Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Manitoba Law Courts Through the Ages

The First Court House

Prior to becoming a province, justice in the area which would become Manitoba was carried through by the Governor and Council of the Hudson's Bay Company. By 1836, their law court was built at Lower Fort Garry, the area known as the Red River Settlement was divided into four judicial districts. Each district had a magistrate or justice of the peace. In 1864, a resolution was passed declaring the the General Court should be regulated by the Laws of England.

When the Province of Manitoba was formed in 1870, Winnipeg was still only a town; however, it was the largest town. Therefore, following the creation of the Court of Queen's Bench Winnipeg became part of the provincial judicial structure and so required a courthouse. The first courthouse was housed in an adapted former store building at 494 Main Street, in 1870 (now the entrance way to Old Market Square).  A large addition was created in 1873 which was in fact larger than the actual original building. This location was used for the courthouse until 1881, and was demolished three years later in 1884.

The 1882 Law Courts

The Manitoba Law Courts then moved to their first Kennedy Street location. This much larger building was finished in 1882. Designed by Winnipeg based English architect C. Osborne Wickenden; it was the largest and most ornate structure built in Manitoba at the time for its purpose seeing as Winnipeg was the chief population point.
The Kennedy location was deemed poorly laid out and overcrowded less than ten years after it was completed. Trials were frequently being postponed because all courtrooms were occupied and so a new addition was required. Designed by architect Charles H. Wheeler the new 1893-94 addition was twice the size as the old section. The building with the addition is pictured below, the far right is the original Wickenden wing, the much larger section to the left is the addition by Wheeler.
The 1882, Kennedy Street location of the Manitoba Law Courts
From the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections

1916 Building

The Kennedy Street location was replaced by the current Law Courts building at 391 Broadway Avenue. The new building was designed originally by provincial architect Samuel Hooper in 1904; however, he was succeeded by his assistant provincial architect V.W. Horwood when he died in 1911.

Scandals surrounding the Department of Public Works (DPW) were occurring in the midst of the 1916 Law courts being built. The main issue was the costs of having provincial architects and the political regime's sponsoring the design and construction of all the new court houses and government buildings being built. Hooper and Horwood were both provincial architects employed through the DPW. Because of all the scandals Horwood was led into early retirement and the provincial architects office was abolished when the entire DPW was reorganized. These changes effectively rendered the 1916 Manitoba Law Courts building, the peak of grand judicial architecture. Moreover very few public buildings were created between 1918 and the 1950's.

Horwood was replaced by John D. Atchison, and he oversaw the construction until the building was completed in 1916. The 1912 building permit estimated the cost at $1 million, but an addition was built in 1914 at a cost of $155,000. 
Section facing Broadway Street

Section of the current Law Courts Building facing Kennedy Street

What Happened to the 1882 Building?

No longer used as the home of the Law Courts, the building was used for many different purposes. One of its last tenants was the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law. The Kennedy building was eventually demolished in 1965, and the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall building, was completed in 1969 to permanently house the faculty.
Blind Justice, a stained glass window originally in the 1882 Court house, is now incorporated in
the Faculty of Law Building at the University of Manitoba.
The Kennedy building had a stained glass window executed by Robert Bell of Winnipeg and Robert McCausland Co. of Toronto which had been completed in 1893. The window represented Blind Justice and had been installed in the main staircase of the 1882 Law Courts Building. When the building was demolished the stained glass window was kept intact and presented to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law by the Government of Manitoba in 1970.

1983 Addition 

The 1916 Law Courts got a $15.5 million upgrade between 1983 and 1987; built by Kraft Construction. This addition added an extra five floors, including twenty two courtrooms used for the Provincial Court of Manitoba. The older 1916 building is comprised of three floors used primarily for the Queen's Bench Court.

The 1983 addition consists of five floors and houses the court offices and registries of the Court of Appeal, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court;  offices of court administration and court clerks are located on the second floor; courtrooms primarily used by the Provincial Court of Manitoba, as well as Sheriff Services offices and the Sheriff Lock-Up for in-custody accused persons making appearances in the court complex.  On the fifth floor are the chambers for the Provincial Court Judges. The older building also houses the Court of Appeal and the law courts library, known as the Great Library.

1983 Addition

The Great Library

Housed in the older, 1916 section of the current Law Courts building, the Great Library is the second largest of its kind in Manitoba, only the E.K. Williams Law Library at the University of Manitoba overshadows it. When it was originally built the library had stained glass skylights and cork flooring to muffle sound, both of these design elements have since been replaced.

Courtroom 210

Courtroom 210 is used along with four other courtrooms for the Court of Queen's Bench which is the superior trial court of Manitoba. This court has jurisdiction to hear both criminal and civil cases. This courtroom draws on many Greek and Roman architectural ideas. A prime example of the Roman influence is found above the Tuscan columns where one can see the Lictor Fasces. A lictor was an officer or guard who carried the fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of the unity and power or authority of Roman magistrates (ancient Roman judges).

Carter, Margaret. Early Canadian Court Houses. National Historic Parks and Sites Branch: Parks Canada. p.d. 1983. p.149 -151

“From Rural Parkland to Urban Centre: One Hundred Years of Growth at the University of Manitoba, 1877 to 1977” published by Hyperion Press for the University of Manitoba (1978) as a University of Manitoba Centennial Project.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Victory on Main Street

269 Main Street is an address that has had a long history of tenants. For the past 80 years, the address has been home to the Victory Building, originally called the Federal Building. However, before the Victory building was constructed, a handful of other buildings were also located on the lot.

The very first building to stand at that location was The Grace Church, built in 1871. Over the next decade a number of small commercial establishments popped up, as well as a residential unit on that corner which served as a classroom for the newly created Winnipeg School Division before the Central School was constructed.

It was prime land, and the Northern Pacific Railway Company wanted to build a hotel on it. Their plans were realized when the Manitoba Hotel opened on the site on New Year’s Day, 1892. It predated the Royal Alexandra (which wouldn't be built until 1906) as Winnipeg's best luxury hotel. It was unlike anything that had been built in Western Canada at that time, and was ranked among the most prestigious hotels in the country.

The Manitoba Hotel
Unfortunately, less than a decade after its grand opening, the Manitoba Hotel burned down in the early hours of February 7, 1899. The story goes that it was so cold, (-53 degrees with the wind-chill) that the firefighters' hoses froze, and they were unable to do anything to save the building.

The Manitoba Hotel engulfed in flames
After the fire burned out

After the Manitoba Hotel burned down, the lot sat empty for close to a decade, until 1911, when the Industrial Bureau Exposition Building opened its doors. Businesses would rent space inside the building to display and sell their latest technological innovations to the public. During the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, the building was used as the headquarters of the Citizens Committee of 1,000.

The Exposition Building
This building also had a short lifespan, and was demolished to make way for the construction of the new Federal Building. Construction began in 1935, and the building opened in 1936. It was built by the department of Public Works, now known as Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the federal department that still owns the building today. George William Northwood was the building's architect.

Back in the early 1930s the average per capita income in Manitoba had fallen 49%, and the province and the city were in desperate need of jobs and income. The Federal Building project was a boon to the community, as it was one of the only buildings constructed in Winnipeg during the Depression. The project saw 1.5 million dollars in contracts flow into the economy, and a large number of jobs were created.  As a result, it is considered to be the second largest depression relief project in Canada, and one of the most effective job-creation projects that took place in Winnipeg during the 1930s.

To provide employment relief for Winnipeg during the project, efforts were made to have as many construction resources and materials come from local sources as possible. With just one exception, every company that worked on the building as a general or subcontractor was Winnipeg or Manitoba based. Even the building's exterior was local in origin, being made from Tyndall stone, a type of limestone native to Manitoba.

The Victory Building, formally called the Federal Building. Date unkown
The Federal Building was designed to efficiently house the offices of multiple government departments in one location, which was a new idea at the time, and which continues to be the case today. The building is seven stories high, with four stories in the tower. In its earlier days, the top floor served as a residence for the people who worked shovelled coal into the furnace that heated the building.
Victory Building in 1935, formally called the Federal Building
It’s also extremely well-constructed. The steel used came from Selkirk, Manitoba and was put through an extensive series of tests at the Agricultural Engineering Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. During the construction, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that the contractor was able to give an ironclad guarantee that the building would hold up against anything it might encounter in its lifetime.

The Victory Building was designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building by the Department of Canadian Heritage on October 10, 1990. It is a prime example of Classical Modèrne, a school of architecture that uses elements from other classic styles like Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. Classical Modèrne was often used for buildings constructed as relief projects during the Depression in Canada and the United States, and is embodied in the designs of many different types of institutional buildings, such as museums, courthouses, banks, and government offices. Buildings in this style usually have exteriors of smooth, flat stone, have recessed windows, and their design motifs are typically balanced and symmetrical.

Looking up from the main doors

 As expected for a building in this style, the Victory Building has many elegant touches, both inside and out. For example, the main stairwell in the foyer proves to be more important and elegant than one would think a stairwell could be. It isn't just a bare or boring set of stairs – it has beautiful original railings, and surprisingly interesting views. Its walls and stairwell are also made of Tyndall stone, and the railings are brass.

Brass railings on the stairs
 On November 7, 2005, the Federal Building was re-named the Victory Building by PSPC, in honour of Canadian Veterans, and also to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

A study was completed by PSPC in 2006 to identify areas that could be restored to be more in keeping with the building’s original heritage character. The study confirmed that "many interior areas of the Victory Building have been altered to meet modern requirements without much consideration for its heritage character over the years."  Pages upon pages of documents provide details on the changes that have been made to the building since the 2006 study. It is impressive how much detail, thought and careful work have gone into ensuring the heritage value of this building would be preserved as close as possible to its original state.

Lobby light fixtures

Since the study was done, experts from the Canadian Conservation Institute and PSPC’s Heritage Conservation team have targeted areas for restorative work, to return the building to its original beauty. For example, the team worked to uncover the original colours and stencil pattern found on the ceiling. These intricate features were painstakingly restored when the ceiling was rehabilitated in 2013. Work was also performed on the main lobby elevators to return them to their original appearance.

The beautifully detailed ceiling

Overall the Victory Building is valued for its architectural, environmental and historical significance. It contributes to its environment because it is a large, highly visible structure on Main Street with a bold, dramatic impact on the streetscape. It is a very attractive building with a commanding presence. It has architectural heritage value due to its height and tower, its arched windows at ground level along Main Street, its decorative entrance, and the unique angle on which it’s situated.

The impressive lobby elevator

After the revolving door of buildings that have been located at the site throughout our city's earlier days, we are thrilled to see that the iron-clad guarantee made by that contractor all those years ago has proven to be true, and that the Victory Building is here to stay. Its unique heritage character has been maintained excellently, and it will continue to be a Main Street landmark for future generations.

Crest on the exterior of the building

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Firefighter's Museum of Winnipeg

56 Maple Street, home to Fire Hall No. 3 was an active fire hall in Winnipeg until 1990. It was built in 1904 and was one of five fire halls built in Winnipeg that year. Those plans for Fire Hall no. 3 would be used to build 14 more fire halls in the city.

Fire Hall No. 3
Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee
Winnipeg's early buildings were built primarily with wooden frames. Wood frame buildings are inherently more susceptible to fire, and buildings back then weren't anywhere near what we would consider fire safe by modern standards. Fire was a deadly concern for Winnipeg and other North American cities. The Great Chicago Fire raged for two days in October of 1871. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed much of Chicago's downtown, primarily wooden frame buildings.

Wooden buildings being built closer and closer together made fire a growing concern for the growing city of Winnipeg. On September 24, 1874, Winnipeg's first volunteer fire brigade formed. Some of the members were prominent Winnipeg men. A few of the members: Thomas Ryan; a Winnipeg retailer who would go on to be elected Mayor, J.H. Ashdown; one of Winnipeg's first millionaires, and William Code, the man with nine lives.

William Code had a career marked by unfortunate and dangerous incidents. He was stepped on by horses, got frostbite many times, and  and was severely injured in the Ashdown Warehouse fire of 1883. Ashdown sold anything and everything, including dynamite, which was used for railway construction. As the warehouse burned, the firefighters quickly realized they would need to get the dynamite out of the building before it turned catastrophic. Code was injured in the process. He later narrowly avoided being crushed by a falling wall during the Manitoba Hotel Fire of 1883. 

The Manitoba Hotel burns in 1883.
One of Code's most famous incidents was when he became "The Human Icicle." During a fire fight in the middle of winter, Code actually froze to the ground. His fellow fire fighters had to free him by chipping him apart from the ground. They went to the nearest hotel for him to thaw and warm up. After all he went through, William Code lived to be 92.

William Code when his body was frozen.
In April of 1877, the volunteer fire brigade became a full-time force with two teams of 20 men. In 1882, a full time fire department made up of paid fire fighters was finally implemented. 36 fire fighters, a captain, his assistant, 17 horses, four steam pumpers, three chemical wagons, three horse-drawn hose wagons, one hood and ladder wagon, and 8,700 feet of hose.

A central station on William Avenue opened in 1883, and two other buildings opened soon after. These three buildings made up Winnipeg's early fire hall system. The firefighter's who lived and worked out of these buildings described them as "beautiful shells, with slum like interiors." But in 1904, the new fire halls were constructed. 

Fire halls were frequently built on busy street corners, so that they would be prominently seen. The towers in fire halls did tend to be eye catching, but their purpose was functional, not aesthetic. The length of the towers was as long as they needed to be to allow fire hoses to be hung to dry.

Early horse drawn wagon with a ladder.
Fire Hall No. 3 was built in a historically fire prone area, to better the chances of reaching fires in time to put them out before too much damage was done. But its location was also chosen because it was near the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, a spot where it would be easily seen by new arrivals to Winnipeg from across Canada and abroad. The presence of a fire hall would bring a sense of security to new comers. Fire Hall No. 3 cost nearly twice as much as the other stations constructed in the same year. The reason for this was because of its prominent placement near the CPR station and so more money was spent on ornamental embellishments of Fire Hall No. 3. 

The building itself draws influences from several architectural styles. It was designed by brothers, Alexander and William Melville, who designed many other Winnipeg buildings. The interior was simple and utilitarian. First and foremost, Fire Hall No. 3 needed to be efficient, to allow fire fighters to move through it as quickly as possible, and to enhance their ability to do their work. The exterior blends Classical and Romanesque architecture. It is made of stone, and it cost $22,000 to build.
There are four large equipment doors on the ground floor with rounded stone arches and raised keystones. The second store is brick with rusticate stone sills and rectangle windows and each window is made of leaded and bevelled glass. The original roof has been replaced, and the original was more ornamental than the present roof.

Fire Hall No. 3 in present day
The interior of the fire hall has been changed very little since its construction. The second floor had bedrooms, a common area, and offices. The first floor was designed to house equipment and horses. The front area was where the wagons and pumpers were stored, and the back area houses horses with a hayloft. Originally there were 10 stalls for horses. The stalls were eventually replaced with a kitchen, a washroom, and storage space as horses in the fire fighting industry were replaced with motor vehicles. 

The Fire Hall sat empty for four years after it was decommissioned in the 1990s. It officially opened as the Fire Fighter's Museum of Winnipeg in 1999. Today, it is a monument to the history of fire fighting in Winnipeg. The Fire Fighters Historical Society, which was formed in 1982, by a group of fire fighters and former fire fighters, among them was William Code. Code kept amazing archives of the history of the department, and major fires in Winnipeg. 

Early 1870 hand pump.
 The museum is open year round Sundays from 9 am - 3 pm. They have an amazing inventory of vintage fire fighting equipment like early fire vehicles, rescue apparatus, and more. They also have pictures, artifacts, and other information about fire fighting in Winnipeg.

An early fire extinguisher.
Visit their website for more information, and to plan your visit!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Ukrainian Labour Temple

The Ukrainian Labour Temple at 591 Pritchard Avenue, at the corner of McGregor Street was once one of many such temples across Manitoba and Canada. Now, it is one of the few of its kind left, and it is the largest and oldest of all.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple was constructed from 1918-1919. Individual donations financed much of the project, and volunteer labourers brought the temple from a vision into reality. The Ukrainian Level Temple is recognized as a heritage structure by all three levels of government. It has municipal designation from the City of Winnipeg, provincial designation from the Province of Manitoba, and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

The Labour Temple in the 1920s. Source: U of M Archives
 The Ukrainian Labour Temple Association (ULTA) was established in Winnipeg in 1918. The group began planning to build the Labour Temple. They initially raised $5,600 toward the building, and by the end of 1918 they successfully raised $50,000 in donations to go toward the building.

 The Labour Temple was designed by Robert Edgar Davies, who got into significant trouble with the Manitoba Association of Architects (MAA) because of the project. 1914 legislation required anybody practising as an architect to meet standards set by, and maintain good standing with, the MAA. Davies was not a member and had not passed their tests, therefore he was not supposed to be practising as an architect, or calling himself one. When he designed the Labour Temple, he called himself an architect, and the MAA threatened him with legal action.

A modern shot of the labour temple. Source: U of M Archives
 To avoid a legal quarrel, Davies applied for membership with the MAA. However, he failed one of their examinations and was not certified. He was involved in other major building projects like Winnipeg Hydro's Amy Street steam heating plant and the nurses' residence at the municipal hospital complex. He called himself an architect during both of those projects. He went on to work for the City of Winnipeg as an architect and building inspector. It is unknown if he ever faced serious legal action over breaking the 1914 law by working as an architect despite failing the MAA exam. 

The Labour Temple is of Neo-classical design, meaning it draws inspiration from classical styles of architecture. The interior originally contained a theatre and balcony that could seat up to 1,000 people. It also housed a classroom space, library, and a print shop. Later on, the theatre seating was removed to accommodate a large hall, with the grand stage and balcony still remaining to this day. The words "Workers of the World Unite," are inscribed above the front entrance, with the accompanying image of two hands clasping. The Pritchard and McGregor exteriors are faced with cut stone and fawn-coloured, sand-lime brick. A 1926 addition replicated the scale and fenestration of the existing exterior. Fenestration means the way windows and doors are arranged on a building. The building has tall rectangular windows set between single and twinned brick pilasters.

The Labour Temple. Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Building Committee
 The Labour Temple has been a major centre for trade unionists and socialist politics, and continues to host activists, politicians and educators spreading their messages to this day. The founders of the Labour Temple were all left leaning with socialist views. The Labour Temple's print shop printed and distributed Working People, a Ukrainian Newspaper. In fact, the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians, which owns the Labour Temple, continues to publish the Ukrainian Canadian Herald, a national progressive Ukrainian newspaper, with distribution taking place from the building.

The Labour Temple was also a meeting place for the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party. The Canadian government banned the Social Democratic Party and banned the publication of Working People, in a mass ban of anti-war and other groups they deemed radical.

Even after the ban, the Labour Temple continued to be a hugely influential centre during the Winnipeg General Strike, with working gathering there to organize and discuss action. The Labour Temple was raided by the RCMP on June 17, 1919. All letters and address books were seized, and the print shop and offices were completely turned upside down.

In the 1920s, the Labour Temple began expanding its Ukrainian cultural activities. In its early years, the ULTA was very much a male dominated organization. In 1921, several Ukrainian Women's committees established themselves to help with famine relief in Ukraine. These committees became the founding core of the ULTA's women's section, which was officially established in 1922. They focused largely on fundraising to sustain local labour temples.

ULTA's women's executives in 1929. Source: U of M Archives.
 The women's section hosted classes to help women learn to read. They would hold group readings of newspapers, novels by both Ukrainian and Canadian authors, and other reading material. They also had embroidery groups, crafts, and other activities specifically for women to take part in.

In 1919, they introduced activities for children. By 1922, schools were being established in labour temples across Canada, including the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg. The schools were called the Ukrainian Workers' Children's Schools, and one of their goals was to foster a sense of community among Ukrainian children. They also wanted to preserve Ukrainian identity by teaching Ukrainian language, spoken and written, and Ukrainian music and dancing. In 1928, more than 400 students attended one of the four Ukrainian schools in Winnipeg's north end.

Ukrainian Labour Temple Children's picnic in 1927. Source: U of M Archives
The ULTA founded the Worker's Benevolent Association in 1922. The Association's purpose was to provide accident, sickness, and life insurance for workers who did not have access to benefits. The Association was open to working class men and women, and was open to other Eastern Europeans as well as Ukrainians.

In 1924, the ULTA expanded to become a national organization, and renamed themselves the United Labour-Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA) and sought to create greater unity between urban labourers and rural farmers. 18 years later, in 1942, the ULFTA re-branded again, and officially changed their name to The Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC.)

The Labour Temple has continued to be a gathering place for both progressive politics and activism, and Ukrainian cultural preservation, to this day. Members of the AUUC were extremely active in the women’s rights movement, various worker’s rights movements and now in supporting and working towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Labour Temple is also home to the Winnipeg Mandolin Orchestra, the Yunist Dance Ensemble, and the School of Ukrainian Dance, groups which carry on a long legacy of celebrating Ukrainian culture and arts.

Ukrainian Dancers. Source:  U of M Archives

The Labour Temple is home to the Ivan Franko Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the poet outside of the Ukraine. Ivan Franko was a Ukrainian writer known for his poetry, journalism work, and fiction work. He wrote than 1,000 works in his lifetime. The Ivan Franko Museum is free to the public, and tours can be booked by calling (204) 589-4397.

The Ukrainian Labour Temple has an exceptionally rich and detailed history. Today, the AUUC continues to operate the Labour Temple and serve a diverse community consisting of much more than Ukrainians. Groups of 10 or more wishing to take part in a tour of the building, may call Emily Halldorson at (204) 891-8238. Individuals or organizations wanting to rent the building for an event of any kind, can also be in touch with Emily.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Oldest House in Winnipeg

Written by Laura Wiens, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Heritage Winnipeg

Take a guess, what do you think the oldest house in Winnipeg is?

Maybe Ralph Connor House? No, too recent. Louis Riel House? Getting closer, but not quite.

The oldest home in Winnipeg, is Seven Oaks House at 50 Mac Street.

Seven Oaks House Museum. Source: Seven Oaks House Museum Facebook page.
The house was home to prominent Winnipeg family, the Inksters. John Inkster laid the foundations for the house in 1851. He chose a location in the Parish of Kildonan, near seven large oak trees. These were not just any oak trees, 35 year earlier in that spot, the Battle of Seven Oaks occurred.
John Inkster was born in the Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland in 1799. He came to Canada in 1821 at the age of 22 to work for The Hudson's Bay Company as a Stonemason. 

However, once he arrived, he paid the company a sum of money in return for letting him go from his employment without ever actually doing any stonemasonry work for them. His son Colin said that he believes the foundation John Inkster laid for Seven Oaks House was the only stonemasonry work his father ever did in Canada. 

John Inkster. Source: The Manitoba Archives
After parting ways with the Hudson's Bay Company, Inkster became a farmer. He went on to become a businessman, and imported goods from the United States and Europe. The European goods made it to the Red River Settlement (the Winnipeg area) by York boat, and the American goods came via Red River Cart.

He went on to become the President of the Steam Mill Company in 1856, 35 years after first coming to Canada. He also entered public service, and served as a judge and councillor in Assiniboia. He and his wife Mary Sinclair had 9 children, many of whom went on to become involved with prominent Winnipeggers, and also became prominent Winnipeggers themselves.

Their eldest son, Colin Inkster, became a Manitoba politician in the Legislative Council of Manitoba, the upper level of the provincial government, like the Senate of the federal government. If you’ve never heard of the Legislative Council of Manitoba, you’re probably not alone. Many Canadians were sceptical of the need for an upper level of provincial governments. Manitoba joined confederation in 1870, and the Legislative Council of Manitoba dissolved in 1876. Colin Inkster was the speaker of the council in its final year, and after it voted itself out of existence, he was appointed Sheriff of Manitoba, and later founded The Manitoba Historical Society. 

Seven Oaks House Museum in summer with the garden in full bloom. Source: Seven Oaks House Facebook Page

When Seven Oaks House itself was built, there was already an existing structure on the lot – John Inkster's general store. Out of this store he sold the goods he imported. It also served as the post office for the Kildonan area. This small building is built in the Red River frame style, and is very simple with no decoration. The exact date of the store building's construction is unknown, but it may be the oldest building of any kind in Winnipeg.

The Inkster family bought the land in 1835 where they would build their store and later Seven Oaks House. The Seven Oaks House Museum estimates that the store was likely built between 1835 and 1840, which would make that small, two room log cabin the oldest building in Winnipeg. With Seven Oaks House being the oldest home, it is remarkable that we have two buildings here in Winnipeg that have endured for so long.

John Inkster laid the foundation for Seven Oaks House in 1851, and in 1852, while the house was still under construction; a disastrous flood hit the Red River Settlement. Water from the Red River submerged the Inkster property to a depth of four feet underwater. The flood swept across the prairies for miles. Inkster laid a temporary floor over the second storey, and covered the unfinished house with a hastily made canvas shelter to protect Inkster and his wife from the flood. That's right, as people everywhere fled to high ground, John Inkster and Mary Sinclair chose to stay at their unfinished house, living on a temporary floor under a canvas shelter. They did send their children to Lilyfield, a high ground area between Winnipeg and Stonewall. 

Seven Oaks House museum in winter. The store building is visible from this angle. Source: Seven Oaks House Facebook Page
After the flood passed, construction resumed. The home was finally completed in 1853. The house is two stories, and has nine rooms. The walls are made from oak logs rafted down the Red River. They are hewn about seven inches square, then shaped using a hand-planer. Logs were pinned to each other with wooden pegs as they were laid one on top of the other. The shingles for the roof were made from cedar logs, split by hand, and cut with a drawing knife. Buffalo hair was used to bind the plaster on the interior of the walls. The interior woodworking used primarily spruce logs and some basswood.
The Inkster family owned Seven Oaks House until 1952, when it was given to the City of Winnipeg to be used as a museum.

Today, the Seven Oaks House Museum seeks to depict daily life of the Red River Settlement era, roughly 1812-1912. The museum is open annually from the May long-weekend through to September. The museum has just closed for another season – and it was an important one. 

An interior shot of one room in the museum. Source: Seven Oaks House Facebook Page
2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks. The museum commemorated the battle with a stage re-enactment featuring members of the Manitoba Living History Society and the Forces of Lord Selkirk. The monument of the battle is located near Seven Oaks House, on what used to be a part of the Inkster family property.

Seven Oaks House Museum was also the location of a sold-out paranormal investigation event. The Winnipeg Paranormal Group took visitors along on an investigation through the house, looking for evidence that the house is haunted. If any house in Winnipeg is haunted, the oldest one seems to be a likely candidate.

The museum is full of amazing artifacts from the Red River settlement, furniture, all kinds of household items, photographs, and even one of the earliest models of cameras. 

One of the earliest cameras, on display at the museum. Source: Seven Oaks House Facebook Page
Congratulations to Seven Oaks House Museum on an immensely successful 2016 season, and we hope even more people will get out to see the oldest home in Winnipeg and learn about its history while celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre

Long before 184 Alexander Avenue was home to the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Education Centre, the building was home to the British and Foreign Bible Society. The Bible Society was formed in England in 1804, with the intent to bring the word of the Bible to "heathen" people across the world. This Bible society came to Canada in 1808, and they quickly began translating the Bible into numerous languages and distributing copies of it.

The Bible Society hoped they would be able to use the word of God to help the new immigrants and the other poor and disenfranchised people in the North End to better their lives.

The Bible Society purchased the property 184 Alexander Avenue in 1911 at a cost of $14,000 and construction of their building began in the summer of 1912. They chose their location because the North End of Winnipeg was home to a large population of recent immigrants, and many of them were very poor, with few opportunities to make a strong start for their new lives. There was a concerted effort by government and different stakeholders to keep the poor immigrant population grouped in the North End, away from the rest of the city. The Bible Society hoped they would be able to use the word of God to help the new immigrants and the other poor and disenfranchised people in the North End make better lives.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places 
The building itself was five storeys tall, and had 45 rooms. It was 66 feet across and 48 feet in depth. It was more expensive to build than the society anticipated. The final cost was $75,000, in addition to the $14,000 they spent to buy the property. Construction of the building was quite rushed, and it was occupied by 1913.

The Architect was a man named William Bruce, who was born in Scotland and came to Winnipeg in 1906. By all accounts, he was a rather eccentric fellow. He laid out plans for a city of half a million people to be located where the town of Churchill is now, and he worked extensively to find "the ultimate fire-proof material."

184 Alexander Avenue in 1969
Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee

The building soon proved to be an overly ambitious project. Not only was it over budget, but also the need for it soon diminished. When The First World War broke out, the large flow of immigrants into the North End was greatly reduced. The building was originally going to be occupied by three branches of the Bible Society from Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Although the Alberta and Saskatchewan branches soon become more independent, and they no longer wanted or needed to share the office with the Manitoba branch. Soon the Manitoba branch of the Bible Society was left with a very expensive, very large building with far more space than they could afford, or even needed.

They began to search for tenants from other Societies to rent out space in the building to with similar missions to promote charity and social well-being. The Church of England Missionary Society, The Dorcas Society, The Children's Bureau, and the Rupert's Land Women's Auxiliary were early tenants, and the major tenant was the Children's Aid Society. The Children's Aid Society stayed in the building until 1957, by which time they had grown too large and needed to seek larger office space elsewhere.

The Children's Aid Society actually stayed in the building longer than the Bible Society itself that had moved out almost a decade earlier in 1949. Alexander Street wasn't as bustling as it once was, and they wanted to move to a busier street hoping to be noticed by more people. When they left in 1949, they sold the building to the Ukrainian National Publishing Company. They printed the paper the New Pathway in the building and this publication still exists today.

184 Alexander in present day.
Courtesy of the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre

During the 1950s groups like the Ukrainian National Youth Federation, the Ukrainian War Veterans' Association and the Ukrainian Women's Organization occupied the building, and the Children's Aid Society stayed there until 1957. A year later in 1958, all of the Ukrainian groups that were in the building moved out, and the building was mostly vacant.

In the 1970s, the Ukrainian Cultural Centre rented the fourth floor of the building and converted it into a library. When New Pathway moved out in 1977, the building was transformed into a heritage site for Ukrainian culture. Half a million dollars were spent in renovations to include a library, museum, art gallery, and office.

184 Alexander today.
Courtesy of the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre.
Today, the building is known as Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre. It is a multi-faceted heritage institution connecting Canadians with Ukrainian culture. It is recognized for the breadth and scope of its ethnology, art, archives and library collections that lie at the heart of its public programs, which include exhibitions, workshops, and public lectures. It provides information and research services pertaining to Ukrainian Canadian heritage.

They hold many events throughout the year, and participate in Doors Open Winnipeg each year. They are open to the public daily on Monday to Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm, and 1 pm to 4 pm on Sundays. It is a place worth visiting, and showcases how our built and cultural heritage can compliment each other and live in perfect harmony.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Fort Street & Notre Dame

The Vendome Hotel

This week, the Vendome Hotel, located at 308 Fort Street, made it onto the agenda at City Hall to the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Development.   The recommendation was from the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee for this 118-year-old hotel to be added to the List of Historical Resources under the Historical Resources By-law 55/2014 with the following Character Defining Elements:

A.  Exterior:

1.  Four-storey brick building with a flat roof located on the west side of Fort Street, its main facade east onto Fort Street, its south facade partially hidden by neighbouring building, and its west and north facades facing the back lane; and

2.  The front (east) facade with ground floor openings with arched transoms with leaded glass, the upper floors with ornamental brickwork and windows in arches openings and flag pole.

B.  Interior:

1.  Wood finishes of the main (south) staircase including the handrail on the north side.

A 1898 advertisement for the Vendome Hotel
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
Construction of this centenarian began in 1898, and the Vendome Hotel was completed at a cost of $14,000. The Vendome Hotel opened on December 17th.  It was expanded in 1902, using designs from Architect Henry Sandham Griffin, who also designed several other important Winnipeg buildings, including Fire Hall Number 1 in the Exchange District, which was demolished in the 1960s.

Portage Avenue had overtaken Main Street as the commercial hub of Winnipeg at the time the Vendome was built, making its location right of Portage Avenue very desirable. The Vendome had a very decorative exterior to catch the eye of people passing by. It had broad canopy marquees, towering vertical signs, and the kind of outdoor electric lighting that had been developed by theatres in the nineteenth century. The 1902 expansion altered the roofline, but did not make any significant changes to the exterior, although it has changed significantly over the century.

Colour post card, date unknown. View looking down on Portage Avenue
The black arrow points out the Vendome Hotel on Fort Street
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
The Vendome Hotel offered a restaurant and bar on the main floor, along with its rooms on the upper floors. In the early 1910s it underwent interior remodelling, which brought running water to all rooms, and some rooms were even given private washrooms. There is evidence that there was once a wide main staircase that wound up the centre of the building, but the walls have now closed in that space.

The current main staircase in the Vendome Hotel
Although not the original, the railing is lovely and ornate
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

The Vendome marketed itself as "one of the most homelike and quiet hotels in the downtown." The original owner of the hotel was David Murray. He came to Winnipeg with his wife and children from Ontario. It is unclear if opening the hotel is what drew the family to Winnipeg, or if he came for a different business first, and joined the hotel industry once he was settled in Winnipeg. When his sons grew up they joined their father working to manage the hotel.

The hotel was a frequent meeting place for the 90th Winnipeg Battalion, an Infantry Battalion from the First World War. The hotel also served as home for different lengths of time for some high profile guests, including Joe Hall, a major league hockey player, and Reginald Buller, a scientist who founded the Botany Department at the University of Manitoba.

Reginald Buller is considered one of the most eccentric men from the University of Manitoba's history
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

Occasionally more unusual guests made their way into the hotel. A man who worked as a night clerk at the Vendome once found a bear cub wandering down the streets of downtown Winnipeg and brought the cub back to the hotel. Once safely at the hotel, the man fed the cub a bear's traditional diet of cheese, apples, milk, and beer. (We kid, of course as we do not recommend giving bears beer.)

In the 1950s, a company called Shea's Brewery purchased the hotel. Shea's was quickly taken over by a Canadian beer company, Labatt Breweries. It was common around this time period for breweries to own hotels.

The Vendome Hotel in the 1970s
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

The St. Charles Hotel

Just across Portage Avenue, Fort Street turns into Notre Dame. At 235 Notre Dame, right at the corner of Albert Street, is another one of Winnipeg's historic hotels – The St. Charles Hotel. Unfortunately, the St. Charles Hotel is no longer open, and is sitting vacant.

The St. Charles Hotel
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

The St. Charles Hotel was constructed in 1913, just over a decade after the Vendome Hotel was built. By 1913 Winnipeg had firmly established itself as the economic hub of the prairies, and the hotel was business was booming as people flocked to the city for business. 

1913 saw the economy in Winnipeg take a slight down turn. With many people looking for work, it was easy to find people to fill labour jobs. Because of this, the St. Charles hotel was built in just three months, at a cost of $122,000. 

The view down Notre Dame in 1914, one year after the completion of the St. Charles Hotel
Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives

One year after its completion, in 1914, George Skinner bought the St. Charles Hotel. Skinner had already been involved with the Manitoba hotel business for a number of years. He worked for the Manitoba Hotel until it burned down, and later became a partner in the Mariaggi Hotel located at McDermot and Albert Street. Skinner managed the St. Charles Hotel for over 15 years, then sold it in 1933. 

The building has a stone basement and reinforced concrete, with a dark tapestry brick facing, set against white limestone trim. The trim is used extensively in vertical bands between alternate window sets on the upper two storeys; pedimented window heads on the second floor; horizontal belts and a bracketed cornice; and on the parapet. The façade is rounded at the Albert Street/Notre Dame Avenue corner and topped by a carved stone panel that once carried the hotel’s name. 

The Argyle Building

The Argyle Building, located at 224 Notre Dame was also on the agenda of the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Development.   They also concurred with the recommendation from the Historical Buildings and Resources Committee to add the Argyle Block to the List of Historical Resources under the Historical Resources By-law 55/2014 with the following Character-Defining Elements:

A.  Exterior:

1.  Four-storey brick and stone building with flat roof located mid-block on the south side of Notre Dame Avenue, its main facades north onto Notre  Dame Avenue and south onto Garry Street and its east and west facades hidden by neighbouring buildings;
2.  The Notre Dame facade with its upper floors divided into two bays by single and paired brick pilasters with carved stone heads and bases, rectilinear window openings with stone sills and heads on the second and third floors and arched openings on the fourth floor topped by arched brickwork and large metal bracket-like keystones, a complete metal entablature engraved with the word "ARGYLE" and a heavy overhanging cornice;
3.  The Garry Street facade with its upper storeys divided into three bays, the east bay holding doors for the open metal fire escape, the other bays with paired windows, rectilinear on the second and third floors and arched on the fourth floor, oversized keystones, a complete metal entablature engraved with the word 'ARGYLE' and a heavy overhanging cornice; and
4.  Light wells in the west wall.

B.  Interior:

1.  The third and fourth floors with side hallways with doors and transoms, glass/wood fire escapes vestibules, suites, common bathrooms, murphy beds and decorative wood finishes. 

The building can also be entered from the other side, where its address is 333 Garry Street. It is named for the company that built it, the Argyle Land Company and they developed and sold land in Winnipeg. One of their first developments was called Argyle Gardens, it existed in the west end area. The company was based out of a couple other buildings before building the Argyle Building, which they built in 1908. 

The Argyle building in present day. This is its Notre Dame Street Entrance
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report
Like the St. Charles Hotel, the Argyle Building was completed within a handful on months, and it went up years before the St. Charles Hotel. Its record breaking construction speed made headlines, and crowds of people gathered on the streets to watch the construction. The Winnipeg Tribune published an article that said: "(The building's) smart red appearance will be a distinct addition to Garry Street."

The building was occupied not just by the Argyle Land Company, but some floors were rented to other commercial tenants, and the upper floors were built as residential units. 

Present day Argyle Building, the Garry Street Entrance
Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Building Report

Argyle sold their one-year-old building to Frank Lindsay in 1909, but continued to occupy it and continued to sell land, until 1911 when their company became plagued by scandal. They eventually relocated to an office in the McIntyre Block located on Main Street in 1916.

On July 29, 1920, the Argyle Building caught on fire. Three firemen were injured, and one person died. It was thought that the man who died may have started the fire by accident after falling asleep with a cigarette, but no cause was officially ruled. The building caught on fire again a second time in 1926, but thankfully there was no casualties. 

The view down Notre Dame in 1928
Photo from the Heritage Winnipeg Archives
Other historic buildings nearby include the Christie Block, a retail block located at 245 Notre Dame, and the Oxford Hotel at 216 Notre Dame, right next to the Argyle block. We are pleased at the recommendation for the Vendome Hotel and the Argyle Building to be added to the List of Historical Resources, so it can join its fellow buildings from the pre-WW1 era and be protected from demolition.