Monday, 28 December 2015

Laura Secord School at 960 Wolseley Avenue

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.   
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

"The great economic prosperity enjoyed by Manitoba through most of its pre-war decade clearly produced a substantial growth in the size and quality of its schools... Winnipeg's energetic building program thrust Manitoba into the forefront of Canadian school building construction during the years 1904-14. It would appear that these architectural and administrative advances were the product of a prosperous maturing society able and willing to avail itself of the best of contemporary school construction technology." 
~ Ivan Saunders ~
(A Survey of Manitoba School Architecture to 1930
C.I.H.B. Research Bulletin No. 222 November 1984 p. 9 & 10.)

Quick Facts

Laura Secord School Crest.
  • Named after Laura Secord Ingersoll, Canadian heroine from the War of 1812
  • Built in 1912, completed in 1914
  • Featured the latest in education practices and fire safety technology at the time
  • Part of a boom in school construction and a change in attitudes towards education in Manitoba in the pre-war era
  • Contractors for the construction were Thomas Kelly & Sons, who later became notorious for their role in the Legislative Building Scandal
  • The building's design was intended to be as fireproof as possible, following a tragedy in Collinwood, Ohio that resulted in the deaths of nearly half the students attending the elementary school

Education & Schools in the Early 1900s

Front entrance. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.

The era from 1890 to 1914 saw explosive growth in the Canadian West and the City of Winnipeg in particular saw thousands of new immigrants. When Laura Secord School was built in 1912, the West End was a new and rapidly growing middle-class community. The pre-war era brought with it a boom in school construction as more value came to be placed on proper education than had been in the past. 

A partnership between two Winnipeg school officials - Superintendent of Schools Dr. Daniel McIntyre and Commissioner of School Buildings Colonel J.B. Mitchell - made for the keen implementation of the latest ideologies and practical technologies of education at the time. Together they built an education system in Winnipeg that was at the forefront of Canadian progressive education theory. 

Dr. Daniel McIntyre

Dr. Daniel McIntyre. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.

Dr. Daniel McIntyre served the Winnipeg Public School Board as the Superintendent of Schools from 1885 to 1929 and spent his career pushing for the reform of the public school system. McIntyre saw education as the best long-term solution for society's ills, particularly in a system that privileged the development of the individual. 

In his view, education was more than curriculum and classrooms, leading to a more holistic approach that included the provision of proper nutrition (hot lunch program), medical and dental care (regular inspection and treatment of students), special education for children with disabilities, and a well-rounded, progressive curriculum including practical training. Night school, ESL and community use of school buildings also fell under his jurisdiction.

Described as a "shaper of educational policy in Manitoba and a leader in educational thought and practice in Canada", McIntyre was awarded an honourary doctorate by the University of Manitoba in 1912 and the Order of the British Empire in 1935 for his contributions to Canadian education (City of Winnipeg Historical Report).

Colonel J.B. Mitchell 

J. B. Mitchell. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.

James Mitchell served the Winnipeg School Board as the Commissioner of School Buildings from 1892 to 1928. He received his architectural training at the Montreal Art Institute and served in the North West Mounted Police for four years. He also fought with Wolseley's troops against the Metis in 1885 and led the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers as Colonel to France in WWI.

"It should be known, appreciated and remembered by every parent in this Dominion that education is more important than good streets... and more public money should be spent to thoroughly equip the children for the battle of life, than is now being devoted for that purpose."
~ J.B. Mitchell ~
("Winnipeg's School Building" 
During his time in this position, Mitchell designed and supervised the construction of 48 school buildings with a total value of $8 million. The complete list can be found here and includes the old St. John's and Kelvin high schools, Strathcona (1904), Luxton (1907), Lord Selkirk No. 1 and No. 2 (1909 & 1912), La Verendrye (1909), Earl Grey (1914), and Laura Secord (1912). 

A New Kind of School

In 1908, a fire in a Collinwood, Ohio elementary school took the lives of 172 students, who became trapped inside the building. It was determined that flaws in the school's layout were partially to blame and this tragedy helped change the way schools were designed.

Isaac Brock School is another example of a Winnipeg school designed by J. B. Mitchell. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website and the Winnipeg School Division.

Mitchell's elementary schools were only two storeys tall, with broad hallways between 14 and 18 feet wide. Metallic ceilings were incorporated along with exits on the front, back, and side of the building that were well separated from one another. New schools were built of steel and brick with floors of reinforced concrete and a stone foundation. Partition walls were brick, with plaster laid on hollow tiles instead of lath. Staircases were made of iron. As little flammable material as possible was included in the construction. 

High schools and older three-storey elementary schools had new fire escapes installed as well. Consisting of large steel tubes shaped with a gentle spiralling curve and attached to the building with an iron balcony, the fire escapes were designed and manufactured in Winnipeg by Vulcan Iron Works. The new fire escapes could clear a school's population in two minutes.

The History of Laura Secord School

1912 sketch of Laura Secord School. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report, reproduced from the Winnipeg Free Press August 17, 1912.

When Laura Secord School opened in September of 1913, it incorporated all of the features mentioned above. The contractor for the job was Thomas Kelly and Sons, who became notorious for their role in the Legislative Building scandal. They would be convicted in 1916 of defrauding the Manitoba government and ordered to repay $1.2 million ($21.6 million today). 

Built at a cost of $208 000, the building was nearly square (165' x 152' x 72'). Upon opening, only ten rooms were finished, with six more becoming available in January and the remainder of the school completed by the summer of 1914.

A large interior courtyard isolated the shops room from the rest of the building in the interest of safety. A long gabled skylight of fire glass topped the room, providing plenty of natural light.

960 Wolseley Avenue, no date. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
The school was two storeys high over a raised basement. The exterior was pale brick with limestone trim and rustication. The front of the building faced onto Wolseley Avenue and featured symmetrical end pavilions each of three arched bays, as well as a tall central tower (since removed) that eased into an open portico with side staircases.

The sides had large central pavilions with projecting stone porticos, while the rear had one large pedimented projection. These wall projections corresponded with variations in the roof line. Semi-eliptical dormers peeked out from the roof, outlined with iron cresting.

Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website and Reid Dickie.
The attic space was mostly empty, supported by wooden rafters. Vacant rooms on the Ruby Street side were originally used as the janitor's suite, with space for his family as well. Extra windows facing the courtyard provided natural light and a narrow staircase lead directly to the boiler room, allowing the janitor to stoke up the massive coal-fuelled boilers during the night to keep the school warm for early morning.

Ornate as well as functional, the interior design of the school incorporated small decorative elements. The stairwell's iron balustrade integrates a small plaque with the school's initials; the school crest was also displayed in the glass window of a little teacher's room at the base of the tower overlooking the roof of the portico. Each of the original classrooms had four long windows, with a strip of stained glass in each. Several other windows in the building had stained glass as well, including the first floor offices. 

Commemorative plaque for Lillian Beynon Thomas on the school grounds ca. 2010. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.

A large assembly hall at the south end had a stage as well as a small balcony, and also served as the gymnasium. The building's corridors were exceptionally wide and were occasionally used as extra rooms for showing movies, running races, etc. In later years, two classrooms on the northeast side were converted into a library.

The school yard extended for an entire city block behind the building, the land for which was purchased by the School Board for $37 000. The school was also served by a School Board dental clinic in the early years, one of four serving the city's school children at the time.

Students, Staff, & Curriculum

Due to the rapidly growing community, Laura Secord School was immediately filled to capacity upon opening, with 774 students in Grades 1-9 by 1914. The school's jurisdiction stretched from Portage Avenue to the Assiniboine River, Chestnut Street to Dominion Street. 

In 1921, Wolseley School opened at 511 Clifton Street to relieve overcrowding at Laura Secord. At its peak in the 1940s, over 1000 students were attending the school. In 1960, Junior High (grades 7-9) moved to Gordon Bell High School at 3 Borrowman Place.

Wolseley School at 511 Clifton Street. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
After its opening, Laura Secord School quickly became an integral part of the neighbourhood with a high level of community involvement. This was partially due to the first principal, A.G. McArthur, who was especially keen to develop a firm relationship with the parents of his students. An experienced educator, McArthur was principal of the school at its opening and remained there until his retirement 25 years later in June 1938. A framed portrait was placed in the front hall of the school following his retirement.

McArthur was succeeded by Fred Barager, who was principal from 1938-1957 and is commemorated with the Barager Memorial Library, an expansion of the regular library completed in 1965. Laura Secord's first female principal, Marguerite Aileen Gunter served from 1961 to 1976. Gunter was also one of the first chairpersons of the Canadian College of Teachers. A more complete list of Laura Secord's staff over the years can be found on the Manitoba Historical Society's website

Laura Secord School ca. 1915, with the tower still intact. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
The curriculum at Laura Secord in 1913 was not all that different from schools today. Grades 1-4 studied reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography, singing, drawing, and elementary handiwork. In Grade 5, history classes were added along with sewing for the girls and benchwork for the boys. Grade 6 brought grammar as a separate subject and Grade 7 added geometry, cooking, forge, and woodwork. The school had a good sports program due to the size of the schoolyard and a partnership with the City's Community Club, which sat on the south border of the schoolyard. 

In 1940, the school had 1013 students in twenty-four classes, with morning and afternoon kindergarten added shortly thereafter. At this time, the majority of students were completing their entire elementary education at this institution as a reflection of the stability of the neighbourhood. In the 60s and 70s, rents lowered in the district and many of the large houses were subdivided, causing changes in the student population.

By 1985, French immersion classes, a school band, preschool classes, and computers had been added. 402 pupils attended the school from preschool to Grade 4.

Modifications, Renovations, & Threats

The rear facade of 960 Wolseley Avenue ca. 1970. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
Over the years, changes have been made to the school to maintain its structural integrity and bring it up to modern standards. The central tower was removed in the 1960s because it was structurally unsound. The shops room in the centre of the courtyard has had its skylight darkened and was converted to use as a craft room. Hallways, rear exits, and the assembly hall have been modified to meet updated fire codes. The rear of the school has also undergone alteration. Nevertheless, the majority of the school's exterior and a good deal of its layout is original to 1912. 

"The fight has just begun to save Laura Secord School" Winnipeg Real Estate News November 1, 1985. Click here to read article.
"The fight has just begun to save Laura Secord School" continued. Click here to read article.
"Laura Secord is saved" Winnipeg Real Estate News July 10, 1987. Click here to read article.
"Laura Secord is saved" continued. Click here to read article.

In More Recent Years

Click here to read the article in full
Click here to read the article in full.
February 1991 - Laura Secord School awarded an Annual Preservation Award by Heritage Winnipeg for preservation work. 
October 1995 - School thankful despite fire (Winnipeg Free Press)

Click here to read article in full.
October 5, 2011 - Students flee fire at Wolseley-area school (Winnipeg Free Press)
October 5, 2011 - Fire Evacuates Laura Secord School (
February 2014 - Laura Secord School was awarded an Annual Preservation Award by Heritage Winnipeg, in recognition for their stewardship in the conservation analysis and detailing of the Heritage Roof Replacement Project at Laura Secord School.
April 15, 2014 - Historic Wolseley-area school to get new gymnasium (CBC News) 

Laura Secord Ingersoll

The local school board wanted to name their schools after Canadian heroes; with the revival of her legend and the dedication of a monument to her memory in Queenston, ON in 1910, Laura Secord was a natural choice.

A young Ontario woman, in 1813 Laura Secord trekked through hostile American territory to warn Canadian troops of a planned ambush during the War of 1812. For more information about Laura Secord, watch the Heritage Minute above or click here.

Sources & Links

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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Celebrating Volunteer David McDowell: Millennium Legacy Fundraising Reception

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg Corp.   
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
The Millennium Legacy Fundraising Reception was held at the Millennium Centre at 389 Main Street.
On Thursday, December 3, 2015, Heritage Winnipeg held their Millennium Legacy fundraising reception to honour and celebrate the contributions of David McDowell to the heritage community. A long-time volunteer and advocate, David was there when Heritage Winnipeg began, and was part of the battle to save the former Bank of Commerce at 389 Main Street. Fittingly, the former Bank, now known as the Millennium Centre, was the venue chosen for this event.

APA 2003
David McDowell presents an award during Heritage Winnipeg's 2003 Annual Preservation Awards.
David McDowell is a retired history and geography teacher who worked throughout Manitoba for the duration of his 37-year career. During this time he was also a Western Manitoba member of the Manitoba Historical Society and later served on the board. In the late 1970s, when demolition threatened to turn the majestic banks at 395 Main Street and 389 Main Street into a parking lot, David was President of the Manitoba Historical Society and one of the advocates at the fore of the protests. This heritage movement lead to the formation of Heritage Winnipeg Corp. in 1978.

A protest on Main Street against the demolition of 395 and 389 Main Street. David McDowell is on the right with the loudspeaker.
David McDowell was also on the Executive that saw Dalnavert Museum at 61 Carlton Street restored and opened, later serving on the Management committee as well. He served as Heritage Winnipeg's President for two terms and was also Manitoba Governor of the Heritage Canada Foundation from 1997 to 2003. David is currently an avid member of Heritage Winnipeg's Streetcar 356 Committee, working towards the restoration of one of Winnipeg's last remaining wooden streetcars. (Side Note: This committee is always looking for more volunteers! Email for more information.)

Bank of Montreal APA 1982
Heritage Winnipeg's 1982 Annual Preservation Awards, David McDowell at podium.

In recognition for his contributions to the heritage community, David McDowell was honoured with a Distinguished Service award from Heritage Winnipeg, as well as the Canada 125 Anniversary medal. He has also received the John Wested Award for service to geography, awarded by the Prairie Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers.

Pictures from the Event

Just in case you missed it!

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
The very talented jazz musicians from the University of Manitoba who played during the event - Marc Tugby, Reginald Lewis, Brennan Saul, and Julian Carneiro.

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
Thank you to everyone who attended and helped us honour David McDowell for his contributions to the heritage community!

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
L-R: David McDowell, Executive Director Cindy Tugwell, & Bill Loewen.

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
L-R: Councillor Brian Mayes, Executive Director Cindy Tugwell, & David McDowell.

Millennium Legacy Fundraiser
L-R: Board Member Jim Kacki, David McDowell, & Executive Director Cindy Tugwell.

You can see more photos, including the ones from the slideshow, here on our Flickr page!

Thank You to Our Sponsors! 



Articles about David McDowell

Manitoba Historical Society - Biography
The Fight to Save Banker's Row by George Siamandes
The Radio Edition - The Birth of Winnipeg's Heritage Preservation Movement 

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Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Winnipeg Landmark: The Bank of Montreal at 335 Main Street

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf  Heritage Winnipeg Corp.  
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

Image courtesy of the Bank of Montreal.
Located on the southeast corner of Portage and Main, the Bank of Montreal has become an integral part of this iconic intersection. Designed by America's leading neoclassicists McKim, Mead, & White, with assistance from Winnipeg architect J.N. Semmens, the building cost $1,295,000 to construct in 1910. For more information about the history of Canada's windiest corner, visit our earlier post here.

The first Bank of Montreal branch opened in Winnipeg in 1877, housed in rented premises at Broadway and Main. The location would later change as corporate directors decided a space in the main business district would better attract new clients.

The Bank of Montreal and new Federal Building. Image courtesy of the Heritage Winnipeg Gary Becker Collection Item 841C Negative ID
The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway brought with it the land boom of 1881. Just in time to take advantage of the influx of newcomer, the bank opened a new brick building at the southern end of Banker's Row, near the south-west corner of Main and Portage. By 1906 this building was still considered to be a handsome structure, with a banking hall to attract customers with a "mahogany beam-panelled ceiling, central light dome, and pure fluted Ionic pillars of mahogany" ("Banks Noted for Integrity and Conservatism", Telegram, Sept.18, 1906). 

Construction of the Bank of Montreal, 335 Main Street ca. 1912. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba N901.
However, the bank would have to build bigger and better if it was to compete with the majesty of Banker's Row. In 1909, the current site was purchased. The Manitoba Free Press predicted the new bank would be "one of the most imposing buildings in Canada" as well as bearing "a striking resemblance to the Royal Exchange of London, England" ("Magnificent Building for the Bank of Montreal", Manitoba Free Press, July 2, 1909.).

When the building was completed and the bank opened in 1913, the media's enthusiasm had already ensured its success. Designed to resemble a Roman temple, the estimated cost of construction was $1,295,000. Each of the six Corinthian columns that dominated the entrance were nearly five feet in diameter and weigh twelve tons, rising 50 feet above street level.

Bank of Montreal ca. 1913. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
The vestibule was finished in Botticino marble imported from Italy and the 59 foot ceiling was finished in gold leaf. A horseshoe-shaped marble counter extended the length of the room, with a savings bank adjacent to the main stairwell to segregate personal account holders from corporate. Bronze grills enclosed tellers and a mezzanine floor encircled the main banking hall on all four sides. A board room and the western director's office provided a magnificent view of Portage and Main from above.

The new structure at Portage and Main epitomized early 20th century Bank of Montreal architecture. Starkly conservative, but neoclassical in their unadorned stone or brickwork, the facades of branches across the country bear a striking resemblance to one another, particularly in the larger cities. The common style consists of massive columns crowned by substantial entablatures and pediments. Decoration is avoided, with the exception of the inscribed name of the institution and perhaps a coat-of-arms.

Archival photo of the Bank of Commerce at 389 Main Street, built in 1911. It is now called the Millennium Centre.
The bank also possessed all of the accepted elitist characteristics of monumental Canadian banks, which differed greatly from the American banks designed by the same architects. Canadian banks were characterized by a manager's office to the left of the vestibule, segregated savings and corporate facilities, and a large open-area banking hall; these features can also be seen in the Millennium Centre/former Bank of Commerce at 389 Main Street

The Royal Trust Company at 436 Main Street. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
A Bank of Montreal subsidiary, the Royal Trust Company occupied the north side of the new structure until 1919, when they relocated to 436 Main Street. The building at 436 Main is now a municipally designated heritage building and home to the Whiskey Dix club. 

The top two stories were reserved for officer living quarters. The third floor had a dining room and lounge facilities including food storage and kitchen space for hired help to cater to management needs. Bank officials slept on the fourth floor in a long row of bedrooms. Each bedroom boasted a sitting room and clothes closet, with bathrooms dispersed at intervals throughout the floor. An attic above the fourth floor provided extensive storage space, all to ensure bank officials new to Winnipeg would suffer no inconveniences.

The interior shortly after opening ca. 1913. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
The bank's vaults were in the basement, weighing a total of 450 tons. The massive vaults were designed by Frederick St. Holmes of New York and built by J & J Taylor Ltd. along with Toronto Safeworks. Each set of vault doors weighed 50 tons and were lined with four inch thick solid steel plate. The building had steam heat and electric lighting so the boilers, fitters, blowers, and pumps occupied their own basement rooms. Basement lockers and lavatories served the bank's clerks and transformers and coal bunkers filled the sub-basement.  

The memorial at the front of the building, as depicted in a Bank of Montreal brochure.
After WWI, the Bank of Montreal wished to create a memorial to the 230 members of their staff who have fallen in the Great War. To find the best design possible, they held an international competition, which was won by American sculptor James Earle Fraser.  Fraser had submitted two designs: an allegorical figure of Victory in marble, which sits in the Montreal Main Branch; and the bronze sculpture that sits in front of the 335 Main Street branch. 

A more recent photo of the sculpture. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.
Erected on December 5, 1923, the 9-foot bronze statue depicts a Canadian soldier in WWI battle gear grimly staring off into the distance. The sculpture was modelled after Winnipeg Branch staff member, Captain Wynn Bagnall, who had served through the war and had been awarded the Military Cross. Fraser would later receive a gold medal of honour at the New York Exhibition of Architecture and Allied Arts for the Winnipeg sculpture.

  Built with structural integrity and longevity in mind, the building at 335 Main required few upgrades until the late 1940s, when a new lighting system was installed. The early 1950s brought more changes, with the fourth floor living quarters replaced by general offices and new glass screens to replace the bronze tellers' cages. Larger front windows were installed, followed by air conditioning and mezzanine renovations.

Bank of Montreal ca. 1938. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
In November of 1976, the Bank of Montreal marked the institution's 100th anniversary in Winnipeg by refurbishing this historic branch. At the forefront of restoration architecture in Winnipeg, the BMO spent $2.4 million to restore the building to its 1913 form. The renovations began in 1975 and included the cleaning of the exterior walls, the installation of a new copper roof, and the refurbishing of all marble surfaces. 

Renovations of the bank over the years. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and City of Winnipeg City Assessment Records, Ward 1, Property Code 43, Roll Number 938230 - Bank of Montreal.
Artificial back-lighting was placed behind the stained glass symbols of the Bank of Montreal, Manitoba, and Canada. Modern heating and electrical systems followed shortly after. As a result of both the renovations and the move to preserve Winnipeg's heritage in the late 1970s, the building was added to Winnipeg's list of designated heritage buildings in 1980.

The tower and bank, as depicted in a Bank of Montreal brochure.
Following construction a new, 317-foot 25-storey office tower was opened beside the building in 1984 to serve as the management centre for the Bank of Montreal's operations in Manitoba and west of Thunder Bay. Designed by Winnipeg's Smith Carter Partners, the new tower was officially opened on May 24, 2984.

Heritage Winnipeg's Annual Preservation Awards hosted by the Bank of Montreal in 1982.
Meticulously maintained, the building at 335 Main has earned three awards from Heritage Winnipeg for Architectural Conservation - first in 1982, and then again in 1993 and 1995.

Sources & Links

Bank of Montreal website - a History of the Institution
City of Winnipeg Historical Report - Long 
City of Winnipeg Historical Report - Short
Manitoba Historical Society - Bank of Montreal
Manitoba Historical Society - Bank of Montreal War Monument
Wikipedia on McKim, Mead, & White

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

As Demolition Threatens: A History of Dennistoun House at 166 Roslyn Road

Article by Laura McKay, on behalf  Heritage Winnipeg Corp.  
To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.

166 Roslyn Road ca. 2011. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.
By 1880, Winnipeg's business leaders began to build new homes on land across the Red river in the southern portion of the city. The district came to be called Fort Rouge, after the fur trading post built in 1738 by LaVerendrye at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

By the early 1900s, the Winnipeg Electric Company had accelerated the growth of outlying suburban districts, providing wider streets and larger lots that only the affluent could afford. Roslyn Road, the first street south of the Osborne Bridge, became the district of stately bankers' homes.

Mr. Justice Robert Maxwell Dennistoun

Mr. Justice Robert Maxwell Dennistoun. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website and the Archives of Manitoba.
The house at 166 Roslyn Road was built in 1909 by Mr. Justice Robert Maxwell Dennistoun (sometimes spelt Dennistown), who at the time was a partner in Machray, Sharpe, and Dennistoun. Barristers and solicitors, these men kept offices in the Bank of Ottawa building at 363 Main Street.

Dennistoun was born in 1864 in Petersborough, Ontario, the son of a lawyer and the daughter of a judge. Following in the family business, he graduated with a BA from Queen's University in 1885 and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1888. A specialist in corporate law, he would come to represent many influential companies throughout his career.

Dennistoun House in winter ca. 1908. Image courtesy of the Provinical Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.

In 1892, he married Mildred Louise Beck of Peterborough. They would go on to have five children together. Three sons - James, John, and Robert - were born in Ontario, followed by two daughters - Mildred and Mary - who were born in Manitoba.

Dennistoun moved to Winnipeg in 1907 as the western counsel for the Canadian Bank of Commerce, later becoming the Bank's solicitor for Manitoba. That same year, he was called to the Manitoba Bar, followed by the Saskatchewan Bar in 1909. He was also honoured as King's Counsel in both Ontario and Manitoba, in 1908 and 1909, respectively.
R.M. Dennistoun. Image courtesy of the Manitoba Historical Society website.

Among his many achievements, Dennistoun is known for drawing up Manitoba's first Workman's Compensation Act. He was also responsible for writing two monographs on military law, serving as the Governor of Trinity College in Port Hope, and lecturing in the University of Manitoba Law School of the day.

In 1918, Dennistoun was appointed Puisne Judge of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, a position he held until he retired in 1946, at the age of 82. During this time, he was also made Deputy Judge of the Advocate General.

Colonel R.M. Dennistoun at Tidsworth Barracks, Salisbury Plain, England ca. 1915. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.
Alongside his career as a lawyer and a judge, Dennistoun maintained a career in the military. He was a Major in the 57th Regiment of the Peterborough Rangers and went overseas in 1914-1919 (WWI) as a Colonel to the Canadian Expeditionary Force, for which he was later decorated. Having lost his son John in the Great War, he gave the dedication address when the bronze statue honouring the war dead was unveiled at the Legislature in 1923.

The back of 166 Roslyn Road, ca. 1908. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Highly active in his community, Dennistoun was a member of the Masons (Corinthian Lodge No. 101), the Manitoba Club, the St. Charles Country Club, and All Saints Anglican Church. He also served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg (1924-1925) and Commodore of the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club. Lastly, he was a member of the first Advisory Board of the Winnipeg Foundation when it was founded in 1921.

Built in 1910, the house at 216 Cockburn Street is still there today and is now used as a 5-plex. Image courtesy of Karma Property Managment website.
In 1923, the home at 166 Roslyn Road was sold and the family moved to 216 Cockburn House in Fort Rouge. Robert Maxwell Dennistoun passed away on October 10, 1952.

After the Dennistoun family left, a widow named Mrs. Gertrude Stephen purchased the house and lived there until 1946, when it was purchased by restaurant proprietor Mrs. Myrtle Hall. Mrs. Hall stayed in the house until 1972, when it was purchased by the Richardson Company and likely used as temporary quarters for visiting and relocated company executives.

The House

Designed by architect John D. Atchison, 166 Roslyn Road cost approximately $15,000 to construct. The project's contractors were the Davidson Brothers. Atchison was the most important Chicago-style architect to work in Winnipeg, designing nearly 100 buildings between 1905 and 1922. Find a complete list of the buildings he designed here, on the MHS website.

166 Roslyn Road is approximately 40 x 45 feet and has a dramatic, heavily detailed entrance. The exterior is made up of a combination of brick veneer, rough-cast plaster, and half-timbering, with limestone in the trim. The brick and rough-cast finishes contrast with the cross gables, making for a visually rich exterior.

The building's entrance repeats the gable lines in light limestone that forms an archway. This, combines with the small panes of leaded glass in the door and side transoms to complete the old-world English look of the house. A two-storey brick balcony across the back of the house would have originally been screened in on the second floor, providing a sleeping porch - a popular feature in larger homes built prior to WWI.

The Dingwall Residence at 52 Roslyn Road ca. 1976. Image courtesy of the University of Manitoba's Winnipeg Building Index.
Dennistoun House is one of the strongest examples of Atchison's style from the period, with his mixing of finishes, emphasis on the front entrance, and the variation in the roof-line, which was usually accomplishes through gables and dormers. Dingwall House, built at 52 Roslyn Road, had a similar style but furthered the Scottish baronial look. This house has since been demolished and apartments built at that address.

The front entrance to the Dingwall Residence at 52 Roslyn Road ca. 1976. Image courtesy of the University of Manitoba's Winnipeg Building Index.
The writer of the original HBC report on this building asserts its importance to the Roslyn (and Osborne Village) district, as well as its importance as a historical connection to a notable figure in Manitoba's judicial and military history. Dennistoun House is also one the few private dwellings remaining from one of Winnipeg's early affluent suburbs, many of which have been lost to new development. It was these attributes, along with the historic exterior, that lead to Dennistoun House's municipal designation in 1984.

166 Roslyn Road. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
In 2009, an application was made to have that designation removed. The Historical Buildings Committee advised against de-listing the building in a report issued on March 20, 2009. On June 2, 2009, the Standing Committee on Property and Development recommended the house be removed from the List. On June 24, 2009, Winnipeg's City Council accepted the Standing Committee's recommendation and 166 Roslyn Road was removed from Winnipeg's list of designated buildings.

This de-listing was in direct contravention of the Osborne Village Neighbourhood Plan, which seeks to discourage the demolition of historic or architecturally significant buildings or structures. Demolition is only to be an option as a last resort, when buildings are found to be structurally unsound beyond repair by an independent structural engineering report (7.1.6.A on page 27).

Dennistoun House, not long after its completion ca. 1908. Image courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.
Heritage Winnipeg, concerned by the precedent being set for heritage buildings and older neighbourhoods in Winnipeg, advocated that the decision be reversed, along with the Osborne Village Neighbourhood Association and numerous members of the community. This eventually lead to OVNA, with support from Heritage Winniepg, taking the City to court on the matter, but unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in getting the decision reversed. The details of the Judge's Decision can be found here.

People both in the neighbourhood and the city at large had much to say about the de-listing and continue to object to the project. Below are some of the comments posted on the Planners Network Manitoba Website, shortly after the de-listing:

"I'd be sad to see the old house go because it has some sentimental value, 
but also because I like how the landscape of Osborne Village reflects
 its history and its diversity" ~ Molly Johnson

"I think it is time Winnipeg got its act together and did not set up these 
"one or the other" scenarios. There are plenty of spaces to add density 
and housing downtown without sacrificing our culture and history. 
Great cities make room for both." ~ Suzanne Gessler

At the moment, Dennistoun House is being used as apartments. The project continues to move forward and the building is set to be demolished to make way for a 12-storey condominium project, pictured above. For more details about the proposed condos, check out the development company's website. For more information about the delisting of this historic building and the ensuing controversy, check out the news articles and links below.

News Articles

Jan. 16, 1987 - Roslyn Road was stately Bankers' Row

June 2, 2009 - Century-old home on Roslyn stripped of heritage status
June 2, 2009 - Winnipeg heritage building stripped of status, slated for destruction
June 5, 2009 - Why tear down a building dream?
June 10, 2009 - EPC approves de-listing of 101-year-old heritage home in Osborne Village
June 10, 2009 - An Osborne heritage building by any other name...
June 10, 2009 - Century-old Winnipeg home a step closer to demolition
June 24, 2009 - City council strips 101-year-old Osborne Village home of its heritage status 
Sept. 30, 2009 - Heritage battle goes to court

June 18, 2010 - Green light or no, condo sales begin
July 26, 2010 - Area residents lose appeal to save historic home
Aug. 2010 - De-designation of Winnipeg's Dennistoun House Approved

Sept. 8, 2015 - Osborne Village character homes could meet wrecking ball
Sept. 15, 2015 - Dennistoun House in Osborne Village at risk for demolition
Sept. 16, 2015 - Century-old Osborne Village homes one step closer to the wrecking ball
Oct. 13, 2015 - Osborne Village condo proposal OK'd by City of Winnipeg committee

Sources & Links 

"166 Roslyn Road: Dennistown House". Report prepared by the Historical Buildings Committee. 9 October 1984. Print.
Heritage Winnipeg Website - Updates on Dennistoun House
Manitoba Historical Society on Dennistoun House
Memorable Manitobans - Robert Maxwell Dennistoun
Sunstone Group - the planned Dennistoun Condominiums that require the demolition of 166 Roslyn Road, among others.  

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