Sunday, 19 February 2017

Heritage Winnipeg Preservation Awards 2017

Heritage Winnipeg's Annual Heritage Preservation Awards will be taking place at the Millennium Centre on Monday, February 20th at 2 pm. 

The awards are a great way to not only check out a great, old building but to also hear about some of the successful heritage preservation projects that have been going on in the city. 

Often times, it is only the controversial projects that get a lot of media attention - ones that involve conflict between the city and owners, etc. Meanwhile, each year dozens of projects quietly and successfully happen thanks to the dedication of the owners and the craftsmen and women who preserve them.

Nov. 10, 1978, Winnipeg Free Press

This a great chance to also check out the Millennium Centre / former Bank of Commerce Building.

If you haven't been inside, you need to check it out ! It is the building that kicked off the city's heritage movement back in 1978.

Check back later in the day and I will post the recipients !

The 75th Anniversary of If Day

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press marks the 75th Anniversary of "If Day".

If Day was as a simulated Nazi invasion of Winnipeg that took place on February 19, 1942. The event involved weeks of planning, thousands of volunteers, hundreds of pieces of equipment and the buy-in from the military, politicians, media, business organizations, church groups and others.

Feb. 19, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune

The event was supposed to give Winnipeggers a taste of what if would be like IF the Nazis weren't stopped overseas. It's ultimate goal was to sell Victory Bonds, a key tool in the Canadian government's financing of the war effort.
The level of detail was quite astonishing. 

It started with the attack as planes swooped over the city, anti-aircraft guns and other artillery fired. Dynamite explosions were set off on the city's rivers.

Once the Nazis closed in on the city centre, city hall was raided and the mayor and other aldermen arrested. Then, it was on to the Legislature for the premier and some of his cabinet.

Roadblocks were set up and people stopped and asked to show their ID, books were burned at the main library and a downtown apartment block ransacked.

Nazis on Portage Avenue (Source)

The event received North American wide media attention in dozens of newspapers, a three page spread in LIFE magazine and in movie theatres as newsreels.

For more about If Day, check out my column !

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Remembering Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis

On February 7, 1936, Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis, 48, died at Misericordia Hospital. It brought to the end a two-week long vigil kept by many in the city.

On the evening of January 24, 1936, Gillis and his partner, George Blow, responded to a police radio message of a robbery-in-progress at a gas station at Donald Street and St. Mary Avenue. They pulled up just as the 22-year-old thief, Ian Bryson, was leaving the building.

Gillis and Blow gave chase and Bryson turned and fired a shot that hit Gillis in the stomach.

Blow was able to catch Bryson while Gillis stumbled into the arms of a passing pedestrian. He was rushed to Misericordia Hospital in a taxi.

Winnipeg Police Constable Charles Gillis
Gillis, multiple Police Athletic Association top athlete

Aside from being a well-liked Winnipeg policeman since 1912, Gillis was also a respected war veteran and award-winning athlete involved in a number of athletic leagues around town. Just days before the shooting he had been elected president of the Winnipeg chapter of the Cosmopolitan Club, a community service group.

He and his wife lived at 169 Morely Street with their two teenage children, George and Eleanor. His son told a reporter that he was also an avid shutterbug and loved to take photos on their family vacations.

Notice posted by chief on Police Department bulletin board, Feb. 7, 1936

Newspapers ran daily updates on Gillis's condition and the city followed the ups and downs as he tried to recover.

Initially, he remained in fair condition with some hope of recovery due to his excellent physical condition. The bullet, though, had done too much damage, tearing his intestine in three places. As time went on, peritonitis, then pneumonia set in.

Constable Gillies died at 6:30 am on the morning of February 7, 1936.

The city mourned. Flags on many buildings, including stores, flew at half mast. Hundreds filed past his coffin as he lay in state at a funeral home. A thousand people attended his funeral at St. Ignatius church. The Tribune raised over $2,000 for a special fund to assist the widow and children.

On June 8, 1936, Ian Murray Bryson, went on trial for the murder.

It was noted that he had a criminal record, including an earlier stint in jail for other thefts.

His defence argued that he had been drinking all day and could not remember the shooting. It was also proposed that because Gillis ultimately died of pneumonia, the lung ailment could have struck him down whether or not he had been shot.

The jury was having none of it. Bryson was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to hang.

November 20, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

On the morning of November 20, 1936, Bryson was led to the gallows. He was reported to have looked calm and prayed quietly as the trap door was pulled at 7:27 a.m..

The saddest part of this tragedy is that the cash drawer at the gas station had already been emptied when Bryson arrived. The total Bryson got during the robbery was thirty cents.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Charles Chow-Leong and Chinese-Canadians during World War II

February 5, 1952, Winnipeg Free Press

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Carman Air Disaster.

A few years back I blogged about the tragic event that started around noon on February 4, 1952 with the death of three people after an RCAF plane crashed into the CBC transmitter tower outside Carman, Manitoba. It ended twelve hours later with the death of three repairmen who were killed when the damaged tower collapsed on them.

For the anniversary I wanted to dig deeper into the story and see if I could expand it into one of my columns for the Winnipeg Free Press. That column appeared last Sunday.

One of the paths I followed was the short life of the plane's pilot, Flight Officer Charles "Charlie" Chow-Leong of Lethbridge, Alberta, and the story of Chinese Canadian soldiers during World War II.

Much of this research didn't make it into the column. Instead of keeping the information and photos provided by his family on my hard drive, I thought I would share it.

Charles Chow-Loeng (Chow family archives)

When Canada entered World War II, Canadian-born Chow-Leong wanted to enlist in the RCAF but found that it was closed to people of colour.

For Chinese Canadians, this was not the only discrimination they faced from the Canadian government.

Most Chinese immigrants came to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. That's why Charlie's father, Ling Chow, and three of his brothers came around 1901. They worked in Alberta doing some of the most dangerous jobs, including the construction of the High Level Bridge, (also see), near Lethbridge.

July 2, 1924, Winnipeg Tribune

As the various phases of railway construction were completed, the federal government had no desire to accept more Chinese immigrants. In 1885, it implemented a $50 "head tax" on all new Chinese immigrants, even on the immediate family members of those who had already come and finished their work on the railway. The government hoped that if it was too expensive for them to bring their loved ones here, that they would choose instead to return to their homeland.

The head tax did not have the desired effect, so the government raised it to $100 in 1902 and to $500 in 1903. 

The government's final, drastic measure came in 1923 with the introduction of the "Chinese Exclusion Act"  which imposed an almost complete ban on Chinese immigrants. (Exceptions included students, people in transit, diplomats and certain merchants.)

On Dominion Day, July 1, 1924, Chinese communities in cities and towns across the country left their businesses shuttered and commemorated what they called "Humiliation Day".

March 7, 1924, Winnipeg Free Press

The Exclusion Act was used as an excuse for further discrimination against Chinese Canadians.

In Winnipeg, and perhaps other communities, there was a bylaw that banned women from working in Chinese restaurants or cafes. It was meant to cut off one of the only potential sources of income a wife or daughter might have if she immigrated. After the Exclusion Act, the bylaw stayed in place.

The city's civic legislation committee was advised by a law firm that they may have to remove the word "Chinese" from the bylaw or run the risk of a court striking it down.

The committee decided not to drop "Chinese", noting that it would cause hardship to non-Chinese restaurant and cafe owners who would have to apply for an exemption. Besides, “It was decided that the clause was satisfactory as it stood, in view of the fact that the Orientals are given different treatment to others by the imposition of a head tax by the Dominion Government." (Winnipeg Free Press, March 7, 1924)

Wilson Siding and Lethbridge (Google Maps)

Ling Chow's wife, Ming Ho, came to Canada in 1920, thus paying the $500 tax. The couple established a 650-acre wheat farm at Wilson Siding, Alberta, about 25 kilometres south east of Lethbridge, where they raised their eight children. Charlie was the oldest, born June 27, 1922.

Charlie attended White School, then Lethbridge Collegiate and was working at the Ritz Cafe, a Chinese restaurant on 5th St. S. in Lethbridge, when World War II was declared.

The war caused a split in the Chinese community. As described at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum website:

"Those who wanted to volunteer argued that if Chinese wanted to be considered first class citizens, they needed to demonstrate their commitment to Canada.  Those who were opposed volunteering replied, 'Look at what the government has done to us.  Why should we fight for a country that doesn’t want us?'"

September 2, 1943, Lethbridge Herald

It wasn't until October 1942, with the RCAF growing desperate for new recruits and after the war had entered the Pacific region, that recruitment was opened to Chinese Canadians. Charlie was among the first batch of recruits and received his wings in September 1943 from No. 7 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station McLeod in Alberta.

According to Charlie's youngest brother, Jim, who still lives in the Lethbridge area, like in most families there were tears at first, but they were proud that Charlie was going to fight for his country.

Charlie was asked by a Lethbridge Herald reporter why he, (keep in mind he was Canadian born), didn't choose to enlist in the Chinese Air Force instead. He replied, "Why? We are all one in this fight now".

Chow-Leong took part in the Burma campaign and was then was stationed to India, patrolling the Indian Ocean. After his death, an Air Force spokesman told the Free Press that he “…specialized in paratrooping, supply dropping and glider towing.”

July 27, 1947, Winnipeg Tribune

In all, about 600 Chinese Canadians fought in World War II. It was thanks in large part to their efforts that the Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1947. 

The repeal was phased in. It started in May 1947 by allowing the wives and children of those who already lived in Canada to come. By February 1948, however, not one new immigrant came.

A spokesman for the Chinese consulate in Ottawa explained to a reporter that because the last Chinese immigrant was allowed to enter the country 25 years earlier,  "... there were practically no wives or children to bring".

In fact, most Chinese living in the country at the time were Canadian-born.

Top: Chow-Leong in China (Courtesy: Chow Family)

After the war, Charlie went to China and flew for the commercial airline Central Air Transport Company for about five years. In 1951, he returned to Alberta.

By this time, the Chow family, (who had since dropped the Leong portion of the name), sold the farm and moved to 705 4th St. S. in Lethbridge.

Top: Charlie and Margie (Courtesy: Chow Family archives)
Bottom: 5th Street S. in 1951, Ritz Cafe on left (Alberta Archives)

Charlie brought with him his Chinese wife, Marge. They moved into the family home, with seven others, and he resumed work as a cashier at the Ritz Cafe. The couple soon a daughter.

By this time, Charlie was 29 with about 6,000 hours of flying experience under his belt. He surely must have felt that he could do more than work at a cafe.

The RCAF was in the midst of a major restructuring and consolidation of its bases. No. 2 Flight Training School was relocated to Winnipeg and was on its way to becoming the country's largest military flight training centre for NATO forces.

Charlie decided to rejoin the RCAF and was posted to No. 2 Flight Training School. It was while on flight with two British trainees that he lost his life. You can read more about the accident here.

Charlie's funeral (Chow family archives)

Charlie's remains were returned to Lethbridge and his funeral took place on the afternoon of Monday, February 11, 1952.

His body laid in state at the Chinese National League Hall before the cortege, led by 50 RCAF personnel members from Clareholm, Alberta and Winnipeg, wound through the town, past the family home to St. Augustine's Church and then to Mountain View Cemetery. The Lethbridge Herald reported that hundreds of residents lined the route to pay their respects.

At the cemetery there was a gun salute and RCAF flypast as his coffin was lowered.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Remembering the Town and Country Apartments Fire (1977)

This is one in a series of Winnipeg's deadliest fires.

April 13, 1966, Winnipeg Tribune
Source: U of M Library, Tribune Archives

On the morning of January 31, 1977, the Town and Country Lodge apartments at 877 Preston Avenue at Arlington Street went up in flames.

Despite the idyllic sounding name, the terraced housing block was in a grave state of disrepair.

It is unclear when the terraced housing complex was built, perhaps as early as 1906. It was a series of private residences but in 1955 became the Town and Country Lodge. Ads through to the early 1960s offered rooms for rent by the day, week or month.

Apparently it was sometimes used by family members visiting patients at the Grace Hospital as a boarding house. In 1967, though, the Grace moved to St. James and by the 1970s was subdivided into 31 suites, most of which had to share common bathrooms.

The block was shut down in 1971 for being what one city official called a "slum". A list of 28 health and safety complaints had been levied against it and they felt the owners were dragging their feet in making the necessary repairs. In 1975 it was again shut down by the city for being "unfit for human habitation", but reopened after minimal repairs were made.

The building was referred to by some as a "flop house", a place where transient people came and went and where rooms were overcrowded due to tenants housing visiting friends and family. Many of those who lived in the block were on city welfare.

February 1, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

At 1:33 am on the morning of January 31, 1977 a fire broke out on the main floor. It quickly spread up partition walls and ventilation shafts to the attic. Many residents who escaped did so by jumping form upper floor windows.

Later that morning, fire officials entered the building to find eight bodies. Seventeen were sent to hospital, a number of them in critical condition. Due to the condition of the bodies and the number of transient people staying in the block, identification was difficult. On February 2nd, the following list of dead were provided to the media:

Gary Sorstad, 34, of suite 17
Mary Yakesewski, 35 of unit 10
Donald Larousse, 41, of suite 6
Jessie Kinkley, 62 of suite 5
Virginia Sinclair, 38 of suite 22
Ralph Michael, 40, of Suite 22

One other man and an 18 month old baby could not be identified at the time and it is unclear whether they ever were.

No official cause for the fire was found, theories ranged from bad wiring to careless smoking.

April 7, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

This was Winnipeg's third apartment fire in just the first month of 1977. This, despite the fact that the city had begun to crack down on fire safety in apartments since the Haselmere Apartment fire killed nine in 1974 and the Fort Garry Court fire in 1976 killed five.

In past decades when the city tried to enforce modern fire code for all apartment buildings, regardless of when they were built, landlords fought back by threatening to shutter buildings and not build new ones. For the most part, the city backed down and only enforced the updated fire code for new construction and left existing buildings alone.

The Haselmere changed that, though the number of appeals to fire code notices by landlords and the sheer number of buildings the city now had to inspect - an additional 1,500 - bogged the process down for years.

The Town and Country had passed a fire inspection just eight months before the fire, even though the building had no smoke alarms and the fire escapes didn't reach the top floor. This was because the building fell between the cracks of the new rules. It wasn't tall enough to be classified an apartment and because it was a row of terraced houses, it wasn't considered a rooming house. As a result, it was inspected based on what it would have needed circa 1906 when it was built.

The city faced strong criticism at the inquest into the fire for having such a patchwork of fire regulations that numerous properties fell between the cracks. it was noted that all of those killed died of smoke inhalation, not flames, so smoke detectors would have likely saved at least some of the lives.

April 7, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

Survivors, most of whom were on city welfare, were moved to the McLaren Hotel. Many complained long after the fire that their housing and other emergency needs were never met.

A group of survivors created an organization called the Associated Tenants Action Committee (ATAC) that pressed for improvements in emergency relief and better quality affordable housing in the city. ATAC was active for a number of years after the disaster.

On April 7, 1977, the same day the inquest's report critical of the city was released, the city passed a motion to include all residential buildings under the city's fire safety bylaws. This included hotels, motels, lodges and boarding houses and would have included the Town and Country.

For more of Winnipeg's deadliest fires.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Today's column: Remembering the CBC Air Disaster and FO Charles Chow-Leong

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press marks the 65th anniversary of the long-forgotten Carman Air Disaster.

On February 4th, 1952, three men were killed when an RCAF C-45 Expeditor struck the CBC Manitoba transmitter tower outside of Carman, Manitoba.

One was RCAF Pilot Officer Charles Chow-Leong of Lethbridge, a World War II veteran. The other two were trainees from Britain's Royal Air Force: Acting Pilot Officer Peter Frederick Harvey and Acting Pilot Officer Edward Scanlon.

Twelve hours later, three Dominion Bridge workers who had climbed the tower to make repairs were killed when the structure collapsed. They were: Ronald Erickson, of Tyndall; Walter Burtnyk of Winnipeg and Jake Dyck of Grunthal.

I wrote a blog post about the Carman Air Disaster a few years ago but it wanted to see if I could delve deeper into the accident and the people involved.

One area I ended up exploring was Chinese Canadians In World War II. Chow-Loeng was one of the first to sign up for the RCAF in October 1942. Prior to that, the RCAF was off-limits to people of colour.

I was fortunate to be able to find some of his family in Alberta who shared stories and photos. I couldn't include it all in the article but plan another post in the days ahead to share more!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Mental Health Industries of Brandon (1963 to 1971)

Brandon Salt and Pepper Shakers ca. 1968

Long ago, I stopped collecting historic “stuff”.

I often stumbled across it or was offered it by people and quickly realized that if I didn't stop I would soon be overrun. My one soft spot, though, is souvenir tableware - things like mugs, plates, cups, especially with centennial or municipal logos.

When my friend Kali at Atomic Age Vintage emailed to ask about “Mental Health Industries” of Brandon and if they made things like salt and pepper shakers in the 1960s, I was intrigued and went on the hunt for information. When I saw the logos, I knew I was going to own them.

Mental Health Industries was a commercial wing of the Brandon Mental Health Centre, which in the 1960s was called the Brandon Hospital for Mental Diseases.

In 1960, under the supervision of the clinical director Dr. W. Schlicter and industrial therapist George Wroblewski, the Industrial Therapy Committee was created at the hospital. The purpose was to provide patients with skills they would need in the outside world and make them a little pocket money.

Initially, the committee set up a scrap metal business and a pair of cafeterias inside the hospital and did contract work like repairing burlap bags for the City of Brandon. There were complaints that it took the government-run hospital way too long to return money to the patients, so the Canadian Mental Health Association was brought in as a partner. The non-profit organization handled the bookkeeping.

The name of the organization was changed in 1963 to Mental Health Industries, (MHI). By this time, they had a large workshop in the hospital and were producing a wide range of items like aprons, plastic goods and ceramic ware.

Nov. 4, 1965, Brandon Sun

On November 5, 1965, MHI opened a storefront retail shop at 32 Ninth Street, across from the old Government Telephones Building.

The move downtown seemed to have a dual effect. Not only did it allow for the expansion of the program by making its wares more widely available, it helped take away some of the stigma from the hospital. During Mental Health Week, for instance, numerous city businesses took out small ads to sponsor a page for the MHI store and the Canadian Mental Health Association, thanking them for their service to the community.

By 1966, MHI had eleven employees plus 200 patients on staff and the workshop at the hospital had increased to 8,000 square feet. Ads for the store listed products for sale such as home furnishings, (step stools, small table and bookcases), souvenirs, (ash trays, paperweights and salt and pepper shakers) and wooden children’s toys and furniture. The number of canteens in the hospital increased to four.

November 4, 1965, Brandon Sun

The store appears to have been a success.

In a 1968 Brandon Sun story, store manager Gladys Brown noted that people drove in from around the region to purchase gift ware and souvenirs to support the cause. A May 1965 editorial noted that the store made "upwards of $25,000 a year."

June 11, 1971, Brandon Sun

In the late 1960s, MHI began working closely with an organization called Rehab Industries of Western Manitoba. It was established in 1966 to provide work assessment, training and "sheltered employment" for adult handicapped persons.

On April 1, 1971, the two formally merged to create A.R.M. Industries and in June moved to a new retail space across the street at 35 Ninth Street.

Initially, they used facilities at both the hospital and Rehab Industries' building on Third Street at Van Horne to create products. Specialties of the Third Street site were printing, silk screening and sign making.

The Rehab Industries site was expanded in 1973 and  more of the workshop space moved out of the hospital. In 1977, the retail shop itself relocated there.

Its unclear when the production of souvenir items like the salt shakers ended.

On November 18, 1993, A.R.M. Industries of Brandon changed its name to Career Connections Incorporated.