had relocated at 472 Portage Avenue and had another store in Calgary. It was a leading retailer of Kodak cameras and accessories.

In 1926, with Calder in failing health, he sold the stores to Kodak Eastman Stores Ltd.

Calder died in August 1927. is funeral was held at 17 Harvard Avenue.

Calder and daughter Shirley, a clerk at the Bank of Montreal, continued to live at the home until 193there together, she was a clerk at bank of Montreal. In 1934 she married David C Dingwall of the D W Dingwall jewellery family. 

Mrs. Calder was a socialite and 17 Harvard was home to countless teas, fundraisers and otehr social gatherings over the decades. She continued to live at the home until 1941.

In the late 1930s, when Calder wintered away from Winnipeg, John D. Hopper, Consul General to the United States, and daughter Virginia, would move into the home for the season.

In 1941, she put the house up for sale.

Source: The Manitoban

The next residents were newlyweds Glen and Margaret (Daisy) Pierce and family. They created a formal, 4 room suite in the house with its own entrance, so there were often lodgers living with them.

Glen W. Pierce attended Kelvin High School and showed himself to be a musical prodigy. He won numerous awards and scholarships as a student at the University of Manitoba in the 1930s and continued his studies in piano at the Royal Academy of London and in opera and conducting at the Julliard School of Music in New York.

At the time they moved into the house, Pierce was a music teacher at Hugh John Macdonald School. He performed at recitals and was conductor of the University of Manitoba's choral society and its symphony orchestra.

Margaret "Daisy" Forbes was born in Northern Ireland and arrived in Canada with her family when she was around 10-years-old. She attended St. John's High school where she was active in theatre and musicals.

After school, she became a secretary for Winnipeg School Division and while acting as a substitute teacher at Lord Selkirk School, met Glen Pierce.

She assisted Glen on many of his musical projects and he once referred to her in a tribune article as his greatest critic because of her background in music.

The Pierces had four children, two sons and two daughters.


In 1947, Pierce began a 19-year teaching career at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, turning its music program into one of the best in the city. They made recordings, sang with the WSO and had concerts broadcast on local and national radio. A highlight was taking the 68-member school choir to Wales in 1957 to perform at an international music festival. They placed second for mixed choirs.

He left in 1966 to become the director of music for Winnipeg public schools.

Glen Pierce retired in 1975. Soon after, the couple moved to Florida.

Glen died in 2015 at the age of 103. Margaret died in 2017 at the age of 100.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

A look back at 489 Furby Street


Sadly, another West End apartment block has gone up in flames and will likely have to be torn down.

At my Winnipeg Downtown Places blog, I take a look back at the history of the Patricia Court Apartments on Furby Street.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Manitoba's reaction to the 1917 Halifax Explosion

© 2017, Christian Cassidy
Dec 7, 1917, Tribune and Free Press

Like most of the world, Manitobans were shocked by the news that on December 6, 1917, the explosives-laden French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc collided with the Norwegian SS Imo, acting as a Belgian relief ship, in Halifax Harbour.

Though it would take days to get a handle on the death toll, it was clear that this was one of the world's deadliest man-made disasters. The most recent official estimate of the number of people killed is 1,835 (source) with thousands others injured.

The stories of death and destruction even manged to push World War I off of the front pages for a couple of days.

December 10, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

Initially, people's thoughts turned to loved ones in the area. Normally, this would have been a small number but, thanks to World War I, there were thousands of additional people in the region either stationed there or travelling through it to and from the front.

One such man was Harry Taylor who worked at Winnipeg's CPR freight yards before enlisting. He served aboard the HMS St. Eloi, a newly launched trawler built for patrol and escort duties, based at Halifax Harbour.

His family were put out of their misery when, four days after the explosion they received a telegram from Harry to say that he was safe. He credited the fact that he was below deck in the heavily fortified engine room at the time of the explosion for saving his life.

The commanding officer of the ship was not so lucky. He was on deck and killed by flying debris.

Harry's story was pretty typical for those awaiting word personnel stationed in Halifax. Once telegraph lines were repaired, which took about three days, messages began arriving in the city and almost all brought good news.

December 14, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

The one exception was Able Seaman Bert Saunders.

The 17-year-old was stationed aboard the depot ship HMCS Niobe just a few hundred meters away from where the two ships collided. He was one of six men who volunteered to take a small boat over to the burning Mont Blanc in the hopes of saving crew members and perhaps guiding it out of the harbour. 

The boat and its men were obliterated as they pulled up along side the Mont Blanc and it exploded. (You can read more about Saunders' life and death here.)

Saunders, I believe, is the only "Winnipegger" killed in the blast. Though there were numerous stories of local people losing family members or friends, it appears that none of them were from Winnipeg, or at least had not lived here in a very long time.

Winnipeg Tribune Donation Slip

The needs of the people of Halifax were many. The call went out across North America for money to supply food, shelter and medical care.

The governments of the day did donate to the Halifax Relief Fund. Final figures are hard to determine, but in the immediate aftermath Manitoba donated $25,000, Winnipeg gave another $25,000 and Brandon $3,000.

Both the Tribune and Free Press had their own relief funds that people could donate to and it seems clear that most of the money collected from Manitoba came from individuals and community organizations, not from governments.

December 10, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

Almost immediately, donations big and small poured into the newspapers.

Some were from children who were touched by the stories of the large number of schools destroyed and of the kids left orphaned by the blast. Nellie Stebbings, a 12-year-old from Alexander School, and Florence Dickson, a 10-year-old from Melrose Avenue, were two who took it upon themselves to canvas their neighbourhoods to raise money.

December 15, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

The time of year was both a blessing and a curse for fundraising.

In the run-up to Christmas there were already countless concerts, recitals, school plays, dinners and other special events planned. Many gave all or part of their proceeds to the relief fund, such as the one above play at Laura Secord School.

The downside was that this was an important time of year for many charities and some were afraid that there would not be enough money to go around. People were encouraged to dig deeper because of Halifax rather than just shift around the usual amount of their seasonal doantions.

Aside from long-standing charities such as the Community Chest and Salvation Army there were some Christmas-specific campaigns like the Empty Stocking Fund that bought gifts for orphans and poor children.

This, of course, was on top of the needs of wartime charities. The Red Cross were sending care packages to troops and POWs overseas while numerous local agencies raised funds to provide assistance to local families struggling to make ends meet while the head of the household was away fighting in a prolonged war.

December 13, 1917, Winnipeg Tribune

No final figures for the amount raised in Manitoba can be found. In mid-December, though, the Free Press reported that when the public campaigns of both newspapers and government funds were added together the total was just over $100,000 and this was before what was expected to be one of the largest fundraising days of all.

Sunday, December 15, was Halifax Relief Day in Winnipeg. The city lifted its bylaw restricting Sunday entertainment so that cinemas and theatres could put on performances. In return, they were expected to donate their entire gross receipts to the Halifax Relief Fund.

Another date was an already planned speaking engagement by Nellie McClung on December 20th, 1917. It was decided that it should be scaled up and made into a relief event.

The Walkers donated the use of their theatre and Maude Cowie a local opera veteran who had recently moved back to Winnipeg from Montreal, offered to sing. The mayor agreed to be the emcee for the night.

Fundraising efforts continued long after the Halifax Explosion disappeared from the headlines.

Mrs. R. G. Rogers and Mrs. A. J. Andrews helped put on "A Little Casino" at the Royal Alexandra Hotel on January 11, 1918. It was a mix of dances, skits, games of chance for a nickel and silent auction.  The goal was to raise $5,000 towards the long-term care of those left blinded by the explosion. (The Halifax Explosion was the largest mass blinding in Canadian history with over 1,000 people effected.)

January 2, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

A man who had a long-lasting effect on the rebuilding of Halifax was J. Howard T. Falk, secretary Winnipeg's Social Welfare Commission, a city employee. Respected for his work on provincial and civic relief bodies, the Halifax Relief Committee requested his services to help oversee the rebuilding process.

City council agreed to give him a two month leave of absence, from early January to early March 1918, with the feds and city each picking up half of his salary.

Soon after he returned, he was hired away by McGill University to be their first Director of the School of Social Work.

Halifax Explosion Links:
Halifax Explosion Collection
Nova Scotia Archives
Halifax Explosion The Canadian Encyclopedia
Halifax Explosion Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
City Destroyed CBC News Interactive